Journalists need business sense

Here’s Paul Conley’s latest advice for those who are training the next generation of journalists:

  1. Give up on trying to convert your peers.
  2. Instead, push to give your students the tools that will allow them to see the world and the publishing industry clearly.
  3. Fight to have a business finance and/or accounting course as a requirement for graduation.
  4. Force every journalism student in your school to cover business. Invite business journalists to guest lecture on subjects like “reading an income statement” and “understanding SEC filings.” Don’t let anyone graduate who hasn’t produced at least five multimedia pieces that focus on the world of business, investments and/or personal finance.
  5. Distribute salary surveys whenever you can. Make sure your students know that new media pays more than old media.

It’s good advice, Paul, but — whew! Many journalism students balk at learning basic Excel!

Chasing rainclouds away with some positive attitude

Recent news about the journalism business has been depressing. I’m sure you’ve noticed. So it’s kind of hard to get jazzed about writing a blog post sometimes. Yoni Greenbaum was feeling the same way, it seems:

… our newsrooms and online operations are being overtly influenced by dinosaurs who are content with seeing their employer struggle and fail and by curmudgeonly young employees who have a warped sense of entitlement and the oft-mistaken belief that they alone have the insight and the answers to change this industry for the better.

Bummer, right? But I don’t want to be one of those public whiners or tantrum throwers Yoni dresses down in his wistful post. (There, I already feel better just because I got to use the word wistful correctly.)

I’d rather be like young Kiyoshi Martinez, who’s telling all the young journalist wannabes to quit crying into their beer and walk up to the plate with their chests puffed out and confidence in their skills and bright new ideas:

We’re in an era where you don’t have to be officially affiliated with “legitimate media” to be a journalist. Start your own on campus blogging network of writers. Find contributors and give your college paper a run for their money online. Break news. Advertise with spray chalk your URL. Post it in classrooms. Use Facebook. Put some of that marketing and advertising you learned about to get students excited about what you’re creating. Become your own part-time publisher.

When you’re in a job interview, you can be one of two people. You can say, “Well, we didn’t have blogs at our college paper,” or you can say, “We didn’t have blogs at my paper, so I decided to leave and create my own publishing network on campus.” Which candidate would you hire? Don’t waste your time waiting for others to catch up, because that’s the kind of thing a traditional newspaper would do and we know how well that’s worked out for them.

Then there’s Howard Owens, pointing us to this invigorating post by Erick Schonfeld, who recently started blogging for TechCrunch (yes, blogging as a real job):

TechCrunch succeeds because its bloggers do very good journalism — gathering lots of stories, getting them online quickly (if not first), and because its bloggers know what the hell they’re talking about, their commentary is respected.

So, Yoni, buck up. I have faith in journalism, and I know you do too. (I think I’m losing my faith in newspapers, though. I’m going to try not to dwell on that, because it makes me feel pretty sad.)

What Kiyoshi and Erick are reminding us of is that journalism is an exciting business, a shot of ink-infused adrenaline shooting through your veins. It’s a job that’s not evil. It’s a calling that can bring about great good, and you can have great fun doing it too. Maybe that’s all gone now in a lot of newspaper newsrooms — but don’t despair! Read Erick’s post and share the excitement.

If you turn up your snobby nose at technology journalism, then sniff out Politico, which is proving to give The Washington Post some real competition in covering issues and not just the horse race (it has a super-slick print edition Monday through Friday). Or watch some “vanguard journalism” at Current TV.

Journalism is not dead — it’s all over the Internet.

Journalism is not newspapers. It’s bigger than that old tree-killing tradition, and sooner or later, someone’s going to figure out how to get it paid for. Not those old dinosaurs, obviously. But someone will — some sharp-toothed little mammals are going to survive the new era and evolve and grow. I’m sure of it.

Catch-22 in journalism internships

Go to work for 10 or 12 or 15 weeks without any pay.

Give up your ability to work full-time and save money for the coming school year.

Pay rent in two places, if you can’t sublet your costly university-town apartment.

And — oh, yeah — pay for three academic credits (at full price) at your university while you’re doing it.

Like all journalism professors in North America, we tell our students they must, must, must get at least one internship before they graduate.

In a March 21 essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education (republished at the SPJ site), Ben Yagoda (an English professor at the University of Delaware), gives up the straight dope on why our kids have to pay to not get paid.

The gist: Because the news organizations are too damned tight-fisted to pay even minimum wage to college students learning their trade — when it is the news organizations’ own requirement that they will not hire fresh grads who never had an internship — they were violating federal labor laws when they failed to require that the intern was simultaneously signed up (and paying) for college credits.

So nowadays, they require the unpaid interns to be taking internship credits.

I know the news business is in trouble. I know the ad revenues are dropping and the subscriber base is shrinking. But guys, you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Many of the kids who cannot afford to take an internship under these conditions are our very best students — the ones you need to save this business. The wealthy ones who can afford it are not always our hardest workers or our most creative thinkers.

Best multimedia packages judged by NPPA

Just a quickie in case you missed —

NPPA: Best of Photojournalism 2008 Winners, Multimedia Packages

Some surprises! Go and look! (Zach Wise’s “Soul of Athens” — yes! MediaStorm’s “Black Market” — yes!)

Smart advice from the judges:

This was a difficult category for us to judge because each entry had a little of everything we were looking for, but none had them all. There are holes in multimedia packages that are being produced across the country. We need better graphics, photography, audio, video, interactive designs, and usability to make a package work.

To make a more comprehensive package, photographers, editors, graphic designers, and reporters should collaborate at the beginning of a story. None of the entries brought together elements of strong visual journalism and the technology of the web.

About the category:

Highlights the use of audio, video and animation in the presentation of web-based stories. Judges will pay special attention to the use of available technology to complement and enhance the art of visual storytelling.

Entries may include single galleries, slideshows or video, as well as packages that include multiple elements that were grouped and published together as a single story or theme.

Content, usability, and interactivity are key to this celebration of cutting-edge storytelling.

Dith Pran, 1942 – 2008

“One time is too many.”

A moving video memoir of the Cambodian photojournalist, from The New York Times.

I remember seeing the film “The Killing Fields” in 1984 and wondering how this could happen. Then it happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina , and in Rwanda, and in Darfur. Maybe more people were killed in Cambodia than in any one place since then, but I’m not sure that the difference between 8,000 and 2 million is relevant in genocide.

Let’s delete the word ‘repurposing’ from our vocabulary

My friend Alf Hermida worked for BBC News online for many years, so please listen up:

It is time to stop talking about repurposing and instead to start a discussion on how to re-imagine journalism.

Alf’s been noticing that too many so-called online journalism textbooks spend too many pages discussing a practice that is just plain bad for journalism.

“Shovelware” is bad enough — that’s when you take the unaltered content from another medium (print, TV) and simply shovel it up to the Web site. Looks bad, tastes bad. But at least it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) require any extra labor from the journalists in the newsroom.

“Repurposed” content has been tweaked — or retrofitted, we might say — so that it works better online than straight-up shovelware. Trouble is, it usually doesn’t make a big difference, and the process eats up precious time — time the short-staffed newsroom just does not have to spare. Time that would, quite frankly, be much better spent doing something new for online.

What some newsrooms (e.g., The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) have done is turn the workflow around — in a way that makes sense when the number of subscribers to the print product is decreasing and the number of online visitors is increasing: Make “Web first” the rule, in all cases. Produce for online, write for online, shoot for online, design for online.

And then “repurpose” for the dying media — the print newspaper and the local TV newscast.

Your priorities ought to reflect reality, don’t you think?

Adding value: What journalists need to do now

From Phil Meyer, speaking on the occasion of a two-day symposium marking his retirement as Knight Chair at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication:

The hunter-gatherer model of journalism is no longer sufficient. Citizens can do their own hunting and gathering on the Internet. What they need is somebody to add value to that information by processing it — digesting it, organizing it, making it usable.

This is why we still need newspapers — or something like them.

Phil has been an inspiration to many of us in both professions (journalism and journalism education) because he advocates this kind of thinking about journalism:

Traditional journalism goes after events. But behind every event there is a pattern. And behind the pattern there is structure. … Citizens, to be enlightened, need to know more about public affairs than just the events. They must understand … the patterns and the structures. Event-centered coverage of public meetings and press conferences won’t do that.

Unlike a lot of journalists, Phil has never been scared off by academic theory. Unlike a lot of professors, he understands what’s at the heart of journalism:

Last week, a newspaper reporter asked me why, at the age of 77, I care so much about the future of journalism. “I have grandchildren,” I explained. But there is more to it than that. I want the work of journalism and journalism education to advance, to be cumulative. I want the conversation to continue.

Phil, congratulations on your retirement. I hope we’ll still be seeing a lot of your wise and cogent writing in the future.