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Jan 12 / King Kaufman

New Yorker writer jumping to Genius shows how media changes in unexpected ways

You might remember a post I wrote early last year about Netscape founder-turned venture capitalist Marc Andreessen’s optimism about the news business, which we can also call the journalism or content business.

Here’s a snippet:

Andreessen argues that industry growth, even if a lot of that growth is made of “crap,” can lead to higher quality work. “The more noise, confusion, and crap,” he writes, “the more there is an increase of, and corresponding need for, trusted guides, respected experts, and quality brands.”

A high-profile hire this week highlights that kind of change at work. Music critic Sasha Frere-Jones, who’s been at the New Yorker for a decade, left the magazine to join Genius, formerly Rap Genius, a startup with the ambition to, in the words of its tagline, “Annotate the world.”

Genius is a great example of new media forms and formats developing seemingly out of nowhere. It was launched in 2009 as Rap Exegesis by some college friends. The idea was to annotate rap lyrics. It expanded into other musical genres and now, according to the New York Times, “has received $55 million of venture capital funding and broadened its mission beyond music.”

Here’s Sports Genius. How can annotations help tell a sports story? Well, Genius addressed “What happened With Dez Bryant” by annotating the relevant rule in the NFL Rule Book. Interesting.

I’ve seen worse ways of wrapping up a sports tournament than this Genius-style recap of the Copa del Rey 2014-15 round of 16.

Is Genius the future of media? Heck, I don’t even know if it’ll still be around this time next year. But would you have thought five years ago, or one year ago, that a site built on often snarky explanations of rap lyrics would be hiring writers away from the New Yorker?

This is the kind of thing that makes predicting the future of media awfully tricky, except to say, “Expect the unexpected.” And try to be ready for it.

Jan 9 / King Kaufman

A treasure trove of social media advice from NPR’s Sandbox Tumblr

Want some tips on how to make the best use of social media? Well, they’re all over. Just sniff around.

Want a gold mine? A “treasure trove”? Check out Melody Kramer’s Social Sandbox Mega Recap Post on her personal blog. The Social Sandbox is a Tumblr Kramer ran for NPR, where she’s in her final week as a digital strategist and editor before moving to a government agency called 18F.

The Sandbox, Kramer wrote in October exists because NPR, as public media, ought to share it’s knowledge, and also because “Sharing is infectious! We’ve found that other people open up with their own wisdom and experiences when we are generous with our own knowledge.”

That’s pretty social, don’t you think?

The Mega Recap Post is organized first by platform—Twitter, then Reddit and so on—and then by categories such as “Cool Tools” and “Guides.”

I count 125 links. I don’t think you should try to read them all in one sitting.

Jan 8 / King Kaufman

Robert Hernandez on how—and why—to go rogue, but respectfully

Interesting advice from web journalist Robert Hernandez, who teaches at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism: “Don’t wait. Go rogue. But go rogue respectfully.”

The “Don’t wait” part, Hernandez writes, comes from a commencement speech at UC-Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism by Robert Krulwich of NPR’s Radiolab. He’s giving commencement-speech advice about launching careers in the exciting but “job-stricken” spring of 2011:

Some people when they look for a job in journalism ask themselves, What do I like to do and Who can take me there? Who can get me to a war zone? To a ballpark? To Wall Street? To politicians, to movie stars? Who’s got the vehicle? And you send them your resume and you say, “I want a seat in your car.” … And you wait.

But there are some people, who don’t wait.

I don’t know exactly what going on inside them; but they have this … hunger. It’s almost like an ache.

Something inside you says I can’t wait to be asked I just have to jump in and do it.

Hernandez extrapolates from that ethic to say it can be applied anywhere. Another way to put it is the old saw about not asking for permission, but just going ahead with what you want to do and ask for forgiveness later if necessary. That’s easy to say, but, as Hernandez writes, “It’s hard to do when you are working within a large system and you think the system has valid and established rules. Who are you to disrupt it?”

That’s why he advises going rogue the right way, which includes being respectful of the values of the system you’re working in, not disrupting just to create chaos; communicating with others, especially bosses, about what you’re doing; and making sure you take care of the regular old non-disrupting part of your job while you’re busy innovating.

Ideally, your efforts at disruption won’t lead to a need to ask for forgiveness. They’ll just lead to innovation.

Jan 7 / King Kaufman

Josh Stearns’ best of 2015 is a snapshot of digital content innovation

Journalist Josh Stearns has a piece on Medium reviewing the best online storytelling and journalism of 2014.

None of the stories and projects are sports-related, but I think it’s a useful read for anyone in the digital content racket, because Stearns presents a fascinating snapshot of the state of innovation.

As a newly minted radio guy—”Content Is King,” weekdays at 6 p.m. Eastern on SiriusXM Bleacher Report Radio—I was particularly interested in Stearns’ first category of stories, which he calls “The Year Audio Went Viral.” The Serial podcast got most of the attention, but:

Serial is only part of a larger story about the resurgence of podcasts as digital audio gets woven deeply into the web, mobile phones and car radios. *See for example Treasured Island, by Aljazeera America, in which audio is overlayed on top of text and underlayed behind stunning photos …

2014 was also the year that Alex Blumberg created an addictive podcast about launching his new start-up (which produces podcasts). It was also the year that the podcast network Radiotopia raised $620,000 on Kickstarter, promising to reinvent public radio. There were so many good stories from the podcasts that make up Radiotopia this year that I couldn’t pick just one — go, listen, subscribe and support them.

Stearns reviews several other ways journalists are telling stories: With sensors and satellite imagery, with graphics and illustrations, with crowdsourcing and “eyewitness media,” and more.

There are many ways to tell a story—more and more all the time. Play around with the many links in Stearns’ piece. See if your creativity gets a spark or two.

Jan 6 / King Kaufman

What we can all learn from the life and career of Stuart Scott

If you’ve spent any time around sports media in the last few days, you’re well aware that longtime ESPN anchor Stuart Scott died Sunday at the age of 49. Moving tributes have been pouring in since then, starting with ESPN’s own tribute video, narrated by Robin Roberts.

Kate Fagan spoke for the vast majority—those of us who never met the man but felt like we knew him anyway—with her espnW piece headlined “Whether we met him or not, we all mourn Stuart Scott’s passing.”

Full disclosure: I was not always a fan of Scott. For a while I found his catch-phrases contrived and annoying and thought he was a jock sniffer. Over the years I came to grudgingly respect him for being unique. And, other than the fierce and dignified way he handled cancer, I think that’s the lesson I’ll take from his professional life.

Over the holidays my teenage cousins emailed to say they’re thinking about starting a sports blog, and they asked old Uncle King for some pro advice. I sent back more than they wanted to hear, I’m sure, but one key point was: Be distinct. “Why should anyone read MY post,” I told them to ask themselves, “as opposed to any of the dozens or hundreds or thousands of blog posts or news stories or videos or whatever on the same subject? What am I offering that no one else does?”

Scott is a great example of someone making himself distinct. There was no one like him, and there was incredible value in that, for both Scott and ESPN. It didn’t matter at all that someone like me didn’t care much for his style. Plenty of people did, and all of us knew exactly who Stuart Scott was, right from the start. There was no mistaking him for some other suit behind a desk on TV.

Rich Eisen, who teamed with Scott on “SportsCenter” in the ’90s, talks about this in the ESPN tribute video above:

When we started doing “SportsCenters” together in ’96, just hearing from a lot of people that his style was grating on them, and I know Stuart heard that, but he didn’t care. I mean, not one time did he think for a single second that he should be anything but himself, and true to himself, and who he is.

Dan Patrick adds: “He didn’t just push the envelope. He bulldozed the envelope.”

That sounds like a good way to approach a career: Look for envelopes to bulldoze, and don’t worry if some stick-in-the-mud finds you annoying.

Dec 19 / King Kaufman

Syllabus for the Advanced Program in Sports Media, B/R’s sportswriting course

Bleacher Report has two paid educational programs, the Advanced Program in Sports Media, which focuses on sportswriting in digital media, and the Advanced Program in Editing and Content Management, which focuses on editing.

We’ve been visiting college journalism programs lately talking about these programs. They’re targeted at advanced journalism students, those reaching the end of their education, as well as early-career professionals. Bleacher Report hires a fair number of writers and editors out of the programs, though there are no guarantees, and the skills developed in the programs should benefit students at any digital media operation.

One piece of feedback I’ve gotten from students and professors is that they’re having a hard time understanding what actually happens in the programs on a daily basis. What’s the curriculum?

So we’ve taken the first step in answering that question by posting the syllabus of the Advanced Program in Sports Media. We’re making some changes in the syllabus of the Advanced Program in Editing and Content Management. We’ll post that one soon.

Both the APSM and the APECM are paid, part-time programs that students can participate in from anywhere. There’s a lot of one-on-one attention from editors and instructors, which happens over the phone, email, G-chat, Skype or whatever else works for the student. The average time investment is about 12 hours a week for the 12 weeks. Students get paid upon completion of each week’s lesson and assignments.

The APSM doesn’t require students to move to San Francisco or New York and doesn’t take so much time in their week that they can’t do other jobs or internships at the same time. But don’t be fooled: It’s serious business. Walk yourself through any week on that syllabus and you’ll get an idea of the rigor involved.

I get a lot of inquiries at this time of year from students looking for spring or summer internships. The APSM and APECM are year-round, with rolling admissions. That means you can apply any time and your 12 weeks can start any time. But if you’re looking for a good journalism educational experience—or know of someone who is—have a look.

The Bleacher Report Blog will go on hiatus for the two holiday weeks and return Jan. 5.

Dec 18 / King Kaufman

Nieman Lab’s predictions for journalism 2015, including some created by a bot

The Nieman Lab is running a series called “Predictions for Journalism 2015.” The Lab asked “some of the smartest people we know” to write about what they think will happen in the coming year, and their answers will keep appearing through the end of the week.

As I write this, three dozen have been published. And some of those include more than one prediction. Here’s Sarah Marshall of the Wall Street Journal with 10 predictions. This is an ambitious project.

I haven’t read many, but my favorite so far is this one by Matt Waite, who wanted to say something about bots writing stories.

To save Nieman Lab a lot of (fictional) money, and to prove a point, I am not going to write (more) predictions for next year. It’s too hard and too expensive. So I’m going to let my computer do it.

To do this, I took all of last year’s predictions—all 38,053 words of them—and fed them to a Highly Technological Natural Machine Language Learning Algorithm Bot (nerds: a simple Markov chain generator). Using that corpus and that algorithm, I generated 200 Original Statements About the Future.

Then, using a Highly Advanced Editorial Workflow System I call editing, I cut those 200 statements down to a set of predictions that I will now claim as my own.

Among them: “We’ll probably see some more super-rich people jumping into the product.” And “We will pass from the connections. It makes sense to fact-check a twerking video. Thankfully there’s no thundersnow.”

As Waite points out, his predictions couldn’t do any worse than his predictions did a year ago, and it only took him a few seconds. That’s progress.

Dec 17 / King Kaufman

“Billionaire trouble” heads PBS MediaShift’s top 10 media stories of 2014

MediaShift, PBS’s site covering the nexus of media and technology, has named its Top 10 Media Stories of 2014 as part of its 2014 Year in Review series, which looks like it’ll be a good one to keep an eye over the next couple of weeks.  

Writer Sonia Paul pegs “Billionaire Trouble” at No. 1, citing the troubles at Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media and the recent mess at The New Republic, which is owned by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. These “troubles” are the result of what Paul calls “the tension between Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and journalists,” which figures to be a dynamic that isn’t going anywhere.

Facebook comes in at No. 2 with its “gobbling up” of Whatsapp and Oculus Rift. Paul writes:

The entire [Facebook] operation is a behemoth to be reckoned with for news organizations and other publishers. A recent Pew study found that more than 30 percent of American adults now get their news on Facebook. These algorithms that dictate what pops up on a person’s news feed, whether the user is tweaking them or not, influence how users are getting their news. The result is that publishers are ever more dependent on these social media traffic referrals, especially as users continue to increase their use of mobile devices and access Facebook from their phones or tablets. Facebook in effect is becoming a life raft to publishers, and is encouraging them to use more of its tools to promote content on the social network. The question is, even if they’re not sinking, will the life raft help publishers actually swim?

The rest of the top 10, of which you should click over to read Paul’s sharp analysis:

3. HBO’s new streaming service

4. The Amazon-Hachette battle

5. Vice, Vox, BuzzFeed raising big money

6. Hashtag activism

7. Podcast revival

8. Global journalism, the danger of “bearing witness”

9. Data journalism

10. Gamergate, online harassment





Dec 16 / King Kaufman

UVA professor Jane Friedman collects her favorite digital media tools for writers

Jane Friedman, who teaches digital publishing & media at the University of Virginia and offers lots of great advice for journalists on her blog, posted her favorite digital tools for 2014 Monday.

You can subscribe to Electric Speed, Friedman’s monthly newsletter in which she “focuses on tools and resources for writers, usually digital media tools.” This post rounds up her favorite ones she started using this year.

The only one of the six that I use—a result of my ignorance of the other five—is Evernote. It’s hardly a slick new player. Friedman admits that she’s been hearing about it for years and finally figured out how to work it in to her life in 2014. I had a similar experience, finally giving in to the nagging of certain friends and co-workers in 2011—at which point I commenced kicking myself for not having started using it in 1983, whether it had been invented or not.

I am by nature a disorganized, chaotic person. Evernote hasn’t solved that problem, but it’s helped me a lot. I am much more likely to be able to find a note, a document, an idea, a receipt or anything else that can be saved in Evernote than I was four years ago.

The first item I saved in Evernote was a reservation for my kid’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. It’s been all uphill from there.

Friedman’s other recommendations are for Zoom, Canva, CrashPlan, Scrivener and Asana, all of which I plan to at least try.

Dec 15 / King Kaufman

ESPN’s Van Natta’s Sunday Long Reads: 10 great pieces curated weekly

Pretty soon we’re going to start seeing lists of the best sportswriting of 2014, and I’ll try to collect them on the B/R Blog so you and I can make sure we catch up on any great writing we’ve missed.

One way to get a pile of great writing every week year-round is to follow ESPN senior writer Don Van Natta Jr.’s Sunday Long Reads. It’s a list of 10 great pieces of long-form journalism chosen by Van Natta and Jacob Feldman, a Harvard undergraduate who writes for the Crimson.

This week’s list includes three sports stories, if you count pro wrestling as a sport. Either way, The Legend of Panther Girl, by Jeff Maysh in Victory Journal, has the top spot. The other two sports pieces are Jordan Ritter Conn’s Grantland profile of Tommy Gaines, a basketball legend turned drug addict, and Seth Wickersham’s ESPN story about Scot McCloughan, a wildly successful NFL talent evaluator who’s out of the business.

Other pieces cited cover ISIS, neonaticide, the mess at The New Republic and more.

You can subscribe to an email newsletter of the weekly list or just check Van Natta’s Twitter feed every Sunday.

A good first goal would be to read all 10 stories every week. A good second goal would be to make the list. Good luck.