Now is as good a time as any to admit I’ve been branching out a little bit into photojournalism. Unlike many who pick up a camera in order to make themselves more marketable in the new media world, I picked up my Canon Rebel XT because I have always loved photography and the stories pictures can tell.

I haven’t quite figured out the relationship between my writing and my photography yet (I’m discouraged from taking my own photos for my stories, so I am mostly a hobby photographer at the moment), but I do enjoy both and can only hope one day they will be inextricable from one another and from my identity as a journalist.

They say about newspapers that they’re black and white and re(a)d all over. The building behind our bureau is red all over, and I thought this somewhat fitting to the newspaper theme.

old firehouse

across the alleyway

overhang

evening silhouette by the red door

due north

redwall

redwall northeast

Instead of growing more apathetic and desensitized to the demise of my fellow newspapers all over the country, each paper fold cuts my heart more deeply to the core. Today Hearst announced the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I, as we call it in the journo world and in the NW region) is putting its last paper to bed tonight.

Thankfully, unlike the Rocky, the P-I will be staying in business in a fully-digital format.

What that means for the staff: reduction from 150+ employees to around 20. I can’t help wondering what it would feel like to be one of the 20. I’d be relieved, but I imagine the object of much envy and bitterness. It would suck.

My Seattle Courant contact wrote about it from the unique perspective of an already online-exclusive news source in the same city.

Tweeted:

“Seattlepi.com isn’t a newspaper online—it’s an effort to craft a…dig biz w/a robust, comm. news & inf. Web site at its core.” –Swartz.

RT @moniguzman Mng. Ed. McCumber at last P-I budget meeting: “We’re gonna put out a great @$#% newspaper today. Any questions?”


It is not the end of the world as we know it, but it makes a lot of us wonder where we’re heading and how long we’ll have jobs. The bread-and-butter of newspapering is disappearing, and so those of us trained in the great news reporting tradition feel our skills becoming obsolete.

Oddly, in the midst of all this horror, the local community newspaper seems to be doing well in comparison with the corporate-owned larger city and national newspapers. But how long will that last? Do enough citizens out there care anymore that their most effective mediator to the government is being slain? And not in the dark of the night, but in front of their very eyes in the broadest of daylight?

Do they realize that when the newspaper as such is gone, so is their freedom of speech and their ability to participate in democracy? Who will inform them, when this bloodbath is finished?

What does your local newspaper mean to you and your community?
Does it effectively fill its role as a public watchdog?
Does it seem to be surviving?
Are you reading it?
How could it better meet your community’s needs?

Please share thoughts. I particularly want to hear from the readers.

The Rocky Mountain News announced today it is printing its final edition Friday (tomorrow) — two weeks shy of its would-have-been 150th anniversary.

This is a sad day for newspapers everywhere.

“It’s strange to cover your own funeral,” the RMN Twitterfeed read a few minutes ago.

And earlier, I shuddered at this: “Temple tells reporters that a lot of stories they’ve been working on will not see the light of day.”

My grief is especially acute over this newspaper fold, over all other folds and staff cuts announced in the last year. I am not sure exactly why, but maybe because of the examples used in my journalism classes from that paper. It was a model for doing many things the right way. I grew attached to it early in my journalism career, before I was even a full-fledged cub reporter.

A lump formed in my throat as these Tweets came through:

“In news meeting, puffy-eyed Managing Editor is handing out assignments. The conference room is quiet but everyone is engaged.”

“People are worried about their futures but the focus is still on the paper and web site.”

“Newsroom atmosphere: Designers are huddled around white boards, looking at story assignments. Editors are huddled with reporters.”

In honor of the paper’s last day, and in memory of its longstanding status as Colorado’s oldest newspaper, I share with you one of my favorite special reports, ever. And it just happened to be published at The Rocky Mountain News.

Apropos of this occasion, the special report is entited “Final Salute.” Pull out your hankie, and enjoy.

RIP, Rocky

So, there’s been a lot of talk about racism this Black History Month. Aside from the New York Post snafu, it’s been a pretty good one, says opinionator Charles Blow at the NYTimes.

He wrote a column you should read.

As encouragement to have more frank dialogue about the still-not-dead racism in America, he suggests readers take this Implicit racial bias test for themselves, to see what, if any subconscious racial biases they might have. It’s rather cool, and only takes about 10 minutes of your time. Prepare to be surprised, and don’t get offended. Read Blow’s column first, to understand the importance of uncovering these hidden prejudices.

The Race (‘Black – White’ IAT) is the one everybody’s been taking. Including me.

It’s high time I put forth an official endorsement for Twitter.

WHY

Before you stop reading, and before you hurl assumptions at me about it being “just another facebook-like status update forum,” please pause and consider the following:

  • The dirty secret to using Twitter successfully is NOT to answer the question, “What are you doing?”
  • It has a number of uses, depending on your communication style and your purpose in using it: Journalists, entrepeneurs, public relations specialists, marketing directors, family members, bartenders and techies alike join in the conversation and enjoy it.
  • Its 140-character posting limits require conciseness heretofore foreign to the blogging world.
  • You can easily find and follow people in your career field, sharing tips and information.
  • It’s a great networking tool, especially for job seekers.
  • It’s all about who you follow. Sure, if you follow mostly your friends, it’s likely not going to be all that enlightening or exciting. I recommend sticking with only your closest friends, and following mostly those in your field who rock at what they do. They’ve got the winning tips for you.
  • Own a business? Work for one? Two words: viral marketing.
  • Lots and lots of supporting apps: everything from Twitterific to your cell phone’s text messaging feature to TweetDeck. You can Tweet from just about anywhere in the world.
  • Sharing. information. in its truest form, sans accompaniment of long-winded third-party opinions.

So learn stuff.

Widen your network.

Listen in on the thoughts of experts. Interact and converse with them.

Spread the word. Share the love. Pass on information. Start a buzz. Stay in the loop.

HOW

A number of blogs list the unspoken rules of Twitter, and I’ve found Jeff Blankenburg’s most helpful for new users of all types.

My personal experience with Twitter has definitely been a journey. I started in late summer last year just following a few people I knew, and quickly grew bored with it (since I could read their statuses on Facebook if I was really that interested).

I honestly don’t remember what drew me back in, but it was probably all the encouragement from Poynter and the Society of Professional Journalists, since most journos are doing a lot of their communicating via Twitter — even live Tweetcasts from, say, WH press conferences (loved reading those).

I got lucky and stumbled on a couple of high-energy journalists who enthusiastically kept recommending and “retweeting” (taking a Tweet from another Tweeter and passing it along, with credit, to your “followers,” who are the ones reading your Tweets) other leading names in the field who in turn posted helpful links, thoughts and advice. Ever since, I’ve begun increasing the number and quality of people I follow, discovering masters of my field I had never even heard of. I have thus ended up reading far more interesting, varied and in-depth coverage of both headline and off-beat news, as well as insider news and analysis.

(My favorites to follow, for the record, are @jayrosen_NYU, @problogger, @suzanneyada, @jemimakiss, @Poynter, @jiconoclast.and @jeffjarvis.)

I took the leap this week in unlocking my Twitter feed, which has increased my following exponentially. Leading journos from all over the world are now reading my feed, and mostly just because I’m following awesome people and sharing the love; the educational value of the information we’re all passing along through our network is priceless.

The key, I have found, is in finding the people worth following, and doing just that. Don’t join Twitter just to broadcast your daily activities and thoughts or rants. Read. Listen. Think. Share.

Twitter, for me, is like a many-faceted newsfeed, almost like watching stories stream in on the AP wire. Only it’s more diverse, it’s more personal, it’s more tailorable and it’s quicker.

It has made me a faster reader, a better sharer; it’s opened my eyes to trends and encouraged me in my professionalism and continuing education; it’s given me a plethora of news reporting resources I never would have heard of otherwise. It has finally, but not least of all, connected me with people who can help me do anything from getting driving directions; to landing a new job; to discovering keyboard shortcuts for a task I want to do more quickly; to finding a helpful article about any topic I can dream up.

Stephen Baker at BusinessWeek wrote more than nine months ago in awe of the Twitter phenomenon:

Businesses such as H&R Block (HRB) and Zappos are now using Twitter to respond to customer queries. Market researchers look to it to scope out minute-by-minute trends. Media groups are focusing on Twitterers as first-to-the-scene reporters. (They were on top of the May 12 China earthquake within minutes.) Loads of new applications and services are growing around the Twitter platform, leading some to suggest that the microblogging service could become a powerhouse in social media.”

It is a powerhouse now.

It’s viral.

It’s Twitter.

One fundamental presumption the self-styled “pro-choice” supporters make is that advantage of circumstances bequeaths people (women, doctors, voters) with the right to take advantage of those circumstances and usurp moral authority.

Asking such situational ethics questions as, “What if she was raped and got pregnant with a child she never wanted?” is, first of all, a cop-out. Statistically, pregnancy only occurs in 5 percent of rape cases involving women of childbearing age. Of that 5 percent, only half of them ever sought an abortion. (Check me, with figures from the Justice Department.)

Aside from this fact, asking such a question also presumes a false dilemma for the mother: keep the child forever, or kill it for good. It assumes there is no other choice, such as adoption.

Finally, this loaded question presumes that the presence of those circumstances would and does somehow change the hierarchy of authority over such minor moral issues as life and death. The question presumes there are no absolutes — that, given just the right conditions, all of a sudden taking an innocent life is no longer wrong, it is merely a matter of relativity.

Relativity to what? I ask you rhetorically.

We’re not talking Einstein, here.

To ask such a thing is to presume that the value of another human’s life, when it is in our power to take it from him or her, is relative only to our own selfish desires or what we perceive are our “needs.”

It is the same mentality that leads to corporate CEOs taking money from rich clients, simply because they have the clever capabilities and resources to do so. It is the same as justifying the theft of food or property because of destitution. And such actions, for whatever reasons, are always wrong, because in all cases there are acceptable moral alternatives.

Yes, I am pro-choice, but not in the way many use the term. I’m all for choosing to do the right thing by my fellow human beings because I try to realize anew every day the weight of glory they carry as transient beings with eternal souls.

I choose not to disrespect their humanity simply because I have the physical, mental or circumstantial advantage over them. “Even the least of these…”

This is the part where I explain that people are wrong when they look at me enviously and say, “You’re so lucky, working in news, because you know your job is safe.”

Nuh-uh. I am not safe.

Gannett’s approximately 40,000 reporters, editors, techies and other news support employees nationwide have been ordered to participate in a companywide weeklong furlough.

Story here.

I know several Gannett employees, and this is kind of lame for them, but it’s a reasonable short-term solution to the pinch all of us news outlets are feeling due to the archaic business model our publishing companies cling to so tenaciously. Anyway, a furlough is better than a permanent layoff, any day.

Inside my company, we have faced a salary freeze, and our Christmas bonuses were reduced from previous years.

These are not acceptable long-term solutions, however. Long-term solutions will be far more revolutionary, and will require a better understanding of where our revenue comes from.

Most people assume these penny-pinching moves mean fewer people are reading the news, because they believe news outlets make money from circulation and subscriptions. This is absolutely not true — if it were, how would you explain, say, network news’ income?

Another common myth is that newspaper subscriptions ought naturally to increase during times of recession, because “people are looking for job listings, right?” Wrong.

First of all, it’s a lot easier to look for and apply for jobs online, these days, than to read the Classifieds.

Second, news outlets make money in advertising — not subscriptions. Approximately 10 percent of our revenue comes from subscriptions. The other 90 percent? You guessed it: our advertisers.

So, naturally, when the economy is in a recession and businesses are closing and cutting expenses, newspapers suffer. We have fewer advertisers, and the ones we are able to retain purchase smaller and fewer ads. The number of our pages is reduced, therefore the need for copy is reduced, so the need to employ as many people to produce, edit and print the copy is also reduced. You see?

That does not, however, mean fewer people are reading the news. They ARE reading the news, just in a more convenient and cheaper format: the Internet.

A good way to respond to our hurting economy is to make ads cheaper, so more businesses are able to afford them. The best way to do this is to reduce overhead, and we could do that by transitioning to the Internet and reducing paper/ink use.

A great way to make those ads even more appealing is to ensure they will have a larger audience. We can do THAT by offering more and better content on the Internet, augmenting what we have in print. Continuous updates throughout the day, multimedia packaging (slide shows, video, audio, etc), blogs, etc.

There are a lot of ongoing discussions here among paper editors about utilizing the Internet more effectively (we could use it, for sure). Our ads people are the biggest opponents, ironically.

Wish they realized, if they don’t jump on board and make this new model work, there won’t BE a news outlet anymore, much less ads to sell for it.

Sorry to say it, but our aging population in this area will soon be gone, and at that point, we will be contending for the attention of two generations who rely almost exclusively on the Internet for their news, shopping and networking (among countless other things). They will not be reading the paper, and our advertisers will not be willing to pay for ads in a paper nobody reads.

This sounds fatalistic, but I firmly believe this situation can be improved by letting go of the traditional media business model and leaping into the 21st Century with the rest of the world. Reporters and news outlets are not a dying breed, their job descriptions are merely changing. Their bosses just need to accept this and accommodate it.

[In case you haven’t already, you really ought to go read Jonathan’s post in which he rather forcefully denounces “grammar NAZIS.” I then invite you — no — implore you to come back and read my response, below.]

Dear Jonathan,

I understand some of your frustration, and I try to maintain an attitude of understanding and lenience toward some misuses and abuses of the English language in this era — because, as you said, language is constantly evolving.

I am most forgiving in the texting realm; less so in the blogging realm, because people who blog generally have access to full keyboards, complete with a handy backspace option. You will notice, however, that I nearly always refrain from correcting and thereby making enemies of my fellow bloggers. I simply endure, and try to make heads or tails of some brilliant ideas buried underneath piles of misplaced apostrophes, run-on sentences and atrocious to/too/two confusion. The paucity of semicolons I will reserve for another post later on.

Notwithstanding my and anybody else’s endurance of grammatical errors galore, the evolution of language does not excuse those who abuse the communication tool. People who speak and write in the language (and want to make a contribution to the already-BEYOND-overwhelming mass of published work — much of it grammatically sound) really don’t have a good excuse for not knowing its (not it’s) proper uses.

Plenty of grammarians break language rules all the time, but they do it with precise intention, and for a useful purpose. And you can tell the difference between their intellectual rebellion and the outright ignorance so prevalent among bloggers and other writers of this brave new writing world.

For example, the evolution of a word like “text” from a noun into a verb is an intelligent, useful linguistic development. It demonstrates not only technological and societal acumen, but a keen sense of style as well. The blurring of the apostrophe’s proper place and function does neither.

All language abuses, misuses and other developments should be justifiable for the sake of clarity and better communication. Blogging world, take note.

Writing “your” when you really mean to say “you’re” only places me under the mistaken impression that you are referring to a <noun> in my possession; how on earth am I to know you intended to address me directly if you do not say so? Confusion of possession/plurality/direct address is a serious grammatical crime.

All that said, I understand your frustration with people who comment on your posts only to criticize your grammar. My suggestion would be to a) make the suggested changes to your posts (heck, I have to proof and edit mine numerous times before I get them right) and b) to retaliate and criticize theirs in turn. This will be good practice for you, and it qualifies as community service, as you’re helping to make the blogosphere a better place to communicate.

Incidentally, you claim you do not criticize people for trigonometric ineptitude; however, if they were attempting to communicate a trigonometric concept to you, you would find it offensive if they did not do their homework and understand the concept in full before trying to teach it or use it for an analogy. Otherwise, they’re just wasting your time. People who purport to be good writers of things they want others to read ought to at least demonstrate a better-than-average grasp on the language in which they are trying to communicate; otherwise, they should lay (not lie) the pen down or step away from the keyboard.

I chose to post this on my own blog instead of in your comments section, in hopes you might be more likely to read it; and also, because you instructed grammarians not to comment if they only wanted to disagree with you.

Affectionately,

A faithful reader

Recommended reading:

For the mechanics of grammar:

  • “Working With Words” by Brian S. Brooks, James L. Pinson, and Jean Gaddy Wilson
  • “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White
  • “The Classic Guide to Writing Well” by Rudolph Flesch
  • [more to come later when I have had a chance to peruse my bookcase at home]

For style:

  • “Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style” by Arthur Plotnik
  • “Best Newspaper Writing” (any year, any editors. My personal favorite is the 2007 edition) — this is a FABULOUS catalogue of exemplary writing in all styles.
  • “Writing With Style” by John R. Trimble
  • [again, more once I’ve had a chance to look through my library]

I’ve gotten several e-mails from acquaintances complaining about Obama buying a purebred puppy for his girls, and the latest was the one about a $30,000 ring he allegedly bought for his wife.

The e-mails are usually accompanied by some sarcastic comments along the lines of, “keep buying, Obama, maybe that’ll get us out of a recession.”

Which is, first of all, fallacious logic.

Second of all, let me share with you the bullsh*t factor in this “story”: It’s not true. Read more about how untrue it is at Politico — a REAL news source.

But third of all, I’m tired of hearing about news that’s not news. It is irrelevant to me, you and everybody else. It’s kind of like Palin’s daughter who was pregnant. Who cared? And who cares where Obama spends his personal money? I mean, unless it’s in some scandalous foreign investment, or if he got the money taking bribes from somebody. Now that would be a story.

This alleged ring purchase, even if it were true, is irrelevant because it is not newsworthy. Since when do journalists allow The Daily Mail to dictate what is a) newsworthy and b) true? We don’t let the National Enquirer set the news agenda for us, so why should we let the U.K.’s The Daily Mail. (Notice I didn’t put a question mark after that last sentence. It means it’s a rhetorical question, because the answer should be obvious.)

The ring fib, which has unfortunately spread like the bubonic plague already, does not meet even the loosest criteria for newsworthiness (this is why, among many other reasons, The Daily Mail is not a legitimate news source).

There are several criteria for newsworthiness that journalists use ALL THE TIME to determine whether and how to pitch a story to their editors:

Timing: Is it a new event or development? We’re going to skip over analysis of this one, since the “story” doesn’t fit the other criteria and it therefore doesn’t matter how timely it is.

Significance: Usually we measure this in number of people affected by the story. This affects, at most, five people. Obama, Michelle, their kids, and the alleged jeweler. None of us are affected by his personal decision, and this is a pretty darn good reason not to care. If the reporter thinks there’s a good reason we should care, he/she should share that with us. Give impact to your story. Rule No. 1 in any good story: IMPACT.

Proximity: The U.K. is not really that close to the U.S., so they really have no business digging into the personal lives of our president-elect without significant cause to do so. For the sake of giving The Daily Mail the benefit of the doubt, geographical distance is not the only thing implied in proximity. It can also mean that a person/organization’s situation is very similar to, you know, a lot of people’s, and is therefore a microcosm of a larger trend/threat/what-have-you. A story that demonstrates good use of the proximity factor would be one people read and go, “Oh wow, I should keep that in mind,” or “That could have been me.” I don’t really know of anyone doing that.

Prominence: This is the only newsworthiness criterion the ring fib fits. Because Obama is famous. If, say, Joe The Plumber bought a ring for his wife, we wouldn’t — wait, no, bad example. If your hubby bought you a new ring, I promise you it would not make the headlines. Because Obama is a prominent figure, anything and everything he does is automatically a candidate for at least the inside pages of your nearest newspaper.

Human Interest: Human interest stories can break a lot of the other rules of newsworthiness, because they’re tearjerkers, inspirational pieces, amusing ones, etc. Their purpose is to evoke emotion. They often don’t age quickly and are relatively timeless. The ring fib neither inspired, amused nor provoked weeping. Also, even for the two people who care today, who is going to care, say, next month?

READ this:

ABC News: Obama Boots Reporters From Conservative Papers
Source: abcnews.go.com

Un.acceptable. First he disses the Society of Professional Journalists, and now he marginalizes reporters from relatively conservative publications (although, how anyone can classify the Post as conservative, I don’t know. But that is beside the point)? In case you didn’t read the entire report, I would like to direct your attention to the fact that he booted these reporters in favor of keeping “journalists” from non-political publications like Jet and Glamour magazines (my fav. part; no lie). Yeah, way to persuade us to take your campaign more seriously, sir.

But how’s that for transparency and a fair/free press?

Thomas Jefferson said that if he had to choose between doing without a court system and doing without a free press, he would sooner give up the courts than give up a press that has the freedom to keep a check on the government and its officials.

Way to sock it to T.J. and the people who have a right to information, Obama.

Like it or not, he’s going to have to face the music and the critics if he wins this race to the White House. He can’t stave them off forever if he hopes to win. And if he DOES win that office, he is going to find that he has not been winning friends among the gatekeepers of information. He’s going to need them later, and he’s going to regret what he has just done. To TWO of what he hopes will be his new local papers.
ADDENDUM

And here’s a freebie: Obama campaign bans TV station for asking Biden hard questions

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