Skirting the word “loophole”

Posted July 25th, 2007 in Journalism, Newspapers, Writing by Muhammad84G

Regular readers know I love when reporters get called out for over using and misusing words. Jack Shafer makes a good case for ending the use of the word “loophole” in supposedly objective news stories (emphasis is mine):

It’s a loaded, partisan word, one that implies wrongdoing and scandal where none exists, and inserting it into a political argument gives the inserter the upper hand. When loophole creeps into news stories, they start to read like editorials…Once reporters understand that one man’s loophole is another man’s freedom, they’ll never use the word again.

I’m too jaded to believe idealist Shafer’s assertion that reporters will stop using the word just because someone points out that it’s lazy and partisan. But what do I know? I wasn;t cut out for the dead tree journalism business.

Bye, bye Bat Boy

Posted July 24th, 2007 in Newspapers, Publishing, Writing by Muhammad84G

Stephen King notes without shame that to make ends meet before his first big break he wrote fiction for porno mags that were trying to skirt obscenity laws by running articles. For the budding novelist, it was the perfect venue: a place to hone his craft where relatively few readers would read and criticize his work and, most importantly, a much needed paycheck.

Opportunities to sell to girlie mags declined as obscenity laws eased and pages once devoted to short stories and articles about muscle cars were replaced by the photos that drove sales.

Budding writers took another hit this week when Weekly World News said it would suspend publication.

You know Weekly World News and have probably even read it, although you’d never admit it to your college-educated friends. Most of us will only concede that headlines about a Japanese woman’s seventh anniversary to a space alien or the latest doings of Bat Boy provided us with a chuckle as we waited patiently in a supermarket check out line. But for many nonfiction writers — particularly those just out of college and making $18,500 a year in their first newspaper job — Weekly World News offered something more.

Rent money.

From its 1979 inception up until about 10 years ago, Weekly World News would occasionally work with imaginative freelancers who could string together an inverted pyramid news story and populate it with aliens, gargantuan babies and talking toasters. The pay was modest but came without hassling them for months on end, and, let’s face it: the work was fun. From the Wikipedia entry on WWN:

Sal Ivon, former managing editor, says, “If someone calls me up and says their toaster is talking to them, I don’t refer them to professional help, I say, ‘Put the toaster on the phone’.” Derrik Lang, a former stringer for the paper, said, “That fat guy with the sunburned belly and that kid abused by his own shadow were living, breathing people with wilder-than-wild stories to tell – in my head. I can’t attest to the entire publication, but everything in my stories was fake – you know, depending on how you define fake.”

But, like a lot of newspapers, declining margins forced WWN to bring most of the tasks that had been farmed out to stringers in house and by 2000 freelancers were seeing a noticeable uptick in rejections from WWN. By 2005, most of us who had denied reading it for years had indeed stopped reading it, or at least buying it, our curiosity about the latest doings of Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster apparently quelled. By last Fall, regular readers (there were still more than a few) noticed that regular features were being discontinued, including the ever popular page five girl. Last week’s announcement wasn’t entirely unexpected, and yet lots of people – former writers and even people who just got a laugh the latest “Holy shit!” headline about the latest alien abduction — couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness.

There’s a broader message here: print is dying. It’s an oft-repeated message and one a lot of people seem to be in denial about, and some of the dead tree proponents will scoff at comparing the economic health of WWN to something to more respectable publications (like Hustler). We can laugh when WWN goes under, but you have to keep in mind this was a remarkably cheap publication to produce with rather massive penetration. The stroies were made up, so no expensive travel budgets to send reporters to Scotland to confirm that the Loch ness Monster did indeed reemerge from the murky depths. I wouldn;t be surprised if they were using the same layout and production system they purchased when they started publication in 1979 and the printing quality was awful, leaving ounces of black ink on your fingers after a cursory glance (or so I’m told by people who actually admit to reading it).

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Tuesdays With Crappy

Posted May 23rd, 2007 in Newspapers, Writing by Muhammad84G

Stealing the headline for this post and the link from a blogger who probably can’t update his blog during the work day. But seriously, how do you get a million dollar book deal when you write ledes like this?

BY MITCH ALBOM
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Like dripping ice, like descending smog, there was karma all over the building Tuesday night — and still the Red Wings almost shook it off, they fought to the choking finish. But in the end, it was covered in feathers and spoke with a beak. And by the time the sun set in the West, it had already gone down on Detroit.

Duck, duck, gone.

Why I love the Herald

Posted May 3rd, 2007 in Boston, Newspapers, Sports by Muhammad84G

Because this qualifies as front page news:

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Journalism do-gooders will bemoan such front page layouts of the death of the craft, but I’m guessing it sold more papers than the Globe’s lead on “Big Dig may have used wrong epoxy.” The sad but often fun reality of American culture is that to sell anything you need to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Let it go, already

Posted April 23rd, 2007 in Blogging, Boston, Journalism, Newspapers by Muhammad84G

The problem with newspaper people (and I can say this as a recovering newspaper junkie), is that they’re too much in love with newspapers.

BostonNOW is launching this week with some half-assed business model where much of the content will be lifted from blogs and “citizen journalists.” And, according to Boing Boing, some of that content is being lifted without permission:

Update: Jon sez, “They ripped off content from Bostonist.com – while they gave the URL we certainly didn’t give them permission to put the clips into print. BostonNOW is still in their inagural week and there has been little to no blogger contributed content thus far. From what’s been reported to me the system they’d announced for “submitting” content wasn’t even fully functional by press time of the first issue (and possibly later than that). I really want to like a print paper that is looking to use content from willing bloggers – but yesterday they straight lifted content from bostonist.com without permission.”

That, however, is another topic for another post (I had to fail a student for plagiarism last week and he will be the first one to tell you I take the offense very seriously).

I see several, rather significant problems with BostonNOW’s business model:

1) They’re competing themselves after Boston metro, the free commuter tabloid that everyone loves to hate. But from the early reports I’ve heard, it looks more like they’re modeling themselves after Metro instead of competing against Metro. For anyone to succeed in launching a new print publication, you’re going to have think so much further out of the box and offer something so extraordinarily different.

2) Why anyone in their right mind would want to launch a new print publication when we’re all just a few years away from 24/7 connectivity is beyond me. I still maintain that print — be it newspapers, magazines or books — will soon become the stomping ground for long-form journalists and writers, while all the short, newsy content will continue to dominate the Web.

3) Granted, it hard to get existing publications to publicize the launch of a competitor, but BostonNOW’s publicity campaign is either awful or nonexistent, because it seems like the only people who know about it are regular readers of Boston blogs.

4) That may have to do something with the budget. Apparently, they couldn’t find anyone to back them, as their compensation structure for contributors is “the kind of exposure that can help jump-start their careers.” That’s from the response of BostonNOW’s John Wilpers on BoingBoing, as well as dozens of ads posted on Craigslist’s “writers wanted” section from publications that never go anywhere.

The whole response, actually, is laughable and telling, and really worth a complete read:

Let me apologize for our unauthorized lifting of copy from bostonist. I am embarrassed and chagrined. I did not authorize or clear it, nor was I even aware of it. I will certainly find out how it happened and make sure it never happens again. That (unauthorized lifting) is definitely NOT our model. We hadn’t planned on doing that and we don’t plan on doing that in the future…

And we hope we can give aspiring writers, reporters, photographers, videographers, etc. the kind of exposure that can help jump-start their careers. And, ultimately, we hope to develop a compensation system to reward them for their work with something beyond fame and massive exposure, and to offer consultation on optimizing their own sites for making money (if that’s their interest).

Based on that philosophy, unauthorized lifting of content is antithetical and will not happen again. At the risk of over-doing it, I apologize again for this instance.

Antithetical? Those types of 50-cent words kind of prove they don;t really know who their target audience is.

But the bottom line — pun intended — is if you can do good journalism, your publication can succeed and sometimes even thrive, regardless of its format. It’s doubtful “journalists” working for “exposure” will be motivated, talented, ethical and/or dedicated journalists. It’s the old “you get what you pay for” theory.

6) But perhaps the best reason why the project seems doomed to failure is from a different update at BoingBoing:

“I overheard Sean Bonner from Metroblogging respond to this news at the Web2Expo earlier this week. His quote was ‘Print versions of blogs – their slogan should be ‘Bringing you yesterday’s news tomorrow”.’”

Hire a good publicist, kids. You’re going to need it.

Experiments in Print Journalism

Posted April 9th, 2007 in Journalism, Newspapers by Muhammad84G

Do me a favor. Read this article as you would any other newspaper article. I’m looking to find out where you stopped reading and why.

There are no right or wrong answers — just leave your replies in the comment section of this post, noting where in the article you stopped reading.

When I get back and have a decent number of replies I’ll let you in on what I’m getting at.

Sounds like a lot of newspaper job openings these days

Posted March 23rd, 2007 in Newspapers by Muhammad84G

I doubt this will last long given that it’s on the Globe’s own Web site, so enjoy it while you can:

Reporter
Employer: The Boston Globe
Location: Boston, Massachusetts 02205 United States
Last Updated: 3/23/2007
Job Type: Employee
Job Status: Full Time

Need a crackerjack journalist to work in our world-class newsroom. You’ll be replacing Pulitzer-winning reporters, columnists and others with decades of experience. Join us today in the joyless pursuit of excellence.

Requirements:
Work hard, work fast, work cheap. New York experience is useful.

Wah! My sources play by my rules: I love when dead…

Posted January 25th, 2007 in Newspapers by davecopeland

Wah! My sources play by my rules: I love when dead-tree journalists get scared that people might use their own techniques against them:

From JEFFREY WEISS, Dallas Morning News: Has this happened yet? If not, it will any minute now.

Investigative reporter shows up for confrontational interview. Subject says he wants to make his own recording of the interview. Sets up his own little video camera. Interview happens, reporter heads back to the office to work on the story, which is scheduled to run on Sweeps Week or on Sunday 1A, days or more down the road.

But an hour after the interview ends, the whole thing has been preemptively posted to a blog. Or a few hours later, an edited version — edited to the benefit of the interviewee and showing the interviewer in the most negative light — is posted on YouTube with the link spammed through the blogosphere.

The technology for pulling this off is trivial these days. So it’s going to happen, if it hasn’t already. Now what does the reporter do?

The sad part is such an incident won’t result in an improvement in the old-line media. As the person who emailed the link to me said, “Um, how about running your best stories as soon as you have them? Yes, technology changes the way organizations, all organizations operate. Deal with it.”

What will happen is that newspaper legal counsel will get involved and anyone who wants to record an interview will have to sign a release that will say, in effect, that only the reporter is allowed to edit, distort and publish any recording of the interview.

Letter from Pittsburgh: Since my September 2005 ar…

Posted January 22nd, 2007 in Newspapers, Pittsburgh by davecopeland

Letter from Pittsburgh: Since my September 2005 article for the Pittsburgh City Paper, I have tended to be the dumping ground for people’s anonymous complaints about the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

And it seems as if there’s a lot to complain about after yesterday’s edition. In my email box this morning:

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, in its misguided smugness and zeal, reported on Sunday that the Pittsburgh Steelers had hired Russ Grimm as their next head coach. Grimm was an assistant coach in 2006.

The Trib reported the story as fact on A1, citing an anonymous Steelers organization insider. The PG had no story on Sunday, and I heard Trib reporters and editors spent much of Sunday celebrating.

In fact, the Trib was wrong.

The Steelers hired a young coach from the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Tomlin. Now the Trib has taken its Sunday story off its Web site and is pretending it didn’t happen.

I can’t imagine that 503 Martindale Street is a happy place to be today (not that it was ever that happy).

Straight to the spam folder: L.A. Times columnist …

Posted January 2nd, 2007 in Newspapers by davecopeland

Straight to the spam folder: L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein doesn’t want to read your email:

I get that you have opinions you want to share. That’s great. You’re the Person of the Year. I just don’t have any interest in them. First of all, I did a tiny bit of research for my column, so I’m already familiar with your brilliant argument. Second, I’ve already written my column, so I can’t even steal your ideas and get paid for them.

There is no practical reason to send your rants to me. If you want to counter my opinion publicly, write a letter to the editor. If you want me fired, write a letter to the publisher. If you want a note back, write a letter in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. Or you could just write mean things about my column on some blog. Don’t worry, I’ll see them. I have a “Joel Stein” RSS feed that goes straight into my arteries.

But don’t make me feel like you expect a return e-mail. Because this takes my assistant four to five hours every week. I know this because my assistant is me.

It’s a funny and well-written column, but it also highlights the big problem with newspaper mentality. Times have changed and people like interactivity. Personally, I always loved the tags at the end of each of the articles I wrote at the Trib that gave my phone number and email address. It often resulted in new story ideas and sometimes it was just fun to hear from people who really loved or really hated whatever it was you had written.

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