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Dec 5 / King Kaufman

Good news for writers: Writing can be good for your health

Here’s some feel-good good news, writers: Writing is good for you. That’s according to this piece at mic.com by Rachel Grate.

She writes:

No matter the quality of your prose, the act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits, like long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.

Grate also writes about studies that show that “people with asthma who write have fewer attacks than those who don’t; AIDS patients who write have higher T-cell counts. Cancer patients who write have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life.”

She’s talking about “expressive writing”—writing about your feelings or about a trauma or illness you’ve suffered. I’m unaware of any studies showing that writing, say, an NBA draft prospects slideshow will have physical and mental health benefits. But maybe nobody’s thought to study it yet.

Another thing about expressive writing, though, even 15 to 20 minutes of it at a time: It’s got a good chance of making your sportswriting better too.

Dec 4 / King Kaufman

NPR editor admonishes wordsmiths: Abnegate ostentatious locutions

Good advice in a memo by NPR standards & practices editor Mark Memmott: When Looking For The Right Words, Beware Of “Imagined Elegance.”

The phrase comes from that old standby, Strunk and White, quoted here from the entry on the word “transpire”:

“Not to be used in the sense of ‘happen,’ ‘come to pass.’ Many writers so use it (usually when groping toward imagined elegance), but their usage finds little support in the Latin ‘breathe across or through.’”

I have all kinds of problems with Strunk and White, and I would ask in this case: Who cares what the Latin anything has to say? We’re not speaking Latin. The old slavish devotion to Latin, a language that is, not to put to fine a point on it, dead, gave us dumb rules like not splitting infinitives.

But, to end the digression, “groping toward imagined elegance” is an elegant way of describing what we do when we reach for a $5 word when a 50-cent word will do, in the supposed words of Mark Twain, also cited by Memmott in the memo.

Memmott rightly points out that “There are times to use $5 words.” Sometimes le mot juste is a fancy one. But here’s a better point: “There is a real—not imagined—elegance to clear, simple story-telling.”

Dec 3 / King Kaufman

Users moving away from open social media to closed platforms: What does it mean?

Think you’ve got a pretty good handle on social media? Good! But it’s getting disrupted.

John McDermott of Digiday writes:

The social media pendulum is in full swing, and latest trends do not necessarily bode well for the likes of Facebook: Internet users — especially young ones — are starting to shirk large, inherently open social media platforms for the sanctity of more “closed” platforms that allow for more private, one-to-one and group messaging.

And that has potentially profound implications for social media distribution: If Internet users continue to shift their sharing activity to messaging apps, then brands and publishers will also have to shift their focuses away from Facebook and Twitter, and find ways to interject themselves into supposedly private conversations. Indeed, Twitter recently made it easier to use its direct-messaging feature, seemingly to combat this trend.

Leading this transition are WhatsApp and Snapchat, two multibillion-dollar businesses built upon allowing hundreds of millions of users send one another text, photo and video messages.

McDermott offers a closer look at four leading messaging apps—WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snaphat and Kik—including “a breakdown of how people, publishers and brands are trying to take advantage of them.” He also takes a quick look at “the best of the rest,” Line, WeChat and Frankly.

Dec 2 / King Kaufman

Journalism.co.uk recommends 10 Firefox add-ons for journalists

I’m not always conscientious about staying up to date with all the apps, extensions and add-ons that can make my life as a writer, editor and all-around content producer easier and better and happier. Every once in a while I’m an early adopter and I feel smart. Far more often, I try something after people have been talking about it for ages and I find myself thinking, “Why didn’t I try this years ago?”

I’m looking at you, Evernote.

I’m hoping to at least feel smart, even if I’m not an early adopter, after I run through the suggestions in 10 Firefox add-ons for journalists at the British site Journalism.co.uk.

The add-ons include tools for boookmarking, image searching and editing, social media management and more. I’ve never used any of them, so I guess what I’m hoping for, as I set out to test drive them, is 10 shouts of “Why didn’t I try this years ago?”

Dec 1 / King Kaufman

Whatever’s the “next frontier,” don’t let it sneak up on you

Is virtual reality journalism’s next frontier? I don’t have the answer to this, but if it is, and you’ve read even this far, you won’t be blindsided.

Even better: Read Virtual reality is journalism’s next frontier by Erin Polgreen of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Polgreen obviously has more of an answer than I do. She points to two examples of “immersive journalism”: Harvest of Change by the Des Moines Register and Project Syria by Nonny de la Peña and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Here’s why:

Wide consumer adoption of virtual reality is now the horizon. Oculus Rift, the crowdfunded VR headset that was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in cash and stock, recently released Development Kit 2 at a price point of $350. That smaller up-front investment makes it easier than ever for developers to test virtual reality projects. The company is also taking steps towards hardware that is readily available to consumers, offering a sneak peek of the Crescent Bay prototype in September. In short, it’s time to start strategizing.

“Our reporters go to places where few venture or get inside,” says Raney Aronson-Rath, deputy executive producer at Frontline. “I’ve long held a curiosity about how we might take our viewers with us in a more visceral way, so that they can feel what it’s like to actually be there.”

I tend to be skeptical of “next frontier” predictions. That’s because I’m old enough to have lived through a lot of them in various walks of life, and few of them ever come true.

But some of them do. That’s why I pay attention to them. Sure, CD-ROM turned out not be a next big thing after all, but mobile was, and when I first heard people saying it might be, I paid attention—even though I’d once heard the same thing about CD-ROM.

How will immersive journalism affect sports coverage? No idea. But it’s better to give it a little thought now than to wake up in a couple years and realize that all the action in sports media is happening in virtual reality, and you’ve never even heard of it.

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?