Friday, 29 May 2009

Freelance pitches that worked

Dan Baum has won a lot of follows on Twitter for his posts on how he lost his job at the New Yorker, a tale told in 140-character chunks
Just as interesting is his blog post about article pitches that worked in his previous incarnation as a freelance. You'll find a range of pitches for a number of magazines.
As Dan himself says, "They are not the last word on how to write proposals; all we know is that these worked."
My observation is that they all contain a great deal of detail, so the commissioning editor can see how the story would pan out, and also show a great deal of knowledge of - and enthusaism for - the subject. In some cases, they read like a pretty solid first draft of the finished piece.
When I've been in a commisisoning role, this is what I was always looking for. You have to believe in the story and the writer, because you are going to have to sell their pitch to your editor, and take the blame if it doesn't work out.
That doesn't mean, of course, that every comprehensive, passionate pitch is going to succeed -- there are plenty of reasons an editor won't find a story is right for them.
What they are thinking is: Why this, why now, and why you as the writer?
On a busy publication the commissioner's default mode is rejection. You have so many pitches to consider that you are looking for easy reasons not to accept them, rather than reasons you should take a chance on them.
So, whatever else might be wrong with your idea, make sure that the pitch itself is as good as it can be -- don't  give the commissioner the chance they are looking for to bin it.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Refining the art of freelancing

Freelances are not only the journalists hit hardest by the recession, they are also in the best position to innovate their way out of it. 

That goes particularly for newly-qualified journalists – and there are going to be thousands of them on the streets in a few weeks as a new crop of graduate and post-graduates is unleashed on an almost non-existent jobs market.

OK, but how do you innovate? Here's a round-up of smart ideas.

Tweet your way to a job

If you tweet avidly you could apply for a job in a hot new category: social media specialist. The New York Times reports that: “The position of social media specialist, introduced by companies like Comcast, General Motors and JetBlue Airways, has become the hottest new corporate job among the Twitterati.”

Stay close to journalism

This time last year Dave Lee was a newly-qualified freelance in search of work. He says the one crucial tip is, whatever you have to do to make ends meet, stay close to journalism.

He says: “So what if there aren’t any full-time reporting roles on newspapers. Are the pages empty? No! They’re still full of words, pictures, stories. All of which are — until Murdoch invents some sort of Churnobot — written by humans. You’ll struggle with local newspapers, they don’t have much of a budget, but you could have better luck elsewhere. On the web, in the nationals — they all need writers.

“So if you need to work at Sainsbury’s — do it. Work lates. Get a job in a pub.

“Just spend your day being a journalist. Get shifts, even if it’s one day a week. Apply for anything that’s remotely near to a newsroom. Work on the reception if you have to.

“You need to make sure you’re in the industry when it’s back on the way up.”

Make your pitches multimedia

Whether you are newly qualified, long-term voluntary freelance or newly redundant, you need to up your game. Michelle Vranizan Rafter regularly posts great advice on her blog, including tips such as New ways to use LinkedIn to find story sources and Why freelances should shut up and innovate

She says they must “think outside the printed page for new markets, new opportunities and new ways of conducting your writing business. The need for good writing isn’t going away – people with good communications skills will always be sought after. But the medium, the format and the styles are changing. So adapt with the times."

For example, make your pitches multimedia   She advocates adding audio, video, maps and other digital information to pitches because it:
  • Makes story packages more interesting, upping the chances that an assigning editor will bite.
  • Makes full use of the interactive nature of the online media
  • Establishes you as a writer who gets Web 2.0 technology

“Some publications are already starting to request that writers include multimedia components in their pitches. Just yesterday, a freelance acquaintance shared this letter from a regional publication that’s asking freelancers to include audio or video in their pitches:

“Beginning with the March 2009 issue of XXX, we will begin enhancing our website with article-related content. The content will include photos and audio and video recordings -- anything that helps to tell a story or bring it to life.

"For example, if you’re pitching a restaurant, let us know if you’d be able/willing to provide a short video of the chef preparing a dish or offering some kitchen tips. Have a great music group you’d like to write about? In your pitch, tell us if an audio recording could be available for the web.

"As you research your stories or even when making a pitch, let us know if you see or think of an opportunity to help showcase an article online.”

She issues this appeal to freelances to share ideas about how to squeeze more money out of the work they do.

Finally, one recently (and reluctantly) redundant staffer turned freelance is writing a blog at to chart their search for work. It’ll keep going until the work starts flowing and is already offering a great insight into how it is done.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Who can you learn from?

Journalists: we’re all learning now. If we aren’t, we aren’t going to be working journalists for much longer.

But with so much that is new, how do you keep pace, and how can those who teach journalists ensure they are up to speed with everything that their students need to know?
How much, for instance, can you learn online? Quite a lot, as it happens.

The Online College selects 50 free open courses about writing, reporting, photojournalism, multimedia, and more.
And offers what it calls 50 awesome lectures for social media masters about many aspects of creating and managing member-driven social media sites.
One key question is: Where will you find the innovators who are worth following?
Mario Garcia asks that very question in his blog, and sets about answering it with the first of a series of posts that look like becoming required reading. 
He says that “as far as most journalism schools and colleges are concerned, progress and innovation are more likely to come from individual professors who make it a point to use their classrooms as special laboratories for experiments and discussions of the craft.”
He mentions Paul Bradshaw’s new MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University and praises it as one which emphasises enterprise, experimentation, community and creativity.
Incidentially, Paul Bradshaw has also posted a range of very useful classes online
As Garcia says “I am sure many colleges and universities worldwide are developing this type of necessary program, especially at the graduate level. I am impressed by the fact that the program is not limited to journalistic techniques, but also includes business models for online journalism—-something the industry desperately needs."
As a practising journalist and journalism tutor, I wanted to create a resource that brought a guide to multimedia, innovation and how journalists operate today together with a solid grounding in the journalistic essentials.
I felt I needed a pretty substantial textbook, plus a companion website that would offer practical exercises and examples, which could be updated to take in the latest developments, and that would also offer a community for students, and for young and not-so-young journalists who want to develop their skills.
It’ll be launched at the end of the year. Meantime, you can find out more on my page at AdacemiaEd

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Should you link to competitors?

The Times's Kill the Competition email bulletin makes a fine art of it

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Would your expense claims stand up to scrutiny?

Maybe they would. Mine would - today.
But if I think back to my first week in journalism, one of the lessons I was given was in how to fill in an expenses form. I was told roughly how much I should claim each week, and it was explained to me that, to get to this total, I should say that I'd had a meeting involving drinks or lunch with a range of the people I'd actually only spoken to on the phone.
In later jobs I was always told what sort of expenses I should be claiming, and was given a bollocking on a couple of occasions for falling below the mark. That was letting the side down.
On other occasions, when a pay rise couldn't be given, I had my expenses bumped up instead.
At one national newspaper, a senior executive would call me or another underling in as he sat with his secretary and a pile of blank receipts, and ask us to falsify signatures on some of them.
At another paper, we were forbidden to say who we had entertained on our claims, on the grounds that a source had once been identified in this way. So we could bung down simply 'entertaining contact' repeatedly and no questions would be asked.
Once, someone unthinkingly slipped in a receipt for what was clearly a family meal at a Charlie Chalk pub. When challenged, he was in a panic, until a more seasoned colleague said: "Don't worry about it. Tell them you lunched [he named a woman MP] and she brought her kids along."
Of course, none of this would be aceptable today. But the rules that Fleet Street operated under only changed because the revenue took an interest in stamping out fraudulent claims.
And I'm not defending MPs, who have been merrily practising systemic fraud long after Fleet Street was forced to be more careful about it.
But I wonder if the expenses of senior journalists would stand up to such forensic scrutiny today.

Friday, 8 May 2009

UpPress DownPress

It’s been a week of plenty bad / some good news for the press.

Ray Snoddy singled out the crisis in local UK journalism as the biggest current threat during a Coventry University forum. And he saw the collapse of much reporting at local level as having a knock-on effect up the media chain, with nationals and the BBC often relying on it as a source of stories and ideas.

Press Gazette reported Snoddy saying that the public should be concerned about the closure of local titles because "what really matters is the method to fund the newsgathering that leads on to other platforms".

"Most stories start from local reporters and move up the food chain," Snoddy added.
"The BBC, for instance, is deeply parasitic and gets most of its ideas and information from local journalists who have to do all the leg work."

BrandRepublic said 50 editorial jobs are to go at Guardian News and Media But “print will remain an important part of reaching the audience” according to Emily Bell of The Guardian, as reported here
Meanwhile, News Corp reported a 97 per cent drop in newspaper profits But Press Gazette reported Murdoch saying that his UK papers will recover in “a year or three”
And both groups look likely to charge for content. The Guardian considers it for some content

Elsewhere, Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider says there is going to be a bailout for "systemically important" papers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune and the LA Times.

The 247WallSt blog says the sun is setting on financial titles Business Week, Forbes and Fortune, none of which will be able to afford the sort of in-depth analysis that is their stock in trade.
Here’s the nub of the analysis:

“The May 11 issue of Fortune Magazine is a perfect demonstration of what the three largest business magazines have done for decades. Its cover story, “How Bernie Did It’ is the culmination of a four-month investigation into the details of Bernie Madoff’s life and business operations written and reported by three of Fortune’s best editorial staff members, one of whom is a Pulitzer Prize winner. This issue of Fortune is also an example of why the magazine and its competitors Forbes and BusinessWeek, will soon no longer be able to publish these kinds of stories. The May 11 issue has 92 printed pages and covers. There are only 21 pages of paid advertising compared with more than a hundred pages in a spring issue 20 years ago.”

Thursday, 7 May 2009

A challenge to the pirate political bloggers

Political blogger Guido Fawkes has been celebrating his success, blogging that:

“April saw a total of over 3.6m pageviews from 1,382,879 visits by 347,994 visitors making 2,995,765 pageviews plus 680,207 views via RSS feed readers. Not bad for one guy with a laptop, Blackberry and a penchant for Guinness. With traffic averaging over 100,000 pageviews daily this blog puts traditional political publications like the New Statesman in the shade.”

The view that some individual bloggers are capable to eclipsing an entire publication is well made, but how long will the big media outfits let them get away with it?

AOL has created an original-content political-comment blog of its own called PoliticsDaily and has
staffed it with a good number of seasoned and distinguished newspaper reporters and commentators.

In a welcome to its new site, PoliticsDaily says: “We'll work hard to distinguish ourselves the old-fashioned way, with heavily reported, well-written stories.”

So, the question is, can old-school political reporting compete with the individual bloggers on their own turf? And can it win?

The Washington Post says this: “Competition in the political news sphere is tough, especially online. PoliticsDaily will have to build a credible brand with its original content, going up against media organizations that have long been offering in-depth analysis, like the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Atlantic and The Huffington Post.

“PoliticsDaily will also face some competition from Politico, which incorporates blogs, breaking news, interactive multimedia features and in-depth reporting into one site. And while the New York Times and Washington Post are hemorrhaging money from their print publications, their in-depth political coverage and analysis on their websites is strong, deploying a wide array of multimedia, blogs and long form commentary.

“And while the Huffington Post is largely a content aggregator, has a leftward bent, and doesn't pay many of its bloggers, PoliticsDaily will be 100% original content from "experienced" paid writers, and will be "poly-partisan" with perspectives from the liberals, centrists and conservatives.”

There’s a film about pirate radio out just now. It’s called The Boat that Rocked, and those of us old enough to remember those days know that almost all of the rebellious, maverick DJs that manned the stations out in the North Sea in the mid Sixties jumped ship for the
Radio 1, BBC’s pop replacement for the pirates.

So, would the political bloggers sign up with the big corporations, if those corporations learned how to handle them?
Or are the pirates already so big that the corporations have nothing to offer them?

What Multimedia Journalism: A Practical Guide is about

I'm getting the groundwork done for my book/web project Multimedia Journalism: A Practical Guide, which is designed to take the journalism student through from day one to graduation in text writing and editing, video, audio, stills, blogging, user-generated content, community and all other aspects of multimedia journalism. The posts on this blog all cover aspects of the project, which will be published/go live later in the year.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

800 new community websites show the way ahead

Can hyperlocal community sites offer a future for journalists, and reliable news for communities? There is evidence that the answer to both questions can be yes. Here’s a round up of current evidence and discussion.

Webcrawler at reports that “at least 800 community news web sites have popped up since 2004, according to Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.

“'The sites often do a better job at covering community news than large newspapers did, even before the papers started to collapse,' she said.”
Jan promises to keep tabs on what she calls these New Media Makers here

And offers a link to more on community sites as discussed in the New York Times

Webcrawler also quotes Jane McDonnell, executive director of the Online News Association,
saying that “ the hyperlocal movement places emphasis on community news that’s written by volunteers who usually are entrenched in their neighborhoods".

She sees signs sites are beginnign to train their volunteers: “Some non-profit news sites train their volunteers so they have a basic understanding of how to get the facts right and how to report fairly on controversial issues before they publish stories." in Illinois employs four journalists but is in the process of training 350 neighbourhood volunteers, said Geoff Dougherty, the publication’s editor. Because they’re embedded in the communities they write about, they find news the mainstream press would never hear about, he said. In one example, a volunteer reporter broke news of police brutality.”

And Village Soup is showing a profit.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Tweets from the past - could this be the future?

Archive material can provide context and lend meaning to a current event. 
At least, that’s what Keith Hopper believes, and he’s invented a way of using archive text for that purpose. It’s called NRPbackstory – NRP is America’s National Public Radio.
Here’s a post from Joshua Benton and Neiman Journalism Lab on how it works which includes this essential information:
“NPRbackstory uses Google’s Hot Trends data to determine what topics people have suddenly started searching for in large numbers. It uses NPR’s API to search the archives, then uses Yahoo Pipes to create an RSS feed that then gets cycled into the NPRbackstory Twitter account.”

The NPRbackstory Twitter account is here

Follow that account and you get relevant material from the archive to match current hot topics.

Here’s the inventor on how and why he did it