Thursday, April 30, 2009

Oh, The Irony...

The Newspaper Association of America has been in the forefront in the battle of showing the continued relevance of having a print product in an industry that continues to move toward online products with warp speed. Earlier this month, NAA published a roundtable discussion

"Try to count the number of times a death knell has sounded for the print newspaper, and you’ll quickly run out of fingers," said the report. "Despite continued rumors of its impending demise, print still accounts for the overwhelming majority of revenue at most newspaper companies. It also plays an important role for readers."

So how ironic is it that not only has NAA laid off 50% of its staff and -- wait for it -- decided to stop print production of its magazine Presstime, according to Editor & Publisher. 39 staffers are gone, with 43 remaining. The last print Presstime will be next month's issue.

Like dozens of print publications across the country, NAA blamed the move on advertising revenue declines, and publisher
that offered 10 experts' views on how to reinvent the print newspaper. Su-Lin Cheng Nichols said the move to an online-only magazine is "very much in line with the changes our members are making to their own businesses." But NAA says it will still lobby on behalf of newspapers on Capitol Hill, along with helping member boost their readership and increase ad revenues.

This is a strong message being sent out by the association that was created to represent the interests of print newspapers. Which is why NABJ's advocacy of traditional and emerging new media are all the more important. As someone who has fully embraced new media, my goal as Region II Director for the NABJ board would be to reach out to innovators in the field of new media and form partnerships that could create jobs and opportunities for its members.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Is Hyperlocal Coverage a Potential Savour for Print Journalism?

I have attended and spoken at BlogOrlando for the past 2 years. One of the tracks at this unconference was Journalism. One of my favorite sessions was "Hyperlocal: It Ain't Chicken Dinner." It was a lively discussion by Chuck Welch, owner of Lakeland Local and Tommy Duncan, from Tampa's Sticks of Fire on the joys and pains of making the move to hyperlocal. Hyperlocal sites have been hyped (forgive the pun) as an alternative for journalists who have lost their jobs in print, broadcast and radio. And then the New York Times decided to weigh in on the matter in an April 12 story. Hyperlocal sites tend to target small slices of community, focusing on things including crime statistics, local school sports and local home sales. B the problem with these types of sites is also what makes them so successful -- the sites cover such a relatively small area it's hard to attract the funding needed to operate them profitably. But there appears to be some hope for the model. The article profiles Adrian Holovaty, who founded Chicago-based EveryBlock after working at The Washington Post. Holovaty was among those sharing in a $1.1 million grant from the Knight Foundation to create Every Block sites in 11 cities across the United States. The NABJ board should look at ventures like hyperlocal sites as potential career options for members. As Region II Director, I would encourage the board and local chapters to reach out to hyperlocal sites for partnerships, training and jobs. These days, we need to reach out to any source that could help our members continue their journalism careers.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Journalists Creed - Still Alive and Well

The other day, I attended an industry-related event at the National Press Club here in Washington, D.C. I attend events there regularly, and every good journalist in D.C worth his/her salt knows about the free taco bar happy our on Fridays.

But I digress. As I was waiting for my elevator, I noticed an engraved plate with the Journalists Creed. In all the years I've been going to the Press Club, I never noticed it was there. The creed was written by Walter Williams, the first dean of the Missouri School of Journalism.

We have all been bombarded with the sea change that journalism is currently experiencing, but the creed (printed below) reminded me of one thing -- that despite all the changes, our chosen career is still alive and relevant in today's world. The only real change is how our content is delivered.

As NABJ members continue to practice their journalism careers, it's good that we have this reminder of why we chose the career in the first place.

I believe in the profession of journalism.

I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.

I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one's own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another's instructions or another's dividends.

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.

I believe that the journalism which succeeds best -- and best deserves success -- fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today's world.

Friday, April 24, 2009

How the Chicago Tribune Has Become a Social Media Pioneer

I had such a good time with the Twitter post from yesterday that I've decided to keep on the theme of social media as we go into the weekend. I am a big fan of the Mashable blog, which has become an invaluable virtual sherpa for those trying to navigate the waters of social media.

Today's post follows the efforts of Colonel Tribune (on Twitter at @ColonelTribune and on Facebook) -- aka Daniel Honigman -- to be the social media voice of the Chicago Tribune. I am a follower of the Colonel on Twitter and Honigman's official title is Social Media Strategist.

The Tribune created the colonel in 2008 to try out content sharing and strategies. He evolved into becoming a "touch point" for the newspaper and its voice on the web. He now holds regular Tweetups with his followers in Chicago. Honigman told Mashable that sees the future of news reporting going a different way. Tools like Twitter allow for "micro-level connections" with a newspaper's end user - the reader. "You must learn to embrace your audiences, wherever they are. How will you do that? However you can,” he told Mashable.

I have reaped the benefits of my own efforts to reach out to my reader base and beyond. I know who my readers are, but with my social media outreach, I've been able to expand my base further. And Honigman has a good point on how to do that. What works for me may not work for you, so it does take some exploring to get the right balance.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

To Tweet or Not To Tweet? That Is The Question

I have participated in conversations on the NABJ list serve on whether journalists (or people, for that matter) should be on Twitter. But after I read New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's interview with the Twitter founders -- which turned into her own Twitter snarkfest -- I felt like weighing in on the discussion.

I began Tweeting in September 2008 as an experiment. I was attending the yearly conference for the industry I used to cover. I thought I'd do some quick observations, preview stories and let people know about my show blog posts. But a funny thing happened -- I became addicted.

And now I can't remember what my life was like before Twitter. I have a personal account (@benetwilson), a work account (@bizavweekly) and one I set up for my NABJ Region II Director candidacy (@benet4nabj). I use the work account to push my stories and blog posts and chat with like minded aviation/aerospace and social media types.

The best result I've received from being a Tweeting journalist are the great tips, actual stories and blog posts I've written thanks to my 909 followers (as of 1:30 p.m. today). These days, journalists need all the tools they can get to make themselves relevant -- and less likely to be laid off. I attribute my willingness to embrace these tools as the reason I was promoted in December even as my company, like many others, has had job cuts.

And Twitter doesn't have to take up your life if you have the right tools. First, I could not live without TweetDeck, which helps filter out the noise (such as: I'm on the subway, I wish it would go faster). I also use Topify, which helps me quickly decide who I will and will not follow. These tools have helped Twitter become a natural part of my writing process.

It's important for NABJ members have access to tools like Twitter, and I'm heartened to see that ths year's conference in Tampa Bay has several classes that will discuss this important topic, including my own panel: Tools You Need To Be A New Media Journalist. As Region II director, finding ways to pass these tools on will be a top priority for me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Can the Pay-To-Play Model Work for Print/Online Journalism?

From March 2006 through December 2008, my beats covered, among other things, airports and aviation security, including the Transportation Security Administration. One of the people I interviewed regularly was Steven Brill. Brill is known for founding Court TV, American Lawyer magazine and Brill's Content magazine and teaching journalism, among other things. After the 9/11 attacks, he created a company -- Verified Identity Pass -- which ran the Clear registered traveler program. Travelers currently pay $199 a year, go through a security check and can use special Clear security lines in 20 U.S. airports.

Brill recently stepped down as CEO of Clear, and when I interviewed him, he indicated that he wanted to explore different projects, including looking at new business models to monetize the content newspapers and online publication are giving away for free.
So now I read in the New York Times that Brill -- along with Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and Leo Hindery Jr., who has headed communications companies like Tele-Communications Inc., Global Crossing and the YES Network -- have created Journalism Online L.L.C., which will offer tools to publishers that will allow them to charge for online content. We have all heard the pontification on how the current models don't work as more people move online to get their news content -- content that, in most cases, they expect to get for free. The idea sounds good on paper. A reader would go to, as an example, the Baltimore Sun to read a story on its web site. After the reader reached a certain point, Journalism Online L.L.C would step in at that point, asking for payment to see more of a story. But if you're like me and read many different sites, you'd go directly to Journalism Online's web site and pay a one time fee -- Brill said $15 a month -- to read an unlimited amount of stories. I'm all for models that help monetize the content we all work hard to get and get paid to produce. But I have questions about this new model, including:

  • What incentives are there for a newspaper/online publication to participate?
  • How many publications would need to participate to make the venture viable?
  • How will the venture wean enough people away from the vast amount of free content out there to make money?
I could go on, but you get the point. And Brill tried this back in 2000 with, which was created to sell information sources including books, e-books, magazines, pay-per-view articles, broadcast transcripts, research reports, dissertations, speeches, and legal documents, according to Information Today. But the venture shut down after only 14 months, after Brill said in a memo that we simply were unable to entice enough people for us to see our way to a viable enterprise.

I'm for anything that will bring in the money and stem the tide of job losses in our industry. And I'm sure the partners in Journalism Online will answer these questions and more as the venture moves forward. It's important for NABJ to play a role in ventures such as this as a way to support its members.
One of my goals as NABJ Region II Director is to work with the board to cast the net much wider to make sure our members are included in any ventures that could save -- and even create -- more jobs.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If NY Times Loses Money, What Does It Say for Other Papers' Prospects?

I know, I know -- we're all sick of hearing bad news about journalism. The latest bit came out this morning when the New York Times released financials for the first quarter--it lost $74.5 million and saw advertising revenue plummet 27%, reports BusinessWeek. The company blamed most of the losses on employee buyouts and continued red ink from the Boston Globe (and the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette. That has only fueled rumors that the Times Co. wants to sell the Globe, reports the Boston Business Journal.

Among the measures CEO Janet Robinson announced to stem further losses included:
  • $330 million in cost-cutting measures;
  • A temporary 5% pay cut for most employees;
  • Suspended the company stock dividend; and
  • Sold most of its headquarters for $225 million covered the analyst call, noting that Robinson discussed issues including: continuing to focus on the advertising model; hope that discussions on concessions from the Boston Globe will move forward; and advertisers continuing to save their dollars in the first half of the year.

So if the Times is being hit with losses, one can only wonder what the prospects are for other newspapers moving forward?

Questions & Answers on my Region II Director Candidacy

On Saturday, I had the chance to present my candidacy for NABJ Region II Director before the Baltimore chapter - the Association of Black Media Workers (ABMW). After a week of bad weather, Saturday turned out to be a warm, sunny day, so the turnout was low -- but I wasn't hating! There were four of us in attendance, and it allowed for more conversation about issues of importance to members including future job prospects, the role of NABJ in the rapidly changing journalism field and what can be done to ensure journalists of color are not left behind. Specific topics addressed included:
  • Having chapters/regions to be more interactive with members;
  • Boosting efforts to increase chapters' membership;
  • Tapping regional directors to better serve as a bridge between local chapters and the board;
  • Offering a Region II conference and quarterly webinars on topics of interest to the membership; and
  • Ensuring more is done to offer training/advice/learning for members trying to adapt to new business models.
My emphasis has been to offer NABJ members the tools they need to adapt and thrive in the new media landscape. The traditional lines between print, radio and broadcast journalism are blurring at a record pace.

I earned my degree in broadcast journalism from American University back in 1985. While in school, I worked at the campus television and radio stations, and I also was editor of the black student union newspaper. I ended up being a print journalist.

But with all the changes in journalism, I now consider myself a multimedia journalist, since I am now a writer, a blogger, a podcaster, a photographer and a videographer. I have worked hard in the past three years to get the skills I need to keep and thrive in my job.

NABJ has been working to do the same for its membership, but the potential to do even more is there. As Region II director, one of my goals will be to ensure that the board work with chapters to offer more training options across all segments and all sides -- journalism, education and public relations/public affairs -- of the industry, including more help for those who may want to start their own businesses.

Tough times call for tough measures and -- I hate to use the cliche -- thinking outside the box. With so many running for election for the first time this cycle, NABJ and its board have the chance to rethink how we do business moving ahead. And I am determined to be a part of that process with my candidacy for Region II Director.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Interesting Trends in Journalism

I have always taken a keen interest in the latest innovations in journalism. I'm especially interested these days as we all continue to be bombarded with stories on the end of journalism as we know it. I've had the chance to read a few articles that show some sparks of innovation.

First up is an experiment being done by Canada's National Post.
The Toronto-based newspaper is the first in North America to use a 2D barcode that allows readers to scan the printed paper with a mobile device to get updated digital content, reports Editor & Publisher. The cool thing is that while the 2D barcode is free, the newspaper can also use it to do contests and handle advertising, which both can boost revenue.

I was fascinated by this article in the Nieman Journalism Lab blog on what newspapers must do to grow their online news share market. Writer Martin Langeveld actually proclaims that "print is still king."

Langeveld admits that print newspaper readership continues to decline and the
Pew Research Center for People and the Press found that for the first time, more people get their news from the Internet. But then he says something controversial among print journalists: "newspapers are in no position to charge for content, with the possible exception of high-value niche content in limited circumstances."

I can see his point. Like it or not, readers have become addicted to getting the news for free. Yes, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have been able to make money with their paid sites, but they established them as paid models from the beginning and never wavered. Obviously, people must value the content in these two publications, since they are still in operation.

Langeveld does offer solutions to newspapers, including:
  • Blow up the organization by breaking up the enterprise, and the newsroom itself, into a series of interacting functional units that each operates in startup mode;
  • Figure out social networking: Take the leap into Web 2.0;
  • Rethink the entire content flow: Get away from the focus on a daily cycle of story production; and
  • Outsource the irrelevant: To operate nimbly in the digital world, you can’t be distracted by the business of printing, packaging and distributing.
NABJ has an important role to play in helping not only print, but all of journalism make the transition to ensure that we all still have the capacity to report the news and have viable job prospects in the future. The board has worked hard to do both, but as the jobs continue to go away, we all must do more.

Steps have been taken with the creation of the Media Institute, the series of regional NABJ conferences on multimedia (including this one May 30 in New York) and the emphasis on learning new skills at this year's annual NABJ conference in Tampa. I've been a working journalist for more than 20 years. I have worked hard to upgrade my multimedia skills -- mostly at my own initiative -- and been a vocal advocate for my brethren to do the same. I plan on bringing that passion to the NABJ board if elected Region II Director.

What If Kindle Replaced Newspapers?

One of my Twitter (@benet4nabj) media followers passed along an interesting blog post from the Media Nation blog. The April 17 post: Re-Kindling The Globe. In it, writer Dan Kennedy wonders what would happen if the troubled Boston Globe got rid of its print edition and handed out Amazon Kindle readers to its subscribers instead?

Kennedy uses The Globe's Sunday circulation numbers of around 400,000 for those receiving home delivery. "What if you gave every one of those households a free Kindle in return for a three-year, seven-day subscription to the Globe?" he asked. Using his math, the Globe would buy 400,000 Kindles for $300 a piece, which would cost $120 million. The Globe already charges $1o a month for its Kindle edition, Kennedy continued. "If it extracted that from 400,000 households, it would come to $48 million a year in guaranteed income for three years. (And I'm not so sure you couldn't charge double that.)," Kennedy wrote. "After that, subscriptions would renew automatically once a year, which is how the few online news organizations that charge for online access (the Wall Street Journal, The New Republic) handle it."

I am a 45-year-old woman who used an electric typewriter on her first journalism job, and I'd take this deal. It beats my current alternative, watching my local newspaper pile up in the yard because my partner refuses to give it up despite the fact he never reads them.

We've all seen the surveys about how the numbers of those actually reading a print newspaper continue to drop. My 65-year-old dad will read his newspaper until the bitter end; my 21-year-old cousin will never touch a paper, preferring to use his iPhone.

I think we all agree that what we do as journalists is worth paying for. The trick now is to find new ways to monetize what we do so that we can all keep our jobs, and more importantly, serve as an independent watch dog. NABJ should be among the players in the forefront to ensure that journalists of color are part of this new business model. This one of several areas I will advocate for if I am elected Region II Director for the NABJ board.

Coming to an Event Near You!!

I'm excited to let you know that I'll be speaking about my candidacy at the upcoming Association of Black Media Workers monthly meeting. It will be held at noon on Saturday, April 18 at WBAL-TV, 3800 Cooper Avenue in Baltimore. The plan is to take 5 minutes to make my case for becoming the next Region II Director on the NABJ board. I hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

CNN Is Hiring Despite Tough Times

I was happy to see this story from Bloomberg about how CNN is hiring despite the current economic downturn. These days, I'm so used to getting bad news about the state of journalism that I actually pounce on any sliver of good news, like this story.

The Atlanta-based company is cutting back on buying new technologies and plans to hire 30 employees for a news wire service it has created to compete with the Associated Press. CNN says it plans to tap its global news staff, its 22 bureaus, 900 television broadcast affiliates, its web site and radio station.

Now 30 new hires is a drop in the bucket compared with the 8,097 layoffs and buyouts so far in 2009, according to the Paper Cuts blog. And the key for journalists of color to be considered for those jobs is having an advocate like NABJ -- along with members already in place at CNN -- to emphasize the importance of having a diverse staff.

Despite cuts, many media outlets maintain Washington bureaus. And DC is also home to two universities -- American U (my alma mater) and Howard U -- that have nationally recognized journalism programs. Region II members have the ability to serve as strong advocates on the need for diversity.

As Region II Director, I would work with chapters to gather information on jobs, internships and co-ops that will help members get a foot in the door for those jobs. Times are tough, but I still strongly believe in the profession of journalism.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Where Are The Journalism Jobs For Graduating College Students?

Last month, I went to my alma mater, American University, to speak to juniors and seniors taking an advanced journalism course. I gave my spiel, then it was time for questions and answers.

One of the students, who is graduating with a journalism degree in May, asked me if she should try to jump into the job market or get a graduate degree in journalism. I had to think long and hard about what to say. I pointed out that hiring prospects for journalism are the worst I've seen in my almost 25-year career and that a few years grad school might be enough time for the industry -- and the general economy -- to recover.

Richard Prince did a post on his Journal-isms blog April 10 entitled "Where Will J-Grads Find Jobs?" Someone must be listening to my advice, because both private and state universities are seeing an increase in applications to their graduate journalism programs.

But the bigger question is this: are these budding journalists just putting off an inevitable tough job search or will prospects really be better in the next few years? This is a question that the next board of NABJ -- along with its membership -- will struggle with in the next few years.

We already have veteran journalists with top-notch reporting skills, but not the now-required new media skills, competing with these students for jobs. The NABJ board will have to work with its members to make sure that everyone have the skills needed to thrive and prosper in the brave new world of multimedia journalism.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

...And the Layoffs/Buyouts Continue...

I am a journalist in the aviation industry, a segment that has been hard hit by layoffs. It seems that every week I'm writing a story about Company X laying off X-thousand employees, blaming the current global economic crisis. I also feel as if I'm reading stories every week on media outlets laying off or buying out employees, including journalists. The latest to announce is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Alternative newspaper Creative Loafing did a blog post yesterday outlining the 74 people who took buyouts.

The Journal-Constitution had previously announced in March it was cutting 30% of its newsroom staff, or around 90 journalists, citing a revenue slump. Officials said they would look for people to volunteer for buyout, then start laying off staff if not enough workers volunteered. The paper has already had two rounds of cuts in 2006 and 2007.

A web site I like to follow -- Paper Cuts -- closely follows newspaper layoffs. Managed by journalist Erica Smith, the site covers layoffs and buyouts going back to 2007, newspapers that have closed and layoff rumors.

These continued attacks on the profession of journalism make an organization like the National Association of Black Journalists even more important, since members of color are bearing a heavy burden as the cuts continue. NABJ's board has worked hard to advocate with media companies about the importance of having a diverse staff, with mixed results.

NABJ VP-Broadcast (and candidate for president) Kathy Times should be commended for all her hard work creating relevant content for NABJ's Media Institute. The Media Institute is focusing on training covering multimedia journalism, entrepreneurship and management training, which is a good start.
But during these most difficult times, the board -- and the membership -- need to step up and create even more programming to ensure that we all remain competitive in an industry under fire. I stand ready to help the board if I am elected as Region II Director.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I'm Off and Running!

This is my first official blog post as a candidate for Region II Director for the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). I was prompted to run after a recent series of posts on our members-only chat group.
(Photo of Wilson speaking at the 2008 BlogOrlando unconference courtesy of Ted Murphy via Flickr)

The issue was that NABJ had set an April 1 deadline for people to register for our organization's annual conference, scheduled for Aug. 5-9, 2009, in Tampa, Fla. The problem is that the conference workshop had not been released, and answers on the delay were originally slow in coming. The argument was that people needed to know what NABJ was offering in the way of this year's theme -- Refresh, Reinvent, Reclaim -- before making that commitment.

To its credit, NABJ's board heard the members and extended the early-bird deadline to April 15. It has also released the full schedule of workshops, here. I'm pleased to note that two of my workshops -- Make That Move - Careers In B2B/Trade Publications and Tools You Need To Be A New Media Journalist -- are on the agenda.

All that back and forth on the chat group made me realize that it's one thing to offer suggestions on what NABJ should do. But it's completely another to put your money where your mouth is, jump in and become one of the people offering solutions.
My candidacy fits in perfectly with what NABJ is trying to focus on: Refresh, Reinvent, Reclaim. My current career-related passions are trade/B2B publishing as a career option for journalists of color and taking advantage of new/social media tools to make journalists much harder to lay off. And I have many ideas on how to help journalists in Region II make that transition.
Between now and August, I'll use this blog to post articles of interest to the journalism community, my thoughts on what is being proposed and how my candidacy for Region II director fits in the conversation. With media companies announcing layoffs and buyouts regularly, now is the time to reclaim what brought you into journalism -- no matter how it's delivered -- in the first place.
You can follow me via Twitter: @benet4nabj. I also have a Facebook page: Benet J. Wilson for NABJ Region II Director. You can help by joining me on Twitter and Facebook, and getting your friends and colleagues in Region II to do the same. I appreciate your support, and look forward to the conversation.