Jim

Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

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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Would news by any other name still smell as … inky?

In editor, innovation, News, newspaper, Politics, publish, publisher, Publishing, smartnews, startup, venture on April 28, 2009 at 3:50 am

I got an interesting comment on my LinkedIn status line, which is “Jim would like to collaborate (or just brainstorm) with you on putting laid-off newspaper journalists back to work.”

The respondent said “Create a Truth Syndicate. The day is coming when when consumers will pay for vetted information.” The comment sparked a minor mudslide of questions that I thought I’d allow to spill into this blog.

I wonder in what way would a “truth syndicate” be different from what we now refer to as news. Not that news or journalism has ever had the truth market cornered. One thing I’ve learned for sure in my time in the biz: Facts are slippery little bastards. And truth is bloody vaporous.

Even well-intentioned sources get things wrong. Even diligent reporters screw up, miss a crucial detail, misunderstand the context. And there’s the vast ocean of disagreement. Not just on politics. Hell, it might be disagreement on what happened during that shootout. Or whether the refs are biased (as a long-suffering N.C. State fan, I can attest that they are. Grossly. In favor of Kerliner.)

Meanwhile, we’ve all learned to suspect that the news media harbor serious political biases. What those biases appear to be may depend on your politics, of course. But it’s common wisdom that Fox News is in the pocket of the GOP and MSNBC is not-so-secretly Team Obama. An awful lot of the “news” comes to us through the distorting filter of pundits. It’s hard to find a story that touches on national politics that isn’t infected with talking points that originated in the DNC or the RNC.

So how would a truth syndicate operate? Would it fact-check the news of the day as reported by other outlets? Or would it break news like any news organ? Would it be strictly enterprise and investigation, or is there room for sports and that jumble of everything else we call “features?” Would it just be a news wiki?

I have heard tell of corporations hiring journalists; perhaps they are performing a similar function privately, helping the bosses slog through the mire of he said-she said to find the meaningful gobbets in the day’s news. (Or maybe they’re just hacking out lame internal newsletters, I really have no idea.)

I would love to read your thoughts on what a truth syndicate might look like. What would the market be? On which media would it thrive? What’s the truth syndicate’s business model?

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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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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.”

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.