Jim

Archive for the ‘The news biz’ 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.

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Want to get back at evil corporate greedia? Carving each other up ain’t gonna do the job

In Biz, editor, graphics, newspaper, Publishing, smartnews, startup, The news biz, venture on May 2, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Lots of bitterness and fury from people whom Tribune has canned recently. Hell, I just got a 10 percent pay cut in my non-newspaper job, so I feel — well, a sliver of the pain, myself.

It appears the head-rolling — which seems disproportionately distributed among “visual” folks — has brought long-built tension over how much value designers and copy editors add to a newsroom to a head. Couple that with resentment toward the survivors, and you’ve got a bloodbath.

OK. I get it. Newspaper owners don’t think we’re worth as much as writers (I say “we” because, though I have a writing job now, the better part of my news career was in layout, copy editing and design.) Many of our jobs have become, as The Yelv points out, obsolete.

What I don’t get is journalists turning on each other.

If you want to make a future for yourself in news, you’re going to need every friend you can find. Now’s not the time to burn bridges — at least not with our colleagues. I will go so far as to say that corporate news has already burned our bridge — and this time, I mean “our” in the sense of all journalists.

I’m not saying this to be a pollyanna. I’m saying we need a better survival instinct.

I won’t lie; publishers and executive editors have disappointed me a little in the lack of enthusiasm for Smartnews. You would think that now would be the time they’d take an interest in something that could reduce costs. They are so shellshocked, however, they cannot even begin to look two steps forward in their game. And they don’t really have a lot of leeway; I understand the money is tightly controlled right now. No one wants to play guinea pig.

I can live with that. They don’t owe me anything.

Where I’m much more disappointed is in the utter lack of heart I keep finding among my colleagues to do something concrete about their predicament. Apart from a job search.

Look, it doesn’t have to be Smartnews. Maybe a journalist doesn’t see the value or the future, or doesn’t trust us. I can live with that, too.

Do something creative. We pride ourselves on our creativity, do we not? The possibilities are infinite. Do it yourself, like my friend Ernie with Short Form Blog. That’s a great example of a designer/editor redirecting his efforts to the Web. Before, he was a curator of news for print. Now, he curates for the Web. Get involved with Publish2. Take an ad sales person out for drinks and pick her brain.

Breaking out the machetes ain’t gonna work, folks. We’ve lost one war, already.

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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?

At what cost free publicity? Heh.

In Biz, editor, innovation, News, newspaper, publish, publisher, Publishing, smartnews, startup, The news biz, venture on April 3, 2009 at 11:02 pm

MediaBistro’s WebNewser picked up on Smartnews A Smarter Way to Gather Content, But at What Cost? It’s hard to complain about a little publicity, but any time you end up in the news, you realize what our sources go through when they open the paper (or turn on the TV or what have you) — you see all the niggling little things that the reporter got wrong.

So at the risk of sounding ungrateful (and I’m not, I’m glad to get the word out), here are my quibbles:

  • I’m pretty sure neither Randy nor I live in Raleigh, N.C. I used to live in Raleigh, but that was many, many moons ago — long before Smartnews was a twinkle in my eye. We do live in the Carolinas, however, so … pretty close.
  • The last sentence was a little off, too: “The cost to a small publisher (weekly circulation of less than 100,000) could run as little as $1 and go up to a flat fee for exclusive, unrestricted content for $1,000.”

    Yes, content can go for as little as $1 a pop for small publishers. However, only large publishers could ever shell out $1,000 for exclusive, unrestricted use of an item on Smartnews. So, as far as the headline, I’ll tell ya at what cost: Rock bottom prices! That’s what cost. Especially when you consider our contributors. A few bucks for a Charles Apple graphic or Martin Gee illo? Good Lord, yes.

  • In lieu of pizza party, the latest press release

    In Publishing, smartnews, The news biz on April 3, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Republishing another note from Randy. I swear, honest to goodness, I’ll get back to original content soon.

    RALEIGH, N.C. — SMARTNEWS News Cooperative unveiled its national member-only news content service on April 1, 2009, offering affordable a la carte content for publishers from a growing network of 36 journalists, artists and specialists.

    The cooperative takes an innovative approach that provides high-quality news, features, sports and visuals for print, online and broadcast, at extremely low prices. Content creators benefit from exposure to a broad network of buyers. There’s an added twist: news publishers can sell their own content via SMARTNEWS NC, creating a new revenue source for them.

    The cooperative also offers access to a growing network of consultants, a temporary labor pool, industry news, a discussion
    board, live chat and other resources for contributors, editors, publishers and directors.

    The service was created by Randy Foster and Jim McBee. Foster has been a publisher, editor, writer and consultant over more than 20 years in the newspaper and Internet industries. McBee has been an editor and designer for more than 15 years, and helped launch two free daily newspapers.

    SMARTNEWS NC is a members-only service with content available from its site, smartnewsnc.com.

    There is a huge surplus of professional journalists because of layoffs, buyouts and closures. At the same time, news publishers continue to thirst for high-quality content that fits their budgets. SMARTNEWS NC addresses all these issues.

    Offerings so far include an advice column, a 20-something column, book reviews, Dr. Gwen (a column about children and families), Poetscopes (a feature that combines horoscopes and poetry), sports columns by veteran sports writer and author Thad Mumau, feature photos, graphics, stock art and feature stories. SMARTNEWS NC plans to add breaking news and sports coverage as its membership grows.

    The cooperative approach has attracted Charles Apple and Martin Gee, two top visual journalists.

    “We have an eclectic collection of journalists,” said co-founder Randy Foster. “We’re aiming for a full plate of content offerings at a fraction of the cost of traditional syndicates and wire services.”

    ‘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.

    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.