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Feb 24 / King Kaufman

Sports Illustrated panel: Female sports reporters under 30 talk about their careers

I find the “media panels” that Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch hosts fascinating and illuminating.

Deitsch occasionally convenes roundtable discussions, via email, among working pros on topics in sports media. This week, in response to the news that 28-year-old Katie Nolan will be hosting a nightly show on Fox Sports 1 starting in March, Deitsch gathered seven women who are 30 and under and working in sports media to talk about their experience in the business.

The discussion is long and well worth reading. It’s certainly not all negativity, but Sports Illustrated NFL writer Jenny Vrentas did concisely sum up what one of the biggest problems young women in sports media have to deal with:

Young women seem to have to do a lot more to “prove” themselves than young men, to be considered for senior jobs on sports staffs. Early in my career, an editor told me I wasn’t ready for a beat yet, even though there were other reporters of a similar age and experience level covering sports beats at the newspaper. I’d covered Penn State football in college, and I had a master’s degree in journalism, so I had a hard time understanding what else I needed to do. I focused on working hard at the assignments that were given to me and worked my way up. But at times in my career, I’ve felt as though there was an assumption that I couldn’t do something, and I had to prove otherwise. I feel that, more often, men get the benefit of the doubt. You certainly see a trend across the business, where women are less often given the more prestigious roles like the biggest beat at a newspaper, senior writer, analyst or editor.

The others on the panel are Kalyee Hartung of ESPN, Laura Keeley of The Raleigh News & Observer and Charlotte Observer, Laken Litman of USA Today, Monica McNutt of NewsChannel8 in Washington, Gina Mizell of The Oregonian and Francesca Weems of WLBT/FOX 40 in Jackson, Miss.

Feb 23 / King Kaufman

Guardian U.S. features editor’s pitching advice is food for thought for any writer

I only know three things about Jessica Reed: She’s the U.S. features editor for The Guardian. She’s French, which she evidently has a habit of apologizing for. And she gives great advice to freelance writers.

The latest example of that is her Medium piece Freelance writers: writing is great. But writing isn’t enough. It’s a followup to a very useful piece she posted on taking the job in November, How to pitch to this editor (plus, what I would give my right arm to read more of).

In the new piece, Reed writes:

In two months, it became clear to me that certain skills are maybe not essential, but very nice to have when pitching to the features desk. I didn’t think much of this while editing op-eds for close to seven years, but it’s the first thing that jumped at me when I took this job.

How will your story be illustrated?

Sure, this is something for picture editors to worry about. But not all organisations have them (sadly). And some editors like to have an input regarding the visual feel of your piece (I am one of them). A big, fat, giant plus when writers send me an idea is to hear “I can take photographs”; “I already have someone prepared to go with me to shoot this story”; “I can recommend someone to do photography in [this small town you want to go to]”; “I have sourced photographs from archives”; “I have personal pictures to share for my essay.”

In other words: your story will be read because it’s good, but it can get 10x more readers if it looks good. Make sure your editor is given the tools to make it look good.

She goes on to show some work from the illustrated pieces she’s liked best in her three months at The Guardian, and offers tips on thinking about how you can make your story look great. These are smart ideas whether you’re a freelancer looking to pitch or you’re working for a publication and thinking about your next feature.

And don’t miss the earlier advice about how to pitch. It’s how to pitch Jessica Reed, but the advice will serve you with any editor:

I want to know what you already know about the story you have in mind, what you don’t know yet, and who you want to talk to to find out. I want to know, most of all, why you’re interested in the topic at hand. I want your first email to be concise (four paragraphs or so), and I want it to give me an idea of who you are.

There are some other tips there, including things like “I do not want to open attachments” and “I do not want to open a Word document,” which I think are common sentiments among editors. The tl;dr version would be: Make it easy to read your pitch, and convince me quickly that this story is compelling and hasn’t been told yet, and that you’re the one to tell it.

Feb 20 / King Kaufman

Career lessons from Steve Buttry, five years after leaving the Cedar Rapids Gazette

Here’s a long blog post by Steve Buttry, often referenced in this space, about the lessons he learned from his time as the editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, which ended five years ago.

There are lessons about disaster response—there was a major flood in the city just as Buttry took the job—newsroom leadership and managing innovation and upheaval, but it’s the first section that I found most interesting, and I think you will too. That section is headlined “Career Lessons.”

The lessons, which all come with explanatory text, are:

  • Take the risk.
  • Be as transparent as you can.
  • Move on.
  • Don’t give in to bitterness.
  • Breaks sometimes even out.

Take risks, move on from disappointments and don’t give in to bitterness. Those are some good lessons.

Note: The original headline on this post incorrectly said “the flood” was five years ago.  

Feb 19 / King Kaufman

Engagement is more than just tweeting out links

It’s always disappointing to hear that something you have to do isn’t as simple as you might have thought.

Jake Batsell, a journalism instructor at Southern Methodist University and the author of “Engaged Journalism: Connecting with Digitally Empowered News Audiences,” says that for journalists wanting to engage with their audience, “It’s not about tweeting links to stories half-heartedly.”

Well dang.

Interviewing Batsell for PBS MediaShift, Sonia Paul asks, “Engagement is a buzzword across media circles all over the world now. How do you think most media makers are understanding it, though? Is it similar or different from the way you understand it?”

Batsell’s answer:

There’s a whole different conversation on how the wider world of communications defines engagement. I think from a journalism perspective, I think the sort of default knee-jerk definition a lot of people have in their heads is that engagement means interacting with audiences on social media. But especially after doing my work for the book, I’ve found it’s a much wider understanding than that. It’s not about tweeting links to stories half-heartedly. It’s about really and authentically integrating the audience into your work and mind when doing your job.

Batsell admits this isn’t easy:

Many journalists [I talked to] came out with the sense that, if done well, engaged journalism never really ends. We’re on social media, on Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus, and still—how can I do the shoe-leather reporting I still need to do? I can see from the freelancer perspective that it can be even more tough.

And here I thought half-heartedly tweeting links was going to get it done, didn’t you?

Feb 18 / King Kaufman

Bleacher Report Media Lab’s MJ All Day: An experiment in immersive entertainment

Bleacher Report’s Media Lab launched a Michael Jordan tribute site Tuesday called MJ All Day. As Media Lab director Bennett Spector described it, All Day MJ is “an immersive, highly visual, parallax website.”

“It’s a way to create an interactive feeling,” Media Lab project manager Will Leivenberg said of the site’s huge images, which reveal more as users scroll.

The site is unlike anything B/R’s done before. It was 10 months in the making, though the Media Lab crew was also working on other things during those months, Leivenberg told me on my SiriusXM Bleacher Report Radio show.

The Media Lab is charged with experimenting, trying new ways to entertain and inform B/R users. Talking about All Day MJ specifically and the Lab generally, Leivenberg said, “We’re trying to have a pulse on our audience, and that audience is first incredibly young, second incredibly mobile—actually I should say mobile first.” Almost 80 percent of young users use mobile devices for Bleacher Report.

And sure enough, the experience is much better on mobile, more like a video than something you have to scroll through.

Leivenberg said he doesn’t think MJ All Day will be a template for similar sites about other athletes, but that building it was a constant learning experience for the Media Lab team.

“The next time we do it it won’t take 10 months,” he said.

Feb 17 / King Kaufman

More tributes to New York Times writer David Carr: “He grabbed a shovel”

I mentioned the death of New York Times media writer David Carr in this space last week, but I wanted to go back to Carr because the tributes and remembrances kept coming in, and I think they’re worth reading for anyone who cares about journalism and media.

Poynter.org writer Kristen Hare did a great job of collecting the best of them. Many come from people who were co-workers, friends, employees and students of Carr’s, and some come from people who barely knew him or only knew him through his work.

I keep running across snippets of tribute to Carr that become my new favorite until I run into the next one. My current favorite is this, mentioned in the Poynter piece, written by David Von Drehle in Time:

It’s no small thing to claw a path upward from that low point to a star-turn as the face of the New York Times—which was Carr’s role in the acclaimed documentary, “Page One.” The hidden ingredient was stupendous effort. The man did his homework. If a trench needed digging, he grabbed a shovel. In his early years at the Times, David wrote for every page, every section, uncomplainingly. He became the paper’s biggest cheerleader and one of its most original voices. The bosses wanted a blog—he blogged the Oscars. The bosses wanted video—he shambled in front of a hand-held camera. The bosses wanted live events—he slipped on a necktie and made himself an emcee.

That’s a formula anyone in any profession can put to good use, don’t you think? Where’s the next place a ditch needs digging? And more importantly, where’s the nearest shovel?

Feb 13 / King Kaufman

Something for us all to aspire to: Be remembered like David Carr

New York Times media columnist David Carr died suddenly Thursday night.

If you want to aspire to something, you might go for being remembered the way Carr was when news of his death emerged. If your Twitter feed is anything like mine, it was almost nothing but tweets about David Carr once the news hit.

Vox collected some of Carr’s best answers from a Reddit Ask Me Anything. Much of it is great advice for writers. Carr, 58, was known for his generosity to younger writers.

My favorite among his gems of advice: “Keep typing until it turns into writing.” I’ve used that method myself on deadline.

Last year Carr was interviewed by Bloomberg’s Andrew Lack on a video that ran on Boston University’s BU Today site. In the last question, Lack notes that journalism can be a lot of things, but a get-rich-quick scheme is not one of them. Carr’s reply:

The dirty secret: journalism has always been horrible to get in; you always have to eat so much crap to find a place to stand. I waited tables for seven years, did writing on the side. If you’re gonna get a job that’s a little bit of a caper, that isn’t really a job, that under ideal circumstances you get to at least leave the building and leave your desktop, go out, find people more interesting than you, learn about something, come back and tell other people about it—that should be hard to get into. That should be hard to do. No wonder everybody’s lined up, trying to get into it. It beats working.

Here is Carr’s archive at NYTimes.com. There are 1,776 stories.

Feb 12 / King Kaufman

Northeastern students reimagine digital storytelling with Esquire magazine

Here’s a fun keeping up with changes in media story: PBS MediaShift’s EducationShift spotlights a collaboration between Esquire magazine and the Northeastern University’s Media Innovation program.

As Jeffrey Howe, a Northeastern journalism professor, explains, students in the program are working as a sort of R&D department as they and Esquire explore new ways to tell stories digitally. This takes two forms: StoryLab, a course in “designing the future of magazine journalism,” and Storybench, a website that covers developments in the field.

StoryLab’s first project was for students to take Walking the Border, a 2011 Esquire piece in which Luke Dittrich chronicled his walk of the 1,933 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, along the U.S.-Mexico frontier. The assignment, Howe writes: “Blow up the traditional magazine story, then rebuild it from scratch.” The students formed four teams, each presenting Dittrich’s piece in a different way.

There are live links to three of the four demos. What do you think?

Feb 11 / King Kaufman

Wright Thompson in his own words: It’s not about the words

Wright Thompson of ESPN the Magazine is a great magazine sportswriter—or, to use the current term, which I don’t like, longform sportswriter.

Thompson talks about his career and craft as part of the Still No Cheering in the Press Box series at the University of Maryland journalism school’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. We talked about that series last year when it ran a profile of the sports columnist I grew up reading, Jim Murray.

This is Thompson “in his own words,” his answers to a pair of student interviewers, according to the series overview. It’s a bit ironic because it reads as if Thompson is rambling uninterrupted on a bar stool, bouncing from topic to topic. That’s the very opposite of Thompson the writer:

When you’re a kid you think writing has to do with words and then you figure out that it doesn’t and that it has to do with structure. It’s architecture. That’s the whole job. It has nothing to do with words, really. It’s outlining, structure, it’s conflict and resolution …

I go through notes, I outline and underline and I make note cards and reorganize the notes into like piles. And I cover walls of offices with post-it notes. I do whatever feels like is necessary to wrangle all of this information.

Pull up a barstool and listen.

See also

Wright Thompson of ESPN: Write “scenes”

Feb 10 / King Kaufman

Felix Salmon essay kicks off a day of #AdviceForYoungJournalists

Felix Salmon of Fusion set off a little journalism nerdworld firestorm yesterday with his letter “To all the young journalists asking for advice.”

Salmon’s message was dark, as hinted at by the story graphic, a photo illustration that featured the words “We won’t pay you” superimposed onto newspapers:

I’m sure that many people have told you this already, but take it from me as well: journalism is a dumb career move. If there’s something else you also love, something else you’re good at, something else which makes the world a better place — then maybe you should think about doing that instead. Even successful journalists rarely do much of the kind of high-minded stuff you probably aspire to. And enormous numbers of incredibly talented journalists find it almost impossible to make a decent living at this game.

It goes on like that for quite some time, though Salmon also calls himself a “golden ager” and writes, “I think this is probably the greatest era for journalism that the world has ever seen.”

The problem, he writes, is that “Labor has almost no leverage over capital any more,” meaning it’s very hard to get paid.

Salmon makes a lot of good, tough points. I saw two responses that offered pushback on his bleak vision. This is my best advice to young journalists by Ezra Klein of Vox, and Advice for young journalists by “Sports Media Guy” Brian Moritz.

Both offer plenty of solid practical advice, but not terribly much to rebut Salmon’s pessimistic view of anyone getting paid. “The Death of Journalism is really a kind of disruptive change in journalism,” Klein writes, “and that’s bad for incumbents, but you’re not an incumbent.”

The problem with that is that, if successful, you will be, and, as Salmon wrote: “If you get a job by competing on price against 40-year-olds when you’re 22, then the turnabout, once you reach 40, is only fair play.”

Moritz, playing off a quote from Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” writes, “If the students and young journalists care a whole awful lot, they will create the journalism the world needs—both as a business and as the news.”

The whole dustup spawned a Twitter hashtag #AdviceforYoungJournalists. There are a lot of attempts at humor to wade through, a few of them successful, and some good advice mixed in.

Laurie Penny, herself a young journalist but a brilliant one for the New Statesman and the Guardian, collected her thoughts on the hashtag in a Storify.