Tag Archives: journalism

Where I Am

15 Nov

I’m a bad blogger, and not just because it’s been four months since my last update. Yes, the previous post is dated February 28th, but I actually turned this site into my travel blog while I was in Europe this summer. Realizing how out of place those posts were, I decided to move them to my new travel writing page. That got me thinking about what this blog is about and whether my original premise ­– beginning a career at the end of journalism – still holds up two years later. So consider this post a clearing of the throat, an attempt to figure out how to move forward by looking at where I am in my career and how I got here.

I launched this site just over two years ago when I truly was beginning a career at the end of journalism (as we know it). It also seemed like I was beginning a career at the end of the world as we knew it. Just a month earlier, Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, triggering the biggest and scariest financial crisis since – as you’ve heard countless time before – The Great Depression. Barack Obama’s historic election victory was a week away and the world was in a state of nervous anticipation.

At the time, I was living at the epicenter of all this, a journalism student working as a reporter in Washington, DC. I remember visiting the White House for the first time and being more impressed by the modest, less iconic building next door, the Treasury Department. If an unpopular and overwhelmed lame duck President lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue surely contained the men and women who would or would not save the world.

Six weeks and four days after election night I returned to Montreal. I finished up my thesis, overhauled the blog, and began searching for a job at what might have been the worst time, in the worst industry, in the worst market I could have picked – an English journalism job in Montreal during the heart of the Great Recession. Because of my American degree, I was eligible to work in the States for a year and sent off countless CVs and cover letters for entry-level newspaper jobs and magazine internships as far-flung as New Mexico and the Northwest Territories.

Of course, I was competing with hundreds of recently laid-off veteran reporters and fellow fresh J-School graduates for a rapidly dwindling number of positions. I got a couple “Wait, can you even work in the States?” emails and a few “Sorry, not hiring but we’ll keep your resume on file” formalities but that was pretty much it. In the meantime, I honed my craft writing for Masc magazine and at one point nearly moved to Ottawa to write Web copy for Michael Ignatieff who I could have sworn would be Prime Minister by now.

During this time, I did what every good job hunter is supposed to do. I reached out to former teachers and mentors, set up meetings with people in the field whom I admired (or had some tenuous connection to) and cold called a few wish-list publications. I had a great phone chat with Jordan Timm, then at The Walrus and now at Canadian Business, who is a friend of a friend of my girlfriend. Jordan was generous and helpful and said that if my heart wasn’t 100% in the game, that if there was anything else in the world I’d be happy to do other than journalism, to run for my life. I spoke to my thesis advisor at B.U., the amazingly empathetic Boston Globe alum Mitch Zuckoff, and essentially asked his permission to do something else – something that’s not quite journalism – until things picked up. I spoke to my former editor at the New London Day, who said she would love to hire me if only they were hiring.  Continue reading


Is Branded Content Journalism?

25 Feb

Like lots of young J-School graduates, I have one foot in the traditional journalism world and one foot…somewhere else. One former schoolmate works as a “community manager” at an Internet startup. Another friend is a Web editor/SEO specialist at an online newspaper. Yet another sunlights as “communications director” for a government agency.

As I’ve discussed before, I’m the editor of a lightly-branded media and marketing blog called Sparksheet, which is both an independent-minded industry publication and a strategic corporate property. So I’m always navigating the line between editorial and advertorial, zealously guarding my journalistic independence and integrity while making sure not to embarrass the company or its clients.

Which brings me to this recent blog post by Sally Gethin. A self-proclaimed “old fashioned journalist,” Gethin edits a respected inflight entertainment industry newsletter (yes, such a thing exists). Although I can’t say for certain, the post seems to be a thinly-veiled attack on Sparksheet.

(Note: For some reason she seems to have deleted the post. But here’s another Web lesson for Ms. Gethin: online content is forever. You can find a cached version here– just scroll down a few posts to “When news becomes clutter”).

Indeed, most of the post is an inchoate rant. She blames the Internet for killing investigative reporting. She laments that “There is too much online ‘chatter’ going on.” Regarding Twitter, she contends that “just the word itself defames the notion of real debate.” Really?

But the question of whether branded content should be regarded as credible journalism is a legitimate one. So here is my response (originally posted as a comment on her blog):

As a fellow journalism school graduate and someone who works in the branded media space, I couldn’t disagree more.

First, the idea that the Internet and “digital media” are killing investigative journalism is ludicrous. Check out websites like ProPublica, Spot.us and Talking Points Memo, which have picked up the investigative torch dropped by newspapers, magazines and TV stations that are no longer willing or able to invest in proper muckraking.

It’s a shame that so many legacy media outlets are struggling. But “old fashioned journalists” and media executives are far from blameless. Ignoring what happened to the music industry in the face of Napster and iTunes, they failed to grasp the impact digital media would have on their outdated and inefficient business models (low subscription costs, print classifieds, un-targeted ads, etc.).  Instead of seeing the Internet as an opportunity, they saw it as a threat, and leaner, keener outlets rose up to fill the void. Continue reading

Lessons From BlogWorld 2009

7 Nov

I spent a few days last month at the BlogWorld conference and New Media Expo in Las Vegas. I didn’t gamble a cent– I like to say I’m not dumb enough to play a game of chance, not smart enough to play a game of skill– but I learned a lot, tweeted a lot, and met heaps of interesting, engaging people. I even got to see Beatles LOVE courtesy of Cirque de Soleil. The show was magical and it was fun to watch 20-something Eastern European acrobats dance like ’60s-era Yanks to “Back in the U.S.S.R.” But getting back to the learning part, in the spirit of  making sure what happens in Vegas stays online, here are a few old and new media lessons from BlogWorld:

1. Online vs. traditional journalism is not a zero sum game

Despite some stinging comments hurled at CNN anchor Don Lemon during one panel, I was surprised by how much love “legacy media” were getting in BlogWorld. NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen advocated using search data to determine what readers care about. Blogcritics publisher Eric Olsen waxed nostalgic about the tactile experience of print magazines. Rather than eye each other suspiciously, old and new media types shared best practices and ideas for preserving quality journalism. Continue reading

I Miss Today’s Papers

29 Sep

Last month Slate announced that it was pulling the plug on Today’s Papers, its popular daily summary of the morning journals, and replacing it with The Slatest, a thrice-daily aggregator of “the 12 most important news stories, blog entries, magazine features, and Web videos of the moment.” Like many diehard Slatees, I was shocked. TP had become the prologue to my mornings. It was a quick, concise read, that made me feel reasonably well informed before starting my day. But I soon chalked up my initial reaction to nostalgia. After all, Slate’s editors were right. The news cycle is no longer daily. And newspapers aren’t the only players driving it. Surely, as an online editor, I should be the last person to cling to such a relic.

But now it’s clear to me that Slate got it all wrong. The lesson of online news is not that readers want their news all the time and from countless sources. It’s that they can afford to be pickier about when and from what medium they get it.  Sometimes that may still be from the newspaper at the breakfast table. At other times, it may be via smart phone on the way to the pub. In any case, organizations need to add value to the news by providing either content or context. I don’t need Slate to tell me what the 12 most important news stories are right now. That’s what my RSS feeds and Twitter and Digg and the myriad other aggregators that have emerged in the 14 years since Slate introduced TP are for. Continue reading

How Employable of Me

28 Oct

“That’s where things are headed.”

Those are the vague and foreboding words of wisdom invariably bestowed on leery J-school students wondering where they’ll find a job now that the newspaper industry is imploding.

Where? The Internet. What things? Journalism, the future of.

Continue reading