Archive for the ‘Smartness’ 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.


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.

  • Guess I should change the address of this blog

    In Fayetteville, N.C., Smartness, The news biz on November 26, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    My friend, Randy Foster, writes the epilogue to SmartNews, the coolest newspaper in North Carolina.

    I hear a lot about entrepreneurism, but what it means from my experience is the ability to overcome everyone else’s low expectations. SmartNews struggled for 16 months to get a foothold in the Fayetteville market. We thought a fun, interesting, professional, interactive newspaper with good distribution and low ad rates was just the ticket for Fayetteville.

    What an amazing learning experience the last two newspapers — SmartNews and, before that, Bluffton Today — have been. I feel like I oughta have a master’s degree to show for it. Thanks for everything, Randy; it was one helluva ride.

    Here’s my white paper for Barack

    In Politics, Smartness, Unfettered stupidity on November 19, 2008 at 1:43 am

    I wrote this in response to a friend’s rant about weak-kneed Democrats threatening to bring precious little actual change to Washington. This screed manifesto dissertation document has been, as you may well imagine, vetted by a panel of internationally recognized drunks lay-abouts experts.

    Here’s a thought. Eliminate the Department of Homeland Security. We didn’t need it then, we don’t need it now.

    Here’s another cost-saver: Combine NSA with CIA or State. Exactly how many spy agencies do we need working at cross-purposes, anyway? No more than three or four, I’d think ….

    If all that feels too “soft on terrorism” (though I’d argue less bureaucracy squatting on our spy and police networks would be tougher on terrorists), throw the conservatives a bone and eliminate the Department of Education. What have federal bureaucrats done for our kids, lately? Make them take tests? Guess what — American kids were dumb as sacks full of hammers 20 years ago, they’re dumb as sacks full of hammers today. Not all of em; but the average hasn’t improved. Time to burn down the school and start over.

    These things are drops in the bucket compared to a war without end or Social Security without a future or the stay-out-of-jail-free cards we keep giving to the kleptomaniacs of Wall Street, but they’d at least make me feel like someone was doing something.

    Change, motherfucker!

    Newspaper execs: The final offshoring frontier

    In Biz, Smartness, The news biz on April 1, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Thanks to my friend Charles Apple for dredging up this one:

    The rush to export newspaper jobs overseas takes a new turn today.

    From a press release we received this morning:


    Moxbury, Pa.
    April 1, 2008


    The Patriot-Herald newspaper group will eliminate 45 jobs in the second quarter of 2008 when it outsources corporate management positions to a company in India, the Moxbury, Pa.,-based chain announced Tuesday.

    Grammys love them some Herb

    In Culture, Smartness on February 11, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    I normally could give less than a damn about award shows. To me, they’re the ultimate in “image management” — 100 percent style; zero substance. However, I am not so secretly pleased that jazz pianist Herbie Hancock walked away with the Grammys’ biggest trophy, the album of the year, last night.

    Normally, that level of Grammy success follows on the heels of selling a bajillion albums. The winner was expected to be Kanye West or Amy “Crackhead” Winehouse. But there’s no way in hell that a collection of jazz covers of Joni Mitchell tunes is going to sell more than, say, a jillion or so units. People just aren’t THAT excited about musical skill, and, as Vince Gill noted backstage, “I think Herbie Hancock, hands down, is a better musician than all of us here put together.”

    Anyway, catch up on some rare, front-page (well, front of the feature section, maybe) jazz news here: Hancock Steals Grammy Album of Year

    Now I’m gonna have to find this and give it a listen. 😮

    Pollution: Root cause of the old-age dumb-down?

    In Culture, Science and fiction, Smartness on January 27, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    More research is linking pollution exposure — this time, it’s lead — to deterioration late in life — this time, in brain function.

    Could it be that the “natural” mental decline that afflicts many older people is related to how much lead they absorbed decades before?

    That’s the provocative idea emerging from some recent studies, part of a broader area of new research that suggests some pollutants can cause harm that shows up only years after someone is exposed.

    The new work suggests long-ago lead exposure can make an aging person’s brain work as if it’s five years older than it really is. If that’s verified by more research, it means that sharp cuts in environmental lead levels more than 20 years ago didn’t stop its widespread effects.

    Nothing definitive, of course. As is frequently the case with science, the results are more intriguing than engineerable. Wonder if these guys are thinking about ways to exfoliate the lead ‘n’ such from our cells:

    Both my folks died of cancer. I wonder: Was it genetic? Too much delicious barbecue? Dad used to smoke a pipe — did that come into play? Stray gamma rays? There’s just no knowing.

    The Bugle: Devastating application of snarkiness to the news

    In Culture, Politics, Smartness, The news biz on January 12, 2008 at 8:12 am

    You’ll recognize John Oliver from his recurring bits on The Daily Show. SmartNews can only aspire to this level of mockery. Download, listen, laugh, weep.

    Amputating medical costs by ‘offshoring’ the work

    In Biz, Smartness on January 2, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    AP has a “newsfeature” about medical tourism — where people go out of the country to have surgery and whatnot — coming up, but, as usual, it hasn’t appeared on its Web version. So I scouted around to see if maybe it had already run online elsewhere (it hadn’t) and ran across this interesting idea: Businesses more or less bypassing “normal” insurance and just paying for employees to have medical work done overseas.

    Victor Lazarro, CEO of BridgeHealth International, a fledgling company … is making a push to market medical tourism directly to employers who are seeing their health premiums skyrocket. In many cases, he said, it’s cheaper for a company to waive a person’s deductible and co-insurance payments and just pay to have a procedure performed — travel costs included — in countries such as Singapore, Thailand or Costa Rica.

    It’s an interesting thought. I know a woman who went to Costa Rica to have extensive dental work done. Of course, one wonders what recourse one has if one gets work done in Thailand and something goes awry. A significant part of the reason medical costs are so high in the U.S. is malpractice insurance, is it not?Apparently, most folks going overseas for medicine are doing elective surgery — tummy tucks ‘n’ such — that aren’t covered by insurance. But it’s an interesting thought about bypassing insurance for “medically necessary” procedures.Hey, if publishers can “offshore” their editing work, underpaid journos should be able to “offshore” their expenses, too, hm?

    I should be more of an asshole

    In Smartness, The news biz on December 31, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    And I s’pose I should be smarter, too, if the Yelv is right: “Newspapers were more interesting when they were edited by brilliant, obsessive jerks than nowadays, when they’re edited by committees.” He says newspapers should be more like Apple (user-experience focused, aggressively looking outside the company for innovation) and less like Microsoft (know-it-all, territorial bastards?).