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Jay Rosen does an excellent job of parsing NPR’s comical gymnastics to avoid using the P-word in its reporting on Melania Trump’s plagiarism last week.

I won’t go into the detail that Jay did, but I recommend reading Jay’s post. I’ll concentrate on one point: whether plagiarism must be intentional, as NPR reporter Sarah McCammon argued:

McCammon also argued that professional journalism standards are somehow different from academic standards:

I don’t know where McCammon learned ethics, but she couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve spent decades longer in journalism than in academia, and I never recall a newsroom where intent mattered one whit. If you stole someone else’s material, that was plagiarism, period. Continue Reading »

I led three workshops Thursday for the staff of the Penny Hoarder in St. Petersburg, Fla.

First I led a workshop on coming up with original story ideas. I used many of the tips in my blog post on story ideas. Here are the slides:

My next workshop dealt with interviews. I used some of the tips in these posts:

Shut up and listen

Getting personal

Interviewing advice from veteran journalists

When it’s good (and bad) to be ‘stupid’ in interviews

Tips for persuading reluctant news sources to talk

Eric Nalder’s advice on interviewing reluctant sources

‘Uh-huh’: Does it ruin audio or keep a source talking (maybe both)

Here are my slides for the interviewing workshop:

I didn’t have any slides for the third workshop, on using data to find and support stories, but I showed the data available at these sites (thanks to Tom Meagher and Maryjo Webster for steering me to some of them):

Census Reporter

American Fact Finder

Census Bureau

Data.gov

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Pew Research Center

Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research

The workshop used some of the tips in my post on mining the data on your beat.

 

 

 

Cancer 3.0

Mimi and me at Tom's wedding last October

Mimi and me at Tom’s wedding last October

Shaking the sugar down on my way to Houston

Shaking the sugar down on my way to Houston

Tom spent the Fourth of July posting photos from his wedding last October to Facebook. I liked a photo of Mimi and me together on that happy day, so I made it my profile photo. More than 200 people “liked” it and another 20-plus commented, all encouraging messages. Several noted that I looked good. I was tempted to note that the photo was from last October. But I got some similar comments about looking good when I posted some photos from the road that same day on the way to Houston.

I do look good. I don’t say that boastfully, but kind of ruefully. I look (and feel) better than my news: I was at the MD Anderson Cancer Center last week getting my third major cancer diagnosis. This time I have pancreatic cancer.

I was honored and uplifted by how many people encouraged me during last year’s treatment for mantle-cell lymphoma. If you were heartened in some way by my kicking-cancer’s-ass narrative, please know that I did kick that cancer’s ass. My lymph nodes look great, and they’ve gotten a close look the last three-plus months in a PET scan, an MRI, two CT scans, two endoscopic ultrasounds and lots of lab tests as doctors have tried to figure out what the hell was going on in my pancreas. Continue Reading »

Either William Allen White or Mark Twain advised writers to substitute damn for very in their writing. Then the editor would remove all the damns and improve the writing.

More later on who provided that advice, but I thought of it when Luke Palder, founder and CEO of ProofreadingServices.com sent me a link to the image below:

Infographic-Very-20

I don’t know anything about the price or quality of the service of ProofreadingServices, but I applaud both clever marketing and helping people improve their writing. And very hardly ever improves writing, so I’m glad to share this advice and give Palder and his business a plug.

As for who gave the very/damn advice, I heard long ago that it was White, the legendary editor of the Emporia Gazette. More recently, I hear it attributed more often to Twain. If they both said it, Twain would likely have been first, having been more than 30 years older than White and having risen to prominence earlier. Quote Investigator looked into the matter and cited White as the likely source of the advice.

After I published this post, I got this help from Twitter:

Whoever said it, the advice is outdated. Only the most prudish of publications shrink from using damn any more, but you probably shouldn’t overuse that word any more than you should overuse very. Once or twice in a workshop, I facetiously suggested using fucking instead. But that gets published nearly any place online any more. Including here. So try using the substitutes above.

Brady CJRI am late reading Jim Brady‘s Columbia Journalism Review piece on local media. But it’s outstanding and worth catching up on. If you care about local news and also missed it initially, take the time to read it now. It’s long but well worth the time.

Just a few highlights:

Jim absolutely nails the brutal user experience at most local newspaper sites:

Slow load times? Check. Pop-up ads? Yes sir! Auto-play video? Of course! Forty-page slide shows? Why not? User experience? Sorry, not familiar with that term.

A good friend, who has been doing some excellent work, works for a Gannett newsroom. I see a link to some of his work on social media and click on the link. And Gannett tries to push me away with horrible load times (I give up on my iPad before it even loads) and with a question (or a few) I need to answer before I read the story. More often than not, I leave in frustration. And I’m earnestly and patiently trying to read the work of a good friend. How many readers who aren’t trying to read friends’ work give up even sooner?

Jim, founder of the Philadelphia local news site Billy Penn, also explains why he’s optimistic (I am, too) for local news startups:

I think now is the perfect time to start a local digital news operation. There are few greater gifts in journalism than a blank sheet of paper. Billy Penn started with nothing. We had no history, but no baggage. We had no brand recognition, but no brand fatigue. We didn’t cover everything, but we didn’t have to cover everything. Every disadvantage is an opportunity to create an advantage.

I get sick and tired of people dismissing local news as a place of failure for digital startups because of the failure of Patch, the abandonment of TBD‘s strategy (see disclaimer below) and other local ventures that didn’t last. I sent Ken Doctor an email last month, taking him for task for erroneously describing local news as “a sector that’s all but been left for dead.

Actually, local news is a sector with dozens, if not hundreds, of success stories. They’re mostly small success stories that escape the notice of most big-picture analysts, and the sector needs thousands of success stories, but Jim’s optimism is justified, and he lists some of the successes:

That’s why it’s so encouraging to see so many entrepreneurs out there trying their hands at local. On the for-profit side, there’s Billy Penn and The Incline, its soon-to-be sister site in Pittsburgh, plus Berkeleyside, Charlotte Agenda, Mission Local, ARLnowBaristanet, the Watershed Post, the upcoming Denverite, and many others. On the nonprofit side, there are early pioneers like Texas Tribune, Voice of San Diego, and MinnPost, plus new sites popping up seemingly every week. Spanning both models are members of the Local Independent Online News Publishers group (LION), including sites such as The Batavian, Richland Source, The Lens, and many more. Journalism consultant Michele McLellan tracks the growth of local sites at Michele’s List.

But there’s room for so much more—unlike in national, the local digital field remains relatively wide open.

If you care about local news, read through Jim’s piece. He captures the excitement and potential of local news.

Disclaimer that won’t be necessary for longtime readers of this blog: Jim and I are friends and he hired me twice, to work at TBD and Digital First Media. And I’d gladly take a third round with him.

I’m leading a workshop today for the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference on using unnamed sources.

I’ll discuss points made in posts about using unnamed sources, including one on persuading people to talk for the record about difficult topics (and my 20-years-later CJR piece about one of the sources) and another on using information from unnamed sources to persuade other sources to talk for the record. I also will talk about the importance of power and eagerness in granting confidentiality, and suggest we should not quote spokespeople for powerful people and organizations without using their names.

I also mention a couple of posts by others about email encryption for journalists.

Here are my slides for the workshop:

And here are some tweets from the session:

If you care about the state of newspapers, I encourage you to read the Newspaper Fact Sheet in the State of the News Media 2016 report published today by the Pew Research Center.

But if  you want to get a quick sense of the report, just read the headlines for the graphics:

  • Newspaper circulation declines for second consecutive year in 2015
  • Print-only still most common way of reading newspapers
  • Advertising revenue sees biggest drop since 2009
  • A quarter of advertising revenue comes from digital
  • As many newspaper companies saw a loss as saw profit in 2015
  • Newsroom employment continues to fall
  • The number of daily newspapers has decreased by more than 100 since 2004
  • Newspapers gain in mobile traffic but fall in mobile minutes per visit

That’s a pretty grim state of newspapers. Read the details if you want, but the headlines capture them pretty well.

Those advertising figures didn’t come from the Newspaper Association of America’s annual reports. Those reports stopped two years ago, when report on 2013 numbers showed print advertising at $17.3 billion, a collapse from $47.4 billion in 2005. That’s a 64 percent drop in raw dollars in eight years, 69 percent after adjusting for inflation. I wonder why NAA stopped releasing its annual figures?

Since the NAA stopped issuing its bleak reports, Pew has calculated its newspaper revenue figures from the Securities and Exchange Commission filings of publicly held newspaper companies. For those companies at least (and more, I can assure you), the bleeding continues.

A mantra repeated by newspaper executives during this collapse was that we could never replace print advertising revenues with digital ads, that we were trading print dollars for digital dimes (and eventually digital pennies). Well, they’re right, newspapers haven’t been able to replace print ads with digital (in fact, newspaper companies’ digital advertising revenue actually declines in 2015, just not as sharply as print ad revenue). But digitally focused companies, not distracted by trying to protect a declining product, have scooped up all that advertising cash, dollar for dollar: Digital ad revenue last years totaled $59.6 billion, more than print ad revenue (even adjusted for inflation) in 2005, the last year newspapers’ ad revenues grew.

Despite all the hope and effort newspapers have poured into paywalls, digital subscriptions are mentioned just once in the newspaper fact sheet (and not with a revenue figure attached). The report says digital circulation increased by 2 percent (do I hear champagne corks popping?).

The digital news fact sheet not surprisingly reports that mobile advertising revenue has surpassed desktop ad revenue. Back in 2009, when the collapse of print advertising was accelerating, I called for a mobile-first strategy. I’m not aware of any newspaper organization that has made such a shift yet.

Newspapers used to comfort themselves in the face of grim numbers showing that young people weren’t reading newspapers, saying that they would start reading when they started having children and getting involved in their communities. Check out the daily newspaper readership by age: In the 45-54 age group, people whose children are in college, daily newspaper readership has fallen to 28 percent, half what it was a decade earlier.

When I first clicked on the newspaper fact sheet, I got an error message:

Newspapers fact sheet

The folks at Pew quickly fixed the bad link. But I think the error page might how shown a brighter outlook for newspapers.

Correction note: I originally wrote “million” instead of “billion” in one of the numbers  here. Wish I could say that’s the first time I’d made that mistake.

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