Is it Rash to Call Newspapers Dead?

newspapers-death

I recently got a phone call from a friend whose son wants to become a newspaper reporter. She wondered whether I was willing to help her dissuade him from getting into the profession. He is studying “communications” and takes courses in various aspects of “communicating.”

My friend knows there is more money in PR and marketing and that many believe the newspaper business is dying. Her son is learning the basic tools of modern technology-driven journalism, communications and PR — tools that didn’t exist when I studied my craft.

These are things that old-school reporters need to learn on their own to compete in today’s online news world. In print in the old days, we only needed to know the “Five W’s and H” (who, what, where, why, when and how) and have the driving need to be in the newspaper business.

And know how to report and write.

Despite knowing there was more money in other communications fields, and the problems with the newspaper industry, my friend’s son wants to be an old-school journalist.

He has the itch: Passionate about true journalism, the love of breaking news and beating the competition. However, he doesn’t want to strictly be an online journalist — nor a content editor, nor a communications or PR director — but a newspaper reporter.

I have been in the business for three decades and I love it. But, I was determined to play Devil’s Advocate. So when we spoke, my question was: Why?

In recent years, “Newspaper Reporter” has been at the bottom of the list of lowest paying jobs, I explained. (Schools still teach heavily attended journalism courses, because ever since Woodward and Bernstein decades ago the job has been considered sexy, so people apply.)

But this man apparently had the inexplicable gene: He was determined to become a journalist and work for a newspaper. I was not about to comply with my friend’s wishes and dissuade her son.

Will he have a place to go?

The question is are newspapers truly going or gone — or will they make a comeback because people enjoy holding printed pages and reading in-depth stories.

This is slightly simplistic, but newspapers are a risky business because the ad dollars have other “news” places to go.

Warren Buffett invested in the newspaper business, though part of his strategy has been to thin the staff. According to a shareholders’ letter Buffett wrote in 2013 after spending the previous 15 months spending approximately $334 million on newspapers:

“Newspapers continue to reign supreme, however, in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job.”

Hyperlocal news seems to hold the key as to whether print survives, according to Buffett and other media industry experts.

However, this past February Buffett slightly changed his tune when he told CNBC he foresees only two major newspapers surviving in print: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

“If you look, there are 1,300 daily newspapers left in the United States. (Berkshire Hathaway has) 31 of them. There were 1,700 or 1,800 not too long ago,” Buffett said. “Now, you’ve got the internet. Aside from the ones I mentioned, 1,400 or 1,300 of them haven’t figured out a way to make the digital model complement the print model.”

Luckily for my friend’s son, there are still small newspapers that are hiring, usually in places he never expected to visit, let alone live. I told him if he is that determined, he will find a newspaper that will appreciate his persistence. And though the paper most probably has an online element, he also will appear in print.

And, according to Poynter, those small hyperlocal newspapers will survive with community support:

“An industry that is dying is still alive. It is not dead — yet. While alive, it may continue to perform vital services to a community — services such as news and information, keeping an eye on city hall, on sewage in the bay, on the failures of local schools. It may continue to be the best we’ve got.”

Thoughts?

 

 

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After 50: Retooling for a New Career

I am using my 30-year career as a journalist as an example.

When I first started as a reporter/editor – and I am talking just after typewriters and bottles in the bottom drawer hit the dustbin – we worked on terminals connected to a central computer.

I was working for a wire service at the time and everything we “posted” had to be custom coded – something that is now similar to HTML and other coding methods.

When I get asked whether I know HTML or how to use Content Management Systems, the answer I want to give is: “We invented them.”

My first point: The technology might have changed – or renamed – but the core of most business and journalistic writing remains the same – you just have to adapt with the times.

When I was laid off from my last editing position and began looking for a job strictly in journalism, I was told by an old colleague and former employee – who now holds a position of power in the industry – one piece of advice: “Switch careers.”

And journalism has changed: Newspapers are dying; media companies are intensively moving to web and mobile and verticals on specific issues – mostly something we used to call beats.

Now, this post serves two purposes: Except for the old-school, hardcore obstinate if you really want to remain in the journalism business you have to adapt.

The second: After 50?

I have accepted that despite my considerable and well-honed journalistic skills, people my age looking for a position in the industry are at a disadvantage.

The advantage – we have the old-school skills: the need to have a balanced story; the need to have every claim backed by at least two sources; the basic structure of a news story.

The disadvantage is many of us are not schooled in social media as a tool in journalistic pursuits — plus we cost more.

Then there is the constant quandary of being hired after 50.

But here is the good news:

Barring an age issue the skills you have attained are transferable: to content writers for corporations, to becoming an expert in social media and its uses if you have the time and desire to learn how (I did); to learning some of the finer points of public relations and media outreach.

It can all be done; and I am living proof it is being attempted – big time.

And unless time has truly not been on your side, once you get your foot through the door, the age issue becomes secondary.

Prose: A Social Network That Could Rouse the Publishing World

prose-logo

Welcome to Prose: A social network that could just revitalize the literary spectrum as we know it and create a more rewarding experience for both readers and writers alike!

I am a writer by profession — have been for 30 years. Yet, I often get frustrated with the timing or conditions under which electrifying ideas come to me that should be put “on paper.”

I could wake up in the middle of the night or be walking down the street and an inspiring thought to write the next prize winner could be within my grasp. It could be a casual observation; words to a poem; a phrase or item that caught my attention and stimulated my creative juices — but I wanted to write it down quickly, cleanly and get it out to the world at large.

In March 2014, another professional writer — frustrated with similar limitations — decided it was time to try and resolve this dilemma.

What if there was a social network that provided creative and enthusiastic readers and writers — professional or amateur — the opportunity to write more in less time; get feedback; share ideas; discover writers with matching literary tastes; and connect and mutually inspire?

In October, Prose was born.

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“Prose is needed because writing is needed and yet the media through which people around the world create and consume writing aren’t satisfactorily fast, social, and entertaining,” said Henry B. Augustine, one of Prose’s founders. “Prose satisfies this lack. Additionally, Prose is needed because the world of publishing today is too hierarchical, lopsided, and aristocratic.”

Prose levels the playing field for all writers.

“Prose launched as both an iTunes and web application serving to accomplish three main things: make the experience of reading and writing more efficient; make the experience of reading and writing more social; and make the experience of reading and writing more entertaining,” Augustine said. “Prose accomplishes these things through its minimalist design, through its social integration, and through its challenges feature.”

Prose already has attracted thousands of users on its mobile and web application, has a tremendous following on social media, and has peaked widespread interest among writers — both professional and “amateur.”

One of the unique and stimulating aspects of Prose is a new form of creative competition: Where readers come up with a topic, write about it and then compete with others for the best way to publish their thoughts.

You rise in rank among the readers/writers of Prose and the competitions give you more visibility.

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“Prose, unlike any other reading/writing platform, incorporates subtle game mechanics through both ‘challenges’ and ‘levels.’ Anyone can create a writing challenge that prompts any kind of writing, then invite anyone to participate,” Augustine said. “Whichever response gets the most likes after that challenge expires is crowned winner. This writer then acquires a number of ‘points’ equivalent to the total number of likes on all responses to the challenge.

“Writers on Prose ‘level-up’ when they exceed certain thresholds of total likes/points received from both challenge posts and regular posts,” he said. “These levels — ranging from ‘Scribbler’ to ‘Legend’ — signify writing prestige.”

Prose then takes on the form of a personal blog, social medium, all in one convenient click.

Following Prose can add to a writer’s creativity and ability to prove that writing and reading is a passion that remains vibrant in a mostly digital world.

And, it is beginning to click.

The ‘Art’ of Plagiarism in the Digital Age

quote-ellison

For my first full disclosure of this post: I did not write the above quote. It was written by a much greater writer than I: Ralph Ellison. But that’s for later.

Yes, my fellow readers plagiarism is an art. It has to be if the plagiarist can be artistic enough to get away with one of the most egregious acts of theft: To me there is nothing lower than stealing someone’s words or intellectual property and calling it your own.

In a way, with the Internet, blogs and hundreds of publishing platforms it becomes tempting, almost inevitable and very easy — unless you have a sense of ethics. And, I am not here to make specific accusations — though I could, because I am seeing a growing number of instances.

So what exactly is plagiarism when it comes to writing? We all know what it was called in college when you either lifted a paper written by someone who took the course before you, or found a paper or dissertation in a long-forgotten source.

We have all heard of instances where newspaper or magazine ombudsmen — or “social editors” as some are now called — have either caught the guilty or been alerted to the practice by astute readers.

But in the digital age, the act has become more refined — and subtle. According to Dictionary.com., plagiarism is:

“An act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.”

The bolding is my own. It is the “closely imitating” that seems to have overtaken a lot of posters and bloggers.

It has happened to me, several times in recent months and it makes me very angry. But more than that, there is a certain sense of pathos when you encounter a writer who steals — yes steals — your thoughts because they are too shallow to have any of their own,

For the sake of full disclosure: I am not the first to notice this problem. Search the Internet and you will find numerous programs, for multiple categories, which give the publisher the opportunity to see if the item written — or parts of it — have been used before.

I can say I have never engaged in this evil art myself. I would rather clean hotel bathrooms first.

Then again — and not to belittle those who have to clean bathrooms — there is a distinct similarity.

As a matter of fact, there is more honor in honestly doing a day’s work.

So, if you have nothing new to say or write, have the dignity and self-respect to admire the writer’s words. Quote them, attribute them, but don’t use them as your own.

You eventually will get caught — and after that you might as well go clean toilets.

By the way, the quote in the lead image is from brilliant writer Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” — a book which I have read several times and quoted from, always with attribution.

The Fear of Writing

I have spent my entire career “writing,” mostly as a serious journalist. Whether as a reporter, editor or manager, it all involved the skill of writing.

For years I have wanted to write a novel — as the old saying goes, every journalist has two chapters of a novel languishing in his bottom drawer. But there has been an invisible wall that always prevented me from going forward.

I have watched colleagues break through the wall and publish successful, well-received, quality literature. I even have seen several become quite wealthy from their endeavors.

So, why is it that I have been unable to get to Chapter 3? The answer is simple — resolving the dilemma was exceedingly more complicated. But the problem can be summed up in one sentence:

I didn’t have the courage to write.

Ideas were plentiful, drawn both from my personal experiences (“write what you know”) and from those around me. I would verbally discuss some of the ideas and experiences with colleagues and friends and more often than not what I heard was: “You should write a book.”

In his thoughtful, dynamic book The Courage to Write, prolific author Ralph Keyes explains why talented writers fear putting their thoughts on paper:

“Its psychic demands make writing an exercise in courage little different from climbing a sheer granite cliff or skiing down a steep slope. The real shock [for a writer] is discovering how demanding writing is not just of their skill, talent and work ethic — but of their valor.”

Keyes presents the fear of writing as a positive impetus to push yourself beyond what you consider your personal limits — a challenge to overcome a phobia, just like any other.

“Writing is both frightening and exhilarating. It couldn’t be one without the other” he writes. “The best writers exploit fear’s energy to billow the sails of their imaginations. They convert anxiety into enthusiasm and an unparalleled source of energy.”

So, why is it so personally difficult for many writers to get up the courage to write — and more than that to attempt to get their words published?

The lack of courage to share one’s words even has several names: The most common is Scriptophobia — the fear of writing in public. It used to mean literally the anxiety experienced when writing on a blackboard or even filling out a job application, but it has evolved to include making your writing public.

This fear does not just apply to writers of novels. It extends to non-fiction, poetry — even blogs.

As noted, the fear is easily explained; overcoming it is much more complex.

Procrastination; when will I find the time as the act of writing itself (for most) does not pay; what if I fail: What if no one cares what I have to say.

I had become an expert at using all these excuses. But I finally feel that the fear is gone and I now have both the intestinal fortitude and discipline to proceed.

Encouragement from colleagues has been a major factor. So has a subtle realization that if not now, then when.

But here is why I no longer lack the valor of a mountain climber and why I am tackling the project.

Simply put: Because it’s there.

Less trite, I have learned that the fear is shared by many — from the most successful to the ultimate novice.

There are several therapists driving around in Lotuses and even Maseratis, who have helped, but the most compelling reason I am writing my book is this:

If I don’t — who will?

As a final note: When it does come out, please buy my book?