Oy vey, I am sick of this

Russians in a Skokie Panera are discussing Rahm Emanuel in a way that makes me very, very tired. Allow me to explain.

It’s an older woman and an older man. The man lives in Florida and is here visiting. The woman fills him in on local current events. Let’s call her “Irene” and let’s call him “Boris.”

Irene: There was a demonstration yesterday about the school closings. You know, on the south side.

Boris: Oh yeah?

Irene: Do you know what one of the placards said? “Jewish Decision.” Why did he [Rahm] have to get into this office? Why be in a position of political power at all? As soon as someone gets in, they hate all of us.

To many Jews, this will sound familiar. I have heard this all my life growing up. My father used to say that at the manufacturing plant where he worked, people blamed everything that was wrong with the economy on Alan Greenspan, another Jew in power. And that’s just here in the U.S. You can imagine what they said in the Soviet Union.

The thinking then goes that Jews should stay out powerful positions, lest all other Jews suffer for decisions they make that could foment Jew hatred.

When I hear things like this, I think are you freaking kidding me? Who cares if Rahm Emanuel is Jewish? 

Then I think Christ (ha!), are there really people who blame Jews in this way?

I guess I live in echelons of society where this is not the norm, but I’ve always been warned it exists elsewhere. I don’t know to what extent it exists. It’s almost like a Jewish urban legend, but it strikes into my chest a visceral fear nonetheless. The Jews who lived in Hitler’s Germany also thought they were so deeply integrated into society than no one saw them as different, as “other.”

But now “Irene” and “Boris” have turned to discussing something else I’m very familiar with; the unfortunate situation of someone’s grand-daughter. The poor girl is 25 and unmarried.

Goodbye Sun-Times Media, hello journalism


Today I submitted my resignation. My last day as a Pioneer Press/Sun-Times Media Group employee will be April 9. 

There, I think I’ve finally learned how not to bury the lede :-)

Before we get any further, I want to clarify something about the title of this post.

It doesn’t mean that I’ve not been doing journalism in my job at STMG. In fact, as many of you know, I bristle at the “big J” journalism definiton of the same. 

This post’s title just means that, in leaving this job, I’m not leaving the media business. So you’re not through with me yet. I will always be a reporter, even if I don’t always report. It should go without saying that I will always be a blogger.

I now plan to freelance, work on things I am passionate about and spend more time with my family, especially my almost-18-month-old son (suck it, Sheryl Sandberg). I am open to any and all opportunities though. If you have something you want to talk about, let me know. I also might be lauching an online publication/business of my own. Stay tuned.

Especially to those whom I haven’t spoken much recently, it may seem odd that a person who wrote this is now willingly leaving a full-time staff editorial job at an actual print newspaper. A lot can change in the space of a just few years though.

As I just told my editors, this was not an easy decision. I worked for nearly five years to become a journalist. I didn’t study it as an undergrad. I didn’t edit my college or high school paper; I didn’t even write for either paper. I didn’t go to journalism school. I just shoved my way into it by sheer force of will. Maybe one day I’ll tell this story in greater detail. 

Given all that, it wasn’t easy to walk away from this opportunity. I want to thank everyone who has advised me. You know who you are.

There is a great deal more to say, but I something else I’ve learned in recent years is the value of not putting everything out there. Yes, in a world of sharing everything and constant TMI, some things should still remain unsaid. 

I still believe every word of this though.

So… if you have questions, you know where to find me. In the meantime, I have a bunch of stories to work on. 


Calling all journalists: share your PR horror stories

I’m doing a panel tomorrow for these folks‘ annual conference. I’m repping community/local media i.e. the little guys :-) We also have someone on the panel from the Chicago Tribune, a public radio station, etc.

The topic? What is ALWAYS the topic when a bunch of journalists and PR people get into a room together? How to pitch us, that’s what they want to know.

They want to know how to not be annoying, what are the best ways to pitch and what are the ways that make us slam our heads on our desks.

They want to know how to cold-call a reporter they’ve never interacted with. 

They want to hear horror stories about what NOT to do and good stories about when a PR person was extremely helpful.

I have my own, but please share yours in the comments so I have more fodder for the panel. 

While I don’t know if they’ll all be in the room for our panel, there are over 400 people registered for this conference so here’s your chance to tell a TON of PR people something that will hopefully ripple throughout the industry. 

Thanks in advance!



I still don’t know what to do with my life

Journalism, right?

I’m doing it, but I’m still not sure.

The trouble is, I want to do so much more. I want to do things that are so much grander, so much bigger. 

I want to help solve the business problems in the media industry. How to still do good work and make money to sustain it?

I want to break down the “old” rules of media production. I want to create new types of content, not just stories. And by new types of content, I don’t mean videos and live tweets.

I want to help reimagine journalism as a service, not a product.

I want to teach people media literacy.

I want to make media more participatory, more open, more responsive, not so dominated by large corporations (in short, I would love to work here).

I want to do a million other things besides those.

Does anyone know where I can do any of this? Let me know.


David Simon on writing

He was talking about writing for television, more specifically Treme, his series about New Orleans, but David Simon still expressed exactly how I feel about the writing process:

I’m not one of those people who likes writing. I just have to do it. I can write in a coffee shop, in an office, on an airplane. I’ll use whatever I can find to write on. I can’t write with music on. My mind follows the music and doesn’t concentrate on what I’m doing. Sometimes I can write if the music is classical or jazz, but if it has vocals, I have to turn it off.

I tend to pace around and think about scenes, I tend to take a nap in the middle of the day. I tend to struggle to stay at the computer. Or I’ll stay at the computer and research a point heavily. I’ll be Googling some history of some rhythm-and-blues artist, trying to find out something that I can use in dialogue. I’ll flail around for an hour and a half to get two small phrases that I’ll end up cutting anyway. It’s not really dawdling, because all that time thinking about it, worrying about it, is me coming up with better ideas or throwing out bad ideas. And then when the script is finally due I’ll be spitting it out as fast as I can.

I can’t listen to music either and I have no idea how others can. I need near total silence in fact, or just a dull roar of background noise. If too many people are talking, I get distracted eavesdropping, getting involved in their conversations, etc. So, I wear earplugs.

Googling things for interminable periods of time: yes, yes and YES. 

Spitting it out as fast as you can when you’re on deadline: I think all reporters can heartily nod their heads to this one.

And here’s Simon on writer’s block:

That fear is probably latent in every writer. You stare at the page for the first time and if you’re honest at all, you know there’s a little part of you screaming, “But what if I can’t do it anymore?” And then you start writing, and usually the first things are not great, and then you try again and eventually you’re off and running. But every time, there’s that first moment of vague terror.

Amen, brother. I will now go stare at some blank pages before somehow willing myself to start writing. 



Why do newspapers have a hard time online?

We could be here all day answering this question and actually many, many, MANY people have already answered it very well. But what I always find lacking in those explanations are the practical, nitty-gritty reasons. This is my attempt to present some of those logisitcal roadblocks.

If there’s anyone who still doesn’t understand why much of print media sucks online, let me explain it to you.

Imagine that you had to print your blog out every day or every week and it had to look nice, be a certain length and have the ads in all the right places.

Now imagine that you wrote your blog with the thought that it was going onto paper first so you couldn’t put hyperlinks into it. If you wanted links in there, you would have to add them later. Or possibly you couldn’t add them at all, depending on what publishing platform you are using to create your paper.

Imagine that everything you wrote had to be edited by another person (a person who is very busy editing many things) so you couldn’t quickly toss something up online whenever you felt like it. Imagine that there were once people whose sole job was editing things quickly, but most of those people were laid off.

Imagine that there are very few people writing and reporting for both print and online and they are people who make very little money. The paper has to go out and it can’t have blank pages so there is no one writing exclusively for online and the people writing for both don’t have a lot of extra time to produce online-only work.

Imagine that publishing something online doesn’t happen at the click of a button.

Imagine that most of what you write has to be original and factual so it takes much longer to produce and remember again that there aren’t many people to produce it. 

I could go on, but hopefully you’re beginning to get the idea.

Have advice for me? I’m listening.



I’m going to start being a “real reporter” on Monday, October 15. If you have any advice for me, let’s hear it. It could be advice on working in a newsroom, reporting/journalism advice, advice about working with sources, anything at all really.

I want to hear from you even if your only experience with journalism is reading the paper and of course I also want to hear from you if you’ve been a reporter for 20 years.

So please, leave me some comments.

What can developers build for the news?


Image credit

I’ve been on App.net for just a short time now and the first thing that became abundantly clear is that there are LOTS of developers on there. That makes a lot of sense if you know the whole story behind ADN (as we have come to call it). In case you don’t know what I’m taking about, here you go.

The community is still fairly small and a lot of people are reading the Global feed which consists of the posts of everyone currently on ADN. So suddenly it dawned on me that here I have all these developers listening… maybe I can ask them to build some stuff for the news biz, instead of the umpteenth game or social tool (and yes, I know that’s not what all developers build, stay with me here).

So I asked them. I got a few responses that asked me what I would like to see built. I was at a bit of a loss. The ideas are seemingly endless and I responded saying something to that effect.

Then a (female!) developer responded that developers don’t really understand what the news business needs so they don’t know what to build. I introduced her to Hacks/Hackers, but obviously getting techies and journalists together is a big job and one organization can’t do it all.

In the meantime, we need ideas for what developers can do for our business and I asked people for some on Twitter. Some responses:

When I asked Noah what that would entail, he said the map would show every legislative district from U.S. House and Senate all the way down to a local town council or whatever the smallest unit of government is (perhaps school districts too?). He said it would also show polling data, local demography, previous election stats, etc. In other words, a political nerd’s dream come true. He envisioned it as something both reporters and readers could use to gain all manner of insights. Sounds fantastic.

This I just love. We have a big problem of context in news stories. It used to be that people would read the same paper every day or watch the same TV station and be able to follow a developing story as more and more was reported on it. Obviously, few people do this nowadays and a lack of context can be quite detrimental to a deep understanding of the topic of a story. In other words, people read a story and don’t understand what’s happening or, worse yet, get the wrong idea about what has occurred or what it means.

The problem of how to deal with this is monumental if you think about it. You can have links within a story that point to previous reports, but many people won’t follow them. You can group the stories together, but many people will not find that page. And it isn’t just previous articles that are at issue. What if understanding the story requires an even rudimentary knowledge of law or medicine or science or any one of dozens of other topics? How can we impart this knowledge to the reader while not turning off those who may have deep knowledge in these areas?

These are just a few ideas of course. I bet there are a thousand others. If you have a good one, please leave it in the comments and please share this post with other news geeks you know. I may add some of your suggestions to the post and then share this with the huge gaggle of developers on ADN. Who knows? Maybe something amazing will get built as a result.

A career in journalism? Ha.

It’s like I could have written this:

When I was struggling, I suspected that my failure was due to lack of funds. I’d transcended my blue-collar roots, I thought: I’d been to university; I didn’t work, as my mother might say, “with my hands.” And I blamed myself. I told myself I wasn’t trying hard enough, that I was too impatient. I saw this in my failure to pound out essays after long days at work, and in my weird, jagged career trajectory. I wondered if I was too lazy, too restless to succeed, not cut out for the kind of heels-dug-in effort that creative careers require.


I suddenly remember something I wrote over two years ago. It hasn’t gotten significantly better since and I am far from alone.

Journatic sheds staff



UPDATE #2 8-8-12 Crain’s has a story on this. They cite an unnamed source who says 6 full-time people (from an alleged work force of 60) have been laid off.

UPDATE 8-8-12: A Journatic Editorial Director who could not give their name has claimed that all independent contractors have not been let go. It is impossible to substantiate this claim as I assume I would get the same response that Poynter did.  

UPDATE 8-6-12: All independent contractors have been let go as well. An independent contractor was anyone who was not working full-time.

August 5, 2012

Journatic has laid off a number of full-time employees this weekend according to one of the employees let go.**

Exactly how many people have been cut remains uncertain. The reason given was that the workload has decreased significantly and the company is restructuring. It’s unclear if this is due to the Tribune suspension, the end of the GateHouse contract, other clients who have severed ties to the company or all of the above.

The news was delivered by Jeremy Pafford who the former Journatic employee had never met or spoken with previously. His email signature reportedly identifies him as a Production Manager. According to his LinkedIn page, he has been working for Journatic for three months.

After relaying the news, Pafford said that people being let go may be hired back if more clients come on board.

Previously, employees were told that despite the fact that clients were leaving Journatic, everyone’s job was safe.



**The employee declined to give his name before speaking with Journatic human resources.