Type “Will the internet kill journalism?” into Google and you will see a bunch of articles — most of them written several years ago — about how the web, and technology in general, has, is or will kill journalism as we know it.
Today we’re mostly over the whole “death of journalism” thing (though we’re still in the throes of the “death of newspapers“) and enjoying one of the greatest eras of writing, because of volume, accessibility and new forms of storytelling. Longreads is living proof of that.
I use Evernote to track and organize interesting articles (my biggest folder is labelled “future of journalism”. Judging by the articles in it, there’s no consensus), but even still each week a slew of articles appear as tabs on my browsers, are enjoyed briefly and then disappear. It’s a new year, which is the perfect time to do things a bit differently, so I’m going to try to keep track of some of the favourites from each week and post them here for weekend reading, and to help me keep track of them. If you spot something you think would be up my alley, please drop me a line.
Here’s some of what I was reading this week:
1) Andrew Sullivan has made a splash in the paywall pool, announcing that he will be leaving the Daily Beast and striking out on his own with a subscription fee for his audience (It’s reasonable — $19.99 a year, which is a price point a lot more readers will jump at, rather than newspapers trying to keep their digital subscription fees above $20 a month). They raised about $333,000 in the first 24 hours alone. Here’s a piece where Sullivan offers insights into the move, and David Carr has included some interesting links to read further into it. As I noted on Twitter, watch for this move to spark a rush of other journalists and writers move to a stand-alone subscription model. More power to them — the development of journalists and writers as solitary brands that charge readers a direct subscription fee is long overdue. It seems odd that well-known writers are still in search of legacy titles to publish their articles when they could develop a stand-alone entity to publish their pieces directly for readers. But a big name like Andrew Sullivan jumping into this and, at least initially, appearing successful might lead too many folks to jump in prematurely.
The fact that Sullivan convinced thousands of readers to pay — in many cases they paid even more than Sullivan asked for — is the fruits of a dozen years of offering free, advertiser-supported content. Now he’s cashing in on that relationship. In his explanation of the decision, Sullivan made an interesting point that he wants to look at his audience as readers, not as a commodity to be nurtured for the benefit of advertisers. Amen.
2) A Q&A with Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci. It offers great insights into the work of one of the best sportswriters out there. He stresses the need to develop relationships that break free from the “take” mindset — where journalists only speak with sources when they need something. This, as Verducci argues, explains why so many sources, both within sports and elsewhere, become cynical about journalists and journalism. [The bolding is mine]
“Patience is great, but if you don’t develop trust with your sources patience is nothing but a waste of time. Trust takes time, work and honesty. The media-athlete relationship too often is a one-way street. The media takes, takes, takes. “I need a quote.” “I need five minutes.” No wonder the athlete becomes wary or, worse, regards the media as the “Gotcha” police—just waiting to twist a quote or a moment from the heat of battle into a headline to get them noticed. Establishing trust means having conversations with the notebook closed so that not every encounter is an “I need” moment.”
He goes on to talk about ledes, and writing in general. He makes a great point that applies not only to ledes — that too often the vision for a story’s content and structure doesn’t take shape until the writer is sitting down at his computer to write it. Even the most colourful observation can be limited to an ordinary lede or anecdote if the writer hasn’t though to flush it out entirely in the moment, with the subject there to describe it in great detail.
“I’m always on the lookout for ledes. It’s always in my head, and here’s why: every once in a while you hear a story or observe a scene that you think could be a great lede, so on the spot you have to search for every detail, flavor and scent to make the lede more alive to the reader. Imagine Johnny All-Star tells you his father used to throw bottle caps to him to hit in their basement to improve his hand-eye coordination. Great story. But now you’ve got to ask him to describe the basement, to tell you what drinks the caps came from (Yoo-Hoo? Root beer? Ginger Ale?), to tell you if he ever nailed his father in the eye with one of those caps—all the things that turn a generic story into a specific time and place for the reader. The time to think about those details is not when you’re sitting down to write, but as you’re listening and reporting. There are great reporters who are not great writers. I can’t think of any great writer that’s not a great reporter.
Ledes come from anywhere, and sometimes they do pop into your head as you sit down. Sometimes they take maddeningly long to show up. We’ve all been there. The best thing to do when that happens is to review all your notes, then write something . . . anything . . . to get started. You’re essentially daring the gods of ledes to show up with something better—and usually they do.”
3) Over at Gawker, Hamilton Nolan stirred the pot with his piece on journalism as narcissism. There are journalists out there who have staked their flag on examining every corner of their life through writing, but not every 20-year old (nor every 30, 40 or 50-year old for that matter) is a budding Frank McCourt, whose life, told compellingly, is fodder for best-sellers. Nolan’s piece, of course, was a hot topic on Twitter — the place where narcissism goes to die.
4) The “merged” life seems to be the increasing norm. Though I’m a big fan of work-life balance, I’m also a fan of flexible hours designed to suit the nature of the work and the person doing it, rather than forcing everyone into 9-5 templates. Attitudes towards the “merged” life have changed rapidly. Back in 2003 at a daily newspaper I was working at we were warned never to access our personal email accounts at work. We were told if we were caught with hotmail open on our computer we’d be fired. These days, who doesn’t have gmail, Twitter, Facebook and any other forms of communication — Skype, for instance — and social media running off and on throughout the work day — much of it for work-related purposes (Twitter is a fantastic way to keep on top of breaking news and new leads on evolving stories, while gchat is a quick and easy way to communicate with work colleagues).
5) This is the Most. Canadian. Story. Ever. It’s also a pretty good one (and nice to see some colourful foreign coverage of Canada rating on the international news scene, which doesn’t happen very often any more).
-The last of the stray cats on Parliament Hill are gone. This is the end of an era. Two things always stood out to me about Canada’s parliament: One, its accessibility to the public (it’s not uncommon at all to see a game of ultimate frisbee or touch football being played on its front lawn) and the home for stray cats around back of Centre Block. I loved walking back there and sitting on a bench, watching the cats. A shame to see them gone.
-Fact-checking has weirdly become a rather hot topic of lately. Entertaining reads like this help explain why.