An Obituary From The Future

Yesterday on Reddit, user NoFlag posted an obituary he wrote for himself as part of a project for his journalism class: John X. Noflag was pronounced dead at the age of 225 this Thursday at the Mons Olympus Medical Combine, following complications with a voluntary nanotech experiment.

Observers say a procedure to fully immerse Noflag within a nanotech swarm ended abruptly as his body dissolved before their eyes. Due to the failure, most of the nanotech was collected and deactivated, although some escaped. The escaped sample is not believed to be self-replicating, but it could not be confirmed.

Born on Earth in Somecity, California, Noflag was one of the later immigrants to Mars after the Earth ban of age enhancement technologies and strict regulation of nanotechnology, being commonly heard to say “Earth will pay for its lack of vision.” He is survived by two fully mature clones and a youngling.

A public funeral and ceremonial burial is planned on the grounds of the Noflag Estate.

In lieu of flowers, mourners are asked to send money or weapons to the Nanotech Defense Front.

He's seems like a pretty smart kid, and I'm sure  he can probably see far enough into the future to know that he probably won't be a journalist when he graduates.



Who Wrote That News Story?

A few days ago, a friend of mine mentioned that a news release she had written and issued to the media was re-posted on a news website by a journalist verbatim, without credit to my friend or her organization for writing the release, as if it were a story that person had written. My friend wasn't happy with it, and seemed to suggest that it was laziness on the part of the journalist. My response?

We spend hours drafting news releases, making sure that key messages and all the right information is in there. This is to make sure that a journalist has all the info they need to write their story.

When a journalist does report on a story, and gets the facts wrong, we'll throw up our hands and say, "Oh, they just didn't get what I was trying to say! If only they'd read the briefing material or news release more closely!"

So to my friend who had her news release reprinted: I think this is the best possible situation. Your client's news got into the media without any distortion. Your news release was written well enough that he didn't find a need to rewrite it, and that was probably one of the reasons it got published. If the journalist had needed to rewrite it, he might not have had the time and it might not have gotten published.

Being a communicator is a job without a lot of glory. When things go well (as in this case), no one really notices. If you want to get your name out there, become an author or a journalist. Communicators work in the background.

What do you think, readers? Have you ever had someone publish a news release that you've written without credit to you? How do you feel about the fact that this is happening?


PS: When I wrote this post, I purposely didn't read the post that my aforementioned friend, Bonnie Dean, wrote about it. I'm going to go read it now to get her perspective, and you should too: You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth.

Did Mainstream Media Win The Online Journalism War Against Bloggers?

Like Christie Blatchford before him, David Olive is one newspaper reporter that really doesn't understand blogs and the internet. In his recent article on ("Bloggers hitch wagons to the traditional media") he argues that... you know what? I'm not really sure what his argument is. He seems to be critical of bloggers and seems to be trying to defend traditional media.

The problem is that he doesn't do a good job of either.

After dismissing bloggers as nothing more than "Internet diarists," he applauds Newsweek, The Atlantic, Maclean's, The Nation and even his own Toronto Star for either hiring bloggers or turning their journalists into bloggers.

Just one paragraph later, he says that the reason these bloggers are turning to newspapers is because "there is little 'stumble upon' factor in blogs—strangers who come across a website by accident and become fans. You won't stumble across the website of prolific blogger Mark Steyn at the dentist's office as you will Chatelaine."

I find fault with this statement for a couple of reasons. The first is that if the major problem for bloggers is the lack of "stumble upon" traffic, why would writing for a newspaper website get them greater visibility than writing for their own website? Similarly, if blogs result in such little traffic, why is David Olive so happy to let us know about the prestigious print publications that now have their journalists spending time writing blogs on the publications' websites?

I'd also argue that blogs DO get a lot of stumble upon traffic—both from the fact that they link to other blogs (something David Olive doesn't seem capable of doing) and because of a little something called StumbleUpon. Most of the blogs I read today I read because I've come across them via a link from another blog. Either that, or I've found them via StumbleUpon—a tool that plugs into your web browser and lets you stumble around the internet.

I also question the validity of his statement that "the lifespan of the average blog is two to three months." I don't know where he got this information, and I'm not doubting it. I've got plenty of friends that have thought it was a good idea to set up a blog and given up after only a post or two. However, that's because the barriers to entry are so much lower for starting a blog than for starting a newspaper. If you honestly want to compare failure rates, how many people have given up trying to start a nationwide print publication after coming up with an initial idea and perhaps drafting one or two articles?

David Olive might declare that the war is over and that the mainstream media have won it, but I disagree.

I don't think there was a war in the first place. I think there was an evolution, and that the media everywhere is changing. Bloggers are thinking more like journalists, while traditional journalists and editors are thinking more like bloggers. If anything, the borders between the two are blurring.

For a guy writing an online article with a comments section (despite the lack of links), he's doing a pretty good job of not understanding what a blog is or how it works.


The Twitter Journalist

A few weeks ago, I told Jens and Heather that I didn't want them to write any more posts about Twitter ("its been done to death") so I'm breaking my own rule here.

Over the weekend, I started thinking about how Twitter is becoming a primary way for people to get their information. Then I started wondering why we aren't seeing any journalists covering stories exclusively on Twitter. I imagine it would work much the same way that we sometimes see television or radio journalists covering breaking stories: they stay on the scene, and provide constant updates whenever they get additional information. Much of their reporting is observational, but other information comes in by way of eyewitnesses and official reports.

It looks like  Mark MacKinnon had the same idea - he's been Tweeting live from Bangkok as the city "disintegrates."

Since he works for Canada's Globe & Mail newspaper, I doubt that Twitter will be the sole way that he'll report his story. However, I'm sure that people who have been following his updates on Twitter will most certainly read any in-depth story he writes about the situation for the Globe & Mail. The text of some of his tweets will also probably make it into any final copy he writes, and I'm sure that he'll be aided by other Twitter users on the ground providing him with additional information.

In all, it sounds like a win-win situation.

Are there any other examples of journalists using Twitter as their primary way to report on one story?


Dear Globe & Mail, (a letter to the newspaper industry)

Dear Globe & Mail, I really like you. I don't have a subscription to you because I'm normally too busy to read you every day, but I often buy a copy of you from the newstand in my building because it is simply easier (and more environmentally friendly) to share you with my coworkers, or to simply read you online.  As I've written before, one of my favorite Saturday activities is to buy your weekend edition and read through it over a coffee.

Despite what everyone says, you also seem to be pretty popular with the fickle blogging crowd. I mean, as of today you had a almost 60,000 blog reactions on Technorati, and over 200,000 inbound links according to Google blog search. You're still a primary source of information for these people.

If the recent debacle of CNN erroneously reporting that Steve Jobs was in poor health is anything to go by, citizen journalism is as flawed as Andrew Keen says it is. As a traditional media force, people still respect you.

But then you go and do something like trying to charge me $4.95 for a newspaper article that I've already paid for and read, and this hurts me (telling me that this content will only be available for 30 days only adds insult to injury).

Your greatest asset is the thousands and thousands of pages of information and news stories that you have in your archives. People want to view this content, and just as they have endured advertising in your print publications, they'll endure the same kind of advertising on your website.

I understand your thinking when it comes to locking up this content behind a pay wall: it is valuable information, so people will pay to see it.

The problem is, you are only half-right. It is valuable information, but only when it is easy to access. In the age of Google, people will quickly move on and find the information elsewhere, somewhere where it easier to get at.

I know that you have a lot of people working for you (like Christie Blatchford) who don't understand very much about computers, the state of media today or even life in the 21st century. But that doesn't mean you have to end up as a failure. It just means that you have to pay attention to the people that want to help you.

Change your ways, Globe & Mail. or we're through, and it won't be because I'll stop reading you. It will be because everyone stops reading you, and you'll cease to exist.



PS: You should probably forward this letter to some of your other traditional media friends. I know that they are going through some tough times as well.

PR Grows and Journalism Shrinks

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing Ira Basen, of CBC’s Spin Cycles radio series, deliver a lecture at Seneca College. His comments centered around the frustration that public relations practitioners experience with regards to PR public image; how it is defined by those who are least sympathetic to PR: journalists. CBC’s history of grimly portraying the PR industry included, a radio documentary-turned-book, The Sultans of Sleaze (1989), followed by Truth Merchants (1998), which examined PR from a journalistic perspective. Finally, Basen put together Spin Cycles (2007), which took a more objective stance on PR.Although Basen criticizes public relations practitioners, he also criticizes journalists, which comes as a relief to PR folks due to the anomaly. In general, the public relations community has been very receptive to Spin Cycles, particularly in the UK, US and Italy. Basen speculates that this is because he takes PR seriously as a vocation and knows more about its history than most practitioners. Basen talked at length about the growing strain on contemporary journalists. Using Toronto as an example, there is an increasing demand for journalistic content. Toronto is the successful home to four major dailies with an unprecedented readership of 2-3 people per household. On the other hand, we hear every day about layoffs in journalism. Just recently, the BBC announced that 12% of its journalists were getting cut. In 1991, there were 12,700 journalists in Canada, compared to 12, 500 in 2001. The gap between the demand for news and its supply has widened. This means our journalists are strained, meeting impossible deadlines with limited resources. What it also means is that the newsworthiness and quality of printed stories is eroding. In school, we hear constantly hear about the inundation of newswire services (CNW Group, Marketwire) with news releases in Canada, with numbers reaching upward of 200-300 news releases each day.

As the number of news releases generated continues to increase, the resources and time that journalists have to come up with stories is decreasing, which ultimately affects the quality of the stories we read. The implicit contract that journalists have with their audiences to deliver newsworthy and credible stories has been broken as the real news stories are lost in a sea of news releases based on latent advertising and product placement. Thus, Basen believes we cannot lay the blame on the public relations industry, but rather on the depleting resources of our journalists.

Keep reading BlogCampaigning for more on Ira Basen's ideas next week!

- Jess