Tag Archive | "journalism"

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Does Andrew Ross Sorkin worry about his quarterlife crisis?


I just finished reading a great New York magazine article about New York Times writer and now book author Andrew Ross Sorkin. There’s a lot of interesting information in the article about Wall Street’s evolution during the past year, the tensions between Sorkin and other financial reporters (even at his own paper), and questions about where you draw the line of being too close to your sources.

But what was really interesting to me was the depiction of Sorkin (who’s about my age, by the way) as a breathe of fresh air with an entrepreneurial spirit working within (some might say, trapped within) a traditional business that’s losing money. From very aggressively and socially courting valuable sources, to capitalizing on his personal brand and news trends to get into management at the Times and get a 600 page book published, to devising new ways to drive traffic and make money (like a daily morning newsletter for finance and mergers and acquisitions geeks), he’s a killer. He hustles.

There’s a growing trend I see in the blogosphere, particularly among women (not sure why that is), of talking about a so-called “quarterlife crisis” that people have in their late twenties. Just because someone writes a book about something – especially something bad or depressing – doesn’t mean you have to believe it! And just because someone generalizes about your gender or race or place where you live or age group or career path – doesn’t mean you have to be part of that stereotype!

So: Boo hoo. If everybody spent the time they think, talk, and blog about their perceived quarterlife crises and put it instead into doing something productive, maybe you’d be a little more like Andrew Ross Sorkin or Gary Vaynerchuk. You know, successful people who have built personal brands through hard work, talent, and marketing that open doors they never thought possible. Vaynerchuk signed a ten-book deal for eight figures. Sorkin has a standing offer to move to Vanity Fair. Who had really heard of these guys three years ago?

Sorkin hustles to crush it every day, and when he’s not doing that, he’s probably thinking up new ways he can do it tomorrow. He outflanks his boring competition. He exceeds people’s expectations. Sure, he steps on some toes, and sure, he takes a few wrong turns. But to quote one of his (presumed) Wall Street sources, Jamie Dimon, “It’s better to do ten things and get eight right, than to do five things and get them all right.”

If you don’t believe that, enjoy your quarterlife crisis.

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Job Opening: National Security Journalism Web Community Manager


I don’t normally post job openings, but in this case I’ll make an exception. I’ve been talking with the folks behind the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism’s new National Security Journalism Initiative about their Web strategy. They’re hiring a community manager, and I’m sure it could be a great job for someone in my network. It’s also a part-time job, maybe 20 hours per week, so that’s important to keep in mind. Medill has a newsroom in downtown Washington, DC. Job opening follows:

The Medill National Security Journalism Initiative at Northwestern University seeks a Web site community manager with strong production, writing and editing skills. The ideal candidate will have experience in social media, participatory media and interactive journalism. The focus of the Web site is on national security, defense and civil liberties with the purpose of improving journalistic practice and increasing public engagement.  The community manager will help launch the Web site and other outreach tools to bring together interested parties.

This is a part-time position of at least two years’ duration.

Responsibilities:

*   Launch, along with the co-directors of the program, the week-to-week editorial strategy for the new site
*   Help develop the tone and the voice for the site and any associated programming
*   Maintain and produce the site (A working knowledge of HTML and CSS, as well experience with audio and video production, is essential.)
*   Grow and expand site traffic and audience engagement
*   Seek out and execute meaningful editorial and content partnerships
*   Supervise social media and other audience development strategies.

CONTACT: Please send natsecji@gmail.com a cover letter and resume.

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Why You Probably Shouldn’t Mourn Media Property Loss


Today the editor of the terrific blog from PBS called MediaShift, Mark Glaser, pointed me via Twitter to comments on one of their recent posts about the closing of Gourmet magazine. Some people mourned its passing, and others didn’t. It’s more logical to be in the camp that didn’t. The reason is that a good deal of the content in a good deal of magazines and other media properties simply isn’t that valuable. It doesn’t have much value because it isn’t very unique, and it’s easy to duplicate and repurpose. Its fidelity is not high enough.

Commenters who didn’t mourn mentioned that they increasingly turned to sites like Epicurious.com for their information. Thus, in their minds, Gourmet (which costs a lot of develop, print, and distribute) is getting outcompeted by websites like Epicurious. If you want to sell hard-copy magazines for 4, 5, or 6 dollars, you really have to provide something on the order of 5X the value of all the websites I can access in 10 min. Otherwise, why would I make the effort to buy your magazine?

The 5X rule means that it is insufficient to simply have the same stuff as a website like FoodBlogs.com, and then add some glossy photos and an interview with Wolfgang Puck. Consumers no longer think that’s worth the money. What is worth the money? Unique, engaging, difficult-to-copy, valuable, branded content. The new database/wiki WhoRunsGov from the Washington Post is a good example of this strategy.

Another thing that is worth the money is getting you the same information as competitors, but faster, in a time-dependent situation. Unfortunately for Gourmet magazine, Thanksgiving dinner can be a few minutes late.

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I Unleash My Journalism Students To Critique Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons


September 17th, 2009 – a day that will live in infamy.  It is the day I officially became bored with defending Twitter to columnists that “don’t get” the popular microsharing service.  On that day, Newsweek columnist Daniel Lyons (who frankly, I’d never heard of until that day, even though I knew of his Fake Steve Jobs work – great PR!) wrote a piece called “Don’t Tweet On Me: Twitter shows that stupid stuff sells,” which I immediately hated for at least three reasons.  One, most things people say seem stupid and useless to random people, so this is not novel observation.  Two, everyone who has observed general society knows that stupid sells (maybe Lyons should visit a comedy club sometime?).  And three, Lyons effectively insults 99.9% of the population with his remarks (of course, they didn’t notice because they don’t read Newsweek – whew, bullet dodged).

But honestly, I’m bored with writing posts about Twitter.  I don’t really care if anyone “gets it” at this point – frankly, the less people and businesses use it the more advantage those that do gain over the others, and that’s much more fun to watch.  There are tangible benefits quantified and qualified out there – and I feel no need to share them here.  But please don’t think how busy I am means that I don’t think Daniel Lyons should escape a good skewering.

So, taking a page out of the Web 2.0 playbook I’m fond of, I crowdsourced the task to my journalism students (each writer volunteered and no one was graded) in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.  I’m currently teaching a class called Sustainable Journalism in a New Media Age, and I felt this would be a perfect opportunity for some of my students to publish something on True/Slant, to work out their contrarian / critique style, and to perform a useful service to humanity – picking apart Daniel Lyons’ arguments about how stupid Twitter is.  (And maybe they will even personally experience mainstream media blowback!)

Starting on Monday, look for brief, funny, engaging, authentic and biting guest posts from four of my undergrad students in my column at True/Slant.  They’re going to be great.  Not only do they poke, poke, poke at Newsweek until its measly article looks like Swiss cheese (sorry Jon Meacham, I like you), but keep in mind that these writers are ages 18-21 – and by the time they graduate this hot young talent probably wouldn’t be caught dead working for a dinosaur like Newsweek.  But I’ll let them speak for themselves.

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Trashy Viral: Spreading Ideas That Don’t Matter


I’m coining the term Trashy Viral to describe the spread of thought-provoking let ultimately useless ideas.  These are memes that might be entertaining (like “chimpanzee riding on a Segway”) or just plain media-catchy with little underlying value (”Twitter is 40% useless babble”).

The aforementioned study by relatively unknown firm Pear Analytics went viral after a sensationalistic and completely uncritical Mashable story by Jennifer van Grove set the wheels in motion.   The incredibly unscientific, subjective study gave readers a list of unsatisfying out-of-context numbers that ultimately have no use to anyone with a serious interest – you know, like the color-coded Department of Homeland Security terror alert system.

Hey, good for the company – people like me are talking about them, I suppose.  And the blog and mainstream media love a controversial story that looks scientific, calls out something beloved, and has no concrete conclusions.  But if I were the CEO of a shop like Pear Analytics I would find this amount of negative criticism embarrassing rather than a “call for refinement of the research study.”  But I think there’s a mile of difference between something going viral because it’s deliberately useless and going viral because it’s accidentally so.

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Don’t Aspire To Be a Writer


Today I saw the phrase “aspiring writer” in someone’s brief biography. But there’s no longer a need to aspire to be a writer. The proliferation of blogs have made it possible for anyone to publish anything at anytime and share it with the world. Sure, the popularity of your writing will vary, but not your ability to do it in the first place. Stop aspiring to be a writer, and be a writer.

Ironically, the aforementioned person’s biography was on Twitter, where they were publishing their own writing, even as they thought they were only aspiring to.

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Make a Meaningful List and Take a Stand


There are so many lists.  Top 100 this, top 50 that, top 150 must-read blogs in this sector.  How can there be this many people that I “must” pay attention to?  Truth is, there aren’t.

People are so afraid to take a stand, to have a strong opinion, to leave someone “important” out, that they put anyone and everyone on their lists.  And large organizations are afraid, too.  For example, some blogs on the AdAge Power 150 are pathetic choices – they are frequently off topic, or have no real influence (of course, they are mainly designated without human interference, automatically).  I’ll consider them important when the pigs eat my brother (thanks, Brando).  Or how about the Foreign Policy’s Twitterati 100?  I cannot sum this one up better than NYU professor Jay Rosen“The 100 most famous foreign policy names we could find who have [Twitter] accounts.” It’s frankly amazing that well-respected brands put their reputations behind such pathetic lists.

Here’s one good, haphazardly chosen example.  I hate to critique just one person making one list, but this one was on my radar, and this isn’t an academic study.  It is a new list of “Top 50 PR Professionals You Should Be Following on Twitter.”  Let’s break this down.  First, some of them are simply not PR professionals (interesting though they may be), or if they are, the definition has been fairly diluted.  Second, on Twitter, many of the actual PR professionals are tweeting very similar things, so it’s complete overkill if one follows all 50.  Third, many of the people on the list are obvious follows (so having them on the list adds nothing), and many have such bland descriptions of why you should follow them as to be useless (so having them on the list adds nothing). And finally, blog comments like this and this suggest that some very obvious people were far down the list, or entirely left off [a list of 50], and it’s not clear why that reasoning was, either.

Moreover, perhaps the most important point is that all the (1) obvious and (2) bland choices serve to drown out anyone on the list who may be truly undiscovered and interesting!  I know they exist to some degree, but more lists of “Top 10 People You’re Not Watching” would be very useful, in all topics of interest.

I’m really happy for everyone living in the Web 2.0 world who thinks that they can make sloppy lists and do incomplete research for blog articles and that everything will just get “sorted out” in the comments section (the author of the above Top 50 list suggested that there were so many comments after the post that she might make a Top 500 list! Thanks!).  Thoughtful comments are nice, but are they nice enough to reward sloppy writing with the hopes of getting thoughtful comments to round out their own incomplete thought process?  I don’t think so.  I write everything pretending that there will be no comments.  Then, if there are useful comments, it’s a pleasant surprise – not a recipe for completeness.

When I made a list of the 10 most “influential” people using Twitter in Washington, DC, I kept it simple.  I used somewhat unique criteria. I listed 10 people and explained in detail why I chose each of them. And largely, they were different than people on similar lists. So different, in fact, that NationalJournal.com ran a story about how my list differed from others in the LA Times and other publications, with a Twitalyzer quantification chart. Turns out my list has certain qualities, and theirs had certain other qualities – mine was unique if you were looking for this sort of thing, and theirs for a different sort of thing. Great, we can all reasonably coexist. It’s not about right or wrong – It’s about having a strong opinion, arguing for it, and sticking with it.

If you’re going to make a list, of anything, make it short and to the point. Make it stand out from other similar lists. Have some reasons for choosing what is on your list. Have some guts. Be willing to be different. And take a stand when people disagree. Otherwise your list is meaningless – to you, and to anyone that comes across it.

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Web 2.0 Throwdown: Print vs. Post


There is a tremendous amount of interest in emerging media technologies in 2009. They are disrupting many areas of great interest – advertising, publishing, job searching, professional networking, military recruiting, charity fundraising, and political campaigning, to name a few. And in this economy, in this seeming moment of change, it is more important to keep up with trends in communications technology than ever before; that knowledge may be the difference between winning or losing a job, a contract, or even the leadership of a country.

Kate Michael is hosting an event called PRINT VS. POST on Wed, May 13th at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, in order to discuss some of these important issues with two great thought leaders: Andrew Keen of Berkeley, CA, and Peter Shankman from New York, NY.  Both are best-selling authors, both frequent keynote speakers, both incredibly outspoken and interesting, they will face off and discuss and debate issues related to new media and journalism, government, and politics for an hour. They’ll also be signing books and attending a charity after-party at local nightclub Lotus Lounge.

I’m really excited to be hosting such an important and timely event.  If you’re a writer, you need to attend. If you’re in public relations, you really need to attend. And if you’re a future 2010 Congressional campaign staffer, you super really need to attend, because now that the Obama campaign put new media on the radar, everybody wants in. And your knowledge will be useful. And from a learning and networking standpoint, getting a VIP ticketis the way to go – not only will you be able to attend the event in person, you’ll have a good chance of winning both of the author’s autographed books in a raffle, and will also gain access to the Newsbabes Bash for Breast Cancer afterwards, where you will see me, Kate, Andrew, Peter, and many media personalities having a great time!

Please click here and pick up a ticket before they’re all gone!!

Andrew Keen of Berkeley, CA has been called “the Antichrist of Silicon Valley” for his controversial views of Web 2.0 and its effects on society. His book The Cult of the Amateur is hated but well-read for its insight into how the democratization of data is changing everything about how we interact with one another and live our lives at their core. The demise of well-compensated experts, the influx of junk on the Web, and the accessibility of opinions over facts are just a few reasons that emerging Web 2.0 social technologies are destroying life as we know it.

Or are they? Peter Shankman from New York, NY is well known as a public relations maven from his days at AOL and his book Can We Do That? But more recently he has started the service best known as HARO, which stands for Help a Reporter Out. Peter makes a living by using social tools that connect people to effectively link up journalists with sources (a.k.a. “hacks and flacks”) – and keep reporters and writers in business. Leveraging old school email newsletters three times a day with new media like blogging and Twitter, HARO is a platform to keep experts around for a long time to come.

So which is it? Is Web 2.0 destroying our culture? Is it deconstructing the very nature of books, of words? What are the effects on the future of mainstream media, of newspapers, of television and radio? What should students be learning in journalism schools, and should they even bother going anymore? And how might these emerging technologies affect how the 2010 mid-term Congressional campaigns are conducted? And what’s unique about Twitter that’s making it so popular right now?

Keen and Shankman will face off in an hour long discussion moderated by Washington, DC’s very own Dr. Mark Drapeau, a prolific writer, animal behavior scientist, and strategic consultant to the government on social media issues. He knows these guys, he’s read their books, and he knows how to push their buttons. And he’ll get the most out of them for the audience in order to answer the questions above, and your unrehearsed questions too.

When: May 13, 2009, 6:00 – 7:00 PM
Where: National Press Club

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Why I’m Writing for True/Slant


Yesterday, the alpha version of an exciting new journalism site called True/Slant became public. This is something I have been working on behind closed doors since January. True/Slant, a privately held company funded by Forbes Media and Velocity Interactive Group, is based in New York and has recruited about 60 writers, or ‘knowledge experts’ to write columns about things we’re interested in, along the lines of our motto: “News is More Than What Happens”. You can see my column, named Cheeky Geeky, here.

As the Wall Street Journal personal technology columnist Walter Mossberg points out in the premiere review of True/Slant this morning, the site is truly trying a new model of web journalism. When I had some initial discussions with the True/Slant team, particularly the Executive Director Coates Bateman (who will no doubt be challenged with ‘managing’ me), I was very excited to hear how social media tools would be mixed with original long form writing. And they were excited to hear about my knowledge of social networks and new marketing that’s come from experimenting with the tools for some time now.

Another quasi-news site based on blogging and funded by advertising, you say. What’s really different about True/Slant? Actually, a LOT.

For one, each contributor has their own platform under the True/Slant umbrella. That means that you can subscribe to just my articles from True/Slant, and not every author’s articles. That also means that advertisers can place ads about, say, technology on my column, and ads about food on my friend Robin Dorian’s ‘foodie’ column called Weird and Delicious. Hence, writers have a vested interest in exploring their niches and making their pages the best possible, worrying somewhat less about the overall True/Slant site.

True/Slant also wants you to know what it’s columnists are reading. Don’t you sometimes ask yourself where your favorite authors get their food for thought? At True/Slant, we tell you. We rip headlines of stories we’re reading and post links on our pages. And on the homepage, editors curate these headlines so you can see a mix of what everyone’s reading, and perhaps get a peek inside our minds as we work throughout the day.

Another thing that is different about True/Slant is a sense of community. As columnists we are strongly encouraged to follow other writers’ columns and post comments on their blog posts. This is already starting to build cohesion among the writers and throughout the site. Readers will learn more about our personalities and understand us more as people, and not just anonymous writers that put up a column once a week. I think this is not unlike the ‘ambient intimacy‘ that people feel when following someone on Twitter for a while.

Yet another unique feature of True/Slant is the plan for advertisers to have columns. Clearly marked as advertising, and perhaps similar to glossy special advertising sections of magazines, this is another potential revenue source that at the same time does not involve columnists in, say, getting paid to write about their views of brands – a highly controversial topic.

Finally, we want True/Slant to be a social network. The readers get involved too – when you comment on our posts, we can “call you out” for a great comment. Readers that get called out a lot will get recognition, as will readers that comment frequently. So, this is a multidirectional conversation – columnists are readers and commenters, and readers are commenters that join our social network. Even management is commenting on our columns – which is pretty cool if you ask me.

I truly believe that True/Slant is a step forward in combining the best of journalism and opinion writing with the best of social networking. It’s something I haven’t yet seen in sites like the Huffington Post, Slate, The Daily Beast, or Salon. Even great sites like Mashable and TechCrunch that cover the Web 2.0 sphere of news, for all their RSS subscribers and Twitter followers, do not empower their columnists nor engender a sense of community. So I think we are pushing the envelope. As I once heard Pete Cashmore, the CEO of Mashable, say – Return on Engagement is the new Return on Investment. True/Slant is poised to make a large ROE by creating a platform for the community that may evolve into loyal readers, in order to then generate a more traditional ROI.

And this is just the start. Looking towards a beta version in May 2009, in the near future True/Slant will have more WordPress plug-ins, integration with Facebook walls and Twitter posts, and other new features that should make the columnist and reader experiences even better. Remember, what you see now is just the early alpha site!

Every week, I plan to publish exclusive opinion pieces on Tuesdays, satires on Thursdays, and a feature called “The Best, The Worst, and The Weird” on Sundays, the latter of which will highlight the best, worst, and weird thing I read in the past week – so send me your ideas!

As Mossberg says in his review of True/Slant, there’s no guarantee that this will all work. But I think that the management of True/Slant is pushing the envelope with regard to the interface of old and new media, and so at the very least it is very exciting to be a part of a great experiment at its most nacent.

For now, check out my column, and start interacting with some of the other great writers on the site. They also author stories for Rolling Stone, Time, Financial Times, and other great outlets, and write about everything from politics to restaurants to neuroscience. Comment on the columns, and tell me about what you do and do not like about the site! From the CEO and Founder, Lewis Dvorkin on down, they are truly listening to what you have to say – and writing columns themselves!

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Books: Currency of the Professional Writer


The essence of knowledge sharing in a democratized, long-tail, Web 2.0 world is that common people can seamlessly transition between being an author and a member of the audience. Persons with any background, qualifications, and interests can easily set up a blog or other online publishing platform and release their views to the world in minutes. Self-publishing, and indeed self-marketing, has never been easier.

But what is a blog post really worth?

Even if you write for a niche audience – and let’s face it, most everyone does – it’s common to want to increase the size of your niche. Perhaps you start as a medical reporter, but you want to be a more general science, technology, medicine, and space journalist. Or your website initially features blog posts about your children, but your goal is to create a parenting information portal. Whatever the details, it’s usually better to have more readers, all other things being equal.

Participation in traditional mainstream media can definitely bring traffic to your blog. But when was the last time you saw a blogger, however good, on Today, or Live With Regis and Kelly, or Late Night with David Letterman, or Meet the Press, or The O’Reilly Factor, or Real Time with Bill Maher, or Oprah? Basically, never.

Do you know which writers you do see on those shows? People who wrote books. Yup, they’re the author of a book, and they’re hawking it. Then the next day they’ll get on a plane and do a book signing in San Francisco, or Portland, or Kansas City. No one goes on Meet the Press or O’Reilly and hawks their latest blog post, or even their latest Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair article. Have you ever seen a blog signing? Even someone has well known as Christopher Hitchens goes on a show as the author of – now in paperback – God is Not Great, and not as the writer of the post he did in Slate last week – no matter how good that post is.

(About the best exception to this I can think of is a model signing the cover of a magazine she’s in. So, if you’re a beautiful swimsuit model and you’re reading this, please don’t be offended, and thank you for your support.)

Yes, to some extent book publishers are ‘in bed with’ television and radio producers. And sure, this pattern is changing somewhat. You occasionally see someone only famous for online writing get their spotlight on television. But are they ever asked back, or do they just get 15 minutes every 15 years? People who author books get fast-tracked for bigger mass media engagements that yield positive feedback for whatever else they do – run a small business, work at a think tank, or even…blog. And this is the true distinction between ‘writers’ and ‘authors’ – authors have books.

While in the disintermediated Web 2.0-powered publishing world it has become more and more difficult to determine who the ‘elite’ writers are (quality, not popularity), the same isn’t true of authors. Elite authors have book contracts with known publishers. If they’re super-elite, authors have multi-book contracts, their books are featured in brick-and-mortar stores and Amazon alike, and they get paid to read their own words in front of a live audience. Has anyone ever paid a writer to read their latest blog post out loud in front of an audience??

No one’s immune. Major online entities like Gary Vaynerchuk and Peter Shankman give keynote addresses at conference, and often get paid for it. Guess what? They’ve authored books. Same with many other similar people. Conversely, I can also think of some well-known Web 2.0 personalities who run blogs but haven’t authored books outlining their thoughts about some topic in depth. Interestingly, I can’t remember seeing them on television, either. (And the notion that they don’t want to be on television is bullshit – everyone wants to be on television.)

So I posit that authoring books is the measure of the writing elite, they are the sign that you’ve made it, they are the calling card of the true stars in a sea of words.

True, you can self-publish books with greater ease than ever before. This process has been interesting and controversial for years. But what was the last self-published book that you bought for $29.95? Who was the last self-published author you remember on Oprah’s infamous Book Club? The fact of the matter is that the cream tends to rise to the top, and great authors will eventually get a major publishing deal. There are good reasons to self-publish a book you’ve written, but fame isn’t one of them.

And let’s not even discuss the even greater disparity between online music and video stars on YouTube and other sites, and actual rock stars and movie legends. Yes, free flowing audio and video serves a purpose in society, but when we’ve forgotten most of the winners from American Idol, what’s the chance you’re going to convert a YouTube channel into something bigger?

So, viewing writing through this lense, I’m not too concerned about the cult of the amateur ruining the profession. Everyone will continue to give their slant on the truth, sites like Wikipedia will continue to weight opinions from ‘experts’ and amateurs equally, and newspapers and other media will continue to lose share. But don’t fret – we’ll still know who the best writers are. They’ve authored a book.

See more opinion pieces like this in my upcoming column at True/Slant.

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