I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. I keep putting it off …
I’m a procrastinator, which you might think wouldn’t mix with a deadline-driven business, but deadlines are life-savers for those of us who like to put things off. If not for deadlines, I’d still be trying to convince myself that I’ll get to that third-grade spelling homework any minute now.
And another day would go by without me getting to it. As Elizabeth Grace Saunders writes in a post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, Saving Work for Tomorrow Doesn’t Work.
Saunders, a time coach and author, writes:
As an expert in effective time investment, I’ve seen too many individuals procrastinate at work because they think, “I’ll get a lot done later.” Unfortunately, banking on future time rarely aligns with productive results. This mindset leads to unconscious self-sabotage because individuals are not taking advantage of the opportunity to get tasks done right now, and when later comes, they find themselves feeling guilty, burned out, and frustrated. They fall back on their habits to put work off, and it doesn’t get accomplished.
Saunders cites a research study that found a pattern of overoptimism among people given a choice between healthy food or a cookie. If they thought they were going to have a chance to make the same choice again later, they were more likely to take the cookie and say they’d take the healthy choice next time. And then they mostly didn’t.
If you’re the type who promises yourself you’ll get something important done later, Saunders suggests eliminating that possibility. If you schedule something for yourself later, you’ll know you won’t be able to put that work off, so you do it. Another suggestion: Reduce the variability in your schedule. The more flexible your schedule, the easier it is to tell yourself you’ll get to that important task later.
“Choosing to work the same amount each day with little variation on your schedule takes away the mental loophole that allows you to escape from getting things done now,” Saunders writes.
Our friend Roy Peter Clark at Poynter offers a piece of similar advice: Want to avoid procrastination? Impose an early deadline on yourself. If your deadline is 6 p.m., tell yourself your deadline is 4 p.m. If it’s Friday, tell yourself it’s Thursday. If it’s Christmas, tell yourself it’s Thanksgiving. Long deadlines can be killers for procrastinators. Shortening them helps.
Clark says this way of thinking had him turning in a book manuscript almost six months ahead of deadline. I can’t even imagine that. I’ll think about it tomorrow.
Hat tip to the American Press Institute for both links.
You may have heard the announcement yesterday: Bleacher Report is launching a new SiriusXM radio channel next week.
The channel will go on the air at 7 a.m. Eastern time with Dan Levy and Josh Zerkle hosting a three-hour show. Nicole Zaloumis will be on from 10 to 1, Will Carroll and Jason Goff will take it from 3 to 6 p.m., and yours truly will close out the day with a one-hour show at 6 p.m. Eastern.
That show will be called “Content Is King,” and will focus on not just sports but also sports media—which after all is the process through which most sports fans consume most sports. Bleacher Report Featured Columnists will be a big part of the show, though we’ll also have guests from beyond B/R.
We’ve been doing some practice runs, preseason games, as it were, during Bleacher Report’s existing three-hour show from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sirius Channel 92. On Wednesday I welcomed Bleacher Report NFL Featured Columnist Ryan Riddle, FoxSports.com writer Erik Malinowski and Grantland baseball writer Jonah Keri.
I’ll be on the air again Thursday at 1 p.m. EDT. My guests will be Bleacher Report FCs Samuel Chi and Adam Fromal, along with Ryan Spaeder, the man behind the Twitter feed Ace of MLB Stats, which has built a following of more than 15,000 by tweeting out statistical factoids gleaned from the Baseball-Reference Play Index. I’m betting Ryan has learned a thing or two about effective use of social media.
On Tuesday, the On Air light goes on in earnest. Scheduled for the debut of “Content Is King”: Author, B/R baseball columnist and former pitcher Dirk Hayhurst and Sports Illustrated media columnist Richard Deitsch.
Here’s a great story by Spanish football—that is, fútbol—reporter and pundit Guillem Balagué about the business of reporting on the transfer window.
“There’s something quite bizarre about people casting judgement on your professionalism by way of transfer stories you may or may not uncover,” Balagué writes in a piece published by Bleacher Report. “What it suggests is a lack of knowledge of how it all works, which is normal. Why would a regular pundit know how journalism works?”
And then he set out to explain how journalism works, at least on his beat:
Step One: You gain the trust of people—in my case, through 23 years working at the coal face.
Step Two: You learn to differentiate between fact and fiction—between what you need to know and what people want to tell you because it is in their own interests. People may try to take you in the direction they want to and very often it can be a cul-de-sac. The key there is to check, check again, and when you’re absolutely sure, check again.
Step Three: Learn that whatever you think you can do, it is simply impossible to concentrate on the whole market. Learn to concentrate on those things that are most interesting to you.
Step Four: Never tell anyone more than 10 percent of what you actually know. Then when things start to move, get your running shoes on because, believe me, when they do start to move, they move lightning-fast.
There’s a lot more to it. Pay attention to Balagué when he says that the most important part of the job is developing and maintaining relationships. And the key to that? People have to trust you.
With college football season about to kick off, Bleacher Report’s been putting together a powerful roster of writers and video analysts. If there were such a thing as a college football playoff system for digital media, this group would be … ineligible, because they get paid. Right out in the open.
Here’s the team:
Barrett Sallee (Twitter)
B/R’s SEC Lead Writer covers college football’s dominant conference, with columns, features and regular appearances in TeamStream Now videos. He is a regular on local, regional and national radio programs around the country, and has appeared on CNN, HLN, CSS and Al Jazeera America.
Adam Kramer (Twitter)
Kramer, the National College Football Lead Writer, tracks the most compelling storylines of the sport with columns and features. The founder of the popular blog Kegs ‘n Eggs, Kramer also appears regularly on Team Stream Now.
Jason King (Twitter)
Already familiar to B/R readers for his college basketball coverage at ESPN and Bleacher Report, King turns his talents to the college football with enterprising profiles and features. King has also written for Yahoo Sports and the Kansas City Star, and is the author of two books.
Greg Couch (Twitter)
Couch, a FoxSports.com and former Chicago Sun-Times scribe, will write a weekly column.
Ted Robinson (Twitter)
The longtime national broadcaster (NBC, Pac-12 Network) and radio voice of the San Francisco 49ers joins Bleacher Report for a weekly column on Pac-12 football.
Lars Anderson (Twitter)
Anderson, a former Sports Illustrated senior staff writer, contributes monthly features to Bleacher Report. Based in Alabama, he is the author of the new book “The Storm and The Tide,” about Alabama football and the 2011 tornado catastrophe in Tuscaloosa. He contributes monthly features to Bleacher Report.
That group’s coverage is complemented by a talented roster of Featured Columnists.
I really liked this advice from P.R. consultant Kellye Crane on Muck Rack Daily: Run your communications career like a freelance consultant.
Now before you run away screaming that you’re not in P.R., listen to what Crane says after noting that Muck Rack caters to both P.R. people and journalists:
Pros in both groups would be wise to keep their options open for the most opportunities. The day may come when you decide to take the leap and become a freelance consultant [or freelance journalist —KK], or you may need to jump to a new job quickly, so the time to start planning is now.
In other words, good freelancers are always selling themselves. And in today’s media job market, even the “traditionally employed,” in Crane’s words, are not that different. “The typical worker stays at a job for less than five years,” she writes. If that’s true, the typical worker is never far from having to crank up the self-selling machinery. And of course some “typical workers” are also freelancers on the side.
So, whatever your situation, it pays to keep that machinery humming. Here’s Crane’s advice on how to do that. Read her piece for details on each:
1. Network, network, network.
2. Seek diverse experiences. The better to develop diverse skills.
3. Be known for excellence. This one sounds a lot like “Always do good work,” doesn’t it?
4. Pursue big name clients and/or high profile assignments.
5. Financial responsibility. This last one is tough if you’re getting typically low journalist’s pay. But Crane’s point is that, to whatever extent you can, be fiscally responsible. Keep yourself out of debt and try to have a little reserve, so that you’re able to take advantage of risky opportunities if they seem worthwhile.
Dog bites man: Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark has some more good writing advice.
Try this exercise: Go back and find a story you wrote three months or three years ago. The older the piece, the “colder” it will feel to you, enabling you to read it more objectively. Ask yourself these questions: What pleases me? What would I now change? How would I describe the voice of this writer? What important lessons about writing have I learned since?
That’s a spoiler. It’s a tag at the end of this piece, in which Clark goes back and reads a profile he wrote of Lauren Bacall in 1979 for the St. Petersburg Times, which is now called the Tampa Bay Times.
Clark’s point is that if you go back and read your old stories, you’re probably going to cringe at some things, or at least notice a few things you might have done differently. What that means is that you must have learned something since you wrote that story. You’re getting smarter, better.
It’s a confidence boost, Clark says:
I know there are writers who never read their old stories. The reluctance, I believe, stems from the impostor syndrome, that all of their insufficiencies and fallibilities will surface in the re-reading. They will look at their old stories the way I look at videos of my golf swing and opine, “Man, I really do suck.”
When I go back to look at an old story, my response is usually different. I may cringe at this phrase or wish I had revised that, but my overwhelming impression goes something like this: “Hmm. This stuff is pretty good. The kid can write.”
The advice is similar to a tip I once heard when I was advising Student Life, the student newspapaer at Washington University at St. Louis. I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly who offered it, but he was an alum of the paper who had become a successful writer for a prominent newspaper. A student journalist had asked him how he dealt with writer’s block, or maybe just self-doubt. I’ll just have to quote him as best as I can from memory, but I’m positive I’m conveying his meaning correctly:
“Go back and read your own stuff,” he said. “Remind yourself that you’re pretty good. You can do this.”
Another high-profile plagiarism case is in the media news this week. Our Bad Media, in a post credited only to the Twitter handles @blippoblappo and @crushingbort, accused foreign policy expert Fareed Zakaria of 12 instances of plagiarism committed before August 2012.
That date is when Zakaria was caught plagiarizing a Jill Lepore article in the New Yorker for his column in Time and a post at CNN.com. Zakaria admitted wrongdoing, said, “I made a terrible mistake,” and apologized. Time and CNN both suspended him.
A week later, both outlets announced that that they had investigated Zakaria’s previous work for plagiarism and not found it. In Time’s words, “We are entirely satisfied that the language in question in his recent column was an unintentional error and an isolated incident for which he has apologized.”
Note: CNN and Bleacher Report share a corporate parent, Time Warner. At the time of Zakaria’s suspension in 2012, Time Magazine was also owned by Time Warner, but is now part of a separate company.
Zakaria also writes a column for the Washington Post, whose editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, has defended him against the new charges. Hiatt also said that the paper had reviewed Zakaria’s earlier work in 2012 and found no plagiarism.
The new Our Bad Media findings call into question those investigations:
In the light of our findings, we have to call bullshit. It took less than an hour and a few Google searches for us at Our Bad Media to find an example of lifting in Zakaria’s columns written before the 2012 plagiarism scandal. So we’re left to wonder: did TIME, CNN, or the Washington Post actually conduct good faith reviews of Zakaria’s work? Have they since?
Emphasis in the original.
Zakaria has defended himself, in a statement he gave to Politico media reporter Dylan Byers, and Our Bad Media shot right back, calling him a liar and rebutting his claims that he had merely used the same facts as others by pointing out long passages in Zakaria’s writing that matched, right down to the punctuation, that of other writers.
In light of this issue that looks like it could ruin the career of one of journalism’s biggest names, you might find two stories about plagiarism interesting. The first is this blog post by Steve Buttry, in which he considers many of the issues around attribution and plagiarism. There are many links to earlier posts on the subject too.
A key takeaway: attribution is the difference between plagiarism and research. That is: Attribute everything. And another, which Buttry calls the bottom line:
Whether you’re a student journalist or a multi-platform star like Zakaria: Readers and viewers want to know how we know what we know. We should attribute and link. Always.
That almost sounds like Lennay’s Law: Tell us what you know is true, and tell us how you know it.
The second is a 20-minute interview by CBC Radio with Poynter Institute ethics expert Kelly McBride, who has many interesting things to say about plagiarism, including the idea that checking for a pattern of violations is the first step a news organization should take in any plagiarism case.
If such a pattern isn’t found, McBride says, and it really is an “isolated incident,” then she’s willing to consider the idea that the offense was a “misdemeanor,” and the problem can be solved with better training.
One of my favorite pieces of writing advice—one I thought of myself rather than stealing it from a good writer like I usually do—is to anticipate the questions readers will ask as they read your piece, and then answer them.
That is, imagine your readers are active, inquisitive readers, and stay ahead of them.
The column is aimed at investors. Ritholtz wants to teach his readers how to be active, inquisitive readers so they don’t get suckered by vague, poorly sourced, sloppy financial analysis:
Active reading often leads to the conclusion that the vast majority of news is at best incomplete and uninformative, while a majority of research reports are full of biases and logical errors.
But the piece also offers a kind of roadmap to writers. If you’re wondering what an active, inquisitive reader looks like, follow along with Ritholtz as he conducts a Fire Joe Morgan-style dialog with a Wall Street Journal article. The italicized text comes from the WSJ article:
Stocks have come so far, so fast that investors are getting nervous.
How far have stocks come relative to past market rallies? Where are we relative to the median bull market? Is this consistent with prior cycles, or is this an outlier?
The key to understanding this sort of statement is putting it into historical context: is “too far too fast” based on the data, rather than an unsupported supposition?
All that just from one sentence. Ritholtz is talking about finance here, but think of all the “unsupported supposition” passes for sports analysis, when data would serve the purpose so much better.
I always like to use an example from a baseball broadcast that I wrote about years ago: The Angels had scored several runs with two outs in a game against the White Sox, and ESPN, televising the game, flashed a graphic pointing out that the Angels scored 40 percent of their runs with two outs. Citing that figure, analyst Buck Martinez launched into a rhapsody about how that showed the Angels had heart, they scrapped, they never gave up on an inning and all that.
I was an active, inquisitive listener, so I asked, “Is 40 percent a lot?” Turns out, it wasn’t. It was a little better than league average, and barely better than the White Sox. And there didn’t seem to be much correlation between a team’s reputation for scrappiness and heart and its ability to score runs with two outs. And two-out run-scoring didn’t correlate that well with winning either.
These are the kinds of questions you don’t want to leave readers asking—especially if the answers will destroy your argument.
As Bleacher Report Quality Editor Erica Patton said in this B/R Blog post, “I’m looking for a piece that is comprehensive; something that (while attributing outside sources) is thorough and doesn’t require the reader to find any pertinent details elsewhere. As a reader, I don’t want to have any questions when I’m done with a piece.”
Emphasis mine. You were wondering about that, right?