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Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

Tomfoolery: Smartnews goes live April 1

In Freelance, Publishing, smartnews on March 30, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Randy Foster sent along a note to all our Facebook friends. I thought I’d repost it here:

On Wednesday, when SMARTNEWS NC goes live, there will be three different flavors of the site:

1. The landing page and the only site that is public. This is where stumblers, referrals and prospects will encounter SMARTNEWS. It will include samples of content, basic marketing information, links to FAQs, resources for asking more questions, and online forms for joining SMARTNEWS NC.

2. The password-protected main site. This will be similar to the site you see now, but will behind a password protected wall. Members will receive user names and passwords via e-mail Tuesday. Guest accounts are available for our Facebook friends and for member prospects who want to get a better feel for the service.

3. Password-protected navigation interface. This site will be no-frills-simple and designed for busy editors who want to get to what they need quickly. Think of it more as a Web application user interface than a Web site.

We have 30 contributors signed up. If you’re one and you still haven’t sent me your information or content, now’s the time. If you’ve been thinking about joining SMARTNEWS NC, now’s also the time.

Thanks for being a SMARTNEWS friend.

Randy Foster
SMARTNEWS

So, meanwhile, check out Smartnews before it goes behind the wall. And join our Facebook group and help us figure this thing out.

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‘Damn the torpedoes!’ Now’s no time to slow down on Smartnews

In Biz, Fayetteville, Freelance, Publishing, smartnews, The news biz on March 27, 2009 at 3:23 am

Charles Apple kindly gave me a platform to pimp Smartnews a little more, in advance of taking the experiment live on April 1. Randy in particular has been actively recruiting publishers, hammering away at state and regional press associations and the like. It’s a monumental task: Just think of the thousands of newspapers; alt weeklies; city, regional and state magazines. And over the horizon — niche and trade pubs, English-language pubs outside the United States, and on and on.

Lest I sound too excited about it all, it’s important to remember that we’re in the proof-of-concept phase. Realistically, this predates even internal alpha-testing, as far as the Web site. We just want to bull ahead as time’s a-wasting. Flying by the seats of our pants, to cop an old cliche, just as with SmartNews (the Fayetteville, N.C., newspaper (R.I.P.)) and Bluffton Today. Newspapers are in deep trouble; they’re dropping journalists like a dog sheds fur in the summer. We want to do what we can while we can.

I don’t think American print news will rebound, even if the ridiculous corporate debt is somehow miraculously resolved. The job losses will be permanent. But the need for news and information remains — my god, there’s a hunger for it — and advertisers still believe more strongly in print and “traditional” media than they do in the Web. Should all news media collapse in the next few years anyway, we should at least have quite a collection of talent at hand. Whatever the medium, whatever the business model, at some point that’s got to be worth something.

Writers and editors: Check out #editorchat at Twitter

In Culture, Freelance, Publishing, smartnews, The news biz on March 24, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Last week, I participated in my first Twitter chat session.

Twitter is all the rage, the latest social-media productivity sinkhole to come along. If you’ve been in under a rock for the last year or so, Twitter allows you to broadcase short messages (140 characters or less) about whatever’s on your mind. You can “follow” other “tweeps,” and they can follow you. You see the “tweets” of those who follow you, they see yours. And you can search by keyword for stuff that interests you.

It’s easy to get lost in the blizzard of raw stuff: links to the latest layoff news, a friend who wonders whether he can take yucky coffee back to the store, and people telling you to follow their friends and colleagues. Pretty quickly, you wonder how to organize Twitter so you don’t miss the good stuff: networking with cool new people and focusing on matters of importance to you. A chat session is one way.

A couple weeks ago, I noticed some folks tweeting about something called “#editorchat.” I don’t even remember what the subject matter was, but I was intrigued enough to look into it. Turns out, Twitter chat is a session in which like-minded folks tweet together in a semi-organized fashion. Much like a chatroom, but visible to anyone who happens along in the Twitterverse.

I tuned in Wednesday, enjoyed the vigorous conversation about the future of journalism and publishing, pimped Smartnews shamelessly, and followed loads of writers and editors. After, I spoke with the originators of #editorchat, Tim Beyers, a regular Motley Fool contributor, and Lydia Dishman, principal of LBD Communications Group:

Question: For folks who don’t know, what the heck is #editorchat? How does it work, what’s the format?

Tim: Twitter is like a noisy bar that never closes and which, thanks to hashtags, has spacious back rooms for private parties. That’s what #editorchat is — a private Twitter party for editors and writers. All the details for how to join are at editorchat.wordpress.com .

The rest of the sausage story is simple. Lydia and I talk by phone weekly to discuss topics and related questions. Rarely do we need more than 20 minutes to come up with something compelling. Once we have the topic, we write a post for our blog and tweet the URL.

Lydia: #editorchat is a place for professional writers and editors who use the micro-blogging service Twitter to discuss how best to help one another. The “#” sign, known as a hashtag, enables you to search for #editorchat and participate during the discussion held once a week on Wednesday nights. You can also use live-chat services such as TweetChat and TweetGrid.

SN: Why a Twitter chat for editors? Is it really for editors? I saw lots of writers, too, and everyone seemed to be welcome.

Lydia: It is really for editors.  And writers.  But not PR people.  The primary purpose of #editorchat is for editors to get to talk to writers in a casual forum to discuss the issues that are changing the face of publishing.  Although we have a large number of newspapers and magazines, there are book editors and authors as well. 

This is not intended to be a whine-fest about how the news media is dying, or a lament for jobs lost.  We are sympathetic, but we are also trying to host a proactive conversation to help editors and writers find a plan B (or C or D) to take publishing to its next chapter (pardon the pun).  As such we discuss the differences in writing and editing for print and web, what editors are looking for in their writers and new content, etc.  
 
We believe that by providing a neutral atmosphere that is supportive and non-judgemental, we can offer what a charged newsroom or publishing house (redolent with the bad stench of layoffs and the soundtrack of griping and fretting by an overworked remaining staff) can not.  This is the perfect opportunity for editors to really say what is on their minds and for writers to listen and learn as well as to air some of their own concerns and questions.

Tim: We created it because we saw a need. There are lots of writers and editors on Twitter yet very few of them talk to each other. That’s a wasted opportunity. With #editorchat, we tackle the big issues plaguing publishers, writers and editors. And why shouldn’t we? We’ll either succeed or fail together.

SN: How did you get started?

Tim: Both of us had been participating in an excellent Twitter discussion called #journchat, created by PR pro Sarah Evans to connect journalists and PR people. We still love it, but we think #journchat serves PR people more than the writers who congregate there. And it doesn’t speak to editors at all. That’s not a criticism; it just wasn’t designed to be a forum for editors.

So you might say that #editorchat was born from our envy of #journchat, and from a desire to connect writers and editors who had the tools (i.e., Twitter and a broadband connection) but not the means (i.e., #editorchat) to discuss issues that matter in a friendly forum.

Lydia: We started by talking about how great #journchat was for getting to know tweeps that we would not be in contact with in real life/business.  Our experience with that type of networking gave us the idea that we could improve on a good thing. By creating #editorchat we started a forum that was less about PR pitches and more about how to move with the changing industry by sharing ideas and information.

SN: How do you and Lydia know each other? Who else is involved in #editorchat?

Tim: Lydia and I met on Twitter. I’m not sure who followed who first but I do remember responding to a great post at her blog about the names we freelancers take on: contrbutor, contributing writer, contributing editor, even “special to.” Shortly thereafter, I added her to a list of writers I track for a guide called The Freelance Writer’s Helper. We started talking. And we realized, as we were creating #editorchat, that professional connectedness between writers (and writers and editors) produces better content.

No one else is involved in #editorchat right now but we’d be remiss if we didn’t give Sarah Evans some credit — #editorchat is as it is, in part, because of our envy of the #journchat format. Molly Block was another early supporter of #editorchat and J.D. Ebberly might be the most generous participant we host each Wednesday. (Though, honestly, I can’t name a single person I don’t enjoy seeing pop into #editorchat.)

Lydia: We do not have anyone else involved but would welcome guest moderators in the future.

SN: What are some other twitter chats we should look for?

Lydia: #journchat, #collegejourn, #journ2journ, #blogchat, etc.  I am sure there are others, but these are the most relevant to our business.

SN: Have you ever had trouble with trolls spoiling the fun?

Lydia: A few PR tweeps inserted themselves a couple of weeks ago.  We put a (polite) lid on that immediately.

SN: Any advice for someone who’d like to get a twitter chat going?

Tim: The chats themselves are wonderful but the blog and the transcripts are what keep those who participate coming back each week. So, if you’re going to try something like this, have a blog, make it rich, relevant and well-indexed, and invite your readers to connect with you directly.

Lydia: Decide who your audience/participants should be and create a forum that is informative, engaging and, most importantly, relevant to them.  There is no if-you-build-it-they-will-come.  It needs to have value.  Tim and I always plot the questions out in advance and invite others to add to the ones we generate.  Then we tweet the heck out of it before the actual chat so that people can plan to come.  Despite our best efforts to promote it, we always have stragglers who come in at the end and ask, “what’s #editorchat?”  and for them, and others who’ve missed the chat for the night, we offer a complete transcript on the blog the next day. 

One last piece of advice: If you feed your tweets into your Facebook (or other social media profile), turn off that feed before you take part in a Twitter chat. You’ll drive your friends nuts with all the status updates.

Our 15 minutes of fame, courtesy of Charles Apple

In Freelance, Publishing, smartnews on March 22, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Very pleased to get some love from one of the top graphic artists in the nation. Welcome to Smartnews, Charles Apple, and thanks for the shout out!

Charles Apple is a graphics reporter and artist, newspaper designer, teacher and blogger. So sayeth his LinkedIn page. Charles is also my friend.

I check out Charles’ blog nearly every day. If you care anything about “visual journalism” — graphics, photography, design, layout, alternative story forms — you should, too. It’s an honor to be mentioned there.

Freelancers: Get to know your copy rights

In Freelance, Publishing, smartnews on March 16, 2009 at 3:25 pm

As mainstream media organizations dwindle and send their editorial staffs packing, I believe we’ll see a rise in freelance editorial production. In other words, those jobs are being outsourced and offshored. That’s why we’re cranking up Smartnews, after all; may as well accept the fact and make the best of the situation.

Freelancers typically are less sophisticated than publishers when it comes to copyright; after all, who can spend more money on lawyers, you or the New York Times? And generally, they’ve not fared well in the wars over who has the right to the content.

The Supreme Court has agreed to review a case that may bring freelance copyright back into play. Here’s a column by freelancer and freelance-rights advocate Irvin Munchick that lays out the argument from his perspective.

One cool thing about Smartnews: We have no interest in rights to your content. Our model is based on producers retaining rights to their work, in most cases. However, you do need to be smart about what kind of agreement you enter into with publishers in general, and you need to make sure you haven’t previously signed over rights to content when you post it on Smartnews. We’re not in the business of breaking copyright: yours OR a publisher’s.

Let us harness the power of viral spam

In Freelance, Publishing, smartnews on March 15, 2009 at 10:35 pm

“… and they told two friends, and they told two friends, and they told two friends …”*

The way Randy and I figured it back when we were brainstorming, Smartnews needs numbers to work. Lots of people selling to lots of publications. That’s true as a business proposition for us, as well as for freelancers and publishers. You need lots and lots of potential customers in order to move inventory, because not every buyer’s going to be in the market for what you have. Publishers need lots of quality inventory to choose from to feel like it’s worth their $120. Or $1,200. Or $550,000.

So tell your journalist and freelance and just generally creatively talented friends about Smartnews. Link them up with this Facebook group. Tell them to add Randy and me as FB friends. We promise to keep our own spam down to a dull roar.

*I think that was a Faberge shampoo commercial in the ’70s. So cheesy because, of course, Faberge couldn’t have cared less about viral marketing. They were pimpin’ their product on TV.

Just trying to get through the Internet revolution alive, is all

In Freelance, Publishing, Smartness, The news biz on March 14, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Take a gander at this blog post. It’s well worth your time if you give any kind of a damn about the future of news.

The blogger, Clay Shirky, argues that efforts to preserve newspapers — or even print publishing — are doomed. Period. We’re just plain in a time of technologically induced revolution, an upheaval in which no one knows what will replace print, or how or whether journalism will survive and advance in some new form. He compares it to the period shortly after the introduction of the printing press: the world went mad for a time. “People almost literally didn’t know what to think,” he writes.

Because we don’t and can’t know for sure what’s going to work, Shirky advocates trying just about anything.

Any experiment, though, designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.

I will be the first to tell you that Smartnews isn’t going to rescue print journalism. It’s a transitional step. It just makes sense to me that, as newsrooms disintegrate, we need a new, more efficient way to organize our efforts.

But, yeah, it’s goint to be a rocky road the next few decades.

  • Thanks to Mark Freisen, a journalist at The Oregonian and blogger who maintains NewsDesigner.com, for passing this link along via Facebook.
  • Learn a little about Clay Shirky at good ole Wikipedia. I found a one-liner there interesting: “Shirky has long spoken in favor of crowdsourcing and collaborative efforts online, using the phrase ‘the Internet runs on love’ to describe the nature of such collaborations.”

    Love don’t pay the bills, though.

  • Brainy people talk about future of news

    In Publishing, The news biz on March 13, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Warning: This audio is for news wonks. Enjoy!

    So far, the public hasn’t recognized this as a crisis.

    Why Smartnews, why now?

    In Freelance, Publishing, smartnews, The news biz, Unfettered stupidity on March 13, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    AP’s feelin’ the hate.

    And then we were talking about the high cost of the Associated Press and we were all upset. The Blade, for an example, which is a medium-sized paper, was paying $550,000 a year for the Associated Press. And the Associated Press was forcing us to buy new services that we didn’t need or didn’t use, becouse everything was in the package.

    Medium-size paper drops half a mill a year on wire, folks. That’s a lotta moolah if you multiply it by the number of medium-size papers in the United States. Big, fat ocean of market out there.

    … we wrote a letter to Tom Curley, who’s the chief executive for the Associated Press, and said that “You’re too expensive, your structure is wrong. The newspaper industry created you, you have an obligation to help us through this crisis now, and instead you continously raise our rates and charge us for pictures — if we call the AP and want a photograph of Ronald Reagan in Cleveland in the 1980s, they would charge us fees for that to get it out of their archive. And there were many other complaints we had.

    Would you treat a cllient that way? This is why we’re doing Smartnews. Publishers need better options. Writers, photographers, artists need a better deal.

    What we’re looking for right now

    In Freelance, Publishing, smartnews on March 13, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    This yesterday from Randy on the Facebook group: A new welcome page has been added for those who’ve not been there before. Strongest needs today (more are listed on the site):

  • state correspondents for 20 most populous states
  • movie reviewer
  • television columnist
  • entertainment/gossip columnist
  • infographics artist
  • on-call feature photographer.