Jim

Archive for the ‘Freelance’ Category

Prescription for SND’s ills

In Biz, editor, Freelance, graphics, innovation, News, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, Smartness, smartnews, startup, The news biz, venture on June 19, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Like many other news and former news folks, I’ve been unable to tear my eyes away from the Society for News Design trainwreck. (Charles Apple’s coverage here) And like many others, I’ve been involved in sotto voce conversations in the wings as the blood spread across the stage.

First, my background: I’m not now nor have I ever been an officer of SND. I let my membership lapse recently, as I’m out of the business. I’ve been a paying member off and on over the years, always (as far as I can remember) out of pocket. A Quick Course in Chapel Hill really turned my head around on newspaper design in the early ’90s and planted the seed for my career.  Many of my friends and most people I would call colleagues are or have been members. I’ve attended three annual workshops — San Jose, Houston, and Boston — on my own dime and felt they were worth every penny. My only other official connection was a lecture session I gave at a Quick Course in Salt Lake City. So, I’m a semi-active former member, not in any way an important voice.

Here’s the upshot: SND needs a wholesale reinvention. SND needs to get into the news business by promoting and incubating journalistic ventures that will eventually compete with the current mainstream press. Yes, I said it, it’s time for SND to bite the hand that’s fed it for decades.

The news industry has let us down. I can’t count how many of my friends and colleagues have lost their jobs or are just waiting for the axe to fall. And the axe appears to have fallen disproportionately on “visual” people. It’s time to fight back, and to do it in a way that genuinely supports the interests of members — by creating jobs.

Who is doing that, right now? A scattering of disconnected ventures, each hoping to be the next big thing, many with little or no money or support, just enthusiasm and big dreams. Those of you who’ve followed my Smartnews misadventures know all about that. These efforts need support: investors, clerical/intern help, good ideas, marketing. These are not necessarily SND’s strengths, but they need to be. News needs that. Those of us who believe in design as a journalistic tool, who love infographics and grids and, yes, even the Typeface du Jour need that.

Jay Small, whom you could call an important voice, is on the right track:

SND must represent the brightest thinking focused on innovation in communicating the news. Typeface du jour? Web width of the month? Hell, no. Attracting and engaging news consumers and enabling communities around the news? Oh, yeah!

SND needs to fill another leadership vacuum: The gap between so-called visual people and word people. Far too many designers, photographers and graphic artists have weak spelling, grammar and reporting skills. Way too many writers and editors have no clue about the synergy of their efforts with those of everyone else. Much has been said about bridging the worlds, but the silos remain. And toss multimedia and Web skills into the mix, too. There are just not enough jobs out there to justify separations of church and state, anymore. Anyone who’s lucky enough to have a newsroom position has to know it all. But so few of us do.

Some of SND’s training does address this: The folks I most respect get it about perpetrating good journalism, about making every word and image count. But it’s in our nature to go for the pretty over the effective. We’ve got to focus on changing that if we want to have a place at the table.

If SND were to do all that, I’m afraid that much of what it focuses on now — the big contest, the annual meeting — would have to take a backseat. It’d be the end of an era. But, let’s face it, folks, we’re at the end of a journalism era.

Daydreaming about a graphics-heavy newspaper (or Web site)

In editor, Freelance, graphics, innovation, News, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, startup, venture on April 24, 2009 at 7:53 pm

I’ve been contemplating the rash of layoffs among the specialists who draw maps and charts and explanatory diagrams for newspapers: graphic artists and graphic reporters.

If you’ll check that link, in the comments, Michael Dabrowa daydreams about a paper that converts to an exclusively infographics format. I’m no graphics whiz, but I’ve dreamed that dream, too. I once imagined that the ideal staff for SmartNews (back when it was a newspaper) would be a graphics reporter, a features reporter and a copy editor/designer. (And me, of course.) I just have a tremendous feeling for the power of polished, well-thought-out explanatory graphics. Done correctly, they provide insight at a glance that might take 500, 1,000, 20,000 words.

Graphical reporting is gravely underrated. If you want to make efficient use of shrinking newshole, build a graphic.

We have so many talented visual journalists already on board with SmartNews — really, a surfeit of skill and passion. Would love to find a way to get them involved in a salable project.

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Pondering the economics of making a news startup work on the Web

In Biz, Freelance, innovation, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, smartnews, startup, venture on April 18, 2009 at 7:18 pm

I ran a cross a comment on this thread that breaks down the dilemma that faces Internet startups.

It’s a great idea to have journalists curating the best tweets about a story or topic. That’s a solid content model. Now, if you want to make a living at it, you need to sort out and execute a business model.

You have two options:

1. Get massive traffic, 2MM+ pageviews/month while keeping costs low, low, low, such that you can use existing advertising networks to make a living. Their rates are insultingly low, but if you can break a million pageviews without having to pay for content or help, then you can make that work possibly.

2. Build it out into a brand with a defined, die-hard niche audience that specific types of businesses will pay a premium to reach. What about approaching the makers of some of the Twitter clients out there? They’re always looking for new users and your audience consists of super-active Twitter-users who are likely always one step ahead of the game. What if Twirl or Tweetdeck sponsored you guys for a month or two?

Very difficult for any individual journalist to drag in 2 million page views per month (I’m astonished at how few even this blog gets, even though I make almost no effort to market it. You’d think that random chance would drag in more useless, accidental traffic.) And there are only so many valuable niches around. I think of my friend Charles Apple who’s absolutely got the “visual journalist” market nailed down — but what is that worth to him or to Visual Editors in terms of advertising? I don’t see Adobe ponying up oodles of ad money. (Maybe as we all get outsourced and have to buy our own equipment and software, that’ll change.)

As publishers and executive editors have not exactly been beating down our doors, I’ve been thinking off and on about how we could grow Smartnews into it’s own direct-to-consumer Web experience. The result would probably be something like True/Slant. But probably more open, using that rating system to direct eyeballs and presumably ad revenue to journalists. I’m open to your suggestions.

Big thanks for a small post*

In editor, Freelance, innovation, News, newspaper, smartnews, startup, venture on April 10, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Thanks to Ernie at shortformblog for the shout. Smartnews thinks shortformblog is smart news. Smartnews is biased. Ernie is a good friend. Seriously, you should bookmark shortformblog, and follow it on Twitter. Ernie has a great voice and distills the news of the day beautifully, skills he learned at now-defunct Link (a young-adult oriented news tab) in Norfolk, Va.

I could imagine, down the road, a site like shortformblog that distills the content from an institution like Smartnews. Throw in some Facebook-style app-madness and “social networking” and you’ve got the Next Big Thing™. Yeah, all you venture capitalists take a number, all right? Our people will get in touch with your people.

Heh. If you’re gonna dream, dream big.

Well, back to the gritty reality of writing about colonoscopy coding.

*All of the posts at Shortformblog are small, so we’re not denigrating the chunky-text mention.

News items of interest to Smartnews enthusiasts

In Biz, editor, Freelance, News, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, smartnews, startup, The news biz, venture on April 5, 2009 at 7:59 pm

A couple of interesting Forbes items I ran across via Twitter this afternoon.

First is last year’s article on newspapers’ revolt against Associated Press. Buried down in there is some fun stuff about the amount of money at stake. According to Forbes, AP only derives about 30 percent of its income from newspapers. That surprised me.

U.S. newspapers paid about $215 million in annual content fees to AP last year, even as they provided up to 30% of the reporting that composes AP’s daily state news coverage. AP’s fees currently average around $143,000 per paper, but the actual amount a newspaper pays per year varies greatly from paper to paper, with the largest dailies paying well in excess of $1 million a year.

That’s a boatload of cash. Maybe not AIG money, but still.
And then this:

… any alternatives would have a hard time matching the breadth and timeliness of AP’s daily news report, particularly on state news, breaking national news, photography and sports. Still, that hasn’t stopped editors from shopping around. For instance, sports news agency PA SportsTicker has experienced an uptick in inquiries from U.S. newspapers about its services, according to Sales Director Jay Imus.

Naturally, we envision a network of journalists so broad it could really begin to make a dent in this argument. Erica Smith has tallied up nearly 8,000 layoffs and buyouts at U.S. newspapers in 2009. How many of those are writers, editors, photographers, graphic artists, designers, Web developers? If just one-tenth of them sold content through Smartnews, that’d be a hell of an amazing body or work.
Meanwhile:
The other article describes Rupert Murdoch getting on the ‘hey, maybe we should sue Google’ bandwagon. (This article’s where I found the link to the item about AP.)
Here’s an interesting thought at the bottom of this article, from Anthony Moor, deputy managing editor of the Dallas Morning News Online.

“I wish newspapers could act together to negotiate better terms with companies like Google. Better yet, what would happen if we all turned our sites off to search engines for a week? By creating scarcity, we might finally get fair value for the work we do.”

Would newspapers have the balls to try something like that?

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.

‘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.