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Nov 26 / King Kaufman

Newspapers aren’t dying, and other interesting ideas from a media tech CEO

Newspapers are dying and digital publishers are on a rocket to the moon. Right?

Not so fast, says Tien Tzuo, founder and CEO of Zuora, which is a service that helps subscription businesses run. I don’t think the print vs. digital conversation, which has been going on for more than a decade, is very interesting at this point, but Tzuo says some interesting things about how those print operations that are thriving are doing it.

In Let’s get over the whole ‘newspapers are dying’ thing in The Guardian, Tzuo argues, “Newspapers are intellectual assets, not physical ones. Their core product consists of making smart editorial decisions and publishing sharp voices. Whether you choose to read those voices on a phone or on a broadsheet makes no difference.”

With that out of the way, he looks at several newspaper companies in the U.K. that are thriving, including, ahem, The Guardian. What they’re doing is a pretty good roadmap for any individual too:

First, they create non-commodified content … They recognise that they can’t compete with social networks in terms of aggregation, so they make sure to offer informed perspectives, strong arguments and compelling entertainment that readers can’t find anywhere else.

Secondly, they study online behaviour with relentless curiosity: what time of day people read, how they browse (“lean back” versus “lean in”), which content consistently surfaces and why …

Thirdly, they bundle additional services sensibly. Whether its mobile sports video highlights or free music streams, they make smart choices about which additional services actually enhance the reader experience, as opposed to being simple perks …

And so on. Of course Tzuo has his own interests—he sells a set of tools to help companies run subscription businesses, after all. Newspapers, for example. But his points are worth listening to. They make sense. Here’s one more:

This isn’t just a personal opinion. Forrester Research, which keeps tabs on roughly 85% of the global GDP, thinks we’re at the beginning of a new 20 year business that they call “The Age of the Customer.” They see a broad, systemic shift in capital models pivoting towards serving a newly empowered generation of customers that have the ability to price, critique and purchase anytime, anywhere.

You’ve surely heard about the runaway podcast hit “Serial.” As David Carr points out in that New York Times piece, it’s no accident that a podcast has become a cultural phenomenon now: Technology has made podcasts easy to consume. What do changes like that mean for the content you produce?

Nov 25 / King Kaufman

CJR: Watch the media swallow the same press release as last year

Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review slaps around journalists who every year parrot a press-release from the American Farm Bureau Federation about the cost of Thanksgiving dinner.

A couple of years ago, I noticed the hard money types at The Wall Street Journal editorial page hyping the “runaway inflation” signaled by this single datapoint, which was refuted by the rest of the data (not to mention that there were turkey supply constraints—unmentioned by the WSJ, of course— that drove up the cost that year):

We keep hearing that inflation has not gotten out of control despite all the Federal Reserve’s money creation over the last few years, but there’s at least one place where you’re seeing pretty substantial inflation.

I thought that was about as concise an example of misleading with anecdotes as you could find, and then I read this 2011 headline from MoneyNews, also a right-wing outlet:

Higher Thanksgiving Prices Show True Inflation Rate

Chittum points out that media outlets tend toward more dramatic angles, writing, “Your chances of getting your byline noticed are higher with a story that reads ‘Turkey prices gobble up more of Thanksgiving bill’ than with ‘Thanksgiving bill flat.’” That’s why you get the former headline on a story saying that a typical Thanksgiving dinner for 10 costs 28 cents more than the previous year, before adjusting for inflation.

There’s also “plain old journalistic innumeracy,” both in the sense of journalists often being bad at math and not really understanding mathematical concepts:

Thanksgiving prices count a dozen foods out of the hundreds the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys to come up with overall food costs. They’re such a statistically insignificant sample that they’re not very meaningful.

I used to have fun annually with a similar story, lampooning that idiotic “lost productivity” figure that a career consulting company issued a press release about every year before the NCAA basketball tournament.

The point both times: Think critically—always, but especially when you’re reading a press release.

Nov 24 / King Kaufman

The future can be bright even if it doesn’t look the way you pictured it

Two blog posts have been getting heavy rotation in my social media feeds lately, both of them talking about the future in journalism. Before you run away, make sure you read that right: The future in journalism. Not the Future of Journalism, with capital letters. Nobody needs two more blog posts on that subject.

Alison Gow, a digital innovations editor with Trinity Mirror Regionals in the U.K., offered Six thoughts on emerging opportunities for journalism, which grew out of her appearance on a panel about “Emerging Opportunities for Journalists” at a Society of Editors conference.

David Cohn is an executive producer at Al Jazeera’s AJ+ and a veteran of several innovative startups, including Circa. His Letter to a young journalist is an answer to a note he says he received from someone looking for career advice after being horrified by a visit to a newspaper newsroom.

Gow talks about trends she believes are peaking or emerging, including data journalism, wearables, immersive storytelling and so on. She’s simply laying out the landscape for people—she works in legacy media—who may not be up on what’s going on.

Cohn sounds an explicitly hopeful note. He’s responding to that young journalist who found that legacy newsroom “a bleak environment full of cubicles staffed by burnt-out folks … It felt like walking through a mausoleum.”

Referencing a post that I also pointed to on the B/R Blog last week, Cohn writes:

Keep in mind: Just because you got a degree in journalism doesn’t mean you need to be a big J “Journalist” to do the kind of storytelling you want to do. Journalism is a gateway degree into almost anything.

Cohn concludes: “Just think about all the possibilities. Don’t be tied to any one thing.”

It’s easy to get intimidated by the rapid changes going on in media, or to despair of getting that great gig at that outlet you admire, because it’s struggling. I think Cohn’s advice is excellent: Keep an open mind. Change often means opportunity. Don’t miss it just because it doesn’t look like something you were picturing.

Nov 21 / King Kaufman

Journalism education and skills as a “gateway” to many types of jobs

Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab, published a piece last month about journalism education. The headline: Journalism Education: It’s Time to Craft the Gateway Degree.

Schaffer’s concerned about university journalism programs losing enrollment and suggests they find a new way to market themselves. Her suggestion should be encouraging to anyone in journalism, even those of us well past the school phase:

It’s time to think about trumpeting a journalism degree as the ultimate Gateway Degree, one that can get you a job just about anywhere, except perhaps the International Space Station.

Sure, you might land at your local news outlet. But, armed with a journalism degree, infused with liberal arts courses and overlaid with digital media skills, you are also attractive to information startups, nonprofits, the diplomatic corps, commercial enterprises, the political arena and tech giants seeking to build out journalism portfolios, among others.

Even if what you have is journalism experience rather than a degree, the skills are in demand, Schaffer writes. A good thought.

Hat tip to PBS MediaShift, which republished Schaffer’s piece.

Nov 20 / King Kaufman

5 NFL writers, including B/R’s Freeman, talk shop with SI’s Deitsch

It’s a few days old now, but I think it’s worth reading Richard Deitsch’s two-part roundtable discussion with five NFL reporters at SI.com.

Part 1.

Part 2.

The reporters are Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Jason Reid of the Washington Post and Adam Schefter and Ed Werder of ESPN.

A lot of the questions are about the NFL, but one I found interesting was when Deitsch asked, “Will your job exist 20 years from now? If yes, why? If no, why?”

Freeman and Reid took the question to be about the NFL, while the others took it as a question about media. Schefter says yes, but:

But what form it takes is going to be fascinating. There’s a whole new generation of people getting their news and information from their PDAs and tablets and not glued to ESPN the way so many other young adults, and adults, have been for the past 30 or so years. Times are changing … I don’t know how the job will evolve, it already looks different than it did a decade ago, pre Twitter and Facebook. But the one thing that I’m counting on is that there always be a premium on information. Hopefully that doesn’t change.

What do you think NFL media will look like in 20 years?

Nov 19 / King Kaufman

Plagiarism by any other name? CJR on how the definition can be slippery

A long piece on CJR.org argues that Journalism has a plagiarism problem. But it’s not the one you’d expect.

The piece is tied to coverage of the Fareed Zakaria case. The problem, writes David Uberti, is “that journalists have continuously grappled not only with the definition of plagiarism, but also how to respond to it. Punishment has been consistently inconsistent. And opinions vary on whether such sinners should be allowed back in the church.”

Uberti writes that if you want to know how severely a media outlet is going to punish a writer who plagiarizes, look to what the outlet calls the offense. The P word is reserved for the most serious cases, the ones where the writer is going to get the boot. If the outlet doesn’t want to fire the writer, it’ll find other ways to define the crime, such as failure to attribute properly.

“We save the ‘plagiarism’ word for when we think it’s a really nasty thing,” says former Washington Post copy editor Norman Lewis in the piece. Lewis, Uberti writes, now researches plagiarism at the University of Florida. “That suggests plagiarism occurs when it’s only a capital offense. And when it’s not a capital offense, it’s not plagiarism. We should have an expansive view of plagiarism. We should not be afraid to call it what it is.”

Bleacher Report has long tried to avoid this kind of gray area by requiring strict attribution for all quoted material. As I wrote in this blog when the Zakaria plagiarism scandal first broke two years ago, “If you quote someone, cite where the quote came from and, if possible, link to the original. If you got the quote yourself in an interview, make that clear.”

For guidance: Verifying secondhand sources: A primer and checklist.

Nov 18 / King Kaufman

Journalism and coding: How to get a job when you don’t have all the skills

Jeremy B. Merrill and Sisi Wei are a couple of young interactive news developers who gave a talk to students and recent grads about “getting a job in journalism code” at the NICAR 2014 conference. NICAR stands for National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting.

They’ve followed that up with a blog post collecting those questions and answers “as well as some of the best guidance we were given while looking for jobs or internships.” 

Merrill is an interactive news developer for the New York Times who helped develop Tabula, “a tool for liberating data tables locked inside PDF files.” Wei is a news applications developer at ProPublica and the co-founder of Code With Me, which runs workshops for journalists to learn to code. 

For me, and I think for a lot of people trained in journalism, talk about code is scary. It’s one thing to say, as I often do to students and early-career writers who ask me for advice, that it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little coding, because that’s an increasingly in-demand skill. But now that the rudimentary HTML skills I picked up in the ’90s have become obsolete, I don’t know the first thing about coding, including how to start learning about it. 

The message from Merrill and Wei: Relax, stay curious and keep learning. A couple of highlights from the long, link-rich Q&A:

Q: This job listing says I need to know Python and ArcGIS and Responsive Web Design and videography and D3.js and R and FOIA and Ruby on Rails and statistics and WordPress. Should I still apply?

Yes. C’mon, literally no one knows all of those things and the people doing the hiring know it. The list of skills is their wish list, not their bare minimum requirements. Do not be discouraged from applying simply because you only know 4 out of the 12 things listed.

Rather than someone who has a minimal understanding of a wide variety of tools, an employer will appreciate someone who really knows their stuff in one area—regardless of whether that’s videography, public records or scaling databases. But keep learning. Because, after basic journalism (and, if applicable, programming) skills, what hiring managers really want to see is you demonstrating your ability to learn new tools …

Q: Okay, so how do I get started learning to code?

Learning how to code is all about taking is one step at a time and having a project in mind. Sisi actually wrote about this. Lisa Williams blogs about how to get started and puts up tutorials frequently. Lena Groeger wrote about how she learned to code in a year. There’s a lot you can read about this topic.

That last bit is huge: There’s a lot to read on this topic. Merrill and Wei make the point, in reference to whether real programmers copy and paste code from the internet, that “one key to being a good programmer is knowing not to reinvent the wheel.” If you don’t know anything about coding and want to learn, you don’t have to blaze a trail. Start reading. 

 

 

 

Nov 17 / King Kaufman

Got a handle on today’s shifting media landscape? You’re already behind

One of the posts on this blog last week was about a post by NYU professor Jay Rosen on his own blog, How to be literate in what’s changing journalism.

In that post, Rosen, one of the leading media thinkers and critics in the U.S., spelled out what he expects his students to master in a class he teaches on “digital thinking.” He emphasizes that the concentration here is understanding the forces at work in the media, rather than mastering skills, an important but separate matter.

Since then, as is typical for Rosen, the conversation has continued in the comments of the piece, with Rosen proposing additions and amendments based on the comments of others. This kind of transparency and iterating in public is, itself, one of the concepts people who want to succeed in today’s media should understand.

Some of that feedback came from Steve Buttry, a journalist and journalism teacher I’ve cited often on the B/R Blog. Buttry addresses Rosen’s post point by point, adding his own thoughts on concepts such as “automation and ‘robot journalism,’ “data journalism,” “the shift to mobile” and more than a dozen others.

There are plenty of links on both posts, Rosen’s and Buttry’s, and I’d encourage you to take some time, click around and dig in. In the comments, Steve Woodward, who teaches journalism at Central Washington University, writes, “News is still stuck on the concept of mobile-first.” He means that even that concept is already dated.

My goodness! To paraphrase Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”: “Concepts come and go so quickly here!”

Click through to Rosen’s post to find out what new idea Woodward’s talking about.

Nov 14 / King Kaufman

Some tips on “modern usage” from the New York Times

The Times Insider blog offers a glimpse into its Manual of Style and Usage with a piece headlined “Please. Don’t ‘Decry’ the ‘Divorcée.’ Or Give Us Your ‘CV.’ The Times Guide to Modern Usage.”

The post advertises itself as “an inside look at the changing world of speech and usage,” though it could just as well be described as an inside look at the Times’ opinions on certain usage issues:

edgy. … avoid the meaning of far out or on the edge; that sense gained cliché status almost overnight.

heart condition. Every heart has some kind of condition. Write heart ailment, disease, etc., instead.

These things are often a little fussy, but I like reading them because they remind me to think carefully and precisely about the words I use.

claim is not a neutral synonym for say. It means assert a right or contend something that may be open to question.

Far East. Do not use this Western-centric term except for special effect. Ordinarily, use a more specific regional name: East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia.

And sometimes I learn things. I didn’t know before reading this post that casket is not a synonym for coffin, though I wonder why the Times wants its writers to “use coffin instead” when the two words are not interchangeable.

These are the kinds of things that keep me up at night.

Nov 13 / Elliott Pohnl

Remembering Bleacher Report writer Thad Novak, 1979-2014

Thad NovakThad Novak’s passion was college basketball.

Thad was someone many people who work at Bleacher Report never had the privilege of meeting. Yet many of those same people gained a level of respect for him, and none of them had a bad word to say about him or his work. Many of us never really knew how sick he was.

Novak, who described himself in his Bleacher Report bio as “an ex-academic scientist who’s having a lot more fun trying to make a career out of sportswriting,” died on Nov. 1 of complications from cystic fibrosis.

When the NCAA Tournament tipped off on March 18, he told his editors he wasn’t feeling well, but he wanted assignments. He wanted to chronicle the next Bryce Drew or Shabazz Napier.

He wanted to be a part of the Madness.

Even as he prepared to enter the hospital for a double lung transplant this summer, he kept writing. He apologized for missing deadlines and promised to turn pieces around as soon as possible. He published two articles while laid up in the hospital and even did a radio appearance.

I worked with Thad early in his time at Bleacher Report when he was part of the Breaking News Team. His perspective was unique. He had a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He valued history and sharing it with his readers.

Upon hearing the news of his passing, several B/R writers expressed gratitude for Thad offering them advice, unsolicited, as they entered the world of sportswriting. He was an editor’s dream.

So when Louisville and Minnesota tip Friday night in Puerto Rico, we know that Thad would have been watching and eager to recount what he saw.

He could have written about the unique father-son matchup pitting Rick against Richard Pitino. Or he could have written about how Minnesota would have no answer for Montrezl Harrell. Or how Andre Hollins would shred the Cardinals’ patented pressure D.

Whatever the angle, there’s no doubt Thad would have written it with the uncommon passion he showed for college basketball. He’ll be missed.

Thad’s family says contributions to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation are welcome at this page.

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Elliott Pohnl is Bleacher Report’s Assistant Managing Editor.