Monthly Archives: April 2009

I soar up the Technorati rankings

Out of curiosity, I just went back to Technorati for the first time, probably, since I registered there. 

Kind of gratifyingly, I find I am now ranked at 2,476,024 in the universe of blogs. Well, in the universe of Technorati-registered or otherwise noted blogs. I don’t actually know the difference, strictly speaking. 

Eagle-eyed readers with a keen memory and geeky tendencies may remember I started out with a ranking of 4,770,814 in late Fenruary. This is clearly fantastic news, and I will be celebrating hard at Chinawhite this very evening. (You know, if it’s actually open and they let me in).

What does this meteoric rise mean? I have no idea. But the numbers don’t lie. Oh no…

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How newspapers failed to invent the internet

This fascinating piece in Slate from early this year describes how newspaper publishers were actually ahead of the curve when it came to trying to handle the impact of digital media. 

One publisher, Knight Ridder, even tried out its own digital distribution service in 1980, though you had to buy a pricey digital terminal to read the content.

So what went wrong? 

The analysis argues that newspapers quickly ditched the idea of proprietary, “walled-garden”-type content platforms such as AOL and moved on to the open web pretty early.

The crucial problem lay simply in their attitude. They didn’t “get” the web. 

From the beginning, newspapers sought to invent the Web in their own image by repurposing the copy, values, and temperament found in their ink-and-paper editions. Despite being early arrivals, despite having spent millions on manpower and hardware, despite all the animations, links, videos, databases, and other software tricks found on their sites, every newspaper Web site is instantly identifiable as a newspaper Web site. By succeeding, they failed to invent the Web.

As a result, all the talented, web savvy staff who could have reinvented the newspaper model got disillusioned and left to start up the real, innovative web-based companies that have been at the root of the current media upheaval.

It’s an interesting take and worth a read. Personally, I agree with the analysis – print media has been reasonably quick off the mark going on to the web, but when it’s got there the typical reaction is – “so, what do we do now?” (which is usually more of the same).

HT: Paul Bradshaw (eventually, after I followed some links from this Twitter post)

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Portfolio magazine axed

Portfolio

Sad news from Condé Nast as it closes Portfolio magazine

I discovered Portfolio late last year when I stumbled on a dissection of the Wall Street collapse by Liar’s Poker author Michael Lewis. It was riveting and very well written – as you would expect, I guess.

The reason for the closure seems to be plummeting ad revenues. I have no idea whether this is just because of the tanking economy, or also because the new digital world doesn’t have room for it. 

[Update: there’s a useful Valleywag piece here that lifts the lid on Portfolio‘s slide.] 

I’m not a believer in print for print’s sake – but I do think it’s a shame that high quality publications go to the wall as well as indifferent ones. 

I never bought a copy, of course – I just read it online. Which is the key problem for news and magazine publishing now.

So, yes. I guess that would make it my fault…

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Ways to survive the media recession, part 5

Part 1;   Part 2;   Part 3;   Part 4;   Part 5;

At last, the end of the journey and a handy summary

But first, Recovering Journalist Mark Potts has a very good post on Life After Journalism that is really worth reading. 

A former 20-year journalist (hmm – like me), Mark Potts is now “an entrepreneur and consultant”. That means he managed to escape the media implosion – but still uses the range of journalistic skills he’s acquired in his new career. It’s a good post with some useful advice.

So, now – your eight-point summary.

1) Assess your existing skills

Think laterally – writers can sub, designers can do production, print specialists can move online and old journalists can teach. Also think about how your skills can work in related-but-different fields, such as corporate writing.          

2) Learn new skills

Build on your existing skills using a host of free web-based information, trial period software downloads and software training sites such as Lynda.com. Focus especially on web analytics and SEO for the web. Hobby-type skills can also come in useful – such as film-making, running workshops etc.                

3) Update your CV (resumé)

Create different CV/resumes that focus on different skillsets or media sectors. That way you can tailor your pitch more specifically to different clients.

4) Draw up a plan

Be organised and keep track of all your work hustling progress, day by day. 

5) Talk to your friends

Mates look after mates, so always ask people you know in the business if they are aware of opportunities. 

6) Contact others

Keep regular tabs on a range of job pages online – and even in print. Obviously follow Guardian.co.ukJournalism.co.uk and Gorkana. It helps to use social media too. I just got Twittered by a new site called Sourcethatjob.com – it doesn’t have much in the way of journalism jobs, but it could be worth watching as it may grow. Students may be interested to see it has a few intern-type posts (ie no pay, but experience).  FleetStreetBlues has a nice post collating media job sites here.

7) Advertise yourself

Build up a presence online – blog, use Twitter, join something like LinkedIn maybe. Certainly use Facebook if you’re not an old crock like me. Think about a £50 freelance listing on Journalism.co.uk, or even join a professional media organisation such as the CiB

8) Using freelance online marketplaces 

There are pros and cons to marketplaces like People Per Hour. I discuss them in more detail here. It’s worth investigating for students I think. 

9) Should you work for free?

Sometimes – pro bono work can get you experience, exposure and contacts. Just make sure you do unpaid work for people who wouldn’t pay you anyway.

And that about wraps it up. Remember, it may seem grim, but there is work out there – you just need to dig a bit to find it. Good luck!

Part 1;   Part 2;   Part 3;   Part 4;   Part 5;

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Why journalists should sometimes look beyond the phone

I just got into an interesting spat with Tim Luckhurst, professor of journalism at the University of Kent’s Centre for Journalism

Apparently he thinks only the phone is good enough for journalists to use to chase up stories.

For contact with interviewees or sources of information the telephone is ALWAYS the right way to make the first approach […] There is no room for debate about this. 

Well, uh, I think there is (hence his slightly snarky defence later on in the post’s comments section).

I use email far more than the phone now when writing features (OK, that’s not news reporting – I understand that. But then, journalism/media isn’t all news reporting either.) 

It has clear benefits – particularly if you’re dealing with people in different time zones, the people you’re dealing with prefer to use digital communications rather than the phone, or simply that you’re trying to contact people at a tech firm.

Tech firms in particular live online – it’s the water they swim in, so it makes a lot of sense to fish in that pool if you want to reach them. 

As a journalist, I’ve covered the response of retail and service companies to the explosion of digital communications available. The savviest companies expend some effort in making sure they use the right one to reach their customers – not everyone wants to be called up; not everyone uses email; some people still prefer a letter. 

It’s a lesson that journalism needs to learn too. There’s a generation growing up who only use SMS and Facebook to communicate. In a few years’ time, when a journalist from Kent University is beaten to a story by someone who understands that and gets to a source by text first, maybe the penny will drop…

[HT: FleetStreetBlues]

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How to build your online community

No, it’s not advice from me. It’s advice from hyperactive blogmeister John Scalzi, who has posted a handy video of a forum from the Tools of Change online media publishing conference thing in New York in February.

I was aware of the event, and it looked very interesting. I would have liked to have gone but, given that it was in New York and cost $1,600 for a ticket – well.

Scalzi’s panel – “Where Do you Go With 40,000 Readers? A Study in Online Community Building” – is chock full of info for all keen bloggers and those who want to develop an online presence.

If you’re interested in the rest of the conference (and if you’re going to be involved with journalism at all, online or offline, you probably should be), all the conference sessions are archived here on Blip.tv.

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Ways to survive the media recession, part 4

Part 1;   Part 2;   Part 3;   Part 4;   Part 5;

It’s been a bit of a marathon, but finally we’re getting to the end of the recession-busting advice. 

In the next post, I’ll put together a handy summary, so you don’t have to wade through so much copy to see the bullet points. 

First – A follow-up note on the whole business of advertising yourself.

Using freelance online marketplaces

One of the things I tried at the end of last year was to register on People Per Hour – an online marketplace for freelancers in a wide range of fields, including media-type stuff such as writing and design.

I thought it might be a good way of tapping into a wider market than I could reach through my own contacts, and also improve my ability to pitch for new work.

In brief, I found it didn’t really work for me, but it might work for you, especially, I suspect, if you’re a student or similar. I posted about this at greater length earlier, so it might be worth you checking out the pros and cons here

Should you work for free in the hope of getting paid work later on?

When I went to blather at Kingston, I got involved in a discussion with one of the students about doing unpaid writing work. Although he was only in the first year, he’d been enterprising enough to get an unpaid commission to write for a publication (I didn’t catch which one, as I arrived late into the conversation).

Should you do this? Is it exploitation? Does it undermine your fellow journalists who rely on real income from writing to pay the rent? Does it make it easier or more difficult to get paid for your work further down the line?

My take is that it’s absolutely fine to work for nothing – under certain circumstances. The key is to ask yourself what you’re getting out of your pro bono work:

  1. Experience. If you really don’t have experience (you’re a student, say), then it pays to get it. The money’s not as important as the skills and ability you develop. Make sure, however, that you get feedback on your work so you can improve. This is especially important for students, but is also valid for professionals if they are moving into a new field, for example.
  2. Exposure. This works at any stage in your career. I recently wrote a piece for the members’ magazine of the British Association of Communicators in Business (CiB), because I wanted to get some exposure to the corporate communications market. It didn’t pay any money, but it is a useful thing to point to when I’m talking to potential corporate writing clients, particularly as I have spent pretty much all of my career in business journalism, and don’t have that much corporate work to show off.
  3. Contacts. If you want to break into a particular field of writing, it’s worth trying to build up contacts in that world. There are plenty of specialist publications dealing with things such as the arts, say, or other niche areas, most of which are produced by enthusiasts using volunteer contributions. If you put some effort into contributing to these magazines and newsletters, you kill two birds with one stone – you get experience writing in a specialist field, and you also start building up a contacts book of the field’s movers and shakers. And what does a successful journalist have? A solid contacts book. This in itself has a value to potential employers, not counting the clippings you are building up. 

OK, then – there are good reasons to write (and do other media-type work) for free. But what are the downsides?

Primarily, you run the risk that doing work for nothing will actually undermine your ability to get paid work in future. Here’s how that works.

If you want to write music features for something like Uncut, for example, it may not be such a good idea to persuade the editor to give you a payment-free trial. After all, once you’ve given it away for free, why would they rush to start paying you full whack? It’s much more likely that your try-out period gets strangely extended and you end up donating far more than you had planned. And even if you do start getting paid, you may find it’s not at the full rate the “professionals” get.

I’m sure the fine Uncut doesn’t operate so shabbily, by the way (unless you know differently), and I’m sure this approach has worked for some. But logically it’s risky. It’s far better to donate your free writing to media outlets that don’t pay anyway. That means when you come to tout for paying work you have a bulging portfolio, but no track record of giving out freebies to potentially paying clients.

Also, make sure you get some kind of return from the free work. As noted before, if you’re a student wanting to write something for your portfolio and you get a friendly editor or features editor to commission it, ask them to give you advice and feedback in return. Many will be happy – or at least prepared – to do so. (If they’re not, that’s an indication to try somewhere else.)

I’ve been talking about writing, but the principle holds good for other media-type skills. 

If you want to move into web design, for example, then by all means design web sites for free – just make sure it’s not for people that might otherwise pay you. And potential magazine designers can spend many happy hours working up newsletters and leaflets for small charities to hone their InDesign chops. 

The moral? Sometimes you have to give before you can receive. Just make sure you give to the right people.

Next: the handy summary to all this verbiage.

Part 1;   Part 2;   Part 3;   Part 4;   Part 5;

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