Monthly Archives: May 2011

The TAO of journalism

Changing journalists’ cultural mindsets

Corruption is our thing

The most interesting thing to me is how Chicago wears the corruption and history of corruption as a sort of badge of honor,” Cumming said. “Most cities dodge it, and keep it quiet. But it seems there’s a different set of rules for Chicago. It’s not being glossed over but very out in the open. And I like that.

How about you guys? Do you like that Chicagoans seem to flaunt the corruption here like some sort of tourist attraction? Or is this something we should be ashamed of?

One of the defining problems of our age

Please come into journalism and take it over

This chat between Mike Arrington and Jeff Jarvis is interesting (entertaining?) for a few reasons, but the thing that struck me the most is when Jeff asks Mike early on whether he considers himself a journalist. He comes back to it at the end of the talk as well.

Mike of course replies no, he’s not a journalist and when Jeff presses him on why not, he gives what seems like a satisfactory answer. He says that journalists are “priests” and that he’s not interested in being part of that. He has a valid point, but so does Jeff when he asks Mike:

“Why not take it over? Why not say that you’re a new kind of journalist?”

Mike maintains that he doesn’t need to do that. Hey, it’s up to him. But to the rest of you I say: PLEASE come into journalism and take it over.

Please come into journalism from non-journalistic backgrounds.

Please come into journalism with radical ideas on how to transform and improve the industry.

Please come into journalism with an open desire to advocate, if you have one.

Please come into journalism from blogging. No matter what anyone tells you, they are not two separate activities.

Please come into journalism with a burning need to be radically transparent. You should want to tell your audience nearly everything.

Please come into journalism understanding that you are not giving a sermon, but rather hosting a party where everyone can discuss their views.

Please come into journalism with the knowledge that your audience, while they may not choose to practice journalism themselves, often know more than you.

Please come into journalism with an understanding of the business side of things and have no discomfort talking about money.

Please come into journalism knowing full well that the value of being authentic, responsive and engaging will benefit you even more than it benefits your audience.

Please come into journalism with no preconceptions.

Please come into journalism expecting to work hard and be judged on the merit of your work which you will expect to be judged not with prizes, but with expanding readership, bringing to light an important issue, creating a community, making more money for your news org, etc.

Please come into journalism with the notion that this is a public service and thus not necessarily a means of securing a house, a car and a European vacation.

Please come into journalism with a commitment to draw back the curtain on your work and show your audience how you go about it. I promise they will respect you more, not less.

Please come into journalism and take it over. Mike Arrington doesn’t want to and that’s fine. But you can make a different decision. The industry desperately needs it and it needs you.

Don’t freelance

Every conversation about music by everyone over 25 years old

Dear editors and other Very Important Newsroom People

When journalists apply for jobs today, they’re usually given some kind of writing test. Certainly the people hiring them will look at their clips. Everybody cares about how good a writer you are. So long as you write well, it seems, that’s all that matters.

But if I were hiring, the first thing I’d look at would be the prospective employee’s Twitter feed. What are they linking to? What are they reading? If they’re linking to great stuff from a disparate range of sources, if they’re following smart people on Twitter, if they’re engaged in the conversation — that’s hugely valuable. More valuable, in fact, than being able to put together an artfully-constructed lede.

So I’m not worried in the slightest by the rise of aggregation jobs, and of people devoting their days to linking and summarizing. That’s a crucial journalistic skill and service, it’s what readers want, and there aren’t nearly enough people who are good at it. It’s certainly much more useful than being the 35th reporter in a press conference, writing down whatever the Important Person up front is saying, or being part of some media scrum trying to get a quote out of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer.

Stay humble

When I was just starting out in newspapers, an editor told me there was one thing I should never forget. He said “Look, you have a bright future in this business. But remember: If you get fired or stop writing, nobody will notice. If we leave Beetle Bailey out of the paper, thousands of people will cancel their subscription.”

Beetle Bailey, the eternal competition.

Beetle Bailey, the eternal competition.

I’d bet there hasn’t been a month go by where I haven’t thought of that. It has meant different things to me through the years, but I think what it means to me now is this: Stay humble.

I don’t mean stay humble in how you act … that’s a whole other thing. I don’t think you have to stay humble as a person. Some of the best writers on the planet are some of the most egotistical, and that has nothing to do with it.

No, I mean: Stay humble in how you write. Don’t preconceive. Don’t hesitate to ask questions that might make you look dumb. Don’t linger too long in your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to look bad — DO worry about making yourself look too cool.

And, most of all, don’t ever act like you are too big for a story. Again, I’m not saying that because it’s unseemly and unappealing for a writer to act like he or she is too big for a story. I’m saying it for the writer’s benefit. Those stories that seem too small are usually the best ones.

The same editor who told me that bit about the comics also told me that if you find yourself in a large group of reporters, you’re probably in the wrong place. And I think, based on my own experience, that’s probably true. I’d say many of my favorite stories, maybe even most of my favorite stories, were ones that many people would have passed on as unworthy.

Wonderful, wonderful advice from Joe Posnanski who is apparently one of the best writers out there. I’ve never read him, but now I may have to start.

Incidentally, all of this matches up EXACTLY with the online ethos that we often see missing in the mainstream, print press. We are eager to acknowledge our mistakes, get differing opinions, spend time with non-media people, not buy our own hype and so much more. I’m thrilled that this kind of thinking has aparently long been around in traditional newsrooms. Alas, it doesn’t seem to be present in all of them anymore.

Madison Avenue hates marriage

Ramsin has already done a nice job talking about this sad, sad, little ad (and you can read what he had to say via the handy little link under the video), but allow me now to add my two cents.

First, let me just rage for a moment here. Is this really the way the advertising industry views and wants to present marriage to the American public? Can the average husband really barely withstand listening to his wife for more than 5 seconds? And does he really need to be rewarded with ice cream if he does? WHAT KIND OF BULLSHIT IS THIS??!!! More importantly, why do we accept these types of depictions of marriage in not only our advertising, but our TV shows, movies, etc?

Also, who thinks that the same that people are freaking out over gays being able to marry would laugh hysterically at this ad? Let’s see a show of hands (mine is up). Because obviously two people who want to commit to a lifetime together are making a mockery of the institution of marriage while this is just lighthearted fun that any married couple can relate to, right?

WRONG. If I thought my husband was at all like this prick, I would be getting a divorce this very instant. More than that, I would have probably never married him in the first place unless it was my dream to be ignored and barely tolerated while being in the same room.

So, advertising industry, congratulations. You are doing much more to tarnish the good name of marriage than gays getting hitched or any other boogeyman the “family values” crowd routinely waves at us. And you, dear TV viewers out there, are doing the same if you so much as chuckled at this instead of reacting as you should have: with revulsion and horror.