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Archive for January, 2015

sullydish

Andrew Sullivan’s note telling readers he plans to stop blogging.

Occasionally I wonder whether I blog too much and consider whether I should stop, cut back or change directions.

I identified with some of the things that Andrew Sullivan said when announced this week that he will stop blogging. Even as a sideline venture, as my blog has always been, a blog keeps whispering “feed me” in your ear. You read or hear things and start thinking about blogging about them, even if you only actually blog about a small minority of them. If you care about a blog, it becomes demanding or time-consuming. If becomes a big part of your life, and sometimes you need to make changes in your life.

Sullivan wrote:

I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged.

He posted that on Wednesday. I feel like a slacker for waiting till Saturday to blog about it. So many people have already weighed in:

Sullivan’s reasons for deciding to stop blogging are deeply personal, related to his health and feelings about how he wants to spend his time and about feeding the beast that a blog can become (he started charging for The Dish two years ago, which no doubt raises the pressure for feeding the beast; my blog is free).

Each blogger’s situation is different by many factors: what you have to say; your relationship with the people who respond to your blog; how unique or important you think a particular post may be; how frequently you want or need to blog; whether you blog for pay, passion or both; whether and how the blog is advancing your career; other things going on with your life, such as jobs, health and family.

I have kept blogging through several career and personal turns because I always felt like I had something to say and I have enjoyed my relationships with people in the blog comments, on social media and in person who appreciate my blog (including many who disagree on some points). And the blog has advanced my career and raised my profile within journalism. (more…)

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The Bloomington Pantagraph's first "Scoop," a Waco "90" biplane, pictured in 1929. Reprinted with permission of The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

The Bloomington Pantagraph’s first “Scoop,” a Waco “90” biplane, pictured in 1929. Reprinted with permission of The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

In the way that one idea leads to another which leads to another, this post is a flight of fancy. We start with an old family story about the ride my Uncle Pleas took 85 years ago on a plane called Scoop, then to some other stories I found from a bygone era when newspapers could afford their own pilots and planes, then to some flying stories from my career.

My mother, Harriet Buttry, was a tireless archivist of family writings before Alzheimer’s took over her mind. A shelf in her home displayed books by authors in the family, and notebooks collected magazine articles and other writings, including too many of my newspaper stories, columns and blog posts.

After helping Mom with a recent move, my brother Dan thinned the collection a bit and sent me some boxes of family writings. Most were my old newspaper stories. I was surprised how faithful I had been sending clippings to Mom, but not at all surprised how faithful she was at filing them away. But Dan sent me more than just my own work. The collection included The Great Depression: True Stories of Trials and Triumphscompiled by the McLean County Home and Community Education Association in Illinois in 2006.

That book had three family connections: My cousin Mary Lou Lawson was one of the editors, and a story toward the back of the book was written by my uncle, Pleasant J. Buttry (we called him Uncle Pleas and he also went by Pat). His sister (Mary Lou’s mother and my aunt) Minda was a key character. Here’s Uncle Pleas’s story: (more…)

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Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen

I commend to your attention Jay Rosen’s blog post suggesting that news companies take the “full stack” approach to a media niche and Ken Doctor’s post examining newspapers’ chances of finally starting to grow revenue just enough to keep pace with inflation.

The posts don’t seem related. Jay looks primarily at digital startups, using legacy media mostly for contrast. He starts out talking about a “complete, end-to-end product or service that bypasses existing companies,” citing a post by Chris Dixon about the software industry.

But mostly Jay focuses on a single point of the full stack, suggesting that news organizations need “a full stack intellectually speaking.” I’d love to see Jay expand on that full intellectual stack, but he zeroes in further, on the very identity of news organizations: “That means defining the beat the way no one else defines it, and coming up with a mission that differs from the industry standard.”

It’s a thoughtful post and I recommend reading it. I’m going to take it in a different direction.

Ken Doctor

Ken Doctor

But first, a quick overview of Ken’s piece, which I also recommend. No one is taking a more detailed look at upheaval in the news business, particularly the newspaper business, than Ken is. This piece asks when (and whether) the newspaper industry can level out after being in a revenue free fall since 2007. Ken’s idea of leveling out is not just to stop losing revenue, but to keep pace with inflation, which Ken projects at 1 percent for 2015 (after a 2.5 percent loss for 2013; 2014 numbers aren’t out yet).

Ken speculates about the chances for growth in 2014 and 2015 in three areas: reader revenue, digital advertising and the “third stream,” an eclectic grouping of revenue sources such as commercial printing, events and marketing services (spoiler alert: He’s not optimistic).

So here’s where I stretch to relate (I hope) Jay’s full-stack thinking to Ken’s analysis of the newspaper industry’s chances to grow.

Let’s start with the point that newspapers were never a full-stack operation. We were at the mercy of newsprint companies, which many times in my career threw budgets into havoc with huge price increases. (I was always puzzled why we never developed a futures market in newsprint, letting companies lock in low prices and/or hedge against price increases.)

On the other end, we didn’t control delivery, turning that over to boys and girls (for the first part of my career) and adults (more later in my career) who were independent contractors. I remember feeling guilty when we would go to court to fight (successfully) against worker comp claims filed by teen-agers injured delivering our papers. When I was at the Kansas City Star and Times, we actually went to the Supreme Court in a battle with our carriers over who controlled our routes, then (after we lost) paid them millions of dollars to buy the routes back. And then we hired the carriers back as independent contractors. We wanted to own the routes, but we still didn’t want to deliver the papers.

I never was thinking about the full-stack metephor until reading Jay’s post, but much of my career, especially the past decade, I have been calling for newspapers to pursue a full-stack approach. In the 1980s (it might have been 1990), I unsuccessfully urged colleagues at the Kansas City Star and Times to follow the lead of cable TV companies and sell modems to customers of the StarText program we were testing, which offered stories to subscribers the night before they would appear in the newspaper. In those days before the World Wide Web, most computer owners (including me) didn’t have modems, and I thought we would have a much bigger audience by offering to sell and install modems for customers, rolling the cost into the subscription price, rather than just selling our service to those with modems. I don’t know whether my approach would have made StarText successful (it wasn’t), but it was my start of thinking about a bigger stack than newspaper executives were thinking of.

From 2005 to 2008, working on the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next project, which might not have been the full stack, but it called newspapers to think bigger about how they did business. N2 drew a lot of interest and several companies tried different recommendations of N2, but no one implemented the full stack of N2 recommendations.

In 2009, I published my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection, which was as full a stack of business ideas for a newspaper (or other community news organization) as I’ve seen from anyone. Again, the idea generated interest, but no one tried to implement it.

If that stack wasn’t quite full, I added to it later in 2009 with my suggestion for mobile-first strategy, in 2010 with my call  commissioned obituaries and other life stories and in 2011 with a long list of revenue ideas for newspaper companies.

In two recent jobs, I argued unsuccessfully that we needed stronger technology development operations, both to develop better tools for executing on a full-stack approach and because I was convinced that technology solutions for media companies following our paths would be another revenue important revenue source.

I’m not saying my ideas would have saved newspapers or would have been the path to prosperity for digital startups. I’m sure some of them would have failed.

What I am saying is that Ken’s discussion of potential revenue streams for newspapers is nowhere near the full stack that Jay is advocating or that news companies need to consider.

I may have been unduly pessimistic about the potential for revenue from subscriptions or paywalls. But I was exactly right in 2013 when I said new revenue streams hold more promise for newspapers than paywalls. Ken, who used to be a paywall optimist, now warns: “Don’t expect much growth in circulation revenue for full-year 2014” (he and the Newspaper Association of America both lump digital subscription revenue with print subscriptions). The private numbers I have seen on paywall revenue agree with his outlook.

Ken is more optimistic (but still kind of gloomy) about that “third stream,” which I was blogging about in 2013: “Growth in marketing services should be real, and ramping up, but it’s unlikely to throw off the big dollars needed for the up turnaround. The other new revenue sources are good, but won’t grow a lot.”

Doctor (and NAA, whose numbers he’s using) have a narrow view of that third stream. A full-stack company should pursue such revenue streams as transactions, events, commissioned content, technology solutions and far more. Ken’s right that the current third-stream efforts of newspaper companies won’t grow a lot. But you need a full stack of revenue sources beyond advertising and subscriptions. The sideline efforts we’ve seen so far aren’t nearly enough, but a full stack has great potential.

Ken is right in being pessimistic about newspaper companies’ chances of growing digital advertising revenue: “The industry may be lucky just to stay even in digital ads in 2014.”

Newspaper companies have done a lousy job of selling digital ads, as Ken notes: Only $3.42 billion in 2013, most of it bundled with print ads. Newspapers’ digital ads grew only 1.5 percent in 2013 and Ken doesn’t expect them to do much better (or even as good) in 2014 or 2015.

But digital advertising represents a huge opportunity for a full-stack media company: projected at $52.8 billion this year and growing at 13 percent annually, Doctor says. A full-stack company can pursue digital advertising more aggressively and more successfully than the abject failure of newspaper companies.

It may be too late for newspapers. I don’t anticipate anyone investing what it would take to pursue a full-stack strategy. But I think a full-stack strategy, correctly identifying your niche and mission, as Jay suggests, can be the path to success for digital startups or for legacy media willing to adapt to survive.

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T. Becket Adams of the Washington Examiner quoted me in a good story about using unnamed sources.

While the story focused on the New York Times, Adams did not specifically mention my encouragement that Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet should get angry about his newsroom’s excessive use on unnamed sources.

If you’re interested in the issue, I encourage you to read the Adams piece, which includes quotes as well from former Times Editor Bill Keller, Washington Post media bogger Erik Wemple (a former TBD colleague), Huffington Post media blogger Jason Linkins, Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan and Jack Shafer (who is joining Politico). I’m pleased to be included in such company, and recommend the story for a thoughtful overview of issues relating to unnamed sources.

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New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet sent his staff a detailed “Charting the Future” message to the Times staff that I call to your attention.

Public Editor Margaret Sullivan posted the note Monday, not long after I posted my call for Baquet to get angry about the Times’ use of unnamed sources. I didn’t notice it until today, but I want to call it to your attention if you also missed it.

I’m not going to go through the note in detail. It’s a comprehensive look at the year past, the Times priorities and the business and journalism challenges facing the Times newsroom. Baquet covered them all well in the note. Read it and you can understand why he leads journalism’s most important newsroom. This point particularly resonated with me:

Don’t allow the turmoil in the news business make you forget just how good we are, and that we are here to break big stories and ask hard questions of the powerful.

The message didn’t address unnamed sources (and perhaps that wasn’t the place to address it). I still hope Baquet will address that issue, which Sullivan has documented extensively.

But since this strong leadership statement became public so soon after my call for stronger leadership, I wanted to share my applause for Baquet’s vision for the future of the Times. I wish him success in leading the Times in pursuit of that vision.

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My chemotherapy has included strong doses of oral steroids the last four days, followed by interrupted sleep each night.

I fell asleep about 11 last night, after a couple days of watching, reading and listening to lots of tributes to the late Stuart Scott. I was back awake sometime after 2. Trying unsuccessfully to get to back sleep, flashes of his ESPY speech last night looped through in my memory:

These were the words that echoed in my head, eventually pulling me from the bed and toward the computer:

“When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”

In a Nov. 25 blog post, when I did not have my official diagnosis yet, but knew my body was filled with lumps that didn’t look good on the first scan, I wrote about different types of plagiarism. Here’s what I wrote about the origins of ideas:

The group that was writing Telling the Truth and Nothing But discussed whether theft of ideas was plagiarism. We decided it wasn’t but stated in the book that you should credit ideas that clearly influence your work:

Journalists should attribute the original, distinctive or seminal ideas of others when the ideas form a substantial basis for their own work.

Some ideas lead directly to other stories: You read a good story from another community and decide if the same thing is happening here and produce a story that’s entirely original in its content, but inspired by someone else. That story might not even have a place to smoothly attribute the idea. But you can include a “related link” to the original story. Perhaps you credit with a “hat tip” in social media or send the reporter an email, thanking her for the inspiration.

Other inspiration is more indirect. You see a story in other media and admire the story. You may think you should do something like that someday, but you don’t start working on your version yet. And when you do start your version, you may or may not remember the source(s) of your inspiration. Or maybe you don’t plan to do your version, but later events on your beat prompt you to do a similar story. You take the same approach, but you may not even remember where you got the idea. You may genuinely think it was your own.

I didn’t watch the ESPYs live last July, but I do think I heard the full Scott clip, and certainly the full speech, over the next few days. I don’t recall clearly thinking about the speech at all when, in November, I was also working on the early drafts of the post where I announced my second cancer diagnosis.

My post included these passages below, an echo/inspiration of Stuart Scott that I freely credit now:

Let’s get one thing straight: If Steve Buttry Cancer 2.0 doesn’t come out the way I’m hoping, I don’t want anyone saying I “lost a battle” with cancer. I kicked cancer’s ass back in 1999 and lived a wonderful 15-plus years since my first diagnosis. If my second round doesn’t end as well, I still won. …

My doctors and I expect me to beat this. But obviously I’m aware of the other possibility. If my death certificate someday lists cancer (whether it’s this lymphoma or something else that becomes 3.0) under “cause,” that’s just a late touchdown to keep me from running up the score.

The rest of the post recounted at some length highlights of the 15 years since my 1999 diagnosis and surgery for colon cancer: how I’ve lived since cancer.

Though I chose my own words and don’t remember any direct inspiration from Scott when I was writing and editing that, the shared themes of beating cancer, but recognizing that you might die from it eventually, are clear. That speech touched me in July, when my latest cancer probably was growing but not yet detected, and some thread of inspiration doubtless remained somewhere in my writer’s memory as I tried to articulate my own new experience. (more…)

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I don’t post a lot of lists of don’ts on my blog. I don’t think I’ve ever posted a list just of what not to do (please correct me if you remember one), though suppose I’ve probably tempered some tips posts with advice on what not to do.

Christoph Trappe, linked from Twitter avatar

Christoph Trappe, linked from Twitter avatar

I certainly could compile a list of journalism or social-media practices I don’t recommend, but I often think that someone smarter than me — or perhaps someone with different goals — could use those practices successfully. They may use the practice in a way that I couldn’t foresee or in a unique situation that turns the potential annoyance some people feel from that practice around, giving it appeal (or using the annoyance in a creative, positive way).

Christoph Trappe, a friend from Iowa, probably falls into both of the categories above — someone smarter than me, with different goals. I highly recommend his Authentic Storytelling Project and think it could benefit people in various fields of communication.

In a tweet last night, Christoph referenced a post from October about his Twitter pet peeves.*

I couldn’t exactly see what prompted his calling attention to an old blog post, but I’ve done it before (today, in fact), so I read with interest a post that slipped past me the first time.

I commend the post to your attention without endorsing all his peeves. I share Christoph’s annoyance at most of the practices he listed. For instance, I, too, am peeved when people send automated direct messages thanking me for following them (I welcome personal messages, though) or post only teasers and links. (more…)

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I have more advice for Dean Baquet: It’s time to pound a wall again. You need to get angry about the promiscuous use of unnamed sources by the New York Times staff and let your staff know that the practice is hurting your organization’s credibility and it has to stop.

Baquet generally doesn’t need my advice. Long before becoming Times Executive Editor, he had soared higher in the journalism stratosphere than I ever will. But Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan has identified heavy and lax use of unnamed sources as a serious issue for the newsroom.

And the Times did follow a bit of my advice later last year, when I called on it to a better job of linking, and got a bit of response, not from Baquet, but from Standards Editor Phil Corbett and Editor for News Presentation Patrick LaForge, who urged Times staff to link more and better (linking to me and citing one of my examples). So I’m trying again.

Baquet didn’t follow my advice last fall when I suggested that he should tweet more. His response was thoughtful and spurred a lot of discussion. But he still has tweeted only twice. I suggest a series of tweets on identification of sources. That should get their attention. That and a little fist-pounding.

I have long contended that newsroom conversations are more important than ethics codes when it comes to achieving ethical journalism, and the New York Times and unnamed sources are Exhibit A.

The Times’ 2008 Guidelines on Integrity state on the topic of “anonymity and its devices”:

The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers newsworthy and reliable. When possible, reporter and editor should discuss any promise of anonymity before it is made, or before the reporting begins on a story that may result in such a commitment. (Some beats, like criminal justice or national security, may carry standing authorization for the reporter to grant anonymity.) The stylebook discusses the forms of attribution for such cases: the general rule is to tell readers as much as we can about the placement and known motivation of the source. While we avoid automatic phrases about a source’s having ‘insisted on anonymity,’ we should try to state tersely what kind of understanding was actually reached by reporter and source, especially when we can shed light on the source’s reasons. The Times does not dissemble about its sources – does not, for example, refer to a single person as “sources” and does not say “other officials” when quoting someone who has already been cited by name. There can be no prescribed formula for such attribution, but it should be literally truthful, and not coy.

That’s a sound policy (though I’ll comment on it in more detail in an appendix at the end of this post).

A 2010 reminder to the staff from Standards Editor Phil Corbett demanded better explanations of the reasons for granting confidentiality to sources and reminded Times staffers of the policy about informing editors about who sources are.

The Times problem is not the policy, but the fact that the newsroom’s common practice doesn’t follow the policy. The Corbett note acknowledged that problem, and it continues egregiously, as Sullivan’s AnonyWatch posts this year have documented. In her Oct. 18 post, she wrote:

I launched a feature this year called “AnonyWatch,” intended to draw attention to the gratuitous use of unnamed sources, and I’ve written on this many times, to little apparent avail. The overuse of anonymous sources still flourishes in The Times.

Her year-end AnonyWatch roundup, published last week, should be embarrassing for the Executive Editor and his staff. Sullivan’s post says Baquet had planned to deal with the issue:

The executive editor Dean Baquet told me last fall that he was about to urge his department heads to quash such quotations, in keeping with the Times policy of using anonymous sourcing only as a last resort.

In that Oct. 18 post, Sullivan had this to say about that conversation:

I talked to the executive editor, Dean Baquet, about this subject last week, asking him why Times editors and reporters don’t follow the paper’s own written rules, which allow granting anonymity only as a last resort. He agreed that editors need to tighten up on this: “It is something we need to be more vigilant about.”

Mr. Baquet said that, until that point, he had not spoken forcefully to department heads about the practice but that he intended to do so at their next meeting. He said that the use of confidential sources is sometimes necessary and important. “They’re never going to go away,” he said, “but we need to limit it more than we do.”

Baquet took some heat, probably deserved, for a wall-slamming temper tantrum recounted by Politico in 2013, and I’ll bet he’s been practicing anger management pretty well, including probably at that department-head meeting, because the Dec. 29 Sullivan post documents more “ridiculous” use of unnamed sources.

A reader’s letter cited the Brooks Barnes story, When the Red Carpet Is Rolled Up, a story about Hollywood parties that included this passage:

‘Nobody really had time for me — it was all about the new people,’ she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she was afraid of looking bad.

If that didn’t or doesn’t generate a fist-pounding, wall-banging temper tantrum from the Executive Editor, he has taken his anger management too far. In fact the whole Sullivan post should be worth several bangs of the fist. If Times staffers showered like baseball teams do, I’d suggest an everyone-in-the-shower scare-em tantrum straight out of Bull Durham (see the video clip toward the end of this post). Times staffers aren’t kids and they are playing in the big leagues. But they have been lollygaggers of late in granting confidentiality to sources.

Baquet needs to set the bar for use of unnamed sources really high at the Times. Given what I presume to be a lack of showers and bats at the Times, I think a temper tantrum and some tweets should do the trick. He knows how to handle the temper tantrum. But, since I have a bit more experience on Twitter, I’ll provide some help.

You’re welcome to retweet these yourself, Dean. I’d be honored to be your first retweet(s). Just hit the little double-arrow box on the bottom line of the tweet, between the curved reply arrow and the star you’d use to “favorite” a tweet. But, flattering as RT’s would be, I’d suggest putting them in your own words (you’ll get a few more characters if you cut out my repetition of “@deanbaquet tantrum”). The points you make may differ from mine, but I will cheer them, as long as you get mad and address this embarrassment to your great newsroom.

I’ll suggest 15 tweets for you, then add more of my own to contribute more detail to the conversation I hope to start.

If you’d like some help from the Times staff in composing effective tweets, I recommend consulting with Daniel Victor or Karen Workman, two Twitter aces (and former colleagues of mine).

Here are the tweets I recommend, with a few notes by me added between some tweets:

Cut out my long lead-in there, Dean, and you’ll have room to add a link to Sullivan review, for any staff members who might have missed it in the holiday week, maybe even enough characters to add the “ridiculous reasons” phrase from the headline.

Just the process of writing these notes should deter lots of the promiscuity with confidentiality. I can’t imagine a reporter who wouldn’t burst out laughing in chagrin and searching for the delete key about halfway through the draft of the note to the editor explaining the importance of the Hollywood quote, the efforts to get it on the record and the reason for requesting and granting confidentiality.

Dean, your staff follows you on Twitter, even though you don’t tweet. Your silence on Twitter so far has set you up to grab attention when you finally tweet again, and this is a topic about which the Executive Editor of the New York Times needs to grab attention, with the public, the staff and journalists everywhere. A string of tweets about unnamed sources will resound through the newsroom and beyond louder than a fist pounding the wall or an armful of bats clattering in the shower.

More tweets about confidentiality

I think the suggestions above are plenty for me to offer for Baquet directly. The tweets below are simply more contributions from me to the conversation I hope he will start.(But, Dean, if you want to retweet any of them …) I will publish the post after I’ve added the tweets above, and will update this after each of the tweets, noting when I’ve finished the updates:

I should note that the story discussed in that link above was a highly competitive 1995 story the Times was working on, too. I kicked the asses of the Times, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and other competitors on that story. Pushing to get sources on the record can take time and cause you to fall behind stories when other organizations don’t follow the same standards. But you also can get outstanding stories they’ll wish they had.

 

Appendices to this post

I considered breaking this into two posts, but all these notes are related to the post above, so I decided to add them here, to make this an even longer post.

I welcome responses

First, I will be emailing have emailed Baquet, Sullivan, Corbett, LaForge and Barnes, inviting any or all of them to respond. I will add their responses if any do. I will add short responses here, but if anyone responds at some length, I will break them out into separate guest posts (as I did with Baquet’s response last year about Twitter), and link to them here. If Baquet responds in tweets, I will either embed them here or curate them in a separate post. If you see this before you receive my email or tweet inviting your response, consider this your invitation.

Sullivan is the first to respond publicly (thanks!):

Baquet told me by email that he’ll take a look, but has not responded after reading. Added late Jan. 5 from that original email: “I put you in that group that disagrees with me but wants the times to do what you see as better. So no worries,” Baquet said in that message. I will update if he responds further.

LaForge’s response: “Margaret covers this pretty thoroughly.”

Thanks to Sullivan (and a suggestion for the Times)

Next, I’ll add my appreciation to Margaret Sullivan for this brief passage in her AnonyWatch year-end review:

As I emphasize every time I write about this, anonymous (or confidential) sourcing is sometimes both necessary and important.

I have no idea whether this was a nod to my campaign to get journalists to start using
“confidential sources,” rather than “anonymous sources,” to describe the sources whose identities we know but choose not to publish. I made that case in some detail in a 2013 post already cited above, so I won’t repeat it here and didn’t want to detour the post above, but I want to note it here and thank Sullivan for using the term.

Jay Rosen tweets on unnamed sources

Next, here are some tweets from Jay Rosen about the issue of unnamed sources, which helped inspire this post, along with the Sullivan year-end review. Jay is a powerful and persistent voice on this issue:

The conversation continues on Twitter

I will update through the day with others’ tweets on the topic. I love this example:

Jay, of course, is continuing the conversation:

And others are weighing in thoughtfully, too:

Times Guidelines for Integrity

Again, here’s the passage on anonymity from the 2008 Times Guidelines for Integrity, this time with a few recommendations from me. My first recommendation is to change the heading of the section,”Anonymity and its Devices.” As noted in greater detail in the link above about my campaign to change how journalists discuss unnamed sources, in nearly all cases when we would use a source as anything more than a tipster, the sources are not anonymous to Times reporters. The reporters know them well but grant them confidentiality. The result makes the source anonymous to the reader, but I believe we further hurt our credibility by using the term ourselves when we vet these sources thoroughly. We don’t quote anonymous phone callers or Internet commenters whose identities we can’t learn, though we may use their tips to find information we can verify. Those are truly anonymous sources. So I’d change all uses of that word below. Here’s that section on”Anonymity and its Devices,” with other comments:

The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers newsworthy and reliable. (Buttry note: Just a digital update: print should be changed to publish.) When possible, reporter and editor should discuss any promise of anonymity before it is made, or before the reporting begins on a story that may result in such a commitment. (Some beats, like criminal justice or national security, may carry standing authorization for the reporter to grant anonymity.) (Buttry note: I like that this passage is shorter than previous Times policies. But I think it still needs a stronger statement about situations that justify confidentiality. My suggestion: Reporters should grant confidentiality in most cases as a path to obtaining on-the-record information, either from later persuasion with the source or using the source to guide you to documentation and/or sources who will speak for the record. Opinions have no validity without names. We should use only information from confidential sources, and only when we are confident they have firsthand access to that information. Factors to use in granting confidentiality or in using information from confidential interviews include whether the source is more or less powerful than those whom the information could hurt and whether the source is eager or reluctant to give information to the Times. Reliance on confidential sources does not lessen our responsibility to ensure the accuracy of our stories. In fact, the lack of accountability for unnamed sources increases the reporter’s responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the information. Any story submitted for publication that uses any information from unnamed sources should include a note to the editor explaining why the information is important to Times readers, how the reporter tried to get the information on the record and why the source requested and the reporter granted confidentiality.)  The stylebook discusses the forms of attribution for such cases: the general rule is to tell readers as much as we can about the placement and known motivation of the source. While we avoid automatic phrases about a source’s having ‘insisted on anonymity,’ we should try to state tersely what kind of understanding was actually reached by reporter and source, especially when we can shed light on the source’s reasons. The Times does not dissemble about its sources – does not, for example, refer to a single person as “sources” and does not say “other officials” when quoting someone who has already been cited by name. There can be no prescribed formula for such attribution, but it should be literally truthful, and not coy.

 

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Mark Briggs

Mark Briggs

If you want to give your career a boost, I can’t think of better advice than Mark Briggs gives in a Quill magazine article to work on side projects.

I encourage reading Mark’s Quill piece before reading my advice. He has had more success on side projects than I have, and provides excellent advice. My point here is to endorse and elaborate on Mark’s points.

I’ve been pursuing side projects for more than the past two decades. I didn’t get paid for them all and I can’t claim success in all of them. But I think they have boosted my career at least as much as the work I’ve done on my actual job responsibilities.

I’ll share some advice on pursuing side projects, but first, I’ll make four overall points about your real job, your life and the side projects:

  1. The primary job is your first work priority. You need to give your primary job responsibilities at least full-time attention. If side projects start causing you to shortchange your primary job, before a project is ready to support you and deserves full-time attention, that could harm your career more than your side projects help. I spent a week visiting Mark’s newsroom in Tacoma in 2007 and could see that he was tireless in his primary work and respected by his colleagues.
  2. The side project can be part of your primary job. As Mark notes in his piece, some of Google’s most successful projects started in the company’s requirement that employees spend 20 percent of their time developing ideas that aren’t part of their regular job. When the bosses are seeking volunteers for new projects, be eager to jump in. Or take the initiative by proposing something you can work on, either full-time as a short-term project or on the side for the longer term. The Des Moines Register hired me in 1998 and the Omaha World-Herald hired me in 2000 primarily for reporting positions. But in both cases, I negotiated to spend part of my time as a writing coach, a regular side project that eventually would propel me to a new full-time job.
  3. The side project can be completely separate. Let your bosses know what you’re doing and work out reasonable agreements about what you can or can’t do, what might be a conflict of interests and how much you can or can’t mix work with outside projects. An outside project or how you pursue it should never be a surprise to your boss.
  4. Family comes first. I like how Mark mentions working on side projects around family responsibilities and even involving his children in one. When our sons were home, I did most of my side-project work in the early morning, before they were awake. My side projects took off in our empty-nest years, and Mimi frequently comes along for travel related to my side projects, so the extra time I spend on them at home pays off with fun together (such as trips to Italy the past two years).

Now for some advice on pursuing and managing side projects:

Make daily progress

My side project from the early 1990s — a novel — was not a success, judging from the rejection letters I received from agents and publishers. It was never published and never will be. But I learned an important lesson in writing it: Daily progress pushes your project along.

If I had planned to write that book on weekends or occasional bursts of activity, I never would have finished. And when I tried to work on it in the evening, I was never getting around to it: dinner, kids’ activities, TV, end-of-the-workday collapse all pushed it aside.

I started making progress — and finished the first draft in six months — when I decided to wake up an hour early each day and write for a solid hour while the family was sleeping before hopping into the shower to get ready for work. The hour of progress that I made each morning propelled the project along (and the momentum from that daily progress pushed me to do more writing in evenings and weekends).

Mark also tells of writing his books, starting with Journalism 2.0, in the early-morning hours. He started writing two hours before it would be time to start waking up kids and getting ready for school and work.

Getting up an hour or two early might not be the key for your side project, or may not work (you might have to collaborate on your project with people who aren’t awake yet or interview sources working normal hours). But the point is important: Find a way to commit daily time and make daily progress on your side project.

I still do most of my work on my blog (more on that shortly) early in the morning before I turn to the responsibilities of my day job. I regard the novel as a huge, if unpublished, success because it taught me how to make daily progress on other projects. On the side projects that are part of my job, I try to make an hour or two of progress early in my workday, too.

Learn to promote yourself

Journalists tend not to be promoters. We tend to think our work should speak for itself. But your side projects might require some promotion. I encourage you to recognize the need to overcome your reticence and learn to speak up for yourself.

Promotion did not come easy to me, but my career as a journalism trainer never would have happened if I had not learned to promote my work, pushing past my personal tendencies and wishes every step of the way. I developed a flier (amateurish, I can see in retrospect, but it helped land my first few gigs and I got better), created a website, touted my services in conversations on a list-serv of newsroom trainers and published all my workshop handouts on the No Train, No Gain website, for which I volunteered to become content coordinator.

My willingness to learn promotional skills and take on something that didn’t feel natural propelled me from obscurity to prominence in newsroom training. I was learning and growing as a trainer and making good connections, but I couldn’t have moved to a full-time training position with the American Press Institute without doing the promotion as well.

Don’t undersell yourself

Pricing your services on a side project, such as consulting or freelance writing, can be a huge challenge. Your work has value, and you should charge clients in a way that reflects the value. But it takes a while to develop and learn the value, and to understand your market.

I started out charging $250 per day for writing and editing workshops in 1997 and ’98, probably less than my services were worth even starting out, but I needed to break into the market, get some experience and prove my value. I raised my rates steadily as I gained experience and prominence and was charging $1,000 a day (and getting more work than I got at $250 a day) by the time I joined API in 2005.

At API, our basic fee for a full-day on-site seminar for a news organization (usually on topics such as leadership, rather than writing and editing workshops, and often involving more trainers than just me) was $6,000. I worried about who would pay such high prices. But I found that I was able to line up plenty of clients by delivering strong programs, measuring the results and showing those results to clients. Meanwhile, I raised my rates for writing workshops on the side to $1,500, and the demand continued.

When we launched Newspaper Next, our president, Drew Davis, set the price for a one-day N2 seminar at $11,000 (or $18K for a two-day seminar). I was initially skeptical that we could book much business at those prices. But we had developed a good product that the newspaper business wanted, and an effective seminar to help organizations understand and use the product. I was able to book several dozen seminars for news organizations. The demand was stiff enough that Steve Gray, the full-time leader of N2, couldn’t handle all our bookings, and Elaine Clisham and I had to handle several seminars.

(On the other hand, after a busy 2007 presenting the seminars, demand waned and we could no longer continue booking at that cost and that rate.)

You can’t charge more for your services than the market will pay. But don’t undersell the value of your services. Test the market and adjust as you need to. But don’t apologize for charging for the value you deliver.

Understand the value of free

While I was learning to price my services, I also learned the value of generosity. When I was publishing all my workshop handouts on No Train, No Gain, clients occasionally would ask me how I could afford to give that work away. My response was that I couldn’t afford not to give it away.

I could have put all those handouts into a book and charged for it, and probably wouldn’t have made enough to cover my costs of publishing the book. And my book would have become outdated the next month when I developed a new workshop. Giving the materials away built my reputation and promoted my paid services much better than advertising in an industry magazine or website would have.

At the same time that we were charging $11K for a full-day seminar for newspaper companies, API sent me to dozens of press association conferences for just $100 plus expenses, to present a one-hour Newspaper Next overview. We were essentially giving away a glimpse of the program (and the full N2 report was available free). But those nearly-free promotional appearances resulted in most of those five-figure paid gigs.

I charge my full fee for most of my workshops and appearances, but I occasionally waive (or discount) my fees for nonprofit groups. I may do it for the promotional value or just to contribute to an organization I want to support. I’ve never regretted generosity, and I’m convinced that the services I have “given away” have helped my market value and my income.

Develop a distinctive voice

I have never been paid a nickel for this blog. But it may be the best — and best-paying — side project I’ve ever done.

I started blogging when I was a reporter at the Omaha World-Herald more than a decade ago, and continued blogging at API, then launched this blog in 2008 as editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette and have maintained it through three more jobs since then. Through that time, I was never hired to be a blogger and it was never my primary job. It was either a side project of my primary job or a side project outside the primary job.

This side project gave me a voice in discussions about where the news business was heading and how journalists needed to pursue the future. I used the voice in social media as well, and in guest pieces for several journalism magazines, reports, books and websites (each guest piece being a mini-side project in itself).

That voice I developed in the blog and other side projects propelled my career (including some nice pay raises) beyond what I could have achieved just from my primary jobs.

Personal note

Chemotherapy is my side project for the first half of 2015, so I have canceled speaking engagements and am curtailing other side projects. I will continue this blog (and worked on this post in the hospital), but blogging might also be sporadic.

What’s your advice?

I welcome you to share your experience with side projects as well, either in the comments here or in a guest post (email me at stephenbuttry at gmail dot com). What projects have you undertaken? How did they boost your career? What did you learn from your successes and mistakes?

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