Mark on March 6th, 2013

I can understand the reasons for it, but I think cutting newsroom copy editors is a bad idea.

Yes, newspapers need to cut costs to keep going – or, more properly, to keep profits at levels that make investors and owners happy. Yes, they need to preserve reporters, because they need to fill the newspaper, which still brings in most of the revenue.

The economics are basic: it costs money to have those copy editors’ bums in local newsroom chairs. A centralized desk, serving a number of newspapers, has benefits: fewer people are needed and the centralized staff probably isn’t subject to the same union contracts that cover the home office.

(According to one report, the Toronto Star will replace copy editors that it was paying as much as $85k a year with centralized deskers who top out at $45k. Sorry, but I’ve lost the link; if I track it down, I’ll add it to the post.)

You can see the sense: if I have to cut the newsroom, better to outsource copy editing and page production than to start hacking away at feet-on-the-street reporters.

But the people doing the page production are the newspaper’s last line of defense against the type of sloppiness – grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, tangled syntax and the like – that eat away at credibility. I don’t have anything empirical, but I do have anecdote: Since our local Postmedia daily outsourced its page production, typos and grammatical errors have increased. You won’t find an error on every page, or even in every section, but the number is growing. It’s off-putting in a high-level, professional publication and, I’m sure, annoying to those still in the newsroom.

(Online is worse: I recently read a website report from the same daily that had four grafs and four grammatical errors.)

I think there’s long-term pain – beyond the loss of jobs – for newspapers if they can’t find a way to maintain the quality we’ve come to expect. It’s no secret that good, strong writing comes from writers (who also report), editors, copy editors, fact-checkers and proofreaders. Newspapers have traditionally collapsed a lot of that editing power into the individuals on the desk, making those people vital to quality. So far, here in Vancouver, cutting that editing power and outsourcing it to strangers has created problems. They’re minor, but they are problems.

Maybe I’m making too much of this. Maybe most newspaper readers react to the occasional glitch, typo or howler with shrug. Or maybe I’ve reached the age of crankiness and am only a step away from being the guy who mails editors envelopes stuffed with clippings with the missteps circled in red.

On the other hand, maybe those slips that make their way into print, and the slips that less-than-attentive (and possibly overworked) central deskers introduce, a little at a time, nibbling at the credibility and authority that newspapers desperately need.

Update: Just after finishing this, I came across Lopping off Limbs by John Gordon Miller, which makes much stronger case for copy editors.

Share

Tags: , , ,

Mark on February 5th, 2013

Anyone who has spent more than a couple of hours online knows that dipping into the comment sections at some news site – okay, at most news sites – is like diving head-first into a septic tank.

A number of newspapers seem to prevent comments on contentious articles, and at least one has killed it Facebook page because of vitriol.

The value of comments is the conversation and, at some sites (which I suspect are heavily moderated), great discussions unfold that really do deepen the reporting and storytelling.

I have an idea for saving that but it’ll take a little work and some hard-headed decision-making.

Create two comments sections for each story. Call one something like “The Conversation.” That’s where the good stuff goes: thoughtful analyses, reasoned arguments, mannerly disagreements, dearly-held and well-expressed thoughts and ideas and the like.

Call the other one something like “The Slop Bucket.” (“The Septic Tank” would work, too.) Everything else – the rants, the baseless attacks, the racism, the conspiracy theories – whatever – goes there.

The benefit for the reader is obvious: a nicely curated section for when we want to be engaged and a seething mess of madness when we need to be reminded how ugly the internet can become.

And maybe, just maybe, some of the fire-first, think-later commenters may try to work their way out of The Slop Bucket (or Septic Tank) and return to the land of reasonable, passionate conversation. You know, the land where the grown-ups live.

Share
Mark on January 31st, 2013

A couple of tweets from this afternoon:

…and…

(Both came from a Toronto event, a Canadian Journalism Federation J-talk on media innovation. The Canadian Journalism Project has a recap.)

The way I read those – and a couple of tweets that followed – is that what’s important for media orgs is journalism that adds value, either through storytelling, deep immersion and investigation – long-form – or through bits and bites and engagement – the quick-hit-on-to-social-media stuff. I may have that a little wrong; if so, that’s what the comments are for.

The ideas there tie in with something Alan Mutter wrote earlier in the week – Most newspaper stories are still too long – and some of the reaction that produced, including Steve Buttry’s detailed take, Newspaper stories are too long, except when they’re too short.

The very-short version of Alan’s post is somewhat wrapped up in this:

With all due respect to my colleagues and friends in the business, newspapers are written by journalists for journalists, who not only love their words but also tend to equate the length of a story with the importance of the subject, if not the writers themselves.

Steve, in a post worth reading, added this:

I support Mutter, Gannon, McGuff and lots of editors past and present in their quest to introduce more discipline in journalists’ writing. I freely acknowledge that many of my blog posts run too long, without the limited space of print and without editors to help me trim an extraneous word here and a redundant paragraph there. But frankly, the problem and the challenge (whether in my blog or in a newspaper or on a news website) is not how long the story is, but whether it’s worth the length.

(Editing note: I combined two grafs into one in that quote.)

All of these tweets and quotes from blog posts are of a piece, and they’re pointing us past newspaper journalism as it is, for the most part, presently committed.

It makes sense. We have an arsenal of storytelling weapons and war-room filled with storytelling strategies that allow us to break out of the old ways, reshape what journalism means and connect more deeply with an audience crying out for understanding (and entertainment).

(An aside: Does anyone remember the pre-crisis days, before the economy went south, the newspaper companies went bankrupt and all those talented, talented journalists lost their jobs? The largest concern then was the trend lines that showed newspaper readership and connection to community and ability to attract advertisers were all, long-term and steepening, heading downward. Did, sometime during the awfulness of the past four or five years, all that disappear? Did the fact that amid all that tumult newspapers got themselves online, dove deep into social media and got interactive – while more or less doing what they had always done in terms of journalism – suddenly make them more relevant and deeply connected to community? I don’t think so.)

Back on topic: the message I got from the tweets and blog posts makes sense. When I pile it on the other, less-recent messages about what media needs to be – hyperlocal, reader-driven, mobile-first and on and on, they they all make sense, too. Which leads to two conclusions: I am (1) glad I am no longer a newspaper editor who is charged with figuring this all out and (2) convinced that this whole enterprise of figuring out where media is going/needs to go is still incredibly messy.

We see some interesting stuff happening. For instance, I’ve just noticed that The Toronto Star has, since November of last year, published at least a dozen e-books as part of “a weekly series of quality journalism in ebook form” available at the Apple iBooks store either free or for $2.99. (An example is here.) And, for instance, Chad Skelton, here in Vancouver, is doing some increasingly interesting storytelling with data. His blog hasn’t been updated for a bit, but there are some links to some of his work there.

There’s a lot, like the ideas that kicked off this post, to be excited about.

But what I’m not aware of is any deep or widespread discussion of what, in the second decade of the 21st Century, a newspaper is. For all the tweets, Facebook posts, online conversations, videos, data-driven stories and the rest, the newspapers I see most often are still trying to be all things to all people. They are still filled largely with 20-inch pieces of commodity news that are need far less space. They hit the doorstep every morning as if the news they carry has not already been covered – sometimes to death – and they add little that is truly new and important.

I get that part of the challenge – a big, big part of it – is maintaining an older, generally supportive readership (which maintains the advertising base they are still able to cling to), while moving into the areas that they know they need to, but which have so far proven very much less conducive to making money.

Still. We have lot of hows out there, long-form and short- and the disappearing middle being the latest to catch me eye. What I would like to see is much more discussion about what, as in “What could a newspaper be?” I suspect there are some interesting answers in there.

Share
Mark on January 30th, 2013

The age of the media paywall is (almost) fully upon us and it’s has me doing arithmetic.

If I had to put a formula to it, it would be something like x = ? + ? + ?, where x is the amount of media money I’m willing to spend and the questions marks are fees per media. It’s fair to say that the number of question marks is limited and x will be reached fairly quickly.

That’s made me cautious about sharing my credit-card number with any of the news media that want a glimpse of it.

I’m not sure newspapers, in building their paywalls, realized that one of the effects would be that at least some readers now need to be convinced that there is actual, personal (as opposed to societal) value in what they are producing.

A couple of decades ago, I paid to have three newspapers, two local and one national, delivered to my door. The decision was pretty easy: those newspapers were not only the most relevant at the time, they were also the most readily available. At lot has changed in two decades, not the least of which is what’s relevant to me. And, today “readily available” describes just about every media outlet anywhere in the world.

Now, if a media company wants my money, it has to convince me that it’s valuable to me.

The idea that media has to prove itself to me is interesting. Before, I guess, I paid for whatever value I deduced with my attention. Now they want money for it and I’m very much more aware that I want to get my money’s worth. (I’ve never believed I should support the local media “just because,” nor do I buy the argument that the life or death of any particular outlet equals the life or death of journalism.)

So far, I’m proceeding cautiously. A chunk of the available paywall budget went to the New Yorker a week or so ago, because there was an article I really want to read. I could have bought that issue, but the value of having that magazine on the iPad every week won out.

Some of what I’m willing to pay is also getting soaked up by sites such as The Ativist, and others selling stories at by-the-piece rates.

Most likely – based on the number of times I’ve had to switch browsers after hitting a page-meter limit – the next decision I will have to make is whether the Globe & Mail gets some cash. In recent weeks, there have been a number of pieces that are pointing me to an online subscription. The excellent The China Dairies Diaries series by Mark McKinnon and John Lehmann comes to mind as journalism of value that is worth paying for.

(I should note that, through the university, I can have access to the full Globe & Mail package. There is something in me, though, that says that if I truly find it of value, I should pay for it.)

Beyond that, I’m not sure. There’s a world of journalism out there, much of which will remain free because while I may enjoy an occasional piece from Edmonton or Seattle or Tampa Bay or wherever, there’s no continuing value in access beyond the eight or 10 pages per month that slip outside the paywall.

(Of course, media can still get some cash from me by re-publishing large-scale journalism projects as e-books. I buy an inordinate number of books and many of them are impulse buys.)

The problem for my local newspapers is that, so far, they’re not in the mix. Twitter is as effective as anything has been in tipping me to the breaking – and not-so-breaking – news of the city and province, and if I want more I can dive deeper. And, in truth, the older I get, the more the news junkie in me fades. I’m still a journalism junkie – but I only want the really good stuff –, while the need to be constantly in the know about everything is less and less important.

I’m not sure if this process of carefully adjudicating where the paywall money will be spent is something others are going through, too. I read a while ago (sorry, I’ve forgotten where) one man reporting that the fact he was allowed only 10 articles a month was causing him to pause and carefully weigh the value of each article he was tempted to click on, resulting in far fewer clicks than he was used to making.

(Update: Chad Skelton has helpfully provided me with a link to the post mentioned above: The Beneficial Impact of Newspaper Paywalls on Users. Thanks, Chad.)

This whole process of determining the value of individual media titles is deeply interesting. I let you know how it works out.

Share
Mark on January 29th, 2013

I realize it’s been a while.

Stuff happens. Twitter, for one. Real life, for another.

Despite the social media whirl, blogging isn’t dead yet and it feels like it’s time to devote some attention to doing some writing, teasing out some deeper thoughts, performing some self-promotion…

Speaking of which…

Book cover

Cover of eBook created in iBooks Author.

Over the break between semesters, I played with Apple’s iBooks Author to begin to get a grip on self-publishing e-books. The result was a slender, iPad-targetted book of photos that’s available free of charge through iTunes. Next step on the learning ladder is to figure out how to convert the iBooks Author version into formats that can be read by other e-readers. (I also have in mind creating a second photo book, this one of musicians, that explores some of the interactive features available in iBooks Author.)

I have mixed thoughts about self-publishing. It’s great for the ego and I’ve had some nice responses. But I’ve added to the clutter of self-published works that are filling up the virtual bookshelves of the various online vendors. It makes the task of finding books by browsing more difficult and time-consuming. Everyone has a book in them, we’ve always been told. Modern times mean all those books are coming out, some that I’ve seen without ever having had the benefit of a good editor or even just a proofreader.

Presumably, as happened with blogging, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest, the wheat-from-chaff sorting will take place, the cream will rise … choose your favourite cliché … and from the burst of what we used to call vanity publishing, new, strong voices will emerge and be recognized as whatever the e-book world’s equivalent of Google juice or trusted Twitter “editors” kicks in.

However you or I feel about this whole thing, self-publishing books is a logical extension of the DIY ethos that drives blogging and YouTube docs, Instagram streams and all the rest in this ragged, wonderful world.

I’m going to keep poking around in self-publishing, and I’ll pass what I learn along to my students.

Maybe I can convince them, along the way, that their best friend will always be a good editor.

Share

Tags: , ,

Mark on May 28th, 2012

Note: Since publication, I have corrected a couple of typos.

You saw the news today: Postmedia has chopped at least two dozen jobs, killed some of its newspapers’ Sunday edition, temporarily suspended Monday publication of The National Post and stopped printing on most holidays.

You may have noticed, in the coverage, the reasons: the company’s last quarterly financial report contained an operating loss of $11 million, and Postmedia is carrying a debt more than $510 million. Revenue from ads and circulation is still falling, partly because of a slow-growing economy but mostly because of long-term trends.

What you may not have noticed is that last week, there was – every single day, from Monday to Friday – news of layoffs and cancelled print editions from newspapers in the U.S. and Britain. So, we are into our sixth straight business day of bad news for newspapers.

I don’t want you to think, though, that we’re seeing the death of newspapers or of journalism itself.

Newspapers are, indeed, changing and changing rapidly. They are becoming smaller (in pages and staff) and more locally focussed. They are putting increasing burdens on reporting staff: Your copy better be good and it better be clean, because it will be read by fewer editors. You better bring more to the office than the ability to report and write. If you’re not engaged with audience through social media, you had better get there and get there quickly.

As for journalism, in the 40 years I’ve spent working in and teaching about journalism, I’ve never seen it better. The explosion in different forms of storytelling, whether it’s data journalism, newspaper video or the seeming resurgence in long-form, has created a deep well that we can all draw from wherever we happen to be.

The whole thing is messy right now, though. No one knows exactly what’s going on or where this is all going to wind up. There’s a tendency to reduce it all to simplicities — if only people would pay; if only Google/HuffingtonPost/whatever would go away; if only…. Unfortunately, for you students, this all will stay messy for a while. Perhaps a long while.

But, you also may have noticed last week there were a few journalism job openings advertised at newspapers in the Lower Mainland, in the Interior and on Vancouver Island. Newspapers are still hiring, although not in the numbers they once were, and the competition for those jobs is stiff.

And I look back at the last couple of graduating classes and see that some of those students are working as journalists and others are active freelancers. We’ve even had students working as journalists — paid journalists — while they completed their degrees.

There’s no need to give up on journalism, or even newspapers, quite yet.

But all of this does have implications for you over the next two, three or four years.

I believe that the people who are going to be hired to do journalism, and who are going to build the successful freelance careers, are those who do it best. Fewer editors mean there will be a great demand for journalists who report solidly and write well and cleanly. Fewer bodies in the newsroom mean there will be a great demand for journalists with skills in all the varieties of storytelling and, conversely, for those who have deeply mastered such in-demand skills as data journalism (although more on that in a minute).

The continual conversion of the newspaper industry from print to digital, means there will be a great demand for journalists who bring with them knowledge of, and skill at, integrating social media into their work, and engaging directly and well with “audience.” And the rapidly changing nature of the beast, means there will always be a demand for journalists who are highly skilled today and who make a commitment to continually learning the skills they need to be highly skilled next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

If I were a journalism student, my bucket list would be something like this:

• absorb the fundamental skills of journalism — the reporting, the verification, the writing — and become not just adept at them all, but become the best I can possibly be.

• learn all of the storytelling modes and methods that I could, and practice hard and often to develop and hone the skills to use them.

• continue to learn not only in the classroom, but outside of it, taking advantage of the seemingly endless list of tutorials, webinars, online courses and workshops.

• practice these skills relentlessly, not just in response to an assignment, and seek feedback and guidance for all of my work, not just that which is assigned.

• press my instructors to teach me more, teach me more deeply, help drive my progress toward becoming one of those who does it best.

Here’s the thing: good people, people who can do the job well, will always have a future in journalism. They may not have the same type of career I had or work for the type of newspapers that I did, but they will do journalism.

Watch the news from the industry. Share in the laments over the downfalls and the exultations for the successes. Stay informed about what’s happening and what smart people are saying they think it means. Watch the developments.

Above all, be good.

Note: Right now, there are a lot of people who’ll tell you data journalism and journalism-related programming is the place to be. They’re right, of course. But five years ago, people would have told you the place to be was in multimedia journalism, 10 years ago that it was in web journalism and 15 years ago that it was in narrative journalism. And they were all right.

Times change. Newspapers (as we are seeing) change. Demands change. Which means two things, I think.

1. You need to stay as current as possible in understanding where the jobs are and what skills are being prized now and in the foreseeable future. (Four years or five from now, I suspect, there are going more computer science-journalism grads than there are jobs for them.)

2. You can protect yourself against those changes, by studying not only deeply, but widely, and in loading up your skills toolbox with as much as it can hold.

Oh, and did I mention that you can protect yourself by be being good.

Share
Mark on January 1st, 2012

We all have people who inspire us, by their approach to life and through the work they produce. Over the next year or so, I want is acknowledge some of those who make me try to do better, as a photographer, writer and storyteller.

I want to start with four photographers whose work astounds me, not just with what that work contains, but because of the sense of humanity their images carry. And that drives me to do better, to try to come closer to what they are doing. You won’t find any of their images here, not because I fear the copyright police, but because I want you to go look.

In no particular order:

Tatiana Cardeal

On her web site, Tatiana calls herself a “photographer, visual artist and a dreamer.” She has shot around the world, and produced a body of work that is rich in detail, colour and meaning. I can spend hours exploring the images at her site.

From her About page: “Tatiana’s photography is in search of a visual language to enhance human development, a photography that seeks the humanity existing through different socio-cultural identities, with emphasis on inequality, human rights and environment.”

For me, the key words are “a photography that seeks the humanity.” As well as being wonderful images, her light-drenched, rich photographs, in the tradition of countryman Sebastião Salgado, she allows the dignity of those she photographs to shine through, an idea and approach that resonates.

John Lehmann

John is a Vancouver-based visual journalist for the Globe & Mail. He’s spoken to a couple of my classes and I’ve had a beer or two with him, but even if I’d never met him, I’d still consider him an inspiration.

There are a number of galleries at his website (which, unfortunately opens with some autoplay music). I’d suggest you start with People to see a photojournalist at the top of his powers. (Go look; I’ll still be here if you come back.)

What inspires me are two different aspects of his work: closeness and space. He works close, close, close to subjects, sometimes brutally close, by which I mean the reality is sometimes brutal and unflinching; and he works, too, with photographs that use space as an element that invites a long exploration of the stories he is telling.

Take a look, too, at 2011 in focus: Best B.C. photos of the year at the Globe & Mail site, which features nine of John’s photos from last year and his stories that go with them.

Melissa Lyttle

Melissa is a photojournalist who toils for print and online for the Tampa Bay Times (which was the St. Petersburg Times until yesterday). Her portfolio is rich with images that get inside the lives of her subjects.

A lot of her work is black and white, in the fine tradition of documentary storytelling, but look at her images from Haiti and Mexico: her use of colour ranks, for me, with the likes of William Albert Allard. Her vision is clear and sharp.

In her work, I see someone paying full attention to the story she is telling. Her long-form documentary work is as real as life gets.

We’ve never met, but we’ve exchanged occasional e-mails and tweets and, this semester, she sent me a detailed e-mail on her approach to storytelling after I used her piece Motel Families in a storytelling class I taught. Through her blog, The Life of M, and her work with A Photo a Day, she shares constantly, and promotes the discovery of other photographers. (By the way, “He discovered and shared,” would not be a bad inscription for a gravestone.)

Mihailo Radičevič

I’ve only recently come across the work of Mihailo Radičevič, on Google+, which, I’ve discovered is chock-a-block with great photographers. Mihailo, who calls himself an holistic photographer, shoots in Serbia. And, man, does he shoot.

Take a look at any of his galleries. I like his Nature and Bricks and Portals collections, which are wonderful explorations of shape, space, mood and tone, images worth exploring in depth.

I find four of the galleries special: Faces 1 & 2 and Street 1 & 2. All of these images bubble with life. Some feature humour, some speak of pride, all speak of the everyday. And, again, they treat subject and viewer with honour and respect.

That’s inspirational: to take on daily life in a straight-forward way that rises to the level of art through respect.

I could go on: there are dozen of people who inspire me and push me every time I pick up a camera. And then there are the writers…

More, as they say, later.

Share
Mark on December 28th, 2011

Robson Square skating rink

Over the past year, I’ve aimed to shoot a good photo a day. I’ve missed five or so along the way for a variety of reasons – illness, too many other demands, laziness – and the photos have not always been good, but many are.

I’ve shot with two different iPhones, three different Canons and, most recently, an Olympus. There have been phases: exploring the effects of Hipstamatic and other iPhone apps, for instances, or shooting exclusively with a very wide angle lens. My camera has been to concerts and other events, but mostly it’s been on the streets, capturing people, architecture, signs, abstracts and whatever else caught my eye.

Shooting every day has been an incredibly good, and relatively painless, way to learn how my various cameras really work (and how digital photography really works). Exploring each of them has made all those dials and menus more or less fade into the background – most of the time, but not always –, so that I can concentrate on making the image.

It’s also been an adventure in seeing. Not just looking, but seeing what’s there. (This is the argument I have with those who mutter, “Put the camera down and pay attention to real life.” This is how I pay attention to real life.) I’ve come to enjoy walking around seeing juxtapositions, patterns, colours, people, scenes. Some days, it seems as though the pictures are presenting themselves. All I have to do is snap.

There are pictures I’ve missed, sometimes because I wasn’t ready when I should have been. And sometimes it was because my ability to shoot from the hip needs a lot of work, and I still quail at the idea of staring down a stranger through a camera lens. I’ve learned that about myself.

I don’t know if I’m a better photographer than I was at the start of the year, although the act of seeing and snapping over and over again, day after day, suggests I may be. Practice rarely makes perfect, but it does make better.

I don’t have the artistic vision of a Richard Koci Hernandez, whose challenge to photographers everywhere was the inspiration for my 2011 vision quest. But shooting every day has been inspiring, challenging and, above all, fun. As an exercise in creating, I highly recommend it.

Final note: My photos from the past year – not all of them, but the chosen many – are online at my Tumblr blog. There are 490 of them so far.

Share
Mark on December 16th, 2011

The Tascam iM2 — a set of stereo condenser mics with pre-amp that plug into iPhones and iPads — that I bought when it was first announced, arrived earlier this week but I didn’t get a chance to try it out until today, when I gave it a very quick workout.

First impressions are that while it appears to record nice audio, it’s a bit of a hassle to use and the included “manual” isn’t helpful. It didn’t, for instance, make any reference to the downloadable Tascam app.

I had to remove the case from my iPhone 4S in order to seat the mic. The phone needed to be in Airplane mode before it would record and, because I didn’t change my settings, the iPhone kept going to sleep in mid-recording. I was able to monitor the recording through earbuds, but not Apple’s earbuds which have a built-in mic.

Recording with the Tascam app was easy: press the record button once and set the levels and then once more to start the recording. Files were automatically saved.

Once the recordings were done, the only option under sharing in the Tascam app was to send the files to Soundcloud; I had to plug the iPhone in to my laptop and download the audio files to get them into an editor. I was, however, able to record directly into Monle, an audio-editing app on the phone, and then use a wireless connection to download that file.

The audio quality of the recordings is good, although there were differences in the volume of all three files I recorded (embedded below): the first one was relatively quiet, the second started much louder and distorted, and the third, recorded with Monle, was the the quietest of all. As much as anything, that may have been a problem of my mic technique. Handling noise was a problem, as it is with all handhelds.

The only changes I’ve made to these files was to open them in Amadeus Pro and normalize them. The first two, recorded in the Tascam app, were normalized to 0db; the third was normalized to -3db, because the 0db setting caused it to clip. (Warning: there are volume differences in the three: there first is very quiet and there is some distortion at the start of the second.) One note about the files: the low level hum at the start of the third clip is from the hot air duct that was about three feet away and that started pumping air when I started recording.
First test


Second test


Third test (with Monle)

Final thoughts: The iM2 is something I’ll throw into my bag for spur-of-the-moment use. If I set out to do serious audio recording, I’ll pack my Zoom H4. Given the set-up hassles, I’m not sure I would recommend it, especially for students. For about the same price, you can pick up a fairly capable low-end Olympus digital recorder which, while it doesn’t produce quite the quality of the iM2, does well enough with a little massaging in an audio editing program.

Product link: Tascam website; details on the Tascam app.

Share
Mark on December 13th, 2011

In the last-but-one class of the Storytelling course I taught this semester, I shared some ideas for doing better journalism. I’m sure none of these is original; I’ve likely stolen them from several sources.

Find inspiration: There are many people, blogs and tweet streams I follow for the inspiration they provide. Brainpickings, by Maria Popova, is one. Richard Koci Hernandez is another, and I love Melissa Lyttle’s life of m. Find your own sources: websites with RSS feed, on Twitter, Google+, Tumblr or Facebook. Visit often. Have fun.

Write every day: Blog. Tweet. Play (write bad metaphors). Write a scene, a description, a snatch of dialogue. Write a poem or a song. Set a goal and hit it. Write it, read it, make it better. Have fun.

Read every day: Read critically, for style, for content, for structure, for use of quotes and dialogue, for language, for rhythm. Save the pieces you really like so you can go back to them. Have fun.

Take a photograph a day: Not just a snapshot, something that gets you more familiar with your camera and your image-making. Push yourself. Try low light, flash, silhouettes, more. Set a goal or a challenge before you head out. Have fun.

Once a week: Take your digital recorder out and record the world: snatches of conversation, sounds of the street, a merchant at a farmer’s market, anything. Learn how your recorder works best, learn about isolating sound, learn about handling. Have fun.

Once a month: Interview someone (friend, family, neighbourhood grocer, etc.). Have a subject and a goal so it’s a real interview aimed at getting real information. Record it and then transcribe it. What worked? What didn’t? What questions could/should you have asked? Which type of questions garnered the best responses? How was the flow? Have fun.

Once a month: Shoot some video. Work on gathering scenes that will work together. Work close, work medium, work far. Pick a topic — harbour ferries, Yaletown dogs, a day at the beach — and shoot to tell a coherent story. Have fun.

Publish often: Get your stuff out where people can see it and, more importantly, react to it. Promote yourself on social media to get feedback. Listen to and weigh the feedback. Don’t publish everything: be tough on yourself and only publish what you consider the best, or the stuff that’s giving you problems. Give yourself deadlines and practice hitting them. Have fun.

Share