By now you may have heard about a remarkable 1,000-word retraction published by the Daily Camera of Boulder, Colorado, regarding a story about local residents’ memories of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. I first learned that the paper had a problem from Colorado College journalism professor Corey Hutchins’ newsletter. He wrote last Friday that the story in question had been taken down, and then — several hours later — came the retraction.
It seems that just about everything you could imagine was wrong with the story, including quotes, names and even the location of the Pentagon. The Camera frankly uses the word “fabricated” in describing what happened. The retraction does not name the reporter, but Hutchins does — April Morganroth, who would not comment when Hutchins contacted her.
A couple of observations about this remarkable lapse of journalism ethics.
First, we used to call this the “Romenesko effect,” after the pioneering media blogger Jim Romenesko, now retired. When he first began his work in the late 1990s, he would occasionally highlight some instance of fabrication or plagiarism that had gotten someone fired.
Oftentimes these incidents took place at obscure publications. Back in the day, young, inexperienced reporters caught in such instances of wrongdoing might, if they were sufficiently contrite, have a chance to start over at a different publication. The rise of online media such as Romenesko’s blog made that all but impossible since a reporter’s misdeeds would follow them wherever they tried to land. Maybe that was fair, maybe it wasn’t. But the rules had changed for good.
Second, it’s hard not to notice that the Camera is owned by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. Staffing, no doubt, is minimal, and Morganroth’s story may have been published with little or no editing. It’s possible that a diligent editor would have spotted problems, though maybe not.
Certainly large, well-edited papers like The New York Times and The Boston Globe have had issues with fabricators, so I don’t mean to pick on the Camera. But to the extent that the problems with Morganroth’s story were catchable, they were less likely to be caught at a paper with few newsroom resources than at one that still has a reasonable level of editing.
The Boston Globe is once again seeking buyouts, even as it ramps up to launch its life-sciences vertical, Stat, later this year. Editor Brian McGrory lays out the rationale in a memo to the staff, and warns that layoffs may follow if the unspecified goal isn’t reached. (Romenesko beat me, as I was on the road most of Wednesday.)
There’s a lot to chew over here, but let me make one observation. McGrory writes:
We’re proposing a new job category of “multiplatform editor,” someone who can copy edit, post to the web, and design web pages, morning through night. Some editors and producers will roll into that category quickly, but we expect all copy editors and layout/makeup/slot editors to take on significant web responsibilities in the very near future.
No one without these skills should have been hired after, oh, let’s say 2003. Yet here we are in 2015, and the Globe — as well as the newspaper business in general — are still wrestling with these issues. Though the copy-editing is bound to deteriorate to some extent, as McGrory himself acknowledges (“most stories will get fewer reads”), I see this mainly as a sign of how difficult it is to turn around a battleship such as a major metropolitan newspaper.
Here’s the full memo.
In the worst kept secrets category, the Globe is launching another buyout program next week, this one specific to the newsroom. Similar to last year’s, we’ll use it as an opportunity to direct more resources to digital, a vital undertaking. Different than last year, it will also help us cut costs as we continue our transformation into a predominantly digital, subscriber-based news operation that will thrive for many years to come. If we fail in our savings goal through buyouts, we’ll be faced with the difficult prospect of layoffs in September.
Everyone in the newsroom will receive a buyout letter as early as next week. There’ll be nothing terribly fancy about the math. It’s two weeks for every year of service – the same as severance. I think the following line is on the save/get key of every editor in America: This may be the last buyout we offer. At some point, good or bad, that statement will be true.
Over the coming weeks, the plan is to focus change, in part, on the production end of the newsroom, including our copy editing, page layout, and web production functions. We’re proposing a new job category of “multiplatform editor,” someone who can copy edit, post to the web, and design web pages, morning through night. Some editors and producers will roll into that category quickly, but we expect all copy editors and layout/makeup/slot editors to take on significant web responsibilities in the very near future.
Our copy and layout desks have served this organization exceptionally well over many, many years. Every reporter and line editor at the Globe can point at specific instances where eagle-eyed desk editors have spared us from unspeakable embarrassment. Night after night, the desk improves our copy and makes the paper gleam. The issue, though, is that we can’t afford the kind of print-centric copy editing operation that we have maintained for too long. We can’t afford it financially, and we can’t afford what it does to our larger enterprise, which is to implicitly put an undue focus on print when we’re otherwise making such significant strides emphasizing digital.
So what does it mean, practically? Details are being worked out, but it will mean a streamlined copy editing operation. It will mean that most stories will get fewer reads, placing more responsibility on reporters and line editors to make sure they’re in good shape. It means that rather than a copy desk, we will have a multiplatform production desk where stories are copy edited, posted on line, perhaps placed in the social stream, and later set on pages for print. The Sports desk is already doing this. Now we need to bring it to the Universal and Features desks.
Since we spoke about our digital ambitions in April [see this], progress has been steady. We’re up about 15 percent in page views from this time last year, when we had a record-breaking summer. We’re posting far more stories far earlier in the day, including hefty enterprise stories slated for the next day’s print front page. Our digital first reporters have made a deep and meaningful mark in terms of tone, speed, and quality. Our newsletters in sports and politics are uncommonly well done and popular. And in truth, ever more reporters and editors are seeing themselves as digital first, which is exactly as it should be. This talented newsroom needs to focus even more on the journalism, not the platform. Readers will consume us in whatever form they choose.
But we need to do more. We need to be crisper in our execution of stories. We need to continue to hire more reporters and graphic artists who are native to the web. We need to go department by department, looking to redirect our talent and focus to digital – meaning that jobs will likely change in the coming weeks and months. We need to further break the long-held rhythms of a print operation. We need to be more thoughtful and structured in how we roll out our enterprise, our most widely read work. On that last point, [BostonGlobe.com editor] Jason Tuohey has developed a release schedule that will help guide us every day, dictating when enterprise is put online and in the social stream to maximize readership. Jason and [managing editor for digital] David Skok will be meeting soon with department heads and web editors to elaborate.
Amid this transition, the realities of the industry dictate that more cuts be made, and we’re looking around the newsroom and across the company, always with an eye to protect our journalism. We’ve frozen most open positions, though not all, throughout the building. There have already been layoffs in other parts of the building, and those will continue. We’re looking at some modest page reductions in the newsroom. We’re cutting back on freelance spending, which the page reductions will make easier.
All of this is an effort not only to live within our means, but to create a sustainable news organization, one that depends far more on digital subscriptions, where revenue is rising, than on print advertising, where our industry faces inexorable declines. In this effort, we are well positioned for success. The company has no debt. We have no pension obligations, which were left with the New York Times. We don’t have an owner looking to ratchet up margins. We have an innovative spirit. We have a deep, deep reservoir of talent and ambition. We’re simply looking to turn a modest profit, which the ownership will then invest in the enterprise.
On so many fronts here, we’ve already seen significant progress. Print circulation has been largely stable, with nominal declines. In terms of digital circulation, we have more subscribers than any other news organization outside of New York – and those readers are paying more money for a subscription than any other place besides the Times or Wall Street Journal. The site reads and looks terrific, with an increasing emphasis on web-only graphics and stories, work that thrives in the moment and is geared to our online readership.
For that matter, your work in the paper has been equally compelling. In fact, many of our investments have paid off, not in jackpot fashion, but in upward movement. The standalone Business section has been a major hit with readers and advertisers. The premium Sunday magazines are leading to a major revenue increase from last year. Some big-ticket advertisers are pushing to bring Capital back to a freestanding section in September, which we’ll likely do. Sunday Travel and Address are two absurdly readable sections that have succeeded in stemming declines or are seeing category increases. Sunday Arts is a source of weekly pride and reader enjoyment. For the first time, regional and national brands are partnering with us in novel, cross-platform advertising campaigns that include event sponsorships.
And then there’s the daily journalism – accountability reporting, narrative writing, elaborate beat reporting, stories that inform and entertain. We have set the agenda with our even-handed yet penetrating coverage of the Olympics bid, from birth to this week’s death. Nobody’s been better at chronicling the downfall of the Red Sox and the meaning of Deflategate. Nobody has more accessible and insightful critics. Our DC bureau has reported and written like a dream, from Vienna to Iowa. Our Tsarnaev trial coverage caught the attention of the world. Exceptional online presentations and graphics, from Pedro Martinez to the impact of global warming on the Arctic Ocean, are becoming wonderfully commonplace. The list could go on. Which is to say, again, the business model for journalism may be broken, but the journalism, specifically your journalism, is not.
Change is exciting, but the nasty sibling of change is uncertainty, and that can be scary as hell. Please remember that this newsroom has accomplished extraordinary journalism in the face of enormous uncertainty for many years running. We’ve been threatened with closure. We’ve been twice put up for sale – before fortunately landing with a deeply committed owner. We, like everyone else, have seen significant staff reductions. And through it all, you’ve created cutting edge and thriving websites. You’ve won Pulitzer Prizes and every other award under the sun. You produce one of the most thoughtful and provocative daily reports in the nation. The next couple of months will carry another dose of pain, again in the departure of prized colleagues. But please don’t doubt that we’ll emerge as a healthy and forward-looking enterprise, primed for continued excellence.
I’ll be in the Winship Room next Tuesday at 11, 2, and 6 to hear your thoughts and take your questions. I’m of course available any time before then; just reach out. Meantime, thanks as always for all you do.
It was ridiculous to accuse of him plagiarism or something like it because he didn’t claim that anything he was posting was his original work. And he always linked to what he was excerpting — that was the whole idea. I consider him to be among the most ethical and transparent of journalists.
It’s time for an apology.
More:Here are some reactions from Poynter’s faculty that were posted at the time of Romenesko’s departure. Some didn’t believe he’d done anything wrong. Some thought his attribution practices were sloppy, though they didn’t think it quite amounted to plagiarism — though that’s certainly how it was framed in public.
The larger issue, it seems to me, was that Poynter benefitted from hosting Romenesko’s blog for 12 years without questioning his aggregation practices, and then overreacted to a Columbia Journalism Review inquiry as he was heading for the exit.
That said, Romenesko and Poynter remain must-reads for those of us who follow journalism and media issues.
Correction: The spelling of Mullin’s name has now been fixed.
The nice thing about missing out on bad news from GateHouse Media* is that you only have to wait a few days for fresh material. Thus we learn today that The Standard-Times of New Bedford is getting rid of three newsroom jobs. Here’s the internal email from editor Beth Perdue:
Today we eliminated three editorial positions in an effort to align our staffing levels to expected revenues in 2015 and levels at similar sized media companies.
These are always tough decisions and my heart goes out to those who departed. Their loss will be felt by all of us.
Please know that these changes represent the full extent of planned reductions in the newsroom. While changes like this are very difficult, we can now focus fully on pursuing a variety of opportunities that will help us move forward.
I hear that among those departing is veteran reporter Steve DeCosta, a respected figure in the newsroom since the late 1970s. I also understand that Simón Rios is leaving the paper for WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). The cuts, I’m told, will shrink the reporting staff to five, compared to nine just two years ago. (I’m asking for details on the third job that’s been eliminated and will update if I hear anything.)
You may recall that Perdue’s predecessor as editor, Bob Unger, resigned in December rather than implement GateHouse-ordered cuts. Boston Globe reporter (and GateHouse alumnus) Jon Chesto wrote at the time that Unger was “hoping his sacrifice will save two or three lower-paying jobs.” If you scroll to the bottom of Chesto’s story, you’ll see what I told him: Don’t count on it.
• T&G reporter quits over shrinking pay. In a departure that has gotten national buzz, Thomas Caywood, an investigative reporter for the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, quit after management refused to give him a 3 percent raise — which, he said, would have offset only a fraction of the reduction in income he’s been subjected to over the years. Here is part of what Caywood wrote to T&G publisher James Normandin:
For your background, I have been a reporter at the Telegram & Gazette since September 2007, during which time I have had one small pay raise. The cumulative impact of inflation over the last seven years of my employment has been to reduce the value of my annual earnings by nearly 14 percent. My vacation allotment was reduced from three weeks a year to two weeks by Halifax Media Group. Meanwhile, our benefits cost more and cover less than before the Halifax acquisition….
All I require is a 3 percent raise and restoration of my previous three-weeks-a-year vacation allotment. The meager raise would barely be noticeable to my finances, but it’s vital to me that I see some tangible evidence of this commitment to quality journalism of which you and GateHouse speak.
Caywood told Jim Romenesko: “I didn’t leave the Telegram & Gazette with any hard feelings and my departure was not intended as some kind of provocative ‘fuck you’ gesture…. But I just couldn’t avoid any longer the unwelcome truth that I valued the job more highly than the company valued me.”
If you’re having a hard time following the bouncing chains, Globe owner John Henry sold the T&G to Halifax Media Group of Florida in 2014. Halifax turned around a few months later and sold out in its entirety to GateHouse, which is based in suburban Rochester, New York. Here is the analysis I wrote for WGBHNews.org in November.
• Cape Cod Times to close printing plant. The Cape Cod Times and its affiliated weeklies will shut down their printing press in Hyannis and move production to the Providence Journal.
This move, at least, makes sense, and has been anticipated from the time that GateHouse acquired the Journal last summer. But “an undisclosed number of jobs” will be eliminated, writes Times reporter Bryan Lantz. And here’s more from Jon Chesto.
*For the sake of simplicity, I am referring to the corporate owner of all these papers as GateHouse Media. The chain’s acquisition branch is known as New Media Investment Group.
Update. I’m now hearing that DeCosta and two other newsroom people were let go at The Standard-Times — not counting Rios, who’ll begin his new job at WBUR soon.
A huge newspaper deal was announced late this afternoon. The parent company of GateHouse Media of Fairport, New York, which has been on the march since emerging from bankruptcy last year, is buying out Halifax Media Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida. Locally, the acquisition greatly expands GateHouse’s footprint in the central part of the state: earlier this year Boston Globe owner John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to Halifax.
Jim Romenesko has the memo from GateHouse chief executive Kirk Davis.
GateHouse now owns almost every significant newspaper property in Eastern Massachusetts (and beyond) other than the Globe and the Boston Herald. The Digital First papers, which include the Lowell Sun and the Fitchburg Enterprise & Sentinel, are for sale. Will GateHouse scoop them up? What about the CNHI papers, which include The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover and three other dailies in that region? How long can they hold out?
Even before its latest acquisition spree, GateHouse owned about 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts — mostly weeklies, but also mid-size dailies such as the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham, The Enterprise of Brockton and The Patriot Ledger of Quincy. In the past year GateHouse has added the Cape Cod Times, The Standard-Times of New Bedford, The Providence Journal and — in a little-noticed move just last week — Foster’s Daily Democrat of Dover, New Hampshire, a small but legendary community daily.
GateHouse has a well-earned reputation for cutting staff and compensation, although that hardly makes it unique. The larger story is that its executives clearly believe it can be the last local-newspaper chain standing by centralizing every part of its operations that aren’t strictly tied to local news.
A considerable amount of copy editing is being moved to a facility in Austin, Texas. The ProJo has a nice new press, and no doubt it will soon be printing as many GateHouse papers as it can accommodate — possibly cutting into the Globe’s printing business. GateHouse also owns what Davis calls a “digital services agency” called Propel Marketing.
At a time when few business executives want to mess with the newspaper business, GateHouse has gone all in. How it will end is anyone’s guess. But GateHouse has been down this road before, and it ended in bankruptcy. If Kirk Davis and company have a better idea this time, we should soon find out.
More: “Copy editing” at daily newspapers traditionally refers to editing stories for grammar and style, writing headlines and laying out pages. I am told that the Austin facility’s mission is limited to page design, though some copy editors at the ProJo are losing their jobs.
Boston Herald editorial-page editor Rachelle Cohen makes a minor error in her explanation of how the racist cartoon linking President Obama and watermelon toothpaste made its way into the paper.
“For two weeks I have remained silent,” she writes at the start of her column, which appears today on the Herald’s op-ed page. In fact, Cohen took the hit right after publication, telling media blogger Jim Romenesko that she was “guilty as charged” for not anticipating the outrage that Jerry Holbert’s cartoon would provoke.
Which is to say that Cohen deserves credit for taking responsibility right from the beginning, and for writing a heartfelt apology today — explaining that she saw the cartoon and approved it unthinkingly. “It’s my job as an editor to see around corners, to look at all the possible meanings and nuances of words and of images.” she writes. “It’s my job and two weeks ago I failed at it miserably.” (Here’s what we said about the controversy on “Beat the Press” on Oct. 3.)
She absolves Holbert of harboring any racist views. She reminds her readers of the division between the news and editorial operations. And in this case, she says, her usual practice of having an editor from the news side take a look was not followed.
I’ll take Holbert and Cohen at their word that there was no racist intent. But Holbert drew a racist cartoon and Cohen published it. The Herald recently announced that it has asked the NAACP to get involved, and that’s a good step. But I continue to believe that the larger issue is a lack of diversity in the newsroom. I’m not saying that an African-American editor should have seen the cartoon before it was published. Rather, I’m suggesting that when people of color are part of the day-to-day conversations that take place in any workplace, these things are a lot less likely to happen.
And surely someone should have had the foresight to turn off comments on Cohen’s column. That way we would have been spared the anonymous troll who calls Gov. Deval Patrick “one of the most obnoxious race pimps ever.” Again, it’s a matter of what kinds of conversations are unfolding among journalists on a regular basis.
In any event, kudos to Cohen for a straightforward, no-excuses apology, and to the Herald’s management for coming to grips with a serious lapse in a serious manner. Let’s hope it leads to action.
Tuesday may have been the biggest day yet for billionaire newspaper owners John Henry and Jeff Bezos. Henry’s Boston Globe launched the long-anticipated Crux, a free standalone website that covers the Catholic Church. And Bezos replaced Katharine Weymouth as publisher of The Washington Post, bringing an end to the 81-year reign of the Meyer-Graham family.
At a time when the newspaper business remains besieged by cuts (including 22 Newspaper Guild positions at The Providence Journal this week, according to a report by Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio), Henry and Bezos are taking the opposite approach.
“You can’t shrink your way to success,” new Washington Post publisher Frederick Ryan told Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post. “Growth is the way to continue to build a strong news organization.” Ryan’s words were nearly identical to those of the Globe’s chief executive officer, Michael Sheehan, at the unveiling of the paper’s weekly political section, Capital, in June: “You can’t cut your way to success. You can only grow you way to success.”
First Crux. To my non-Catholic eyes, the site appears to offer an interesting mix of the serious and the not-so-serious. The centerpiece is John Allen’s deeply knowledgeable reporting and analysis, some of which will continue to appear in the Globe. (In late August, Publishers Marketplace reported that Allen is writing a biography of Pope Francis with the working title of “The Francis Miracle.” No publisher was named, but according to this, Time Home Entertainment will release it in March 2015.)
Two quibbles. An article on the suffering of Iraqi Christians was published as a straight news story, even though the tagline identifies it as coming from “the pontifical organization Aid to the Church in Need.” When you click to “learn more,” you find out that Church in Need is an advocacy organization that is actively seeking donations. The disclosure is sufficient, but the placement strikes me as problematic. If Crux were a print newspaper, the article could have appeared on the op-ed page. Crux needs a clearly marked place for such material as well.
The site is beautifully designed, and it’s responsive, so it looks good on tablets and smartphones. There are a decent number of ads, though given the state of digital advertising, I think it would make sense — as I wrote earlier this summer — to take the best stuff and publish it in a paid, ad-supported print product.
Globe editor Brian McGrory, Crux editor Teresa Hanafin, digital adviser David Skok and company are off to a fine start. For more on Crux, see this article by David Uberti in the Columbia Journalism Review and this, by Justin Ellis, at the Nieman Journalism Lab.
A torrent of punditry has already accompanied the news that Frederick Ryan, a former chief executive of Politico, will become publisher of The Washington Post on Oct. 1.
The irony is thick. When Post political reporters John Harris and Jim VanDeHei proposed launching Politico under the newspaper’s auspices in 2006, they were turned down. Today, Politico often dominates the political conversation in a way that the Post used to (and, of course, sometimes still does). I’m not always a fan of Politico’s emphasis on politics as insider gamesmanship, but there’s no doubt the site has been successful.
As the Post’s own account makes clear, Ryan is a longtime Republican activist, and was close to both Ronald and Nancy Reagan. That shouldn’t affect the Post’s news operations, though it could affect the editorial page — hardly a bastion of liberalism even now. In another Post story, Ryan “endorsed” executive editor Marty Baron and editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt. Baron, a former Globe editor, may be the best newspaper editor working on this side of the Atlantic.
What concerns me is the strong scent of insiderism that is attached to Ryan. In an address to the staff, Ryan said one of his goals is “winning the morning,” according to a series of tweets by Post media blogger Erik Wemple (reported by Jim Romenesko). That might seem unremarkable, except that it sounds like something right out of the Politico playbook — um, make that “Playbook.”
A New York Times account by Ravi Somaiya dwells on Ryan’s obsession with the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, and quotes Ryan as calling it “an important event.” Those of us who find the dinner to be an unseemly display of Beltway clubbiness might agree that it’s important, but for different reasons.
Then again, if Ryan can fix the Post’s business model and show the way for other news organizations, all will be forgiven. The Post, like the Globe, has been expanding under new ownership. On Tuesday, the Post unveiled its most recent venture, The Most, an aggregation site.
Bezos’ track record at Amazon shows that he’s willing to take the long view. I suspect that he’s still just getting started with the Washington Post.
From the vantage point of 2014, offering advice on how to write a blog feels a little like telling people how to write a proper newspaper article in 2005. “Blogging is dead,” says the (ahem) blogger Jason Kottke, overtaken by social-media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
But if the revolutionary gleam has worn off, blogging nevertheless is still a valuable tool for anyone practicing digital journalism, whether it be commentary, original reporting, photography, or video. I’ve been blogging since 2002 — on my own at first, then as the media columnist for the late, lamented Boston Phoenix, and since 2005 as the publisher and almost-sole author of Media Nation.
These days there are many places online where you can share your work — not just social platforms but also online publications such as the Huffington Post and Medium, which combine paid content with unpaid blog posts. (God help us, but such hybrids are known in some circles as “platishers.”) So why set up a solo blog?
The reason is that you need an online home that is controlled by you — not by Mark Zuckerberg or Arianna Huffington or some other digital mogul seeking to get rich from your content. Moreover, you need to establish an online identity. If you don’t, others will do it for you. “You can’t allow others to define who you are, or control the way you are perceived. This is especially true today for people in the public eye, but the more we do online the more it’ll be true for the rest of us, too,” writes Dan Gillmor in his book Mediactive. “To the extent that it’s possible to do so, you should control the reference point for people who want to know more about you and your ideas.” (In 2006 I profiled Gillmor for CommonWealth magazine.)
Yes, I’ve uploaded this essay to Medium. I also occasionally self-publish at the Huffington Post and am a (too-) active member of Twitter and Facebook. But I’ll repost this article at Media Nation, as I do with all my work to which I have retained copyright. I don’t have complete control — I use the free blogging platform WordPress.com, and I must adhere to its policies. But I can back up my work and take it with me, and it would be easy to switch to self-hosting using free WordPress.org software if I felt the need. Just as important, the URL for Media Nation is my name: dankennedy.net.
So what is a blog? Taking the most expansive definition possible, a blog consists of content, usually text or mostly text, that is published online in reverse chronological order. That would include everything from the Washington Post’s breaking-news blog to Lisa Bonchek Adams’s diary-style blog about living with metastatic breast cancer. Dave Winer, an early Internet thinker and coder who writes the blog Scripting News, has a more specific definition, which he first gave voice to in 2003. Winer writes:
A blog is the unedited voice of a person.
The lack of editing is central, because it’s one person who’s responsible for every word. When you click the Publish button you should feel butterflies, at least sometimes, because there’s no one to pass the buck to. If someone else wrote the headline, or did a copy edit, or even reviewed what you wrote and critiqued it before it went out, it’s still writing, but it is not a blog.
I don’t believe we need to think about blogs quite that narrowly. For instance, if a journalist asks her editor to read a sensitive post before publishing, that doesn’t mean she’s not writing a blog. Still, there’s no question that a journalistic blog — which is what we are concerned about here — is different from other kinds of journalistic writing: less formal, more conversational, often with no traditional reporting (but never without research), and aimed at a small but passionate audience. (As David Weinberger and others have said, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 people.”)
How to write a good journalistic blog post
There are many ways that a journalist can go about writing a good blog post. It might be a sentence or two. It might be 500 words. But I think the essence of a worthwhile post can be boiled down to several elements:
Call your audience’s attention to something it doesn’t know — for instance, an environmental blogger might write about a new study regarding electric cars. Above all, don’t be boring. The lede you write for a blog post might be different from what you would write for a news story, but you still need to grab the reader by the throat and not let go.
Link to the source of your information, which could be a news article or possibly the study itself. Quote a bit from the source, keeping in mind that most of your readers won’t actually click. Shorter quotes can be put in quotation marks; longer quotes should be blockquoted. (Please note that I’m not talking about the sort of blog post that summarizes a news story so thoroughly that there is no incentive to click. I’m talking about a true value-added post. Keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.)
Bring in other sources of information. Although there’s nothing wrong with a short one-source blog post, you add value when you pull in other sources, link to them, and attempt to make sense of them.
Offer your own perspective and analysis so that your readers take away something of value that goes beyond the sources you’re quoting. If you are working for a news organization that does not normally allow you to express your opinion, then don’t. But a first-person conversational tone is appropriate. If expressing opinions is part of your job description, then have at it. In all cases, though, your tone and approach should remain journalistic. One good question to ask yourself: Is this something I would want to show a prospective employer?
Here is a blog post I wrote earlier this year about the sale of the Providence Journal that encompasses all of the elements I discuss above. Please note, though, that you could scroll through many pages of Media Nation and find only a few that are as thorough.
Some additional guidelines to keep in mind:
Choose a beat that is narrow — but not too narrow. The best blogs are specialty sites where you can learn everything there is to know about a subject and where the blogger’s enthusiasm comes through. That is what you should aspire to. But if you pick too narrow a subject, you may find yourself hard-pressed to find enough reading material on which to feed. Boston restaurants? No problem. Ethiopian restaurants in Boston? Eh, probably not. You might make it through a week. But what are you going to do after that?
Compile a wide-ranging reading list. And keep compiling. If your blog is about climate change, you are going to want to put together a list of blogs, websites, and Twitter feeds related to that topic that you check every day. If your blog is a supplement to your regular work as a beat reporter, you might be doing what is sometimes called beat blogging — sharing short stories that might not be of general enough interest for your news organization, keeping on top of developments in your field, and interacting with your audience. (Steve Buttry offers some worthwhile thoughts about beat blogging; he has also written a good beginner’s guide to blogging.)
Maintain a conversation with the “former audience.” Dan Gillmor coined the phrase, and Jay Rosen has written about “the people formerly known as the audience.” They were referring to formerly passive news consumers who have been empowered by technology to talk back to us and among themselves. Your audience is a valuable resource. Tend to the comments on your blog. Always posts links to your blog posts on Facebook and Twitter, which is not only a good way to promote your work but is also where much of the online conversation has migrated in recent years. Remember the Dan Gillmor adage that your readers know more than you do — which is not to say that collectively they know more than you, but that someone in your audience might. Much of reporting consists of finding people who know more than we do and talking with them. Your blog (and your social-media presence) can make that easier.
Don’t try to read people’s minds. This is specialized advice, but since I write opinionated media criticism, it’s something I wrestle with from time to time. Another way of putting it is that you shouldn’t ascribe motives unless you’re willing to pick up the phone and do the reporting. For example, it’s fine to observe that the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Red Sox is soft (if you think that’s the case and can offer evidence) and that the Globe’s owner, John Henry, is also the principal owner of the Red Sox. But it’s out of bounds to speculate without interviewing the principals that Globe staff members are afraid of angering Henry, or that Henry must have sent out an edict of some sort. Facts are facts and opinions are opinions, and each has its place. Speculation is neither fact nor opinion and has no place in your blog.
Learn to use photos within the bounds of copyright law. I like to run photos with my blog posts, but I know I can’t run a photo that is the copyrighted property of, say, the Associated Press or the New York Times. Fortunately, there are troves of photos online that you can use without payment, many of them through Wikimedia Commons and Creative Commons. Be respectful of the photographer by crediting it as he or she would like and by linking to the photo. Here is an example of how I handle such credits. (You may be interested in this Q&A I did with the photographer, Gage Skidmore, for the Nieman Journalism Lab.)
Some bloggers worth paying attention to
The best way to become a good writer is to read as much good writing as you can. The best way to become a good blogger is to study blogs by people who know what they’re doing. Here are some examples from my own personal list and from my followers on Facebook and Twitter. You’ll find a range of approaches and topics here.
Note: This is just a tiny sample. I’ve left out many people, including friends, especially if they are white men writing about politics — the single most common type of blogger. If you’d like more recommendations, please take a look at the blogroll on Media Nation — and see who the people below are linking to.
Andrew Sullivan. A pioneering blogger and a former editor of The New Republic, Sullivan’s The Dish is a model in terms of linking, quoting, offering his own commentary, and posting with the regularity of a Stakhanovite. Sullivan writes most frequently about politics, but nothing is off limits. He is not on my daily must-read list, but strictly in terms of craft and discipline, he may be without peer.
Jay Rosen. The New York University journalism professor’s blog, PressThink, is perhaps the most influential in future-of-journalism conversations. Rosen writes a type of blog that I particularly admire — long, well-thought-out posts in which he attempts to make sense of many strands of information. His attention to comments is impeccable as well.
Adam Gaffin. The founder and editor of Universal Hub, which tracks and excerpts from several hundred blogs and websites in the Boston area, as well as from mainstream news sources. Updated multiple times a day, the emphasis is on the sources, not the writer — although Gaffin’s wicked sense of humor often breaks through. In 2008 I profiled him for CommonWealth magazine.
Ta-Nehisi Coates. A national correspondent at The Atlantic and an occasional columnist for the New York Times, Coates blogs powerfully and intelligently on issues related to race and culture. Beyond his blog, his essay “The Case for Reparations” may be the most important magazine article published so far in 2014.
Meg Heckman. A journalism professor at the University of New Hampshire whose blog, A site of her own, focuses on “women, tech, journalism.”
C.J. Chivers. A war correspondent for the New York Times, his blog is called The Gun.
Virginia Postrel. A libertarian and early blogger, Postrel writes the Dynamist Blog, which is worth a look.
Jim Romenesko. The original media blogger, Romenesko moved from blogging on his own to working for the Poynter Institute, and is now on his own once again at JimRomenesko.com. Essential news-biz gossip.
Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay. Their On Politics blog is a good example of a beat blog, as Donnis and MacKay cover politics for Rhode Island Public Radio.
Michael Marotta. His blog, Vanyaland, is a respected guide to alternative rock.
Marjorie Arons-Barron. Former editorial director at WCVB-TV (Channel 5), she writes a blog — often with political reporting — on politics and public affairs.
Mark Garfinkel. A staff photographer for the Boston Herald whose website, Picture Boston, is an excellent example of a local photojournalism blog.
Photo credits: Blogger(cc) by European Parliament; Dan Gillmor by Joi Ito; Ta-Nehesi Coates by David Shankbone; Meg Heckman by Dan Kennedy. All photos published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
In September I asked (here and here) whether Rupert Murdoch’s 33 Dow Jones community newspapers might face cuts once they were sold to Newcastle Investment Corp., which is affiliated with GateHouse Media. Over the weekend we got the answer: yes, indeed.
Locally, the Cape Cod Times and The Standard-Times of New Bedford, both of which enjoy excellent reputations, will have to make do with a lot less. Seven full-time and 10 part-time employees have been cut at the Cape Cod Media Group, which comprises the Times and several affiliated publications. Twelve newsroom jobs were eliminated, with 10 people being laid off.
Similarly, four full-timers and four part-timers were let go at the SouthCoast Media Group, which is dominated by The Standard-Times. The story does not say how many of those employees were on the news side.
Peter Meyer, the publisher of both papers, was quoted in The Standard-Times as saying:
It is important to know that new ownership is not at fault for today’s actions. Any buyer would have taken similar measures based on financial realities. This was a painful but necessary step to position the SouthCoast Media Group for future success.
Essentially the same statement ran in the Cape Cod paper. Yet Meyer also says the papers in both groups remain profitable, though not as profitable as they were in 2009. Which means that the new owners could have invested in growth — admittedly, a dicey proposition — rather than bet on continued shrinkage.
I could not find any announcement for the Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald, the third major local daily that Dow Jones sold in September. But Jim Romenesko reports that the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y., got rid of all four of its staff photographers and will now rely on freelancers — reminiscent of the move made by the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this year. Three newsroom managers were let go as well.
“I’m getting reports today of ‘bloodbaths’ at some of the former Dow Jones papers,” Romenesko wrote on Friday.
GateHouse, currently going through a structured bankruptcy, owns about 100 community newspapers in Massachusetts, most of them weeklies.
Jim Romenesko has posted an update on what happened to Boston Phoenix staff members who lost their jobs when the alt-weekly — a glossy magazine known simply as The Phoenix in its final incarnation — went out of business last March.
It’s heartening to see how many of my former colleagues landed on their feet, although it would be good to see more of them find full-time media jobs. Among those who did: Carly Carioli, the editor of The Phoenix, and who’s now the executive editor (the number two position) at Boston magazine following a cup of coffee at Boston.com.
Also working full-time at BoMag is S.I. Rosenbaum; political reporter David Bernstein is a contributor there and to WGBH as well. Former editor Peter Kadzis is working part-time at WGBH, and was instrumental in bringing the Boston leg of the Muzzle Awards to WGBHNews.org earlier this summer.
Anyway, not to repeat Romenesko’s entire item. It’s well worth a look. Romenesko is also updating it as new information about ex-Phoenicians becomes available.