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.