Walt Mossberg’s advice for journalists

Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher are taking the digital media franchise, AllThingsD, from its relationship with the Wall Street Journal to a new independent phase. Walt and Kara have built up a great brand through great journalism, and he’s given an ‘exit interview’ to Mashable. He’s pretty tight lipped about what AllThingsD will morph into as it ends its relationship with the WSJ, but what I found really interesting was his own personal history.

While he has been known for more than 20 years for her personal technology column for the Journal, before that he covered national security. He has some excellent advice for ‘young journalists entering the industry’:

I would tell them quality over quantity, which is one of the biggest sins on the web, particularly today. I would tell them that it is enormously important to earn the readers’ trust by being ethical, another problem that some websites are guilty of. I would tell them to keep in mind who your reader is. Never talk down to that reader.

Know your audience and show them a little respect. It’s a winning formula no matter what stage your at in your journalism career.

Note, I first read this on Zeit and shared it on Pocket. I’m using Pocket and IFTTT to grab snippets I want to blog about. You can read the full interview at Mashable.

By Lance Ulanoff, Mashable
At an age when some may consider spending more time practicing their golf swing or perfecting their poker face, tech journalist Walt Mossberg is about to embark on what may be his biggest adventure yet.

from Pocket via IFTTT

Journalism and disruption: Change is easy and hard

With nearly 20 years of digital journalism experience, I’ve been through a lot of change in the industry and, editorially, 2013 reminds me a lot of the late 1990s. We’re seeing a lot of editorial experimentation – drones, Google Glass and all kinds of data journalism. I lived through an earlier era when editorial innovation exploded, and I hacked together a lot of projects using all kinds of technology and web services during my time as a field journalist for the BBC and digital editor at The Guardian. With the mobile, multimedia and web technology in 2013, these digital projects can seem easy and effortless (especially compared to the duct tape and spit we had to use in the early days).

However, it would be a mistake to think that just because it’s easier than ever to produce amazing digital editorial experiences that this makes organisational change easy. It takes an entirely different set of skills to get buy-in from stakeholders or to Jedi mind trick the empire builders of senior management. It is hard, and even I underestimated the size and nature of the challenge as I transitioned from young digital maverick field journalist to digital editor in the middle of the last decade.

While a lot is different in 2013 than it was in 1996 when I started in digital journalism, or even than it was five or six years ago, change still is hard. In some ways, it is even harder now as most newspapers struggle with redeploying diminishing resources carefully from the core business to new digital initiatives. The politics are fierce. Even when it is in an organisation’s best interest, even when it is an organisation’s stated interest to embrace digital, winning the political and cultural battles is hard, thankless work. I know people who stayed and fought these battles inside organisations, and I have deep respect for them and learn from them whenever possible. When I return to working for an organisation, hopefully soon, I will take lessons that I’ve learned from these friends.

If you want to know how hard it is, it’s really worth reading an article by David Cadogan at The Canadian Journalism Project. I love the piece because it takes me back to my own early days in digital journalism, the days of dial-up internet and lots of hacked together solutions, just with much, much more primitive technology. He writes:

In November of 1997, we put my flagship paper, the Miramichi Leader, online with a piece of off-the-shelf software our web press company manager found. By that time, our readers had 28k or 56k dial-up modems and access to Internet. Still, we could publish only stories, pictures and classified ads. A full-page colour ad would have taken more than a day to download.

I remember how exciting it was to push the limits of what we could do with the technology we had. For example, working on a video project for the BBC a year after the September 11 attacks I shot and edited video on my laptop, and then went out to dinner as my computer compressed the video to send via a very slow connection to London.

David talks about online subscriptions, message boards and even user generated story ides. This was in the late 1990s, about the same time I joined the BBC, and we were doing very similar work. I loved it. It played to my passion for journalism, technology and exploring news ways of storytelling. I still get excited thinking about what we achieved.

In the final section of the article, David says twice that he failed. “I failed abjectly at trying to get newspapers to buy into these opportunities,” he says. He was a publisher, investor and newspaper association director. He had industry connections and some of his own resources, and yet he couldn’t convince other publishers to embrace digital opportunities and get ahead of digital disruption. It was, and it often still is, incredibly hard to convince people to change, particularly when the full impact of new technology, in this case the Internet, isn’t yet obvious. I’ve heard stories like David’s from editors and managers across the industry, and I have a few of my own.

When I took the buyout from The Guardian in 2010, I felt sad because I knew that as a digital journalist with 15 years of online experience, that there was so much more I could have done had I been able to figure the secret handshake that unlocked resources and strategic support. I often joke that at The Guardian, anything was possible for me as long as it required no staff and no budget.

I do think that 2013 is a different era, because major organisations have stated that their goal is to focus on digital. There are news orgs that say they are digital first, and that was really rare in 2006. The direction of travel is, without doubt, towards digital.

A lot of young journalists will be like I was in the mid-1990s, able to work on exciting projects that push the boundaries of journalism and engagement. But move away from the coal face, and battles over digital, over change, are still happening. These battles are not unique to just one or two organisations, they are commonplace across the industry (and across many other industries too).

I’ve learned a lot during my work as a consultant about how to help organisations change. I can’t wait to take this experience to my next job. I’ve still got the passion and the fire for creating the future of journalism, but I have a few new tricks, beyond being geekier than the average journalist, to move the dial of organisational change in the right direction.

David’s article is also is important for young digital journalists to realise that there were a lot of innovators who fought, and sadly often lost the battle, to help newspapers respond to digital disruption. To believe that you are the first generation of digital guerrillas is to be ignorant of journalism’s history. I started in digital journalism in 1996, and I count true digital pioneers from a generation before me as mentors and friends. My work and the work of the current generation of digital journalists is built on their shoulders. All of us from those early days can look back and see points where we failed to bring about the change we wanted, but I salute David and so many others like him. They might not have achieved all of their ambitions, but they made this new era of digital journalism possible. You, sir, did not fail.

Want to get paid for journalism? Don’t be afraid to ask your audience

Last autumn, I was talking to a colleague and we were discussing the economic challenges the news industry, and really just about every other content industry, faces. I finally just boiled it down to this:

Anyone can write these days, but getting paid for it is a bitch.

We live in a world where 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute (as of May 2013) and between 600,000 to 1 m books were published this year in the US alone. The amount of content available creates a challenge that not only journalists but also musicians, film makers and writers face. There is just so much stuff competing for people’s attention. National Public Radio’s On the Media asked recently: Who’s gonna pay for this stuff? 

Here is how the hosts framed the discussion:

BOB GARFIELD:  As far back as we can remember, media was among the most lucrative industries on earth. The symbiosis of mass media and mass marketing was a path paved with profit for the  entertainment and information industries.

But today’s cheap and relatively simple technology have lowered the barriers of entry into that world, yielding a nearly infinite glut of stuff, brilliant and otherwise, to compete for audience and funding from every other thing out there, whether made by Warner Bros., or a Korean pop singer whose video was the first to hit a billion views on YouTube.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  The “Big Bang” in content has exploded the mass of mass media into a zillion fragments, most of which lack the critical mass to survive solely on ad revenue. So, who’s gonna pay for this stuff?

It’s a great show, well worth listening to if you’re passionate about finding the new business models to support journalism and other media in this age of abundance.

It’s a great programme that unpicks some of the issues, and if journalism is your passion, it’s well worth listening to the section on crowdfunding, including a Kickstarter campaign by Roman Mars, the host of 99% Invisible, to fund his third season. I loved this bit:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Has your success using Kickstarter changed your view of your future?

ROMAN MARS: Definitely. I did Kickstarter because I needed a problem solved. I needed to, to pay myself a little bit of something and pay my contributors to do this show, because I was going broke paying them and not paying myself. It was just about that.

What I got from Kickstarter changed the way I viewed like my audience and how I can operate in this world. It gave me time. There’s a perversity of money that money follows money [LAUGHS], and so like when I raised money on Kickstarter, I got more underwriting support.

Exactly, that’s exactly it. You know, I realized in this process, and part of this is, you know, me enjoying the success of the Kickstarter campaign, is that I kind of like solving the problem of funding the show. I didn’t think I would ever enjoy this part.

But I kind of like it. I kind of like this idea of entrepreneurial journalism. It’s just a puzzle, like anything else. And I’m a producer, and my job is to solve problems. And this is just the most immediate problem that we have.

Listen to the entire segment. It’s worth it just to hear Mars’ enthusiasm.

I really loved this for so many reasons. He became passionate about solving the problem of funding his journalism, but in the end, he found an authentic, honest way to involve his audience not just in creating the podcast but also in supporting it. US public radio has long history of listener pledge drives so crowdfunding projects is just a natural extension of that. The crowdfunding campaign showed that there was demand for what he was doing. That’s important, and crowdfunding isn’t just about raising money but also seeing if there is demand for what you’re doing.

What really grabbed me about this was Mars’ passion about solving the problem of sustainability. It’s great to hear, and I hope that Mars’ passion is infectious. It certainly rubbed off on me.