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22 Dec

It’s not your imagination, there are more journalism jobs

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201012/1923/

Have you been noticing more posts and tweets for journalism jobs lately? Me too.

But to make sure it wasn’t the spiked eggnog that was making me feel more positive about the journalism industry’s financial state, I shot a quick email to the folks at JournalismJobs.com.

They immediately responded, confirming “jobs are up overall over the past 15-18 months.”

Well, not to sound cynical, but nearly EVERYTHING is up when you compare it to a year and a half ago.

“At our lowest point, we fell to 650 or so job listings in mid-2009,” added Dan Rohn, founder of the site, when I asked for more information. “We have a little more than 880 total listings now. That’s about a 25 percent increase over the past 15 months.”

He also said that at the site’s peak in 2007, they had about 1,200 job listings, not including include 150 internship posts.

Eric Wee, president of JournalismNext.com, also confirms an increase.

“We have been seeing an increase in postings in the last 6-8 months,” he said. “It seems to be pointing to some sort of recovery and even expansion (online) in the media world.”

Jobs listings are also up at Online News Association‘s Career Center as well, according to ONA Web Editor Sean Connolly.

The listings have doubled when you compare the first half of 2010 to the second. And, naturally, nearly doubled year over year.

Yes, there are still many of us looking for work. Yes, furloughs are still part of our realities. And, yes, we’re all still underpaid.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… we’ve got a ways to go. But you can’t deny that this is a positive trend and potentially a sign of growth and rebuilding.

Let’s celebrate with some spiked eggnog, shall we?

Categories: Journalism, OJR Tags: ,
15 Dec

Journalism of the Web, not just on it: Q&A with Jim Brady

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201012/1920/

In the Web journalism world, it is hard to find someone who has been more of a pioneer than Jim Brady. From being a print sports reporter to becoming the executive editor at Washingtonpost.com to, most recently, launching (then leaving) TBD.com as the general manager, his career path is a proven track record committed to exploring Web journalism.

Jim BradyFor this week’s post, I had the privilege to “talk” with Brady a few days after he was the guest host on #wjchat, a weekly Web journalism chat held through Twitter. There were a few questions we had to cut because of time and hope to ask and explore them here. [NOTE: Play back the raw interview here]

Can you tell me a little about your background? Mainly, what was your first Web journalism job? How did you start? What was the environment like at the time? The culture?

The first web job I had was in 1995. I’d been a sportswriter at The Washington Post for a while, and had always been interested in new media, as they called it back then. I had a Prodigy account, an AOL account and even an eWorld account. Loved the idea of getting information whenever and however I wanted, but there was no practical application for a journalist to work online in the early 1990s. But then The Post launched a subsidiary called Digital Ink, and I joined in April 1995 to help it launch The Post’s first online adventure. We were a channel on a dial-up proprietary system called AT&T Interchange, which launched in late 1995. But we jumped on the proprietary bandwagon right as the web took off, so we quickly shuttered our presence on Interchange and I was sports editor [for] the team that launched Washingtonpost.com in June 1996.

The culture was totally freewheeling and wide open, and none of the web-print newsroom tensions existed at that point because, frankly, very few people at the paper gave a crap about what we were doing. We had an amazing creative bunch of folks there at that time, and many of them are still in digital media. It was a blast.

You have an amazing Web journalist, pioneering career. Your last adventure was with the D.C., local start up TBD. Can you describe the news org for folks. And, the question on people’s minds, the reason why you left it?

The concept of TBD was to produce a local news operation that wasn’t just on the web, but OF the web. What that meant, in my view, was avoiding the trap of producing traditional journalistic forms and just throwing them up on the web. To truly be OF the web, you have to produce journalism in ways that works in that medium. Sometimes, that still means producing a traditional all-text narrative. But, more than that, it means truly engaging with your audience, which we did via very aggressive conversation and newsgathering done via social media, via live chats and by building a network of more than 200 local blogs and linking to them and selling advertising for many of them. Being of the web means linking to other sites, so that you can become the first stop for readers interested in a topic and expose them to multiple voices in a region. It means not viewing mobile at something you have to do to check a box, but truly making an effort to produce a mobile site that thinks about that kind of information someone would want when disconnected from a laptop or desktop. It means not viewing the web as just another platform. I hate the term “platform agnostic.” I think it’s totally backwards. Some content works on multiple platforms; most of it does not. So we tried to blend these elements — all of which had been done separately in other places — into a unique local blend. And the audience response and traffic suggests TBD is on to something. And many of the calls I’ve gotten about consulting are asking for guidance on how we built TBD, which suggests others see it as a viable model as well.

As for why I left, despite the vision I just laid out, ownership of the company I worked for, Allbritton Communications, suggested we were out ahead of the audience and that we should scale back some of the aforementioned elements and focus on hiring more reporters and scaling back on the stuff I thought made us unique. We tried to find a middle ground, but in the end, there just wasn’t any. Both sides were pretty strong-willed in what they thought was right, and, as I told my friends, when you get into a significant dispute with the owner of a company, you’re always the one who ends up leaving. :-)

True. What do you make of the reactions about your departure? It seemed to be the talk of Web journalism, for better or worse.

Well, I think the fact so many people were so surprised suggests to me that they also thought we were doing something interesting, different and worth watching. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot we were still struggling with, and the site launched with about half of what we originally envisioned. So we had a ways to go. But the reaction, the comments I’ve gotten and the desire for many others in media to get more details on what we were doing suggests there’s something there. And people should continue to keep an eye on TBD. Erik Wemple is a tremendous editor, Steve Chaggaris has done an amazing job leading the TV side of TBD and there’s a ton of talent there that will continue to do interesting things, assuming management doesn’t declaw the good ideas over the coming months.

You talked a little about it during #wjchat, but can you talk about what’s next for you. What are you looking for? You mentioned people want to talk to you about replicating TBD’s successes, is that the immediate future for you? What’s your dream gig, anyway?

Honestly, I don’t know at this point. Going to start consulting next week, and have a few gigs lined up, some longer term and some one-day jobs. But I want to be patient and wait for something that’s the perfect fit. I know what I don’t want to do, and that’s go back into a newsroom full-time and evangelize the web anymore. I freely admit to being tired of that particular part of working in legacy media. I have reached the point where, after 15 years, the burden of proof really needs to shift to those who have decided to keep their heads in the sand. I don’t think I should have to explain to journalists why they need to pay attention to the web; I think the companies they work for are owed an explanation by those folks as to why they’re not paying attention. To be fair, I think those folks are in the minority in newsrooms now, but many still holds positions of significant power, and getting the web and print or TV or radio to work together requires real effort from both sides, and that effort needs to start from the highest levels of a company. But if I can find a job where that’s not a key component, that’s great. But what’s most important to me in the next job is to replicate the startup feel that the folks at TBD had for a while. The ability to launch something new, with a talented staff you get to hire and supportive management, is something I want to do before I get out of the business. I felt like we were close to that at TBD, but didn’t quite get the complete support of management there, though Robert [Allbritton] deserves a lot of credit for having the guts to support the idea.

Why do you think that is… that makes leadership/management still not understand or value the Web and its opportunities/possibilities? And what advice, if any, do you have to those that are still in newsrooms fighting this good fight?

Well, let’s be honest: A lot of it has to do with revenue. The legacy businesses still drive a significant majority of the revenue. And no one is suggesting — as I often see ill-informed types write on Twitter — that most of us digital types want companies to shut down those businesses. We don’t, and they can’t. But you see places where 80 percent of the revenue is from a legacy business, and 90 percent of mindshare is going toward the legacy business. To me, to have an effective long view, companies should be spending half their mindshare trying to build a business model in the medium that is clearly going to the future of most of these companies. That’s the frustration. I think people get that the web is a huge part of the future, but for whatever reason, it’s still hard to get those folks to actually focus on it.

As for those still fighting the good fight, my advice is the same as its always been: To be successful getting newsrooms engaged in fighting on the web, you have to show them what they get out of it, other than an occasional pat on the back. Find a few pioneers in your newsroom who are willing to try anything, then make sure the rest of the newsroom knows about those successes, which inevitably appeals to the competitive nature of journalists. And do everything you can to make sure successes are celebrated at the highest levels of the company. One of my criticisms of the management at Allbritton is that they never got TBD and Channel 7 together to share an overall vision of why the entire project had been greenlit. You need air cover from management in cases where you’re trying something new. The mangers and staffers lower down in the org have to make the day-to-day work, but without public top-level management support, it makes the battles in the trenches much harder.

Can you briefly talk about how you got started with TBD. Did someone approach you? Did you pitch the idea to someone?

I met with Robert Allbritton when I was doing some consulting for Politico, and he asked me what I was interested in doing next, and I mentioned local as something — based on my experience at The Post – [that] seemed like a real opportunity. He was interested, so I went off for a few months and pulled together a business plan, a competitive analysis and a strategy for the site. He thought about it for a while, and decided to go ahead and do it, to which I owe him greatly.

Because of time, we had to cut out some audience questions from #wjchat … I’d like to ask you a couple of them here. The first one is from Saleem Khan (@saleemkhan): If you were launching a news startup today [@TBD-scale and bootstrapped] what would you do differently?

First one is obviously [to] pick a niche. (Although we did that at TBD as well, though it was a big niche called “local”). As for what I’d do differently, I think the first part is to have a sales force with deep digital backgrounds. That was the original plan at TBD, and we hired some talented people with digital chops. But the company changed the structure before launch, and all those folks were put under the TV sales structure, and all soon left. I think that was a mistake. The TV sales forces did a pretty good job of selling the site once it launched, but we struggled to get traction in any sales area outside straight CPM-based display, and I don’t think that’s enough to support the site long term. That’s why we had the blog network and wanted to focus on selling geo-targeted ads and maybe even get into providing some self-serve tools for smaller local advertisers. But we didn’t get anywhere with those, and do think some other revenue streams will be needed. So my biggest piece of advice is to hire people who know the medium in which you’re living.

The next question comes from Sarah Fidelibus (@verbalcupcake): What startups have particularly impressed you? What have they’ve gotten “right”? Who has a biz model that you think is working well? Examples? What are they doing right, and how so? (These were two separate tweets from Sarah.)

I think there are different types of startups that have impressed me, and in different niches. On the news side, I do like what many of the non-profits are doing. I think ProPublica does phenomenal work on the investigative and data sides, and it’s been interesting to track local startups like MinnPost, Texas Tribune, Voice of San Diego and Bay Citizen. I also find myself fascinated by location-based services like Twitter and Gowalla. I am not quite sure how they tie into local journalism yet, but there’s an answer there, which [is] why I check in just about everywhere on FourSquare. I think that’s the only way to really learn about these things. I am also really interested in what SB Nation is doing here in DC. They’ve done a great job of aggregating strong voices throughout the world of sports, telling stories in a more fun and more open way than most sports sites, and they seemed to have managed to tap into the community nature of sports that even an amazing site like ESPN can’t quite go at as hard, because they have so much stuff from their various platforms to promote.

As for the business models, I think we’d all agree there [isn't] a massive list of new news sites that are making a ton of profit at this point. Honestly, that’s part of the reason the TBD idea seemed so interesting for me to pursue: I think, even if we figure out how we best evolve journalistically to the web, it won’t much matter if we don’t get the business side figured out. And as someone pointed out during the wjchat the other night, I think the business side is farther behind in figuring out the web than the newsrooms are. But neither side is where it needs to be yet.

Agreed. The last crowdsoured question comes from Andy Boyle (@andymboyle): I heard you very much dislike the “web producer” title of people. Or so you said at Nebraska. Tell us more?

Yeah, not a big fan of that title, but only because I don’t think a lot of people in legacy newsrooms know what the hell it means. As a result, I think sometimes web producers are treated like technical people and not the journalists that they almost always are. So you hear stories where a web producer is handed a headline and blurb to post by a newspaper staffer because that person doesn’t realize the producer actually can do that task as well. There are a lot of titles on web teams that don’t always explain what someone actually does. Sad that issue still exists, but I do expect that, over time, titles will flatten out and everyone will understand what everyone else does. But, sadly, we don’t seem to be there yet. I think, what it really comes down to is that, as long as people understand your skillset and what you do, you can give them the title of the “king of the universe” if you want. Understanding who someone is ends up being far more important than what they’re called.

Titles certainly have been somewhat of a joke in the Web journalism world. I was feeling good about my “Director” title until I met a “Senior Director.” But putting those labels aside, how do you describe your skills… how do you describe what you do in journalism? Meaning, I’m a journalist… more specifically a Web journalist. But, I’ve been describing what I do as being more like a Mad Scientist for journalism. A guy that bridges tech and journalism for the advancement of storytelling/journalism. How would you/do you describe what you do?

I am a journalist who speaks multiple “languages,” if you will. I understand the differences between platforms. I am a journalist who advocates assessing a story first, and then determining the best tools to tell it effectively, as opposed to going into a story knowing it’ll be text or video or photos, etc. But it’s a good question. I’ve never really boiled it down to a sentence. I guess I’d call myself a journalist who has found his true home in digital, but still rents a house in other media.

Ha! Well said, sir. I have so many more questions to ask… but we are running out of time. Let me ask you one final question that I’ve been asking journos for the last few months. In your career, you’ve had your ups and your downs… not to sound to negative, but as Web journos we get frustrated… but any way you look at it, we’re still here trying. Why? Why do you stay in this business? What keeps you going and fighting and evolving? Why are you a journalist?

Well, as to the question of why, I saw “All the President’s Men” in the theater with my parents when I was seven, and am probably still one of the only kids who always thought it was a cooler movie than “Star Wars.” So I fell in love with journalism at that point. But in the early years of my career, I started getting really interested in technology as well, and damn near almost quit the business in 1992 to go get a computer science degree. So the last 15 years of my life have been wonderful, as I’ve gotten the chance to mix two real passions. As for why it’s important to keep pushing, it’s trite and simple: The journalism business — and I use the word business intentionally — is in trouble, and journalism remains a crucial piece of our democracy and I fear for its future. Even though the money isn’t where it needs to be on the digital side, I find it thrilling to be aboard the ship that [is] going to eventually be the rescue ship. So that, to me, is where I find the excitement and desire to charge on. Having said that, I’m at a point now where I’d rather go off and build a whole new digital ship and leave the evangelizing to others. I’m starting to believe the future of journalism may well be a whole host of shiny brand-new ships as opposed to the repainted ships of old. I expect the major media companies of today to be around going forward, but they’re going to have to survive against a whole host of new competitors.

Well, I never thought I’d see a sentence that [would compare] both “All the President’s Men” and “Star Wars” … perhaps one can argue that Woodward and Bernstein were the Luke and Han for newspapers in their day.

I always said that the character of Darth Vader had nothing on Ben Bradlee in that movie. He was a much cooler cat, if you ask me.

Ha! Well, thank you Jim for taking the time. I really appreciate it.

My pleasure. Thanks for the great questions, and for hosting wjchat the other night. Fun times.

I’m glad you enjoyed it!

10 Dec

Can journalists call a lie, a lie?

NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201012/1918/

For me, one of the strongest messages that got tweeted out from Newsfoo, a recent invitation-only meeting of the journo+tech minds, was one by Andrew Golis that said a major theme was “not just to report truth, but attack untruth.”

That goes to a question I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: Has a journalist now, or ever, had the ability… the option… the support… or even time… to call a lie, a lie?

Clearly I am oversimplifying complex scenarios we report, but in certain cases when the opportunity arises do we have the courage to, you know, call bullsh*t on something?

We’ve all hear the interviews where we, as the audience, can tell the “expert” is just adding spin. But it feels like it’s only in rare cases where we hear the reporter push back. The notion of truthsquading is very much a part of our journalistic DNA, but lately I’ve been feeling that we haven’t been doing this.

So these are the questions bouncing around in my head: Is it a rarity? Was it always a rarity? What happens if you do or don’t call someone out? And, if it is a rarity, why? What keeps us from doing one of the most important responsibilities in our job?

 

NOTE: I’m not purposing to answer these questions with this post. I’m trying to figure it out as I write this. In fact, I am hoping you can help me by sharing your thoughts and first-hand experiences, as a reporter. Give me context by responding to these questions:

1- Do you think it is a rarity that a reporter calls a lie, a lie?

2- Outside from being rude, in today’s journalistic landscape, do you think a reporter could call an expert or source out? Why or why not?

3- Should reporters do this more often? Are they already doing it enough?

4- Have you ever been put in that position? What did you do and why?

Here are my answers:

1- I don’t think reporters are calling a lie, a lie enough. I feel like the rise of Wikileaks, the popularity of the Daily Show and the reliance of PolitiFact is primarily because we don’t do this enough. These diverse examples make the effort, or attempt to, do it in their own way and we rightfully value them for it.

2- I do feel like it seems tougher to do so… and there are a lot of factors in play here, in my opinion. From job instability to afraid of losing access, a reporter is under a lot of pressure to produce a “fair” piece under deadline.

Traditionally we’ve been trained that in order to be fair or seen as objective, we should include both sides. But I feel like people have figured out the game and are giving reporters the run around. We know reporters are smart and probably know they are getting the run around. We see this in politics, for example.

But we have to feed the beast. We’re doing more with less. And, if you can’t do it, there are countless aspiring journalists who will.

3- To me, like that tweet said, it is more important than ever to truthsquad for our communities. There is so much spin and hype out there and we are the only ones whose specific job is in the constitution to fight for an informed democracy.

But I don’t put it all on reporters… I look at their editors and their bosses. Those that are worried more about the bottom-line financially rather than the bottom-line journalistically.

Here’s a dramatic question I am hesitate to make: It took a year between the Watergate break-ins and the first set of related resignations, two years until Nixon resigned. Do you think your editors would give you the time today to look deeper into a break-in at a hotel?

There are some who are fortunate to have those editors and will say yes. There are far too many that would have to admit no.

4- Um, I have to admit that I am the socially awkward guy that has bruised relationships of all kinds by pushing back. I try to do so respectfully, mind you, but from asking if someone is evil to giving honest, direct feedback … well, I can’t help it. I’m damn lucky I found journalism is my profession.

I feel like I have to be honest with myself, with the people I’m interacting with (from sources to friends) and, most importantly, my community I am reporting for. And, I expect people to do the same to me… granted it’s painful and awkward.

 

Again, I know it’s rarely so black-and-white. But this question, this concept has been weighing heavily on my mind.

What is our responsibility when we are in the middle of people blurring the line between fact and belief. What should we be expect expected to do? Realistically.

Please help me explore this by answering the questions and sharing your comments. Hell, call B.S. if you think this premise is off too.

Categories: Journalism, OJR Tags: ,
06 Dec

Debate over journalism required skills gets heated

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201012/1915/

Thanksgiving is traditionally the time distant family members come together over a delicious meal… and, well, fight. Last week a fight (okay, more like a heated debate) broke out over what skills a modern day journalist needs to have.

It began with a post from Mark S. Luckie, The Washington Post‘s National Innovations Editor, founder of 10000words.net and author of The Digital Journalist’s Handbook.

His 5 Myths about digital journalism sparked a flurry of reactions, most notably from Andy Boyle, digital developer with The New York Times Regional Media Group, Anthony DeBarros, senior database editor at USA TODAY and Aron Pilhofer, editor of Interactive News at The New York Times and co-founder of DocumentCloud.org.

If you don’t know these names, you should. They are some of the most innovative minds in the industry … and I happen to respectfully disagree with all of them.

Well, sort of.

To be honest, I think there is more of a misunderstanding rather than a disagreement here.

Before I go on, let’s address a question that may have popped into someone’s mind: Who the hell am I to weigh in on this debate?

I’ve been a Web journalist for more than a decade and, prior to coming to USC Annenberg, I was the director of development for seattletimes.com where I led a team of engineers and designers. We developed and innovated projects for the site ranging from a taxonomy to geolocation to a custom commenting system to hijacking/hacking the print publishing system to data-driven special projects.

So, allow me to set up the framework from my point of view.

The skills that make up a successful, modern newsroom are as diverse as the communities it tries to cover and serve.

There are some traditional, fundamental skills that are still the unifying foundation, but there is also a new (really, not that new but not yet standard) set of skills each journo needs to have.

And let’s just say it: because our industry has been evolving/changing/etc., there are a lot of unknowns (and fears) about what that set of skills is to be a successful, modern journo.

Of course there is no shortage of opinions, including my own, trying to address those unknowns. But also among them are, well, some opinions spreading hype and bad information.

To be clear, the guys I mentioned above are not the problem.

Not even close.

Who I am referring to (and who I believe Mark was too) are the folks that are telling reporters – all reporters – that they need to stop the craft of writing an engaging story and replace it with the craft of writing innovative code.

They have also said things like photography is dead and copyediting is expendable, but that’s for another post… let’s focus on programming.

Their message essentially is if you don’t master programming skills to create an app or database, you don’t have a future in journalism.

And again, to be clear, the guys I mentioned above do not agree with that statement, at least based on what I’ve seen of their writings and work.

But that hype and bad information I described does exist. It has for years.

I can’t tell you how many times a panicked mid-career journalist or an aspiring student has freaked out asking me for advice on whether or not they need to be a developer/programmer or database engineer or Flash developer (three different jobs that share some similarities).

So cut to the chase Hernandez… what’s your take on the required skills to be a journalist today?

I do not believe you need to master programming to succeed in journalism.

I do believe you need to respect and understand the power of each and every craft, not just programming, but photography, design, texts, etc. that make up journalism. They are not as simple as hitting a button.

I also believe, at the most minimum, EVERY JOURNALIST (whether be it reporter, editor, photographer, etc.) of EVERY BEAT needs to be proactive in spotting opportunities to best use the diverse crafts.

I believe that, in terms of the data-journalism, EVERY REPORTER needs to know the basics of Excel and be able to function inside a database to find the story. But they do not need to build one from scratch.

But the reality is, depending on the size of your shop, you may be required to wear multiple hats that can touch on programming, photography, social media, etc. The good news is that there are tools and communities out there to help you.

NOTE TO PUBLISHER/EDITOR: Please realize that you need engineers/developers in your shop. You probably need twice as many as you current have. Don’t take this post as buzz or get it twisted thinking you shouldn’t hire more. You should. And you should also invest in training your newsroom in a variety of skills ranging from programming to photography to social media.

I agree with DeBarros and do not believe programming replaces the story. Never has, never will. When was the last time you had a driveway moment with a database?

But when was the last time you were able to understand the weight of 251,287 cable dispatches without a database?

Those are made possible because of different, yet equally important, skills. And thankfully, regardless of your answer, we don’t have to choose.

We need these diverse set of skills, of every level, populating our newsrooms. We need them to influence each other. We need them to work together. We need them… to survive and evolve.

We also need to acknowledge that not everyone will be able to do these skills. Some will be better than others. But, guess what, that’s okay.

Because if we are to attempt to serve our communities that are consuming and expecting our news and information in a variety of ways, we need a newsroom full of diverse people bring different experiences, skills, perspectives and ideas to the table.

We can’t afford to get distracted by feuding over something like this. We’ve got too much work to do.

π