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Monthly Archives: October 2011

In the process of sifting through the noise out there, searching, in spite of Google, for “best practices” in the j-world, the phrase “social media” comes up often. That’s odd, because the current practice of journalism has not shown improvement from what I can see, and in too many cases, are backsliding into a reliance on dry government, crime and punishment stories to fill their ever-diminishing news holes.

The only depth reporting I see is done by a very few number of veteran beat reporters (David Pugliese, Ian MacLeod at the Citizen and nobody at the Sun) who, they’ll tell you, could quite comfortably work stories just as easily and efficiently without the ever-growing mounds of SM and gadgetry they feel they must accumulate to do the job properly in 2011 and beyond.

I have yet to hear from anyone who has exposed a scandal or changed a public policy because of a Tweet or a blog.

On the other hand, I definitely have heard of wrong information being tweeted by respected journalists,  leading to grossly inaccurate stories. Think Gordon Lightfoot and Pat Burns premature deaths to name just two Canadian examples. More broadly, there isn’t a day that goes by when a piece about somebody floating a hoax that results in a headline over a story proven to be false by the time the paper hits the street.

SunMedia’s David Akin lives and dies by Tweeting and blogging. There’s lots of reasons for that, but he regards his frantic activity as a job security exercise, or did when I heard him speak at the CAJ in Montreal last May. It had less to do with filing stories in the public interest. He wanted to be seen as being on top and ahead of any technological wave that his employers are trying desperately to monetize.

It worked. He’s a prominent commentator on Sun TV now and is doing very well for himself. Nothing wrong with that.

But has David’s dedication to SM resulted in his being a better reporter? I don’t think so, and I doubt if he thinks so. But if his journalism hasn’t improved, his career has prospered. He has impressed the suits.

During a new media panel we hosted in 2010 at Algonquin College, I was surprised to learn that Julie, Tom and Peter VanDusen do not use social media at all. It was a waste of their time, they agreed, and time is a commodity few have in sufficient supply to expend.

Not many journalists, fearing for their jobs, have the courage to say that. Fewer still admit their frustration at the “new normal” workflow of tweeting three or four times a day on an update of their story.

Up to now, I, and I suspect many journalists, have been working hard, almost obsessively, in staying on top of all of these trends, fearing to be labelled a Luddite. But someone needs to state the obvious: The energy expended in finding magic bullets to solve the news business’ ailments has not provided a return on investment.

And so, in spite of hours in front of a screen, I am losing interest in the big labs in the States like Nieman and Poynter who are playing in very expensive sandboxes with some cool tools, because little of it is sticking, and paying.

I’m more interested in finding what is working in the here and now, and if there are largely easily-applied tools to enhance that, let’s do it. I’m interested in having a square understanding of what is working for all concerned, from publisher to ad director to editor to reporter to circulation manager and web designer. And then relay it to anyone who is interested.

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Greetings all. This is my blogging debut, and while I’ve been writing a column since 1981, it’s my first toe in this pool of water (yes, I tend to use galloping metaphors so beware!).

Now, can I call myself a blogger?

And if not, why not? There doesn’t seem to be any professional job description that goes along with blogging. You, your mother, your child…me…we can all be bloggers. I’ve noticed some big universities in the States are trying to contain blogging standards but it won’t work. The Internet resists standard, which is incredibly liberating and frustrating all at the same time.

It’s taken me this long to start this up because I’ve been spending the time I would normally use to write, to understand what blogs are and how they are used. I’ve been trying to understand before being understood.

And I have had a crusty aversion to writing for nothing. I’ve always been paid for putting words like these together. But even my old steady client, the Ottawa Citizen, who I’ve written a column for for 10 years, isn’t buying what they used to. There’s lots of buyers on the Net, but they are asking for contributions for free, or at the most, attempting to pay writers pennies according to the hits they get.

But there’s no point railing against this. It is what it is, and like Bobby Dillon sang, you gotta serve somebody.

So I can’t ignore them any longer, especially since the Ottawa Citizen’s publisher Gerry Nott told me his salespeople can sell ads around his reporters’ blogs. Have a look at Rod Eade’s blog at http://blogs.ottawacitizen.com/2011/10/08/pop-up-picnic-in-ottawa-this-saturday-video/ and see how his blog connects with the ads next to it.

Gerry believes journalists need to bring this entrepreneurial spirit to their craft. Got to, because without new ways to make money…well, you know the rest.

Monetizing the web has been a decade-long pursuit for newspapers, and reporters who label themselves as a “brand” under the Citizen’s umbrella, seem to have the cache to help the news product make money.

After all, making money is the only way forward for the contemporary writer, whether they make it for themselves, or for someone else who is paying them a salary. As far as I can see, everybody still has to make a living. The “living free” model doesn’t seem to be going anywhere very fast.

Which brings me back to this free blog.

From a reporter’s perspective, I believe I’ve learned these things so far:

  • ‘Tis more blessed to read blogs than to write one. That’s because I’m getting story ideas from them, rather than blathering on about something nobody but myself is particularly interested in;
  • Blogs defy definition;
  • The most read blogs inject humour to keep their audience laughing, especially sports ones. Laughter works.

I’m sure there’s more lessons to come, and I’ll post them here if you’re interested.

Beyond that, let’s go ahead together, as perhaps Dalton McGuinty may say.