Promoting your blog

Jesse of the Belltown People blog asked in a forum tonight: "What self-promotion has worked for your site?" Here's what I answered:
Here are some things I've done:
  • Print business cards and hand them out. LOTS of them. I print them on my inkjet and give them away to people I meet in the neighborhood. Or leave them at events. No one has refused to take one. It has the blog's name, URL, my phone and e-mail and the blog's Twitter ID. Priceless self-promotion that costs almost nothing.
  • Walk the beat. Before July 4, I walked Eastlake Ave., asking businesses if they would be open on the Fourth ... and leaving my business card at every stop. I didn't ask them to buy an ad, just asked if they'd be open and chatted a bit. Did a post about who would be open and, I hope, earned some recognition and street-cred. Wasn't until I'd finished that I realized: Hey! That was a good idea. I just wanted to get the story.
  • Sponsor a community event. I was a sponsor for last Saturday's Eastlake Movie Night. Didn't cost me much. I provided tons of publicity on the blog. The site was listed on the poster for the event, which was nice but not required. Helped set up and take down. Handed out business cards. Do something(s) nice for your neighborhood. People will remember. And, it was great fun and I had a blast, which is what matters.
  • Go out to coffee with people just for the heck of it with no agenda. Talk about the blog if they like. Ask them what they know that's going on.
  • Show up at events. I've started to cover the community council. You get a post out of it and, frequently, tons of tips for other posts. And you meet lots of people. It all helps.
  • Get your site on Twitter. It makes a big difference. Follow people in the neighborhood and they'll follow you. Let them know the site is on Twitter (I put it at the top of the blog). When I Tweet a post, it immediately gets good traffic.
  • I designed a poster early on (11x14) but haven't printed them (inkjet again) because I wasn't sure it was really worth it. I still might print them. Or not. Not sure it's worth it.
  • Walk the beat some more. Showing up in person means a lot to people. They will remember that you came by, asked what was going on, took a photo of an event, wrote a post. They will remember that YOU were there. And you'll get good story ideas out of it.
  • Get your posts linked to by other sites. Cultivate contacts at the Times, P-I, Slog and other neighborhood blogs.
That's what I've done for starters. As you can see, most of this costs nothing or next to nothing. I'm a BIG believer in just getting out and meeting people. Thinking I might have an afternoon at a coffee shop and invite people to come by and chat. Maybe buy a round of lattes.

Some of this stuff I do for the blog, but most of it I'm doing simply because it's my neighborhood and I'm enjoying helping out and getting to meet people. It's fun!

Also: The blog is EastlakeAve.com.


The things one learns from the Internet

I follow Stephen Fry, the wonderful English actor, on Twitter (@stephenfry). His Tweets are fun and witty and make me wish I lead the life he does.

Well, it's not all glamor, apparently. The following Tweet arrived from Mr. Fry this morning (late afternoon in London):
Fabulous lunch. Now in cab home so desperate for a widdle that I may explode like a burst waterbomb.
Goodness! Not exactly the image I expected at 8 a.m., but reassuring that Mr. Fry's life is, at times, no different than yours or mine. And I've never heard the word "widdle" before, or seen it used in that manner.
A few minutes later, and the cab ride is going no better:
Speed bumps are evil: they stab your bladder and say "Nah"...
Who can't identify? Shortly after that, he's still not home, but is able to Tweet from his iPhone (love the British, always bravely soldiering on):
Still in cab. Clenched thighs so hard my testicles have shot up my neck. Dear me.
OK, that one made me laugh. Loudly. At 8 in the morning. The mental picture leaves a bit to be desired but still, it's pretty funny.

Just as I'm about to go to work comes word that Mr. Fry's mission is accomplished:
As for all you wicked people who tWEEted "sssssssss" and "tinkle"and "fountain". Shame on you. Home now. Made it.
As my brother said, "I am so relieved. And, apparently, so is he."

Has anyone else given a better Twitter performance or managed to put the edge of suspense into their Tweets like this? You have to laugh.

Stephen Fry is also on AudioBoo. His short audio clips are marvelous.

(My secret goal is to get Mr. Fry to follow me on Twitter.)


Journalism Basics: An important tool

There it is: My business card. Well, one of my business cards. I have several, but this is the one I use for my neighborhood blog, Eastlake Ave.

Not terribly exciting. The design isn't much. Just black type on a white card. Only one line to break up the type.

I know, I know: boring.

But, it's a key part of my equipment as a beat blogger. This is how I introduce myself and the site. It's what I leave with people so they know how to get ahold of me and, more important, how to find Eastlake Ave. And, at this time when self marketing is everything, this card is one of my main promotional tools.

A business card is no secret. I've received them from several bloggers around town. But I wanted to emphasize how simple this is and how effective. I print these at home on my inkjet. The stock is Avery #8871. The cards are prescored so they break apart nicely and look great.

Design? Newer versions of Word have templates for business cards. I did this one in Illustrator but you can do something similar in Word. Tinker with their templates. Go wild and add some art. But get the essentials in there: your name, your site's URL, your e-mail address, a phone number, your Twitter ID. Make sure it's legible.

It's not fancy. It isn't sent digitally. But for promoting yourself and your site, there's not much that can beat it. People love getting a card. They refer back to it. You can leave them at meetings or coffee shops. You can hand them out to businesses (I was doing that the last two days). No one has refused to take one of mine yet.

If you're a beat blogger, you shouldn't be without them.


Journalism Basics: soon, soon

I've been absent from the Journalism Basics pieces. Promise I will resume this series soon. This week, even. I know you're all waiting!


'It is what it is, pal'

Kevin Spacey, left, and Denis Leary in "Recount."

Whenever I hear journalism types start into the discussions and arguments about what newspapers did wrong in the face of the internet, I'm reminded of a bit of dialogue from HBO's brilliant film, "Recount."

The movie tells the sad (and funny) story of the contested 2000 presidential election. Near the end, after the Supreme Court has stopped the Florida recount and made Bush the winner, two of the Democratic operatives who were in charge of Gore's efforts to win Florida, Ron Klain (played by Kevin Spacey) and Michael Whouley (played by Denis Leary), are walking to their airplane, preparing to fly home. Klain knows they came soooo close and he just can't let go of the "what might have beens:"

Ron Klain: "We should have asked for a statewide [recount] from the get-go -- that was our biggest mistake."

Michael Whouley: "Mm-hmm, and Ralph Nader should've pulled his head out of his ass. And Elian Gonzalez should've never left Miami. And Gore should've campaigned with Clinton. And Clinton should've got caught getting a blowjob from Sharon Stone instead of Monica Lewinsky 'cause then his approval ratings would have shot through the roof. And Katherine Harris should've thought twice about purging 20,000 voters from the rolls. And George Bush Jr. should have never quit drinking ... but he did. It is what it is, pal. Four years from now we'll come back, gather our information and go right back at 'em."

That's the line: "It is what it is, pal." That's what I think about when I ponder what's happened to the newspaper business. You can debate the mistakes all you want but you're just wasting time and energy. Better to gather your information and go right back at 'em.


Film openings: 'Angels in America'

Another opening, another show ... this time the opening of Mike Nichols' adaptation of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" on HBO.

This one is here because of the writing. Kushner's take on Roy Cohn, working the phones in his office, is pure genius. Cohn (Joe McCarthy's right-hand man in his infamous communist witch hunts of the 1950s) in Kushner's take is like a shark in a tacky suit. "I wish I was an octopus," he says, pushing buttons on his phone as he wheels and deels. "Eight arms and all those suckers."

Al Pacino is magnificent as Cohn. The scene where he bullies his doctor, who has just told him he has AIDS, is a masterpiece of intimidation. He isn't a homosexual, he says, just a man who has sex with other men:
"A homosexual is somebody who, in 15 years of trying cannot get a pissant anit-discrimination bill through the city council. A homosexual is somebody who knows nobody and who nobody knows. Who has zero clout. Does this sound like me Henry?"
Rent the DVD and watch the whole thing. Yes, it's on your TV but it's really a great play brought vividly to life.

Newsweek profiles Kushner as he's honored in the Twin Cities.

Reporter's notebook

The object in the photo is a staple and icon of American journalism: a reporter's notebook. It's the last one I have from my days at the Seattle P-I and I have filled it up. Which means that another connection to my years in journalism has been broken (yeah, yeah, I can hear DylanW saying: "Cry me a river").

For years, until people starting recording interviews and taking notes on their laptops, the reporter's notebook was a standard item in the journalist's toolkit. It's 4 inches wide by 8 inches deep, spiral bound at the top, with lined note paper inside and a stiff cardboard backing.

Unless you have small hands, it's easy to hold and take notes on. It's particularly handy when you have to interview someone standing up, like at a fire or an accident. And it can be easily stuffed in a back pocket when you need your hands free.

I wasn't a reporter at the P-I, but I used the occasional reporter's notebook to take notes at meetings or for other work-related projects. This one followed me home. I've been using it in my new job, where I interview people all the time, and for the neighborhood web site I've been working on, Eastlake Ave, where I tend to be interviewing people and covering meetings.

My colleague at work, Sherry, and I are both refugees from the newspaper storm and we've asked to have some of these ordered for the office. I found some for our personal use yesterday at Staples. The brand name is "Evidence," which Sherry and I both thought was funny.


One of the great movie openings: "Manhattan"

Not sure what made me think of this but ... check out the first five minutes or so of Woody Allen's "Manhattan." This has it all: Woody Allen's words, George Gershwin's music and the gorgeous black and white cinematography of the incomparable Gordon Willis. You really need to see this on DVD or, better yet, in a theater, but for now, YouTube will do.

It doesn't get any better.


Journalism basics (movie edition)

Dustin Hoffman, left, as Carl Bernstein and Robert Redford, right,
as Bob Woodward in "All the President's Men."

And now, a short break from our Journalism Basics for a movie: "All the President's Men." In addition to being a terrific film and a great history lesson, this is an excellent primer on how journalists operate and the difficulties that await even the best of them.

"All the President's Men" (for the few who don't know) is the true story of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two junior reporters at the Washington Post who stumbled into the Watergate scandal and, despite their inexperience, proceeded to report the hell out of it and help bring down President Nixon in the process.

Few films have captured the job of the reporter better than this one. We're there for the glory moments when a big scoop falls into place and Woodward and Bernstein are riding high. We watch them go through the grunt work of reporting (the scene where they manually search thousands of index cards in the Library of Congress should quell any notion of a reporter's life being glamorous). And we see at least one moment when they make a big mistake and struggle to recover from it.

"Woodstein," as they came to be know at the Post, and their editors, including the legendary Ben Bradley, practically wrote the book on how to conduct an investigation like this: Always get things from two sources before publishing. Dig hard and dig everywhere. Don't be afraid to be a pest if it will further the story. Have no life other than the story. Be hungry and stay hungry. Follow the money.

My favorite scene in the film occurs in the evening. Ben Bradley (played by Jason Robards, left,) stops by the newsroom on his way out for the evening. Woodward and Bernstein are excited and anxious about their latest story, confident that it will move their investigation forward.

Bradley takes their typewritten pages (no computers in 1973) and starts to read. And read. "You haven't got it," he finally says. They complain but he won't be budged. He takes out his red editing pen and starts to mark up their copy.

"Stick it inside someplace," he says to another editor. When Bernstein complains this is a "goddamn important story," Bradlee replies: "Get some harder information next time."

Perfect. And a lesson worth learning: Make sure you've really got the "harder information," not the soft stuff, before you publish.

Near the end of the film, Woodward and Bernstein go to Bradlee's house late at night. They made a big mistake in a story and they've been trying to figure out what went wrong. Turns out, a source misunderstood Bernstein's confirmation instructions. The story was right, but not for the reason they said.

They're exhausted and scared (Deep Throat has warned them their lives may be in danger), and they're wanting a break and, probably, a little sympathy. Bradlee isn't having it:
"You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up ... 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We're under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing's riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I'm going to get mad. Goodnight."
Terrific stuff. That's what journalism is all about. Go and watch it. The book is worth reading, too.

Also, check out Woodward's book on Mark Felt, the FBI official who was his secret source, Deep Throat.


Journalism basics, part 3 (in which I quote Tennesse Williams)

Blanche (Vivien Leigh) and Stanley (Marlon Brando)
in the film version of "A Streetcar Named Desire."

The theme for this, my third installment of Journalism Basics for New Media Types, comes to us courtesy Blanche DuBois, one of the central characters in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire." In her most famous line, Blanche explains one of the central tenets of her life:

"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

What does Blanche's easy virtue have to do with journalism?

It means that journalists are always depending on others to help us get our stories. People tell us things. They give us documents. They guide us when we are lost ("Follow the money," Deep Throat famously told Bob Woodward during the Watergate investigation). They invite us to events. They consent to sit for interviews and they take our phone calls. They answer our questions.

And it means that, unlike Blanche, we should always be questioning their motives (this is a corollary to our last installment: If your mother says she loves you, check it out). Why is that person calling to give you a scoop? Why didn't he or she call your competitor? Are they giving you the story because they like you or because they think you're more likely to be easily deceived?

Does the person calling you have a vested interest in the story? What is it? How might it be clouding their motives? Is he or she giving you those documents simply because they like you and they want to see justice done? Or are they trying to get even with someone? Or, maybe, draw attention away from something even more important?

What's the real story here?

While many reporters are skeptical and always dig and ask hard questions, others aren't so tough minded. They happily take a story lead without asking "why me?" And, sometimes, they get used.

Another reason not to depend too closely on the kindness of strangers: If someone offers you money or merchandise or a free trip somewhere, just say no. It's best to stay pure and not even have the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Next installment: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.


Journalism basics, part 2

This is the second of my occasional series of journalism basics for online news folks. Today's lesson:


This is an old saw and one that I've heard credited to Chicago newsies. What it means is: Don't trust what people tell you, even people you believe to be trustworthy. People lie, people get things wrong, people repeat untrue information and present it as fact, and people flat out don't know what they're talking about. Check out what they tell you.

What should you check out? Everything from the simple (please, spell names correctly) to the complex (is that "widely cited study" really accurate? Do those budget figures add up? Did the city councilor really say what you heard he/she said?). You'd be surprised how often things turn out not to be what they seem.

One example: Back in the 1980s, stories began circulating in the news media that reported shocking numbers of children going missing every year in the U.S. Reports placed the number at 1.5 million and up with 50,000 kids said to be abducted annually.

People panicked. Photos of missing children began appearing on milk cartons with the caption, "Have you seen me?" The kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh became a national story and a TV movie.

Unfortunately, the numbers were wrong. Reporters Diana Griego and Louis Kilzer of the Denver Post looked into the story and found the numbers of missing and abducted kids were inflated. Very inflated (94 to 95 percent of the missing kids were later found).

Children's advocates had initially quoted the figures. Reporters then repeated the numbers without checking on their accuracy. Other reporters picked them up from those stories and repeated them again. Once the figures were cited in story after story they quickly became gospel and were re-reported as fact. And no one stopped to check them.

Finally, two reporters had the brains to ask a simple question: Is this correct? And it wasn't.

So, always question what you're told. Look for corroborating information. Check sources (and ask yourself if the source is truthful. Do they have an ax to grind?). Don't assume things to be correct. Make sure they are!

Next lesson: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."


On the Media on Seattle's news scene

NPR's On the Media looks this week at the Seattle news scene after the demise of the print P-I. If you've followed the story closely, there isn't much new in their report, but it's mostly well done and worth listening to.

On the Media gives us some of the usual suspects: Eli Sanders of the Stranger offers his usual half-informed analysis (the P-I is a shadow of its former self ... gee, ya think?). Scott Gutierrez of seattlepi.com explains what's different about the P-I now that it's online only (fewer people, more emphasis on breaking news). David Boardman of the Seattle Times encourages people who love newspapers to keep subscribing (but he misses the point that it's the lack of advertising, not subscribers, that is causing big problems for papers).

Tracy Record of the West Seattle Blog offers the best analysis: The news blog she and her husband, Patrick, run is filling an important need (and they're covering stuff the dailies never did anyway), but what's missing are the journalists with the broader, city-wide view. She's encouraged that former P-I folks are willing to be "guns for hire" and offer their services to blogs like hers.

You can listen to the whole piece here:


Journalism basics (yes, they matter whether you print on paper or pixels)

I’ve been meaning for some months to write a post on a few basics of journalism that beat bloggers should know and which they ignore at their peril.

It’s easy to poke fun at older, mainstream journalists who, it may be thought, don’t understand the new online, digital world. But, those folks do know a few things, simple, practical tips that will make you a better journalist and might keep you from getting sued in the process.

Since I never seem to have time to write up the entire list as one post, I’ll be doing these one at a time, beginning with:


Hippocrates is credited with coining that statement in the 4th century B.C. He meant it for physicians but it’s equally appropriate for journalists.

When you’re out doing your journalistic thing, try not to do harm. By which I mean hurting innocent people or publishing something that causes innocent people to be hurt or bungling your reporting so that the bad guys not only get away with whatever bad stuff they’re doing but actually gain public sympathy in the process and then go on to do more bad stuff.

In other words: Don’t leave the situation worse than you found it. Be aware that what you publish has repercussions. Make sure that what you’re publishing is not only accurate but is germane and important to the story. Just because you find out something about a person doesn’t mean that you have to publish that information. Is it relevant to the story or merely titillating? Will it cause harm to a person physically or unfairly or unnecessarily harm their reputation? Does the story require that this information be made public? If not, then don't publish it.

Don’t hide behind the excuse of “I was just telling people what I learned.” Sometimes, we uncover information that we don’t publish, much as we might like to, because it simply isn’t relevant to the story. It's tempting to show off how smart we are by publishing everything we find out. Don't give in to that temptation.

That doesn’t mean you cover up or suppress unpleasant information, but it does mean that what you do publish should be important enough to be publicly exposed.


Maya Lin

"Storm King Wavefield," by Maya Lin

Maya Lin first gained fame with her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982. She's gone on to do more memorials and fascinating art work, much of it based on natural features like hills and oceans.

I missed her show last year at the Henry Gallery here in Seattle. The NewsHour on PBS had a piece on one of the sculptures, made of thousands of boards stood on end to make a replica of a natural hill.

More intriguing is the New York Times' story about "Storm King Wavefield," an earthworks piece at the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York. The piece, seven rows of undulating hillocks, sits in a former gravel pit. The gentle hills mimick the surround landscape and also comment on the ancient seas that sculpted the site.

Lin's vision fascinates me. She makes us look at familiar things in new ways and finds art and sculpture in the natural world. Cool stuff.



I'm finding myself becoming addicted to AudioBoo, the new web service that lets you record and post three-minute audio clips from your cell phone. Listening to recent or popular Boos is like taking a little audio trip around the world. Some examples:

Alastairm at a recording session for strings in Dublin:

vickeegan gives a history talk on Walking With Shakespeare Shoreditch High Street:

harold hare goes on a mountain stroll in Australia, where it's a holiday today:

And my favorite, Stephen Fry taking a walk in Dublin:

Dennis Hopper and "Easy Rider" at 40

NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday broadcast an interview with Dennis Hopper yesterday (May 2) about the movie "Easy Rider" on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of its release.

Hopper is a smart, interesting guy who's been in the movie business for years (one of his earliest roles was as the son of Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in "Giant"). His reflections on "Easy Rider" are fun to hear (what were his and Peter Fonda's characters looking for in the movie? "I think we were looking to make a big score and retire to Florida").

My favorite take on "Easy Rider" is the UK TV ad above. I first saw it in Europe in 1999 and have laughed about it ever since. Thanks to some sophisticated special effects, Hopper plays opposite his character from the film.

He's selling the Ford Cougar. According to a "making-of" documentary, also on YouTube, Ford's marketing surveys found that Cougar owners were quiet on the outside but sort of rebels inside. Hence, Hopper's appearance in the ad and the use of "Easy Rider."

But things have changed, as the ad shows. At the end, the contemporary Hopper leaves the "Easy Rider" Hopper in his rear view mirror. His little laugh is just perfect.



Twitter? That's old. Discovered the next "new" thing this weekend: AudioBoo.

Think of these as little audio Tweets. You record them on your iPhone (3 minutes max), then upload to the AudioBoo web site. The site also automatically Tweets them and posts them to Facebook.

Stephen Fry, the English actor who I'm following on Twitter, is doing these. His, of course, are much more elegant than mine (listen to his Boo of a walk through central London). It helps to be born in England, I guess.

Check out one of my AudioBoos below, also a walk, this time beside Lake Union here in Seattle this afternoon.



Christopher Buckley on "Mum and Pup"

The definition of "bliss:" Sitting at Top Pot this morning with a latté and a doughnut while reading an excerpt in the New York Times Magazine from Christopher Buckley's new memoir about his famous parents, William F. and Pat Buckley, "Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir."

Buckley senior was a well-known conservative writer and TV host. His wife's life was devoted to her husband and to being the glamorous Mrs. Buckley. Together, they were icons of '60s cultural chic.

Christopher is a well-known author. He's a witty and agile writer and his memoir is funny, touching and fascinating. How many of us have wished we'd grown up in a family like the Buckleys', surrounded by smart and glamorous people, taking winter vacations in Gstaad, Switzerland, where dinner guests might include Princess Grace, David Niven and Ted Kennedy (and where the post-dinner activity was to go paint in a room specially set up for that), or hobnobbing with famous politicians in Washington, D.C.?

But, as Christopher points out, it wasn't always easy. His father, he says, was a Great Man and Great Men must have their way, whether it's running the TV remote control ("We watched parts of five movies last night," a friend tells him) or insisting on moving a quietly moored boat in the Caribbean, a move that ended with the boat aground in a storm on Christmas Eve. And his mother was an unrepentant fabricator who could upend a dinner party with her caustic comments.

Buckley is both sad and humorous when describing the final days of both his mother and father. Going to see his mother as she lies unconscious in the hospital, he brings some help:
"I’d brought with me a pocket copy of the book of Ecclesiastes. A line in 'Moby-Dick' lodged in my mind long ago: 'The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe.' I grabbed it off my bookshelf on the way here, figuring that a little fine-hammered steel would probably be a good thing to have on this trip. I’m no longer a believer, but I haven’t quite reached the point of reading aloud from Christopher Hitchens’s 'God Is Not Great' at deathbeds of loved ones."
Christopher's memoir is filled with love but also recognition that his parents were complicated people and not saints. As his mother lays dying, he strokes her hand and is surprised to find himself saying, "I forgive you."

The New York Times excerpt is so marvelous that it makes me think I'll have to read the whole book and some of Christopher's other books as well (the film version of "Thank You for Smoking" was excellent).

A couple of links:
  • Christopher Buckley narrates an audio slide show of family photos in the New York Times.
  • NPR's Scott Simon interviewed Christopher Buckley yesterday on Weekend Edition.
UPDATE: Turns out not everyone is as enamored of "Mum and Pup" as I am. Howard Kurtz has an interview with Buckley in today's Washington Post that begins:
The book is not even out and already, Christopher Buckley says, he is hearing about certain Manhattan society ladies sniffing that he should "never darken their dinner table again."


On the value of copy editors

NPR's "On the Media" this week repeats a segment from two years ago about copy editors, possibly the least-valued employees in any big newsroom and a profession that is dying out along with the newspaper business.

"On the Media" talked to Merrill Perlman who, at the time of the interview, was director of copy desks at the New York Times. Perlman explained what motivates most copy editors:
"I'm not sure there is a typical copy editor. I think they share some common traits. They all share that love of language. They all share that desire to get it right. Sometimes it's an obsession to get it right, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

"They don't so much care about the public recognition, but they like to bitch about not having the public recognition, so they're a complaining bunch."
I've worked with some great copy editors at a number of papers over the years and I have to say, as Bob Garfield does in the interview, that they have saved my ass (and the asses of many others) too many times to count. They get no credit for the millions of mistakes they correct daily, but all the blame if an error gets into the paper or online. It's truly a thankless job.

And they love it.

In the new media world of the Web, they are very rare. News sites are so strapped that they've decided that copy editing is something that can be dispensed with. I think that's a mistake and one that someone is going to pay dearly for when a simple mistake hits the web and turns out to be libelous.

Mistakes not only can get you sued, they make you look foolish and unprofessional. And that, in the eyes of many, erodes your credibility. Next to making a profit, building credibility is one of the most important tasks faced by any web news startup.

As I've started to work to start up a neighborhood news blog, I've been wondering at what point we all decide that we need a copy editor. I had dinner the other night with a neighbor who wants to write for the blog and we agreed to read each other's copy. Should all of us neighborhood bloggers band together and find a way to support a copy editor or two? I think it's a good idea. I'm wondering what others think.

If we go for it, I know a bunch of talented, out-of-work copy editors who would probably be available.


Making the P-I farewell video

The Nieman Foundation's Narrative Digest web site is currently highlighting the video I did for the P-I's closure as well as the video the Rocky Mountain News did for their final day. I'm still a bit stunned by this and very humbled to have my work singled out.

The P-I video was important to me and it's nice to see it recognized. I just wish it had been for something other than covering the end of the P-I's print publication.

[Update: I have to thank D. Parvaz, a former P-I colleague who is currently at Harvard as a Nieman Fellow, for passing the video along to everyone at the Nieman Foundation. D.: Thanks and the drinks are on me!]

Andrea Pitzer, deputy editor of the Narrative Digest, interviewed me by e-mail about the creation of the video. She had to edit the interview down a little for the site. My ego running wild, I thought I'd publish the longer responses here. If you're interested in video storytelling online, you might find this interesting (or you might drop off to sleep before the end):
1. What story were you hoping to tell in your video? To put it simply: our story. This was meant to be a chance for the people who worked at and loved the P-I to tell their story. Much had been written about the P-I's potential sale and possible closing and about how the community felt about losing the paper, but there hadn't been much chance for the staff to speak about their feelings of loss and sadness. And this would be one of the last chances.

I have to give credit here to assistant managing editor Chris Beringer who made two key suggestions: focus on the staff and that the question they would be asked in their interviews would be "What will you miss about the P-I?" Those two ideas gave me vital direction and helped guide the shooting and editing of the video.

2. On using the group photo shoot in the video: I always tell people there are two really difficult parts of any video project: Getting the piece started and then figuring out how to end it. Of course, the in-between part isn't exactly easy but if you know how you're going to open and where you want to end up, it makes it easier.

In this case, the opening and closing are linked. I came up with the idea of having the audio of staff members identifying themselves play under a shot of the P-I's iconic neon globe with it's giant letters spelling out the paper's slogan: "It's in the P-I." The sign refers to the news being in the P-I but I wanted people to know that we were the people in the P-I who made it all happen. And that we were the people who loved the place. This was going to be our story.

This was the second time in two years that we had done a group shot of the paper's staff in that same spot. The first time was in April 2007 when the P-I came out of a lawsuit with our JOA partner with a new (albeit brief) lease on life. It was decided that we should do a second, final portrait to run in the commemorative edition of the paper that would appear on our last day. I quickly realized that that would be the perfect ending for the video. The people who were "in" the P-I, some of whom you heard at the beginning and others of whom you met during the video, would gather one last time. We'd show everyone gathering for the shot and then we'd end it with the still frame (which seemed like a very newspaper format) and the long fade out at the end. Simple and elegant. It just says: This is us and we are the P-I. And now we're gone.

3. What was it like to shoot the story and stay in my role as videographer? It was tough. Photographers talk about the camera being a shield in dangerous situations. You don't worry about the potential of being hurt because you're so focused on getting the image. The camera protects you. That's how it was for me making the video. I was able to focus on the details of getting the interviews and editing the piece and delay my emotional response. It wasn't until I finished editing the end of the video and saw my name come up on the credit that I really felt the sadness hit me. There were some tears and a catch in my throat. It still happens when I watch the video. Others in the newsroom started to drop by and watch the video and they had the same reaction. In a sense, we'd been using the daily production of the paper as a shield and now the enormity of what was happening was settling in.

4. Do I see the video as being for the P-I staff, the Seattle community or a larger audience? All three, I think. Primarily the staff. I wanted them to have something that would reflect their point of view and their thoughts. This would be part of their legacy. So much had been written and speculated about us, more than a little of it inaccurate. I wanted this to be our turn to speak. And I knew that many people in the community who loved the paper would share our grief and would miss many of the same things we would. Plus, it would tell a larger story of what's happening to the industry and what we'll lose as newspapers go dark. It's a record of what the paper was and what it did for its community.

5. A little about the process of making the video: I was leaving town for the weekend on the day the Rocky Mountain News closed and posted their final video. I started to watch it but had to stop because I had to leave. I forwarded a link to the video to Chris Beringer, an assistant managing editor who was working on the commemorative edition for our final day, and Sarah Rupp, senior producer for seattlepi.com, and suggested we might want to do something similar. Both immediately said yes and I left town wondering what I'd just agreed to do.

I knew we couldn't compete with what the Rocky had done (and I purposely didn't watch their video until I was finished with ours). I had been shooting video around the newsroom since early January when Hearst put us up for sale: shots of people working, the news meeting, walking through the newsroom ... stuff like that. I knew I had that material to work with. But what else to add to it?

I decided pretty quickly that the best thing would be to just interview staffers and use those interviews as the core of the video. As I mentioned earlier, Chris came up with the question everyone would be asked: What will you miss about the P-I? That turned out to be a great suggestion and I got responses from serious to silly.

I set up the camera in the newsroom and e-mailed the staff, inviting them to come by and tell us what they'd miss. Close to 50 people did. There's something powerful about a person just standing there and telling you directly what they think. It really says: This is who we are.

The tough part about doing a project like this is that you end up with lots of material and you have to then find the story and the arc of the piece. I spent a lot of time watching the interviews and making notes about what people had said. Certain themes began to emerge (the P-I as champion of the little guy, the P-I's iconic globe, all the fun, cool things we got to do on the job ... and so forth) and I decided I'd structure the piece around those. And the idea that I mentioned earlier that we were in the P-I. When you're on the right track, it all just comes together. And this project did.


Mike Nichols and the sounds of silence

Mike Nichols and Tom Hanks on the set of "Charlie Wilson's War."

The New York Times has an interview today with Mike Nichols, the legendary director of stage and screen (and, with co-conspirator Elaine May, one of the funniest improv actors ever). Hard to believe he's 77 but, thankfully, he's still busy directing.

His list of credits includes iconic movies like "The Graduate" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" And plays and musicals ("Annie," "The Odd Couple," "Spamalot"). And even TV (he did "Wit" and "Angels in America" for HBO). He's purposely cultivated a directorial style of invisibility, preferring to work in several genres instead of just one and to make his focus the writing and detail in what he works on.

In his youth he was an avid listener of classical music but said he now prefers silence. The last graphic in the Times' piece shows how this informs his work and his view of his art. I like this because it's something I enjoy in a good play or movie: That moment when the whole audience is silent and listening and getting something that hasn't been said:
“The greatest thrill is that moment when a thousand people are sitting in the dark, looking at the same scene, and they are all apprehending something that has not been spoken. That’s the thrill of it, the miracle — that’s what holds us to movies forever. It’s what we wish we could do in real life. We all see something and understand it together, and nobody has to say a word. There’s a good reason that the very best sound an audience can make — in both the theater and the movies — is no sound at all, just absolute silence.”


No News is Bad News, Event 2

No News is Bad News
Josh live Tweets the No News is Bad News event #2.

The second No News is Bad News event ("Making It Work: Journalism and Our Flying Car Future") was Thursday evening at City Hall. This one focused on what models are working or show promise for online, post-newspaper journalism.

It was encouraging and exciting how many ideas came out of this meeting. There's no "magic bullet" fix for what ails the news biz, but there are many possibilities. And that's a good sign.

Here, in no particular order of importance, are a few thoughts:
  • Making connections: Rita Hibbard (formerly of the Seattle P-I, now of InvestigateWest, a new still-forming news site) was talking about part of her group's business model: selling their work to other publications that might not be able to afford an investigative team. And Tracy Record of the West Seattle Blog, who was also on the panel, said: "We'd buy your stories." Bingo! Not only is it great to see these connections being made but it shows how journalists might finance their work, post-newspapers. Boutique sites will shop their product to other sites that would like the content but can't afford to produce it.
  • Buried in the statistics: Moderator Cory Bergman (LostRemote and MyBallard) cited statistics from a recent study on newspapers and their popularity among the public. The stat that I found interesting was how people looking for information on new businesses don't turn to newspaper web sites for that info. They look elsewhere (Yellow Pages sites, Google, etc.). So, why should advertisers try to promote new businesses on a newspaper web site? If newspapers want a piece of that money, they need to get connected to their communities. You need to know what your community is interested in and offer that.
  • Old tricks, new medium: Cory and Scott Durham (Instivate, Central District News) talked about things they are doing with advertisers (coupons, etc.) to show them how the community responds to their ads. Scott talked about providing hyper local coverage that wasn't available before. As I told several people, we did hyper-local years ago (and did some of those same things with ads) with the community weeklies I worked for here in Seattle. What's different is that the web is cheaper to publish on, faster and has more room for content. Scott raised a very good point: Hyper-local web sites are providing a place for small businesses to advertise and achieve good results. Many newspapers forgot those small businesses and priced ads out of their reach. The web puts them back in the game. And that's a good thing.
  • If your mother says she loves you, check it out: Scott talked about how stories you wouldn't expect to be big sometimes take off. He cited a reader post on Central District News where someone complained about a local pizza place. The debate took off with the pizza shop owner joining in. Rita Hibbard made an interesting point: Her first thought in that situation would be: Who is this person doing the complaining? Is it a competitor trying to slam another business? And that's a good point to remember. One of the things journalists are supposed to do is be skeptical and check out things like that and find out what's really going on. There's a sense that the community will sort out issues like this online. I'll be interested to see how that works. How does the community detect and report a fraud? What are the liability issues in a situation like that? This issue also came up during a discussion of citizen journalists and trust. Scott, I believe, noted that trust will have to be built over a period of time. And that's no different than it has always been with journalism. You build trust with your audience by reporting accurately over time. Violate that trust with bad reporting or false information and your audience will (rightly) dump you.
  • "Ricky and Lucy paid for Walter Cronkite:" I'm borrowing that quote from Art Thiel of nwsportspress.com, seattlepi.com and KIRO-AM. He made that point while the panel was discussing longer, investigative and narrative pieces. Those are costly to produce and can be hard to get people interested in reading. How to pay for them? Art's point was that that type of journalism really doesn't pay for itself. "I Love Lucy" paid for Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. How will online investigative reporters pay their own salaries? Mike Davidson of Newsvine, I believe, noted that we've never really paid for journalism. Journalism was the lure to get us to read/tune in for the stuff (advertising) that did pay the bills. The question for online news entrepreneurs: How do you find that revenue to pay for the journalism? Some people smirk at seattlepi.com's photo galleries, but those get people onto the site and bring in lots of hits and lots of ad dollars.
  • New tricks, new medium: Robert Khoo of Penny Arcade (he has no journalism background, which is a big help when you're trying to envision new models) encouraged people to think of new ways to promote your brand and make money. One of Penny Arcade's big money makers is the annual PAX game show in Seattle. GlobalPost in Boston is offering a premium service called Passport where you'll get access to exclusive content and a chance to talk with reporters and editors and even suggest story ideas. News web sites need to think like that. Khoo also talked about establishing your brand and identity online. If your readers trust you, your viewpoint carries more weight. Recommend a product (or a news story) and they'll be interested because they value your opinion.
  • Know the business side: Journalists have, for years, been told that the business side of the operation was not their problem. Indeed, we were told it was wrong to be interested in the business operations because that might taint our coverage. I think the main message of this event was that those days are over. At the least, journalists are going to have to have a business model and know how the bills are paid. Should you bend your coverage to suit advertisers? I wouldn't go down that route. Think "transparency." Tracy Record says that whenever West Seattle Blog mentions an advertiser in a story, they note that the business advertises with them. That informs the reader and alerts them to the potential of bias.
I could go on and on. Here's a link to the Twitter feed on the event. There's also a feed source at the No News is Bad News web site. And Justin Carder has extracted Tweets he thought were interesting here.


Message received

Found this while cleaning out my desk at home. Hmmmm ... 

Reminds me of the first managing editor I ever worked for, at the Prosser Record-Bulletin when I was in high school. When she interviewed me for the job (I started out cleaning floors) she said:
"If you're looking for fame or fortune, you're in the wrong place."
Wiser words hath never been spoken. But, it was a fun ride nonetheless.


Those electrified sheep in Wales

My brother sent me the link to this video. It purports to be about a bunch of artist types and shepherds who herd LED-draped sheep into patterns of exploding fireworks, the old Pong video game and even the Mona Lisa. Pretty funny and creative. Made me laugh and I sent it along to friends.

It was only at the end that I realized this was really a very clever Samsung ad. I wonder how many people watching it understood that? I'm guessing younger viewers got it right away while older viewers might have not realized it was an ad.

Viral videos like this are a great way for advertisers to sneak their message in under the critical radar of viewers. It's like product-placement on steroids. But it's a new level of disingenuousness that even TV ads (which are subject to laws governing their veracity) haven't approached.

I'm trying to decide what I think about it. On the one hand, it made me laugh and I loved it. On the other, I'm appalled at how blurry the line between advertising and the real world is getting. And that I almost fell for it.

I think.

While the sheep really were being herded, there was some computer trickery involved, said Matt Smith, co-founder of the ad agency that made the ad:
"The sheep herding bit is straight up – no trickery but there is a fair amount of computer trickery and post production work. We thought the Mona Lisa was the big wink to people – once they saw that we thought they would realise it was not all real."
Or, maybe not. It reminds me a bit of the New Yorker cartoon where a dog is sitting at a computer and telling another canine: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." Or a phony bunch of shepherds.



When they take it from our cold, dead hands

I was intrigued this week to see a young reader’s question to Richard L. Berke, the New York Times assistant managing editor for news. It was a variation on that ancient generational challenge: When will you old people get out of the way and let us younger folks run things? Berke’s response has generated a bit of controversy in the blogosphere.

The question from Josh of New Orleans related to the train-wreck that is the news business these days:
“Newspapering as we knew it — its economic sustainability and moral righteousness — died sometime in the last decade. Yet the people who sank the ship, namely those of the baby-boomer, Woodward-and-Bernstein era, are still at the helm, and giving up their lofty newsroom positions only with cold, dead hands. …

“My question is, both cheekily and seriously, when will your generation quit and let my generation try all these ideas we have about how the news should be presented?”
Berke’s response went something like this: It’s always been hard to land a news job, especially now. But, think of all the opportunities you have to innovate and try new forms of reporting:
“Maybe I'm refusing to face reality, but I believe that if you're enterprising and talented enough, there are more opportunities than ever in the world of journalism.”
That caused a harsh reaction on Jim Romenesko’s web site from some younger journalists. They complained that they have bills to pay (sometimes big bills), can’t afford the time to innovate, and that it was wrong to leave the people who ran the news biz up on the rocks at the tiller of the industry.

Good points, all.

I think I’d side with Berke, but for slightly different reasons. If you really want to fix what’s wrong with this business (and who doesn’t?), the last place you want to be is at a property owned by a big media company. Big companies are, by nature and with rare exception, conservative places. The people who are hired to run them aren’t hired to be daring or make cutting-edge moves. They are hired to be careful, preserve what has been built over many years, add to it some, and then pass it along to the next batch of managers.

That’s one reason why they missed what was coming with the web. They had a good and profitable thing going with print and it didn’t seem necessary, or prudent, to start tinkering with another delivery model that might endanger those profits. The big money was always in print and it always would be, wouldn’t it?

If you’re looking to innovate and find the new models, the best thing is to do it at smaller companies that are more nimble and willing to experiment and, possibly, fail. Jason Preston expressed it to me best many months ago: The big media companies need to act like startups, investing in people and ideas like a startup would: with an eye toward the future. And I’m not sure that they can or will.

I was struck while attending The Pitch, Jason’s media discussion event the other night, that there were few representatives of established media companies in attendance. And those who were there weren't the people making the big decisions. The topic was what business models might work for journalism for the next five years. Lots of good ideas were batted around and they were free for the taking. But, as far as I know, no one from a mainstream Seattle media company was there.

The people who were there were mostly academics and entrepreneurs (and a few folks from Microsoft). Those entrepreneurs are the fertile ground where these new ideas will be found and nourished. If the big media companies were smart, they’d spread a little money around to these folks and see what grows. Call it digital fertilizer. But, maybe that’s too far outside their comfort zone also.


Lots of new blogs, post-P-I

Several of my friends from the P-I are starting their own blogs now that the paper has closed. I'm starting a list on this blog so others can find them. Check the list of links at right. You'll find:
  • Cecelia Goodnow's blog on children's books, Cover to Cover Kids.
  • Rebekah Denn's food blog, Eat All About It.
  • Leslie Kelly Whining and Dining
  • Gene Stout's music blog
And there will be more to come as people get online. James Wallace, the P-I's superb aerospace reporter, is promising a blog. John Levesque, who held more jobs at the P-I than just about anyone (business editor to sports columnist) has a blog and I'll get the link to that as well [Note: Turns out John isn't blogging].

Check these folks out. They are the best at what they do and worth a look.

UPDATE: Rebekah Denn has a much more comprehensive list on her blog, Eat All About It.


P-I farewell video

This is the video I did for the end of the P-I print publication.

Morning after at the P-I

Empty desk
Went in to work this morning to do my exit interview. The final paper was published last night and the P-I is now a web-only news site.

There were a surprising number of people in the newsroom. Some were working on the web site, others were cleaning out their desks, which is one of the things I did. Computers are being removed from most of the desks.

Before I came in, I e-mailed KPLU and requested a song: Tony Bennett and Bill Evans' haunting version of "Some Other Time." The song is from "On the Town." The lyrics are by the incomparable Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the music is by Leonard Bernstein:

Some Other Time

Where has the time all gone to
Haven’t done half the things we want to
Oh well
We’ll catch up some other time

This day was just a token
Too many words are still unspoken
Oh well
We’ll catch up some other time

Just when the fun is starting
Comes the time for parting
But let’s be glad
For what we’ve had
And what’s to come

There’s so much more embracing
Still to be done but time is racing
Oh well
We’ll catch up some other time


Empty desks at the P-I

Empty desks at the P-I

Sad to see how many desks are already sitting empty in the offices of the Seattle P-I, where I work. We expect to learn the final publication date any day now. Could be as soon as next week that the print product will cease to exist. Wish I wasn't taking these in our shop but that's the way things are going in the news biz.

The words of a song from World War II come to mind: "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but I know we'll meet again some sunny day."

The next couple of weeks are going to be hard.


Sunset on Elliott Bay

Every once in a while the clouds do part on a Seattle winter and we get a stunning sunset. Yesterday evening was one of those times.

I'm going to miss a great many things after the P-I is gone, and this view from our offices is one of them.