Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WikiLeaks & A Tale Of Two Editors

Should classified American diplomatic cables have been published by WikiLeaks? The short answer is no. In my view their publication does far more harm than good. If the intent of WikiLeaks was to stir up trouble for the Americans and other countries then WikiLeaks has accomplished it.

That isn't to say that I always believe classified documents should not be release that have relevance for today. Governments and businesses are notorious for hiding behind the cloak of secrecy things that should be out in the open. Where to draw the line is very tricky, but I think you need to ask will the public benefit knowing about it and will releasing the material do more harm than good. I'll leave further comments on this issue for another time.

Now to tell a tale of two editors. During the past several years I took care of my father, who died in June, during his battle with Alzheimer's. As anyone who has ever had to deal with something like this knows, it is EXTREMELY stressful and affects every part of your life including, in my case, writing.

Among the many ways it impacted my writing was with two pieces I did for two different publications that I had written for previously, one was for a travel magazine and the other for The Costco Connection. The pieces I wrote for both publications were so lousy that each editor told me not to bother querying them again.

I waited until my father had been placed in a nursing home and I had a chance to recover before contacting them again. I explained the situation with my father and that was why I had written such a poor piece for them. I then asked for a second chance.

It took three emails, three phone calls and a registered letter before the travel publication editor bothered to respond. The person claimed to except my explaination, but was non-committal on another chance. With The Costco Connection it took two emails and a phone call before I got response. I had a lovely chat with the editor who accepted my explaination and offered me another chance to write. This showed real class.

So I queried The Costco Connection and ended up doing a short member profile, which will be appearing shortly. I also queried the editor of the travel magazine. I didn't hear anything and did a follow-up. I received a polite brush-off.

By the way may I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Future Of Magazines

There has been a lot of talk about the future of the magazine, including whether or not it even has a future in the digital age.

With the launch of Apple's iPad, Popular Science launched an online version of itself specifically for it. In an article on Apple's web site Popular Science's Director Of Research & Development, Sara Ohrvall, said, "We figured that once there was device in the market that you'd want to curl up with on your couch, then digital magazines would become interesting again."

Pat Foran, on CTV's Consumer Alert, also talked about the future of magazines. He reported that they will have both an online presence and a printed presence and that racks of magazines for sale will continue. I agree with both comments.

However, one thing that Ohrvall and Foran failed to mention is that there cannot be a future for magazines if there is no future for writers. And right no there is no future for writers with magazines, which is why many good writers have left.

Writers must be paid a decent wage. Since the digital age began more and more magazines began demanding more and more rights, but not paying for them. Writers are currently paid anywhere from about 30 cents a word to a dollar word. The odd magazine pays more. These rates haven't changed in decades.

In the pre-digital age writers, in order to make ends meet, would sell an article to magazine A and then resell it to magazine B and possibly magazine C, all in different markets. In the digital age writers can't do this as magazine A takes all the rights.

Some magazines have said they don't want to pay more for taking additional rights as they don't make anything those additional rights. If that's the case why do they insist on taking the additional rights? They take them because they to have value and here's an example.

One American magazine that I've written for demands all rights because they weren't making anything from them. Today this same magazine is making money from these additional rights, but I'm not despite it being my writing.

Contracts are offered to writers on a take it or leave it basis. Sometimes they'll allow room for limited negotiation. Sometimes too they demand that the terms of the contract not be shared. I thought contracts were suipposed to be negotiated between the parites, not forced on one?

So if the magazine business really wants to have a future they've got to do as Harlan Ellison says PAY THE WRITER!

I'll have more to say on this in future posts.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Tale Of Two TV Shows

To get a partial look at the future of tv journalism take a look at Washington Week on PBS. It looks at the major Washington news stories of the week. Within the framework there is a surprisingly wide variety of stories ranging from legislation to elections to scandals to the economy to foreign affairs. There is usually a panel of four journalists and a moderator. The journalists may be from a newspaper, a news magazine, an ezine, tv or radio.

The show lasts for 28 minutes and has a webcast extra lasting for 8 minutes. Viewers may email any questions they may have and at least some will get answered on the webcast extra. They also have a weekly blog written by the moderator, Gwen Ifill, and an online archive of previous shows. This allows people, like me, who prefer to watch the show online or can't watch it at the time it's on to do so. As if this isn't enough there are backgrounders on each of the panelists, plus Ifill and the show itself and a segment called "On The Radar". These are links to news stories and video of upcoming and past stories.

It may not be perfect in terms of interaction with the viewer, but it's A LOT better than CTS's Behind The Story, which is a bit like going back in time. Behind The Story takes a look at the week's major and not so major stories. They run the entire gambit from religion to politics to the environment to human rights and everything else. There is usually a panel of three print or e-journalists and a moderator, but sometimes the moderator goes one on one, which is interesting. In contrast to Washington Week, their panelists chiefly come from a newspaper, magazine or ezine.

This show lasts for about 48 minutes. There is no webcast extra and no way for viewers to ask any questions of the panelists. They used to have a weekly blog written by moderator Richard Landau and they used to have backgrounders on each of the panelists. However, once they started putting the show online with an archives of previous shows (which was long after Washington Week had done so), this got dropped. In contrast again to Washington Week there are no links to news stories and video of upcoming and past stories being discussed. They do give an email address to send in comments and recently added a send a comment section to their website. I occassionally sent in comments until I finally gave up on this and the show as I felt I was talking to a brick wall.

That isn't to say that Washington Week doesn't have room for improvement. One thing I'd like to see is a viewer's forum where viewers could comment and interact with each other on the week's stories, with occassional input from Ifill and the reporters.

While making tv journalism relevant to the audience is especially challenging in today's world, Washington Week has a much better grasp on how to reach out to viewers than Behind The Story. That's a shame as they both have moderators who are intelligent, knowledgeable and professional and there's no reason why Behind The Story couldn't be just as good as Washington Week and no reason why Washington Week couldn't be a whole lot better.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Newspaper Web Sites

If your house needed a major overhaul to update date it and reduce costs would you just paint and wallpaper it and leave it at that? I wouldn't and neither would you so why do newspapers do it? Time and time and time again I see newspapers revamp their website only to basically rearrange the furniture and paint it. Whoopee! What's really needed is a major overhaul.

The Hamilton Spectator did an article and a video on the Friday the 13th motorcycle rally at Port Dover in August. The video just showed motorcycles passing by on a highway. There was nothing special about it. There was no voice-over to tell you why it was important. The short article basically said it's Friday the 13th and motorcyclists from around Ontario and parts of the United States are once again gathering in Port Dover. Where was the link to the history of the event? It didn't provide an answer as to what they do there or the impact of the event on the community.

Again with the Spectator, they've done several articles on the proposed light rail line. (Light rail is something I have a great interest in.) There was no map, no table showing cost comparisons and no intereactive graphics so you could see the potential impact of light rail in various locations. It just lay flat.

And it's not just the Hamilton Spectator that does this sort of thing. Take a look at any major newspaper in Canada or the United States and you see the same thing. The Buffalo News, for example, recently revamped its web site and, like the Spectator, basically just did window dressing. The basic problem remains. The smaller papers are far worse. Their design screams out that they don't care. At least with the big papers they're making some effort to care.

Ironically newspapers were among the earliest businesses to embrace the Net, but they have failed to grasp that, unlike print, the Net is multi-dimensional. Unless they learn that before it's too late, the newspaper industry will likely go the way of the horse and buggy. That's a shame because we need a healthy newspaper industry.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lisa La Flamme

The recent appointment of Lisa La Flamme as successor to CTV anchor Lloyd Robertson was about as much a surprise as someone announcing the radical idea of putting sugar on their cereal. Some years ago the Ryerson Review Of Journalism profiled her and anointed her heir apparent to Robertson. They seemed to imply that she was being shuffled from place to place until that position opened up. It reminded me of Prince Charles, who is cooling his heels until his mother dies and he becomes king.

I also found it interesting to read some of the comments posted about La Flamme, including one that seemed to damn her for being more emotional than Robertson. The last thing that CTV needs is a Lloyd Robertson in a dress and high heels. Journalists need to show emotion when the situation calls for it. I think back to that radio reporter, Herbert Morrison, who covered the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 at Lakehurst, New Jersey. As the airship caught fire and crashed he exclaimed, "Oh, the humanity and all the passengers."

I was going to make a few a few comments about the journalist as celebrity, but I'll leave that for another time. So I'll conclude by saying that, in my opinion, La Flamme has a good combination of having a certain sexiness, combined with being very intelligent and is not afraid to show emotion, who is also very professional. I think she'll do very well as anchor.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Reflections On The Deaths Of My Parents

With my father's death on June 25th, memories are all I have left now of both my parents. (My mother had been dead for nearly 11 years.) Ironically in the end for both I was their memory, for they had probable Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's slowly robs a person of their memory and the essence of who they are. It is slightly different for each person and is a slow death; agonizing for their caregivers and others around them. You mourn as the person you know slowly dies one bit at a time.

My first stage of mourning was the loss of their memory and their independence. Both were frightened and saddened by this. My mother, who always had a good memory, was more accepting of this loss, making things much easier on herself and me. I was allowed to mourn with her. My father, who always had a poor memory, STRONGLY resisted, making things much harder on both of us. I could not mourn.

Next came the introduction of outside help. With my mother it was a counsellor from the Alzheimer Society, homecare and a nurse. With my father it was a counsellor, homecare, the senior day program and respite.

My next stage of mourning came when they finally had to be placed inb a nursing home. It was like running a van into a brick wall at full speed. My parents were suddenly no longer physically present at home. I had a chance to mourn the loss of who whey once were. The counsellor stopped, the homecare stopped, the nurse stopped, the day program stopped and the respite stopped. While it was for the best I was able to get my life back to normal, I felt very lonely and I grieved. It took me many months to work through this.

The last stage of mourning came with their physical death. It too was like running a van into a brick wall, only this time at a much slower speed. The person was dead and I once again felt/feel the loss of the person they were. Once again I felt lonely as the visits to the nursing home stopped, as did the phone calls telling me what medications they've been put on and any incidents that happened to them.

My care giving is over now. While it has been very draining, in a way it has been very easy too. Emotionally I'm glad to have had mounring in stages rather than all at once, as is the case with a sudden death. Yet, in one way, I'm still waiting for that phone call that will tell me of my father's death, even though that phone call has already come. I will miss them both.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Local Newspaper

It's that time of year for me again, decision time. Do I or don't I want to renew my subscription to the local paper? On the one hand I'd miss the local news and opinions, but on the other hand I get a lot of local news from the free paper that comes twice a week. As for health, environment other than local, science, national, internation, transportation and business news other than local I get most of this from other sources.

And then there's the cost. Once again the cost of the paper has risen for the printed version, this time by 5.2%. True they do have an electronic version, which is about half the price and that I may end up trying. Cost is a major concern for me. It's not that I'm not willing to pay for information, it's just that I'm on a limited budget and can't afford to pay for all that I want. That means for the information I am will to pay for it must give me good value for my money and I'm not sure I'm getting it from my local paper.

My biggest concern in tryibng the electronic edition is that it will be the same as the printed version or worse the same as their website, which is DULL! DULL! DULL! I understand the paper not wanting to give away ther storme, but their website and that of most local Canadian newspapers takes it to the extreme. There's no interactive graphics and the video looks and sounds like it has been just thrown together. They don't seem to understand that they're in the business of selling a product - their paper.

Compare this to a firm like Elliott Wave International, who are selling a forecasting service through a series of regular newsletters geared to your particular needs. They have free stuff that doesn't give away the store, but does inform. Their website has depth. It's far from dull. Their presentation got me to finally subscribe to one of their products. I'm not sure if its the one for me, but I am willing to try others to see what happens.

This has great implications for newspapers (and magazines), which I'll go into more in a future post.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On Mass Writing

I recently received an email from one of those mass markets inviting me to write for them at the princely sum of $5 to $25 an article for all rights. I declined the offer. This isn't the first offer from such a market I've received or probably the last. It's an offer that I'm not interested in accepting no matter what.

Why? For starters I don't give up all rights. You want the extra rights you pay for them. Also in order to make a decent wage I'd have to earn at least $25 an hour, which at seven hours per day (an hour for lunch), five days per week and 48 weeks per year (allowing for holidays, vacation and sick days) would bring in $42,000. I'd have to produce 1,200 to 2,000 words per hour or 8,400 to 14,000 words per day. Put in another way that would mean no more than 20 minutes per article to research and write. Personally I don't feel that I could do a topic justice in that short a time. And even if I could, it would take the joy out of writing for me.

I won't judge those who do write for these outfits. I just know that it's not right for me.

How did these sorts of companies arise? I believe from over expansion of media companies who are now saddled with huge debts and the desire to squeeze more money from their investments. The older, smaller media companies were satisfied with much smaller profits in order to take the time to do more in depth reporting. Another reason is that with the rise of the Internet, people, who formerly used to pay for content, now started getting content for free and are very reluctant to go back to paying for it.

I don't think it will last. The new Great Depression will wipe out the debt and many of the giant media companies. I also think that people will eventually realize that writers need to be paid a decent wage, which in turn allows them the time to really dig into various topics. All parties benefit from that, including the media companies themselves.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The New Great Depression

I'm now starting to batten down my economic hatches by cutting expenses wherever possible and by preparing to move my finances to safety in preparation for the HUGE economic storm that is about to hit. The HUGE storm we're facing is another deflationary depression like the dirty thirties. We're entering the dirty teens.

Depressions are caused by an implosion of credit. In other words people, businesses and governments get addicted to debt. More money gets lent/borrowed than can possibly be paid back. This leads to people, businesses and governments (at all levels) defaulting on their debts. Prices on most items decline as a result.

During normal ups and downs stocks, bonds and property will make you money, while cash will not. During deflation the revers is true. Cash, even with no or little interest, will make you money, while stocks, bonds and property will not. There is an exception to this. Stocks will make you money if you short them in a deflationary environment.

How will cash make you money? As I mentioned prices fall in a deflationary environment. The rate of deflation is your rate of return on cash. So if you have $10,000 in cash and the annual rate of deflation is 10% then after one year your $10,000 would have the equivalent spending power of $11,000. Some things deflate more than others. During the last depression property values dropped by as much as 90% or more.

For those of us in the writing, editing and publishing business, a depression offers both enormous challenges and enormous opportunities. The bottom of a depression is a great time to expand a business or to start a new one if you have the cash.

I'll talk more than this in the future.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Future Of Newspapers

Welcome to the first post of my new blog for Peter's Place Of Freelance Journalism. The postings will reflect the links and issues relating to the world of journalism. Initially postings will be made around the end of the month. Frequency will increase as I become more adept at this. It will grow as I grow in learning new things. And now to my first comments.

The future of the newspaper is the Daily Prophet. If you haven't heard of the Daily Prophet watch Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban and Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. The Daily Prophet has moving photos and print that talks. It is a broadsheet, folded in two, with four printed pages. It is capable of being folded and burned. It commands attention.

While the Daily Prophet is part of the magical world of Harry Potter, a real Daily Prophet is non-magical and it is quite possible. Computerized paper is under development. Paper that can be folded and crumpled and imprinted with images and print. Why not a resuable paper that updates are automatically sent to it? Why not inable me to be able to save or print items from it? With a touch of my finger have it speak to me or contect to other content.

But we have the Kindle and other e-readers you say. True, but these are not capable of being folded and thrown down without breaking. They're also too small.

Content is an issue I'll discuss another item, except to say that it needs to be multi-dimensional and not lie flat as current content usually does.