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Archive for May, 2016

This continues my series on professional networking.

If you don’t think promotion should be part of journalism, I understand. I did little to nothing to promote myself or my work in the first 20-plus years of my career. And I had a good career: rewarding mid-level editor jobs and senior reporting jobs at metro newspapers, top editor of a smaller newspaper.

I can’t think of a single self-promotional thing I did for the first two decades of my career, unless you count some internal boasting in newsroom chit-chat or an occasional humble brag to make sure the boss knew my role in a story.

I didn’t do anything to actually promote myself (that I can recall) until 1997. And I think my career since has benefited greatly from self-promotion, and from overcoming a strong journalistic resistance to promotion.

I decided in 1997 that I wanted to train journalists and get paid for doing so. I thought I had something to teach journalists after all those years of work, and I thought I would like training, and I could use the money. And no one would know that I was available to do training if I didn’t promote myself.

So I developed my first website, promoting my training services and posting workshop handouts online. I was taking a web design class under Father Don Doll at Creighton University, and my website was all about me and my training services.

York News Times logoBut that was early in the history of the web and well before Google, so I also developed an amateurish flier promoting my services (design was never a strong suit of mine). I mailed that flier to newsrooms and press associations around the Midwest and landed three training gigs: with the York News-Times (a Nebraska daily not to be confused with the New York Times), the North Dakota Newspaper Association and the Minot Daily News. Since I was a former Minot editor and well known to the folks at NDNA, those gigs came through a mix of networking and promotion. But I didn’t know anyone at York, and that first training gig came from the amateurish flier. (more…)

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Einstein

One of journalism’s oldest clichés is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I had the desired initial reaction to the letter above, rejecting Albert Einstein for an associate professor position: I thought how cool it was that some pompous science professor with a Ph.D. after his name had been so condescendingly dismissive of the greatest modern scientific thinker.

And it was about when I was reading the last line, about Einstein’s thinking being artistic, rather than really about physics, that I wondered whether a Swiss professor would really be writing a German colleague in English. Snopes quickly provided the answer: No.

I’m not going to bother to embarrass the colleague who posted this on social media by naming him. He clearly has enough company that Snopes felt the need to check out the letter’s authenticity.

I recommend reading the debunking by Dan Evon. It’s a nice illustration of the various paths to verification you can use in any story. He found that the hoax was based on an actual fact: The University of Bern did reject Einstein’s initial application for a doctorate in 1907. But everything else was phony: the professor’s name and title, the letterhead, the language, even the image of a modern Einstein stamp.

You can repost interesting stuff like this on social media without checking if you want. And I’m not going to claim that I thoroughly vet every fun thing I’ve posted on social media. But social media, even personal accounts, are also good places for journalists to practice the skepticism that is the core of good journalism.

Especially if something seems too good to be true.

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This continues my series on professional networking.

One of the most offensive, discriminatory terms of the professional world is “the old boy network.”

I’ve blogged all week about the value of building and using a professional network to advance your career. But I need to acknowledge a sinister factor: The old boy network has long been a tool of racism and sexism, often unintentionally but still emphatically helping white men’s journalism careers to the detriment of women and journalists of color.

In Wednesday’s post, when I listed people whose connections have helped lead to jobs during my career, I certainly noticed that most were white men. To some extent that’s going to be true for most journalists, because white men are still disproportionately powerful, and the situation was more disproportionate in the 1970s, when my career started.

Some discrimination is intentional and inherently evil. But I think this aspect of discrimination is rooted in the fact that we all have natural affinities for people with shared experiences, and most people’s default settings will be to connect with people who share our own demographic experiences.

But diversity is important for the news business (beyond the fact that discrimination is wrong). If we are going to matter to diverse communities, we need diverse staffs and leaders. So journalists seeking to have successful careers, hire successful staffs and improve the news business need to make the effort to diversify our personal networks. And the truth is, as journalists we have extensive shared experiences on which we can build strong affinities, if we’re just honest enough to acknowledge those natural demographic affinities and let the professional experiences rule our default settings.

Effective networking that is diligent in preventing discrimination — except by such factors as experience, skills and work ethic — can be as effective in increasing diversity as the old boy network was in blocking it.

I’ve been aware of, and sometimes heavily involved in, efforts to diversify most organizations where I’ve worked. I encourage (and practice) efforts to diversify networks, and I know of women and people of color in leadership positions who have used their network connections to alert diverse candidates to opportunities and recommend them for jobs, somewhat offsetting the bias of the old-boy network (in which the word white was unspoken but very real). (more…)

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Guest-teaching at Northern Kentucky University, 2012

Guest-speaking at Northern Kentucky University, 2012

This continues a series on professional networking.

I don’t think I ever advertised my services as a journalism trainer. But my professional network brings business to me again and again.

I won’t try the same approach here as I used yesterday in explaining the value of my network in connecting me with new jobs, whether I was looking or not. I’ve had hundreds of training and consulting jobs since I decided to launch a side business of newsroom training in 1997, so I won’t detail the network role in all of them, as I did with full-time jobs. Instead, I’ll detail a few of the networking successes that have delivered multiple jobs.

Except for last year, when treatment for lymphoma took me off the road, I’ve made a five-figure second income most years since 2003 or so. I doubt if there was a single year when most of the gigs and most of the income didn’t come at least in part from network connections.

Though I really started in training as a continuing venture in 1997, my first gig was 12 years earlier at the St. Joseph News-Press and Gazette in Missouri. How that came about illustrated the importance of networking in such a pursuit: The St. Joe managing editor and Arnold Garson, my managing editor at the Des Moines Register, were at a meeting of the Associated Press Managing Editors together. The St. Joe editor mentioned to Arnie that he was interested in getting some newsroom training. Arnie thought I’d be good at that, so he dropped my name. I did well, and maintained the interest, though career opportunities took me in different directions for a while.

As my training career really took off in the early 2000s, networking provided opportunities time after time. Literally hundreds of opportunities came my way through my network. Here are how some of the major networking connections in my training career helped me: (more…)

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This continues my series on professional networking.

I credit my skills and hard work for most of the success I’ve achieved professionally. But my professional network has helped tremendously, too.

In this post, I’m going to run through the jobs I’ve landed and explain how my network helped me get most (but not all) of the jobs in my career:

Because my mother read the newspaper …

Chuck Offenburger, right, gave me my first job in journalism back in 1971.

Chuck Offenburger, right, gave me my first job in journalism back in 1971.

I was on a canoe trip in the summer of 1971, between my junior and senior years of high school, when my mother read a notice in the Evening Sentinel that Sports Editor Chuck Offenburger was looking for a sports writer. I didn’t know Chuck, and had no network connection to him. But Mom called the notice to my attention. I applied and I got the job (and Chuck and I remain friends).

But the network connection that mattered here was my mother. I’m not a fan of nepotism or family interference, which didn’t happen here. Mom didn’t even know Chuck. But she tipped me off to the first job of my journalism career. And Mimi has alerted two of our sons to opportunities that led to jobs for them. Listen to your mom. (more…)

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A few recent experiences have underscored the value of networking. I’ve seen student or professional journalists launch or advance their careers in part because of their strong professional networks. I’ve also seen student or pro journalists fail to seize valuable networking opportunities. And my professional network continues to bring me opportunities.

I’ve mentioned the value of professional networks in previous posts offering career advice. But I haven’t done a full post on networking yet. So today I start a series on the topic with networking tips. Wednesday I’ll detail how my professional networks have helped deliver most of the jobs in my 45-year journalism and teaching career. Thursday I’ll detail how valuable networking was been in my consulting career. Friday I’ll discuss the importance of a diverse network. Saturday I’ll cover how promotion, which overlaps with networking but isn’t the same, has helped my career.

The series might continue if other ideas occur to me or if colleagues offer to write guest posts. Yes, that’s an invitation to write such a post. I’ll elaborate at the end of this post.

Quality work matters most

I want to start this piece (and will conclude other parts of the series) with an important point that should be obvious, but sometimes isn’t: Networking is nowhere near as important as doing good work.

I’ve encountered some journalists who seem to be cynical about networking or sometimes are openly dismissive of it. They seem to think (or actually say) that their work should speak for itself, and regard networking as some form of ass-kissing or merely as schmoozing.

Your work should speak for itself. But that doesn’t help you unless someone is listening. Networking (with rare exceptions) isn’t a way for unqualified candidates or screw-ups to schmooze their ways to successful careers. And it has drawbacks, such as the “old-boy network” that favored cronyism (usually among white men) over qualifications. (More on diversity issues later in the series.)

If you network effectively, as a job-seeker or a manager responsible for hiring, networking means giving the candidate’s work a chance to speak for itself and the employer a chance to hear from good candidates.

If you’re good and have a strong network, you’re likely to have a more successful career than someone who’s similarly good but has a weak network. I’ve never given someone a job simply because of our connections, and I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a job simply because of connections. But connections have given me and people I’ve hired opportunities to show why we were the best people for jobs.

Make connections

This couldn’t be any simpler: A good professional network results from connecting with other professional journalists. You work for and with journalists in your internships and your first jobs who can help your career later. Professional journalists will speak at your university, and you’ll get a chance to chat and make an impression. You’ll have an opportunity to string a story for a professional media outlet, interacting with an editor in the process. You might attend a journalism conference such as the Online News Association or Excellence in Journalism conferences where students and professionals mix.

Seek out each such opportunity, whether it’s a genuine journalism experience or some grunt work (perhaps picking up the visiting journalist at the airport). You don’t know which connections are going to pay off for you when, so you should seize opportunities to make as many connections as you can.

ireconferencelogo180x700.3Organizations such as Investigative Reporters and Editors (meeting June 16-18 in New Orleans) and ONA (meeting Sept. 15-17 in Denver) provide discounted or complimentary registration for students who help with conference duties. Some will be simple work such as staffing a registration table. But some student work involves livetweeting or blogging about conference sessions for the organization’s website. I’ve been interviewed several times at conferences by students covering the sessions where I spoke.

And don’t just regard the professional journalists you meet as networking opportunities. Other students you meet at the conference are going to have journalism careers, too. Some might end up working some place you’d like to land or might climb the career ladder faster or in a different direction. All of them are potential references for the future, if not prospective bosses or job contacts.

Follow up

When you make a professional connection, you can follow up in a variety of ways. You don’t have to do all of these every time with every person you meet. You shouldn’t become a stalker or a pest. But you should stay in touch with people you interacted with meaningfully. Some ways to follow up:

Follow up by email. If you chatted with someone when you met, continue the conversation by email. Share a link, whether it’s your own writing or someone else’s, that relates to what you discussed. Ask a question (which usually will prompt a response). Don’t ask a favor yet, unless the person offered in person to help. If she did, refer to the offer in your request. If your in-person conversation identified a way you could help the other person, offer assistance yourself. That’s the first and best step toward a mutually beneficial relationship. I went to a conference earlier this month and am following up this week with the people I met there. All have the potential to be helpful in some decisions we’re making for LSU Student Media.

Twitter_logo_blueFollow on Twitter. The person might follow you back, which gives you the opportunity to exchange direct messages. If the person tweets something you find interesting, retweet or reply, so you’re continuing the conversations you started in person. If the person tweets links to his work, click on them and read or watch, so you’re more familiar with the person’s work. Tweet some praise about the best work. Or ask a how’d-you-do-that question in a tweet.

Facebook logo copyFriend on Facebook (maybe). If you feel as though you really became friends in your first connection, send a friend request. This gives you a chance to be in each other’s social conversations regularly and continue the friendship. If your connection was pretty brief and not personal, I don’t recommend friending on Facebook (though you might subscribe to public posts or like someone’s professional page, and comment occasionally, which helps you move toward a friendship).

Follow professional work. After you’ve met someone, pay attention to her work, if the person’s work is easily available online. If you comment on a blog, tweet praise about a story or email a compliment about a video, that helps build your relationship and helps you stand out from all those other students or young journalists the veteran may know. It also helps you understand the journalist’s work and how she might be helpful to you in the future.

Share mutual interests. Your initial contact was probably professional in nature, but might have covered some personal interests, too. Address some of those personal matters in follow-up conversations, particularly if you share some interests. I recently attended a conference with a colleague who is, like me, a Yankee fan, specifically a fan of Bucky Dent and the 1978 Yankees. In the conversation, I told him I blog about the Yankees. In a follow-up email, I shared some links from my blog to posts about Dent and other members of the ’78 Yankees. Because I was pretty public about my cancer treatment, and have tweeted a lot about travel delays, people can (and do) easily make our relationships more personal by asking about my health or referring to me when they tweet about their own travel woes. Don’t force a friendship or fake interests that aren’t genuinely mutual. But if you can naturally expand the conversation beyond the professional, you’re headed toward an actual friendship.

Ask questions. As I mentioned when discussing Twitter above, asking a journalist how he or she did something outstanding is a great way to deepen a relationship. That starts turning a person from a journalist you met somewhere into a mentor. If you’re working on a story that involves data analysis, and you’re struggling a bit, and you read an excellent data story recently by a journalist you met at a conference, email asking if he has a few minutes to answer some questions. You chat by phone or email or Skype, and the veteran helps you do a better story. You publicly thank the journalist on social media when you share the link and perhaps he tweets a link to the story with some praise. And your network connection is growing in value.

Networking isn’t one-way

Your professional network isn’t just a matter of making connections with more experienced journalists who can help you right now or in the near future, though that’s important. As I mentioned above, peers can be important, too. And when you get to be a veteran of my age, younger journalists can be important network connections.

Jim Brady is more than a decade younger than I am. I won’t repeat here the story about how we developed our network connection over digital media, but that effort to connect with a younger colleague resulted in two different jobs working for Jim.

In my first job working for Jim, the people I hired included two young journalists who had earlier made effective network connections with me, Mandy Jenkins and Jeff Sonderman (again, I’ve blogged before about how they made those connections). Well, they’ve both risen to important positions, Mandy as News Director at Storyful and Jeff as Associate Director at the American Press Institute, where either or both might be helpful professionally in the future to me and/or my students. In fact, at this point in my career, they are probably more useful to my students and me as network connections than I am to them.

A few years ago, I interviewed and later offered a job to Alexis Grant, a recent college graduate who was starting her journalism career after a year traveling in Africa. She didn’t take the job I offered her. But we stayed in touch (she guest-blogged for me once) as she launched her career and became successful. Well, I’m still far more experienced than Alexis, but that network connection worked both ways, and she’s hired me to do some training for her staff later this summer.

Help others

Networking can’t be a one-way relationship. If you help other professionals, whether peers or people who (for now) are above you in the journalism chain, it’s bound to help you professionally. Your reward may not be a direct, observable result of one favor resulting in one job interview, but being helpful is good for your reputation, and I think it comes back to help you even more. Some of the most successful journalists I know are some of the most helpful, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

In my view, one of the most self-serving things a journalist can do is help other journalists.

Say thanks

When someone helps you, whether it’s a small favor such as answering a question or spending a few moments with you at a conference, or a huge favor such as helping set up a job interview, say thank you. Say it in person or say it in an email or both. Say it publicly in social media. If it was a big enough favor, a handwritten thank-you card is probably more meaningful than ever in this digital age. People remember colleagues who are grateful. And those who aren’t.

Other posts in this series

How networking helped land most of my jobs

How networking built my training and consulting business

A professional network should be diverse

Tips for helping your career through promotion

Want to write a guest post?

You may have some experience in networking that would add to this series. If you’d like to write a guest post, please email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.

Interested in a networking workshop?

The posts in this series can be developed into a workshop or series of workshops for you journalism organization or university. If you’re interested in discussing or scheduling a workshop on networking (or some other topic), please email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.

 

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Finding local stories in national and international news isn’t always easy. But many big stories have local angles, and the news organizations that make the effort can tell important local stories that the community will be talking about.

The local people with personal ties to these stories don’t appear in the places you routinely find news: You won’t hear these stories on the scanner or see them on agendas or police blotters. But they are the biggest news of the day, sometimes the biggest of the year, in small circles of your community. And you often can learn of the stories with a few calls or social media inquiries. And the stories are worth the effort.

This post was prompted by Howard Owens. In an argument on Twitter yesterday that was mostly about other matters, Howard made this statement:

I knew that Howard’s statement was bullshit because for five years, a major part of my job was localizing national stories, and it was important work in other jobs as well. Localizing big stories produced lots of good stories for my newspapers, with lots of real local angles. But good localizing isn’t always easy, and some journalists or news organizations move on too quickly, missing good stories. (more…)

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New York Times storyI have written occasionally here about objectivity and humanity in reporting.

I call your attention today to an excellent piece on the topic by John Leland of the New York Times: Attached: When Reporting and Caring Are Intertwined.

The story inspires me to propose this ironclad rule of journalism ethics: It’s always OK for a journalist to change a light bulb for a source. (Read the piece; you’ll understand.)

Leland wrote at one point:

Once, when Fred started crying in the middle of an interview we were videotaping, I didn’t hug him, even though I wanted to. Some boundaries held.

I, too, have resisted the urge to hug when someone cried during an interview. Sometimes what the person says while crying or after the tears stop is an important part of the interview. But I did put my arm around a woman who was crying and embracing a huge portrait of her dead daughter during an interview about the girl’s suicide. At that point, the woman needed an arm on her shoulder and needed someone to steer her back to the couch, and I was the only person around.

I think I have otherwise refrained from initiating hugs with sources. But I have interviewed people about a lot of intimate topics. If a source wants to end such an interview with a hug, I join in the embrace.

Reporters get some of our best stories when we ask people to cross the boundaries they usually maintain around personal matters. That’s no time for the reporter to get fussy about boundaries.

Some of my earlier pieces on objectivity and humanity:

Humanity is more important and honest than objectivity for journalists

Journalists shouldn’t hide behind a mask

The heart: one of journalism’s best tools

Storytelling in journalism: No estoy muerta (I am not dead)

Journalism ethics don’t (always) require us to be assholes

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CJR storyNearly 20 years ago, Bridget Hegarty gave me one of the best interviews of my career. This past Christmas Eve, she paid me one of the best compliments of my career.

Often journalists don’t learn about the impact, good or bad, of our reporting on the people we write about. A beat reporter will hear criticism or praise from regular sources. And sometimes we’ll hear some feedback right away. But journalism about personal stories is often a hit-and-run activity. Especially if you move as frequently as I have in my journalism career. I moved to another newspaper less than two years after writing about Bridget, and I never expected to hear from her again.

Generally I sort of presume that good stories have a good impact, if any, on the lives of good people I write about. And maybe I don’t want to know if that’s not true.

I interviewed Bridget for a story the Omaha World-Herald published Nov. 17, 1996. I told the stories of six women who had experienced difficult pregnancy situations, and their decisions to have an abortion or give birth. Bridget decided to have an abortion when she got pregnant after being raped.

The story stands out as one of my best and most challenging in about 15 years as a reporter. A few years ago, I was blogging updated lessons from my old stories. I’d usually post a story, with lessons sprinkled throughout, both timeless journalism lessons about writing and reporting and updated observations about how I might do the story differently today using digital tools and skills.

I had persuaded Bridget and the other women in the pregnancy story to speak for the record back in 1996. But in those pre-Google days, that didn’t mean that a story about abortion or a problem pregnancy might show up whenever anyone searched the internet for your name. So I just used initials of the women when I posted in 2013 on updated lessons from the story about difficult pregnancies.

The post didn’t get much interaction, but now it was there on the web for Google to find. Bridget couldn’t find it looking for her name and searching for your initials is pretty pointless. But this past December, she wanted to find some information about the abortion clinic where she was a patient (and later a staff member). So when she Googled that, she found my post. And she wanted to reconnect, to tell me what the story meant to her.

Soon she found my professional Facebook page. And she messaged me:

You left a permanent imprint in my mind and heart that has never left me since the day you interviewed me that I will always cherish. You helped give what happened to me a voice. It was a voice that I can now use, and do use every day of my life. You gave my voice confidence and reassurance when I thought that part of me was gone forever. I have always wanted to thank you for that!

I fought back tears as I read the message. What Bridget couldn’t know was that she wrote me on a discouraging day, my 24th straight day in the hospital, Dec. 24, and the day I learned I wouldn’t be getting out to spend Christmas at home (I got out the 26th). My stem-cell transplant had been successful, but my blood counts were not yet high enough to release me. I was pouting and petulant when the message arrived, and it immediately picked up my spirits.

Bridget and I messaged back and forth on Facebook and email and eventually chatted by Skype. When I had recovered enough to travel, I met her in Omaha in late February and interviewed her again.

That interview resulted in a story for the Columbia Journalism Review about Bridget’s voice and the journalism ethics principle of giving voice to the voiceless, which posted today.

I don’t have a lot to add here on my personal blog, except thanks to Bridget for her kind words, for sharing her story in 1996 and for today’s story about the personal impact journalism can have.

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Displays at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum recount the arrest, trial and execution of terrorist Timothy McVeigh.

Displays at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum recount the arrest, trial and execution of America’s most infamous terrorist.

The front page of the Daily Oklahoman, displayed in the museum.

The front page of the Daily Oklahoman, displayed in the museum.

OKLAHOMA CITY — We treat hate these days as something benign. Presidential candidates and their legions of supporters defend hatred as preferable to “political correctness,” whatever that is, as if those were the only alternatives. The dangers we face all look and dress differently and speak with accents, so it’s shrugged off as OK to fear and hate those who look and dress and speak differently.

Walk through the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, and you remember how hateful our own can be. If you ever forgot. I haven’t. I can’t.

I was here in the aftermath of Timothy McVeigh’s and Terry Nichols’ hate crime. I felt the grit and grief that filled the air still days after their bomb devastated this city. I interviewed spouses and siblings and parents of the Americans killed by American terrorists on April 19, 1995. I walked through the museum and the outdoor memorial this week for a second time. My first visit was in 2001, shortly after the museum opened. I am back for a conference of student media managers.

The first time I visited, the killer received scant attention. McVeigh’s trial was under way and Nichols had not yet been tried. The museum focused on the devastation, on remembering the dead, on the rescue and recovery attempt, on healing and peace. Nearly 20 years later, the museum is still outstanding and still does those things. But it also tells the stories, in a frank and necessary way, of the investigation, arrests, trials and sentences.

I have not yet visited the 9/11 Memorial, though I will make time for it on my next visit to New York. Both places necessarily honor the dead and are important tributes for Americans to visit. But Oklahoma City feels more important, more necessary, to me. We don’t need help fearing foreigners. But this memorial and museum remind us how malignant homegrown hate can be. (more…)

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Image linked from BrutallyHonest.org

A journalist doesn’t need superpowers. But if you excel in a particular skill that’s in short supply, you won’t be one of those journalists whining about pay. Or if you do whine, that will be just to maintain your secret identity.

Mark Stencel and Kim Perry produced an outstanding (but perhaps daunting) report for the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurialism, Superpowers: The digital skills media leaders say journalists need going forward.

The report could be intimidating or discouraging for a senior journalism major still looking for a job as graduation approaches or for a veteran journalist still stinging from a layoff and wondering what’s next.

The report notes the skills desired in an ad for a multimedia reporter at the Belleville News-Democrat, an Illinois newspaper with print circulation of less than 60,000 and just over 9,000 Twitter followers. The ad, Stencel and Perry noted, sought:

someone capable of ‘shooting videos and learning how to produce interactive graphics,’ plus a willingness ‘to use social media as part of the daily beat routine.’ Oh, and ‘database journalism skills are a plus’ too, the editors added.

And I’m going to speculate that the position pays less than Jimmy Olson makes.

I have a little experience hiring journalists in the digital age, as well as looking for jobs. I don’t have any super powers. I don’t think I could leap over my suitcase in a single bound. But I’ve assessed the value of journalists with impressive but incomplete skill sets, and I’ve managed to maintain some value in the job market. So I want to share some thoughts on “Superpowers,” both the Tow-Knight Center report and the job skills it addresses. (more…)

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Teresa Schmedding transformed the American Copy Editors Society. Newspapers will miss her leadership, but ACES won’t, because ACES has adapted to the changing landscape better than newspapers have.

Teresa is leaving newspapers to become managing editor of Rotary International. Her move says something about journalism on two counts:

  1. Newspapers are losing too many valuable contributors.
  2. Editing skills remain valuable, even if newspapers no longer value them.

I first met Teresa about a decade ago, when I was leading a seminar for news editors and copy desk chiefs at the American Press Institute. Someone recommended her to me to lead one of my sessions, and she did an outstanding job. I can’t remember the exact topic, but I think it dealt with copy editors’ role in the changing digital environment. What I remember was that she was an excellent teacher and struck the exact right tone for an editing workshop: upholding standards but not fussing over trivial points. (more…)

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