Mar 082016
 

While we’re talking about Jay Rosen, let me introduce you to an initiative he started the other day with some of his graduate students at NYU: NewsLiteracy2016. This is a wonderful project.

Jay’s announcement on his Facebook feed:

One of the first things I teach my students is: “Online, the simplest way to add value is to save the user time.”

That was the principle behind a project we launched today, called NewsLiteracy2016. Each of my 11 graduate students took a key trend or disruptive force that is changing journalism and studied it until they knew it cold. Then they reduced all that knowledge to a series of time-saving features: a short 500 word introduction, a list of the best links for further reading, good people to follow for that topic, key charts and graphs to illustrate trends, a “why is this important?” box.

The cover image (below) is a single paragraph summarizing what’s changing in journalism, and each clause links to the one-page study guide for that topic. So it’s both a condensation, and a table of contents.

We made this especially for teachers and students, and anyone who wants to understand why people keep talking about a “crisis” in journalism. My Studio 20 students built the site and did the design. I hope you will check it out, and “like” this post so it spreads on Facebook, or even consider sharing it with your network. It will save your friends a lot of time!

journalism

Here’s the picture with the links working: As news consumption moves to mobileONE and publishers lose control of distribution,TWO business models have to evolve with changes in the larger ecosystem.THREE Wise media companies are focusing more on products,FOUR exploring how to personalize the flow of information,FIVE and engineering a smarter newsroom workflow.SIXMeanwhile, journalists are realizing that data can help them find better stories,SEVEN and they’re making friends with automation.EIGHTThey understand that users can assist in news production,NINE that if you can’t have scale it’s better to be niche,TEN and that excelling at explanation can interest more people in the news.ELEVEN

Mar 072016
 

househeart

It is hard to edit one’s own work into its final version; you always need a second pair of eyes.

One can, though, review and recast one’s work using intelligent techniques. My former mentor NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen mentions two such techniques in a piece called “We temporarily lost our minds.” Some thoughts on SB Nation’s Daniel Holtzclaw debacle. (Holtzclaw is the “now-notorious Oklahoma City police officer convicted on 18 counts of rape and sexual assault, crimes he committed while on duty and against the people he was supposed to protect.”)

 

The writer and non-fiction master Gay Talese used to describe for anyone who asked how he would pin the typed pages of his articles to a wall, in order to step back and re-read the draft with binoculars. That’s right: binoculars! Why did he do this? Because it was the only way he could think of to examine his creation at the sentence level and as a completed whole: simultaneously. To perfect what he made, he needed distance from, and intimacy with. He felt he couldn’t sacrifice one for the other. If he planted a bomb on page 2, he wanted to see exactly how it went off on page 22, and assess whether that was the right story arc. I mention this because it is one answer to the mystery of how the Vox editors temporarily lost their minds. They didn’t have any equivalent to Gay Talese’s binoculars. They didn’t know what their creation added up to. They couldn’t see it whole.

There are other ways to get distance on a text you are too intimate with. One of them is so simple, so artless, so obvious that I’m convinced it is under-employed because editorial people — who think of themselves as sophisticated manipulators of text — are embarrassed to use something we might recommend to a sixth grader. Read the work aloud, preferably to an “average” or non-specialist listener. Just vocalizing a problematic text brings the problems with it much closer to the surface. There is no way “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?” could have survived being read aloud to a husband, wife, girlfriend or boyfriend. No one who loves you would have let you publish it on the internet.

Jay’s entire piece is well worth reading. It begins:

On February 17, SB Nation, the founding site in the Vox Media empire, did something so inexplicable it amounts to an editorial mystery.

For about five hours the editors had up on their site a 12,000 word article weirdly sympathetic to Daniel Holtzclaw, the now-notorious Oklahoma City police officer convicted on 18 counts of rape and sexual assault, crimes he committed while on duty and against the people he was supposed to protect. This was a piece of writing so wrongheaded, noxious and ill-conceived that the editorial director of SB Nation, Spencer Hall, said later that day in a note to readers: “There is no qualification: it was a complete failure.”

A true statement. I cannot put it any better than Deadspin’s Greg Howard did:  “The tone of the entire piece is fawning and forgiving; by the end, the terrifying, spectacular spree of rapes exists as little more than an unfortunate occurrence, and a 263-year sentence as an unjustly harsh burden Holtzclaw has to bear. Holtzclaw destroyed 13 women’s lives; ‘Who Is Daniel Holtzclaw?’ told the story of how they destroyed his.”

Photo by Robert Basil

Mar 062016
 

sleep

This advertisement by Vanda Pharmaceuticals (shown a dozen times a day, it seems, on MSNBC) is for a drug called Hetlioz. (It’s very expensive.) Vanda says Hetlioz helps blind people who have a rare condition called Non-24. These folk have trouble sleeping through the night and staying awake during the day.

It made me wonder: Who is the audience for these ads? Blind people, who can’t actually watch TV? Their doctors, who might prescribe this drug? 

My favourite new theory is that the pharmaceutical company’s strategy is three-fold: To create awareness of an essentially unheard-of disorder; to make the millions and millions of people who are not blind but who can’t sleep at night and who fall asleep during the day believe that Hetlioz could help them out, too; and to promote this medication to these people, to their friends and family, and to their doctors – without doing so explicitly. (In the United States “Pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to promote their medications for an off-label use, which has led to several large settlements for illegal marketing.”) We all know how utterly awful sleep problems are, so imagine how enticing the hope engendered by these ads is.

Great tidbit: “How obscure is Non-24? There are only 146 citations for the disorder in the entire US National Library of Medicine. By comparison, there are 8,463 citations for the plague.”

Addendum: My NoContest co-founder Tierney and I had a good back-and-forth after she read this post.

screencap

Here’s the link to the “Sandy’s View” post Tierney mentions.

Mar 062016
 

As a teacher and as an editor, my counsel to students and writers often seems too obvious even to say. For instance: “You can’t complete a large project in a short time. Proceed bit by bit” (or “bird by bird“).

I have found, though, that repeating such counsel, many times, loudly and then quietly, and in different contexts, can reduce its obviousness to reveal its plain urgency.

What is more obvious than “practice something to get better at it”? Here is my friend Jonathan Mayhew in a post called “Jazz Piano” from his superb blog “Stupid Motivational Tricks: Scholarly Writing and How to Get It Done“:

Every thing begins with an idea. I have always wanted to play jazz piano, and now I am doing it, albeit at a lowish level. I see no possibility of getting worse with practice. There will be a plateau or two, with steady progress between the plateaux, and then a point at which I won’t get better.

It strikes me that the key with these kinds of things is neither to underestimate nor to overestimate the difficulty of it. If you think it is going to be easy, then it is easy to get frustrated. If you think of it is impossible, then you won’t even imagine doing it. My approach is just to get lost in it when I am doing it. I could spend 15 minutes trying out variations of a few chords. The other day I closed my eyes and I could still play some of my songs fine.

Most things, you can probably do. Ride a bike, make ceramics, or grow plants. If you are interested enough in it, that is. I am quite sure that I could be a crossword puzzle constructor. Some day I’ll want to do this, though not now.

Mayhew’s blog slices into the topic of practice again and again – lucid, brilliant, entertaining, and always very useful variations upon a theme. It is profound stuff. What one says about getting better at playing piano, writing books, constructing crossword puzzles – one is saying about living life.

“I see no possibility of getting worse with practice.”