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Category Archives: journalism

The journalist’s lament: does it ever get better?

Old typewriter keys. ©Robin NelsonAnother day, another layoff. That’s the life of a journalist in today’s world. And it’s depressing as hell.

The latest involves 657 full-time jobs being axed at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation over the next two years, mainly thanks to the loss of NHL rights to Rogers. With hockey accounting for about a third of the CBC’s revenue, the cuts were inevitable. Many of the layoffs will be from sports and sales, but some will be coming from news operations too. I’ve lost count of the total jobs lost in Canadian journalism over the past year or two.

Whenever students or young people ask me for advice about getting into journalism, I earnestly tell them, “Don’t.” Why anyone would want to subject themselves to this kind of non-stop barrage of doom and gloom is beyond me. At this point, being a crack dealer has more appeal (especially in Toronto).

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Posted by on April 11, 2014 in internet, journalism

 

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Canada takes Metacritic game reviews by storm

Canada didn't just whip U.S. butt in 1812; we've also done it in mainstream games coverage.

Canada didn’t just whip U.S. butt in 1812; we’ve also done it in mainstream games coverage.

It’s been a good week for Canada and video games, with both the Toronto Sun and the National Post finally getting included in Metacritic‘s video game listings. The two newspapers join The Globe and Mail  (and your’s truly) to form a trio of mainstream media representation on the important aggregation site, a claim only one other country can make. It’s a significant development for several reasons.

For the uninitiated, Metacritic is a hugely important entertainment review aggregator. The site’s editors curate a list of critics in four categories – movies, games, television and music – and present their respective findings as an averaged score. The usefulness of this is obvious: one or two critics can be wrong about a particular piece of entertainment, but the average of dozens – the wisdom of the masses – is a pretty good overall indicator of its quality. So, while Time magazine tells us that Argo was only a so-so movie deserving of a 5 out of 10, yet the critical consensus is 86 out of 100, we can generally judge that it’s actually pretty good (even if it is horribly inaccurate).

As a user, I don’t find the site to be too useful for TV shows or music; reviews of the first are generally based only on pilots or the first few episodes, while I’m not interested in reviews of the second much anymore. With movies, though, I live and die by Metacritic scores. I generally go see highly rated movies, whatever they’re about, and skip the low ones (sorry, Adam Sandler). Game scores, meanwhile, are also hugely important for many potential buyers, not to mention the makers themselves. Some publishers award bonuses to developers based on the Metacritic score of their game. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in journalism, video games

 

Auto-transcription? Be careful what we wish for

robot-writingWhen thinking about the Pentagon’s technological research, it’s more pertinent to wonder what its scientists aren’t into than what are they into. The latest doozy from its James Bond-like Q-wing, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is a real imagination stoker: total transcription of every conversation on earth.

Yup. According to Wired, DARPA has given University of Texas computer scientist Matt Lease $300,000 over two years to work on a project called, “Blending Crowdsourcing with Automation for Fast, Cheap, and Accurate Analysis of Spontaneous Speech.” As per the article:

The idea is that business meetings or even conversations with your friends and family could be stored in archives and easily searched. The stored recordings could be held in servers, owned either by individuals or their employers. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2013 in DARPA, journalism, robots

 

Journalism’s problems shouldn’t extend to etiquette

will-work-for-freeOn Tuesday, a blog post from journalist Nate Thayer titled “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist – 2013”  made the rounds as the online conversation piece du jour. In it, Thayer detailed an email conversation he had with an editor at The Atlantic about repurposing a post he had written about basketball diplomacy for NKNews, a site devoted to information about North Korea.

The Atlantic editor liked the original post and wanted Thayer to rejig it for publication on his site. Thayer is an award-winning veteran journalist working in Asia and he took exception to the terms proposed. It seems the outlet wanted him to do it for free, which rankled him because he knows people who work there – for pay.

The editor countered with the suggestion that, because The Atlantic has 13 million readers a month, it would be great exposure. And, assuming that Thayer had already been paid for it by NK News, she figured he wouldn’t have to do much additional work on it. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in journalism

 

Writing and porn: not so different online

The Mesh web conference kicks off in Toronto on Wednesday and yours truly will be taking part in a panel discussion titled “How Adult Entertainment is Reshaping the Internet – and vice versa.” The discussion will be moderated by Mark Evans, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with both at The Globe and Mail and the National Post, while fellow panelists will be Patchen Barss and Allison Vivas. I’ve talked about Patchen and his book The Erotic Engine before while Allison is president of Pink Visual, an adult entertainment company I’ve grown quite fond of (I’ve never actually seen any of their content, but I like the people who run the company).

It’s funny because I’ve been thinking lately about the changes that the profession of writing is currently undergoing. From journalism to book writing, things are very much in a state of flux thanks to the internet. The old ways of making money are rapidly disappearing, while the new ways – if there ever will be such a thing – are not yet completely apparent. In that way, the businesses of writing and pornography are not all that different.

I’ve jokingly compared journalists and porn stars before – we both deal in inches and we both screw people for money – but there is actually a serious side to it. As the media industry-watching folks at Poynter have suggested, both industries are currently plagued by the notion of “free” – people have become accustomed to getting both their news and their porn for free, which is really messing with the economics of how to supply either.

I documented the porn industry’s problems in a lengthy piece for AskMen.com earlier this year. In the writing business, this is having some really bizarre effects – some of which I’ve directly experienced in the six months since going freelance. Generally speaking, the news outlets with the biggest audiences and largest reach tend to pay the worst. Indeed, the Huffington Post – one of the biggest news sites around – has achieved some notoriety for achieving its status on the backs of bloggers who worked for free, some of whom are angry that the site was sold to AOL for hundreds of millions. Print publications, meanwhile, tend to pay better even though their readership isn’t at the same level as these larger sites. That seems pretty skewed, although it’s probably still reflective of the fact that while advertising is migrating to online, a good chunk of it still resides in print.

In light of that weird fact, I’ve started to wonder about whether writing isn’t where writers are ultimately going to make their money. Regardless of whether they’re suing the Huffington Post or not, a good many people wrote for – and continue to write for – that site and others like it for little or no pay. They do it for other reasons; some like writing for fun while others like the exposure that such a giant site gets them. In that vein, writing is almost a form of advertising for the individual that – hopefully – leads to income coming from other sources.

Over the past few months, I’ve been invited to take part in some workshops and speaking engagements, all of which have called on my expertise – real or alleged – on certain subjects. Some of them were paying gigs that actually paid better than a lot of the writing jobs I’ve taken. And indeed – by earning income from these sources, I’m freed up to write more of what I want, which means I can take on jobs that pay less, if anything. Most importantly, I’m freed up to embark on entrepreneurial writing, which is sort of how I describe writing books these days.

I’ve blogged before about the revolution the book business is going through and it seems to me the changes there are a little clearer to predict than in the journalism world. Under the old system, authors would get paid in advance of writing a book, which supported their effort. Under the emergent self-publishing system, that dichotomy is flipped – authors earn their money after they write the book. It’s clearly a higher risk, but it holds the promise of a much better payout, as a piece in the New York Times recently spelled out.

Book writing is necessarily becoming more entrepreneurial, which is both good and bad. Ultimately, writers are earning far more freedoms and opportunities, but the downside is they’re having to become more than just writers. Some may hate that, but I quite like it.

Perhaps the answers for the porn business are similar. Here’s a crazy suggestion: what if porn stars were to accept that the sex they have on video is done for free, with their income coming from other places? For example, let’s say a gal starts her own site where she posts videos of herself having sex for free. It’s not hard to imagine that such a site would become successful, making the proprietor a star pretty quickly. The gal could then use her fame to book herself into well-paid appearances at strip clubs across the land. In other words, she’d be a highly paid stripper – the porn is just the advertising vehicle. It’s the “freemium” idea taken to its extreme.

The effects of such a scenario would be similar to the book business: the entrepreneur (porn star/author) would keep most of their earned income while the distributor (porn company/publisher) would be cut out of the equation. I know a lot of authors like the idea. I wonder what porn stars might think?

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in journalism, Pink Visual, sex

 

Tips on how to get a job in journalism

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking part in the Ryerson University Journalism Course Union’s Cabeer Night, an annual event that functions like a career night where students meet and talk to professionals – except it takes place in a bar, hence the addition of “beer” to the title. I’ve done a few of these before and I always enjoy them because talking to students is refreshing. There’s very little conversation about mortgages or child rearing, which are common topics among my regular social circles. Instead, aside from the natural career stuff, we usually discuss things like existentialism, gender roles and the plight of the proletariat. Fun stuff.

Cabeer Night at Ryerson is also great because it’s my baby. The lovely Tom Gierasimczuk, now the managing editor of Marketing magazine, and I started the JCU and Cabeer Night way back in the mid-nineties. Seeing both still going is a real kick and it takes me back to a simpler time, when hair was long and clothes were flannel. Ah… to quote David Lee Roth, where have all the good times gone? (By the way, how many sheets to the wind is Dave in that video?)

Anyhow, as always, this year’s Cabeer Night was stacked with a bunch of professionals journalists, including Ron Nurwisah from the National Post and Amanda Buckiewicz from Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet. Cabeer Night actually functions similar to speed dating – each professional sits at a table and students take turns moving to each, whereupon the pro dispenses advice on how to get a job in the industry. When we came up with the rules oh so many years ago, it made sense from the student’s perspective, but we never considered the pro’s point of view. That’s too bad because sitting on the other side now, I would have liked to have heard the advice my fellow journalists gave out. Truth be told, I have no idea how to get a job in journalism. Not only has the business changed dramatically since I was in school thanks to that dang internet, but the route to career success is different for everyone.

That said, the essence of the gig called for dispensing advice so I did have a few thoughts to share, which I figured I’d repeat here for anyone hoping to score a job in journalism.

One thing that has not changed despite all the upheaval in the business is the idea of who you know. This applies to just about all businesses, but journalists especially are networkers by nature. Aspiring journos need to get out and meet people, talk to them and connect with them. Just as the best stories come from getting out there and talking to people rather than sitting at a desk and hiding behind a phone or email, so too are the best connections made in person. I told some of the Cabeer Night students that they were already ahead of their peers simply by coming out to the event, because they were meeting real professionals who may some day be able to hire them or recommend to others who might.

Of course, there’s a fine line between networking and schmoozing. Getting to know professionals and connecting with them on topics of similar interest is one thing, but sucking up to them is another. It’s hard to define where one ends and one begins but generally speaking, it’s pretty easy to tell when someone is legitimately interested in a person as opposed to what that person can do for them. Finding this balance is one of the professional world’s trickiest-yet-necessary endeavours. The only advice I had there is to be genuine. Suck-ups can usually be spotted a mile away.

Another thing I urged students to do was to go somewhere else and work. I remember way back on the first day of journalism school, one of our profs told us that if we wanted a job after graduation, we’d have to move to Whitehorse. She was trying to scare us, but it was actually pretty good advice – and Whitehorse is a very nice place, at least for three months of the year. Going somewhere remote or, even better, some other country, is great for a number of reasons. For one, the Whoop Whoop Standard (I made that up, although it may actually exist) is an easier place to get a job than, say, the Toronto Star, but going abroad also shows employers back home a number of things: that you have balls, initiative and adaptability. Those are all very highly prized traits in the business.

Going abroad is also fantastic for more than professional reasons. On a personal level, it’s a great way to experience different cultures, perspectives and ways of doing things. That sort of thing not only makes you a better journalist, it also makes you a better person. I know a lot of people who have lived and worked abroad and just about all of them say it’s the best thing they’ve ever done, for both professional and person reasons. It can be hard at first, but as the old saying goes, nothing worthwhile is easy.

Rounding out my trio of career tips was urging everyone to write a blog and get involved with social media, such as Twitter. Some people say that blogs are a fad that has passed, but that’s overly simplistic. Blogs where people write about what they had for lunch may be passe, but those specializing on specific topics are more vital and important than ever.

The reasons for budding journalists to start and maintain a blog are many. First, just as with going abroad, it shows initiative – that the writer is a self-starter and can actually assign themselves. Secondly, it’s been said that writing is like a muscle, so a blog is a good way to exercise it, especially if you have no other outlets at a given time. Thirdly, and most importantly, blogs can be a way for opportunities to come to the would-be journalist, rather than the journalist always having to look for their own breaks. Most jobs require experience of some sort, so blogs are a good way of creating your own.

Let’s say you live in a smaller city in Ontario and want to be a sports journalist, but you have little experience. One smart thing to do would be to start your own blog wherein you regularly cover the local Ontario Hockey League team. If you do it long enough and well enough, eventually you’ll start showing up in Google search results. Then, when a player from your team gets called up to the NHL and the reporters from TSN go looking for information on him, your blog will show up. They may call you up and ask what you know about said player. Who knows, maybe they’ll even ask for a write-up. Voila – you’re on the big boys’ radar.

This isn’t a pipe dream. I have people contact me all the time with opportunities, simply because I run this blog. Not only does it give me a presence on the web, it also gives them an easy way to get in touch. I did an interview about my book on CNN International in Hong Kong a few months back, for example. Sex, Bombs and Burgers isn’t even available there, but the host of the show found me through her browsing and was interested enough to put me on.

Granted, not every blogger has years of experience or has published a book, but my story is only one of a multitude. Mathew Ingram, a friend and former colleague of mine, told me a little while ago that he’s had more opportunities come his way from his blog than from anything else he’s done. And he’s been a columnist for the Globe and Mail and the paper’s communities editor.

Twitter is also absolutely vital for any journalist. While the service is widely misunderstood as just another repository for people’s useless information, like what they had for lunch, it’s actually a real-time, personalized, two-way wire service for anyone who chooses to use it. Whether you’re interested in hockey or baking, there are people out there writing about the topic and talking about it on Twitter. This goes back to my first piece of advice – get out there and get engaged with these people. It may lead to new friendships, acquaintances and getting on people’s radars, not to mention keeping you up to date on everything in your field of interest.

Hopefully some of that will come in handy to all of you out there who are looking for a job in journalism. Again, I’m sure everyone working in the field has different advice so there’s no sure-fire way to do it. However, if any of my tips do help, remember that I take commissions in the form of beer.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in journalism, Twitter