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On A Blue Sky View of Chicago Media

The View from Chicago Media Pep Talk

The view from the 22nd floor Cliff Dwellers Club on S. Michigan Ave., was stupendous and the conversation was even more uplifting Saturday morning for the “All Chicago Media Pep Talk.”

A handful of speakers, all gathered for the event  organized by Karen Kring, president of the Association for Women Journalists-Chicago, volleyed about their reasons for optimism, in a lively banter moderated by  GreenMark Public Relations’ Sue Markgraf

“It’s a wonderful time to be in media,” Markgraf said, for media entrepreneurs going out on their own. “We are at our core a creative group.”  

Past what he called the “hand-wringing stage,” Chicago journalists are starting to realize they “have a skillset still much in demand,” said Thom Clark, president of Community Media Workshop, which just completed a 2010 study of 120 community news sites.

Storytelling “is all we do, no matter what platform,” said Sylvia Franklin, an independent producer and content strategist. “Be smart enough and stretegic enough for people to find your information,” she advised the room of about 75 media workers.

Moving from traditional print to a radio variety show, “Chicago Live!” co-executive producer Lara Weber said her career is still about “respecting the storytelling” in an innovative way. The stage show in a partnership between the Chicago Tribune and Second City, she said, is very much like a weekly Sunday print magazine, with the best stories of Chicago now reaching a new audience.

Hyper-local news is the impetus for a positive outlook, said Mike Fourcher, publisher of CenterSquareJournal.com and RoscoeViewJournal.com. in what appeared to be the only precisely timed, prepared remarks of the morning.

Fourcher’s four reasons for optimism:

  1.  Cynicism.  Because mistrust of mainstream media is high, “start-ups can find a niche and get a foothold.”
  2. Long tail. Taking a page from author Chris Anderson’s view of the Internet, Fourcher said the “one-size fits all” approach to news by MSM proves there is room “for as many different niches as possible.”
  3. WordPress. Noting the agility and ease of publishing with this free tool (this is a WordPress blog), there has been a “revolution in publishing.”
  4. Patch.com. Because of the high-dollar, aggressive start-up of this conglomerate of hyper-local news, this endeavor is the “Starbucks of news.”

      Editor and publisher of Our Urban Times Elaine Coorens presented her view in 4 C’s , a P and an S. She said Change, Challenge, Choice, Creative Collaboration  (actually it’s 5 C’s then), leads to Passion and Success. We all applauded.

      Sherry Thomas, former editor at North Shore Magazine, (coincidentally, my first job out of grad school was as managing editor there in 1979) said when the magazine folded she did not panic. Now the editor-in-chief of Quintessential New Trier magazine, Thomas said the secret for success is to “give them stories they are not getting anywhere else. ” She added, “People will want what they always wanted– good storytelling.”

    After Kring cheerleaded the group to finding their own answers and concluded that she hoped everyone “got inspired for a few things,” the tables of journalists and media entrepreneurs went about the process of sharing their take-aways.

   Swapping praise and business cards, we filed out after Markgraf reminded us it was up to each of us to “create your own brand.” That is precisely what I tell my students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

   Ending just after 11 a.m., it was the start to a sun-fileld glorious Chicago day, where the view on the media landscape was as inspiring and bright as the one from the 22nd floor.

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“Eat Your Fear” For Your Career

“Eat your fear and go for it,” Maria Hinojosa of CNN and public radio fame advised the crowd at the recent Journalism & Women Symposium conference in Texas.  It’s good advice. And advice was what was on hand in the buffet of career suggestions offered at the panel I moderated, “Portfolio Careers.”

Journalists are no longer able to survive with singular specialties. What is required is affinity for change, a mega-nimble approach to adapting to the marketplace and a willlingness to shape your talents to the needs of media outlets and organizations. All of this was evidenced by the panel of superstars who quilt together professions highlighting different interests and passions.

Roberta Baskin, a broadcast investigative journalist with 75 illustrious prizes to her name, has moved from the post of executive director for the Center for Public Integrity, and is now senior communications advisor at the Office of the Inspector General for Health and Human Services. Her years in Chicago and Washington, D.C., working for ABC’s “20/20,” CBS’ “48 Hours” and “CBS Evening News,” as well as “NOW with Bill Moyers,” prepared her for a shift in career where her skills as an investigative reporter help uncover fraud, scams and crimes that harm the American public on a grand scale.

 Arnesa Howell advised the audience to manage time efficiently, as she moves from her posts as full-time freelancer, editor and consultant in Washington, D.C. writing for People, Uptown, Heart & Soul, USA Weekend and adjunct speaking gigs at Georgetown University and American.  

Charreah Jackson is doing it all out of New York as a writer, speaker, editor and family life educator. She is associate editor at Heart & Soul and a social media editor at Siren PR, as well as head of her own communications company, Studio Social.     

Linda Kramer Jenning is the Washington, D.C. editor for Glamour and an adjunct at Georgetown in journalism. A former Associated Press reporter, she has worked as an editor for People as well as in stints in broadcast outlets. She juggles editing as well as freelance work.

Gone are the days of journalists spending 25 years in a single media job resulting in a gold watch, gold pen or party with champagne in the newsroom with a single layer cake. You do what you can for outlets who will contract with you for your efforts. And you make it all work because you need to make it all work.

You eat your fear.

When I was a student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in the 1970s, every instructor spoke with great reverence about how we should all aspire to be reporters on the national desk for the New York Times. It seemed a noble goal, but I also looked around and decided that if my class that year had 150 students in it, and every class all four years had 150 or more students each, then 600 students every year were told to get the same job at the New York Times.

Chances are they had been telling students for the last 10, perhaps 20 or 30 years the same thing. So anywhere from 6,000 to 18,000 people were right now trying for the same job. And the one person in that job wasn’t leaving.

I learned before my writing career even began that I would make my own way and craft for myself a challenging and fulfilling career out of writing that satisfied me and met no one else’s idea of success.

Now I teach at that journalism school.  In the last 30 years, I have worked on staff as an editor at three magazines and one major daily newspaper. I have freelanced regularly for dozens of daily newspapers, magazines, websites and written for radio. I have written thousands of articles appearing in hundreds and hundreds of media outlets.

I even branched out to non-traditional writing experiments. About 15 years ago, I wrote health briefs for a new company whose idea was to have health tip annoucnements every morning on voicemail at different subscribing companies. Forward thinking we all thought. But not forward thinking enough. Even laughable right about now.  

I am a journalist, but do not have one journalism job. I teach journalism, have published three books, am revising my fourth and brainstorming on a fifth. I have a bi-monthly magazine column, three websites, two blogs. I have three sons and am right now paying two college tuitions. I just finished paying for the basement reconstruction after a flood.  

 I write for money. I write because I love to write, but also because I love to pay the mortgage.

I give speeches. I give writing workshops.  For clients, I have written brochures, slideshow scripts, photo exhibit captions, annual reports, and for a little bit in the 90s I was the parenting columnist for Kellogg’s monthly newsletter, The Best To You. And I am not ashamed.

  As my friend and colleague Lisa Shepard says, journalism is undergoing a revolution. And the rate of change is volcanic.  

Success looks differently in 2010 and far beyond, than it did even 10 years ago. For sure, very, very differently than it did in 1975. There are new ways to get to work. New ways to share your multimedia journalism skills, new ways to produce content and put food on the table and non-sensible shoes on your feet, money in your account and books for your kids.  Ways to brand yourself. Ways to prove your worth and get out there. Ways for people to seek you out.

There is no one right way. Not everyone gets on the national desk at the NYT.

One thing that was so striking about all the women on that panel is that they appeared fearless. They are striving ahead in many different areas, all by choice. 

As Maria Hinojosa said, it is time to eat your fear. Bon appetit.

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Maybe Newsweek should be NewsTweet?

Is anyone really surprised that Newsweek, a print magazine that rounds up the news for the week by Tuesday of the previous week, is not doing so well? I think all the editors, reporters and staffers should work from home on NewsTweet; having virtual editorial meetings in Second Life or Skype, then sending out freelance mojo journalists (hopefully some of my former students) to gather the content and push it out every 15 minutes on Twitter.

NewsTweet next?

I am being slightly facetious of course.

At the end of the week, it’s not so much news anymore. It’s something else– analysis, overview, value-added investigation, enterprise reporting that goes deeper. It’s opinion that is rooted in reporting, not the off-the cuff blog-by responses soaked in vitriol and intellectual paralysis. It has a place. And an audience.

Maybe it should be Notsonewsweek.

They call it news because it is timely and current. Not just recent. Journalism’s elasticity of timeliness has become so taut that news has grown to mean events happening in real time. Everything else is not so newsy. Relevant. Maybe interesting. So how about SortaNewsweek?

Once we sell a revamped Newsweek, we can go back and rethink Time. Or maybe just add a question mark?

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From Dollies to PMS and More of the Same

Not even two weeks after International Women’s Day, when the website for the March 8 event urged women to click and tell their stories, I am left wondering why we don’t understand that half the world needs more than a day in our honor. And why then,  if by default, the other 364 days are automatically International Men’s Days.  And what in the world we are still doing with mostly gender-avoidant media.

The media coverage of the day about the day seemed gratuitious, especially since most of the online and broadcast stories were splashed with Sandra Bullock’s Oscar win that night.       As we all know now, that wasn’t even the real story. Never mind.

In the superbly reported and written Newsweek  story this week,  “Sexism at Work: Young Women, Newsweek and Gender,” the “dollies”  write:

“Female bylines at major magazines are still outnumbered by seven to one; women are just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and less than a quarter of law partners and politicians. That imbalance even applies to the Web, where the founder of a popular copywriting Web site, Men With Pens, revealed late last year that ‘he’ was actually a she. ‘I assumed if I chose a male name [I’d] be viewed as somebody who runs a company, not a mom sitting at home with a child hanging off her leg,’ the woman says. It worked: her business doubled once she joined the boys’ club.”

All of this points to what my finely feminist writer friends label the “pale, male, stale” (or what I call PMS) status quo.  And then CNN attacked Politico for doing more of the same:.

Politico’s John F. Harris is on the defensive over the diversity of his staff after CNN’s Reliable Sources showed an editorial meeting that featured an all-white crowd and few women.

The publication’s editor-in-chief told Journal-isms columnist Richard Prince that the camera shots didn’t reflect the diversity of Politico’s staff, especially when it came to the number of women who work at the organization. Harris, however, refused to discuss actual numbers with Prince, saying “our corporate policies don’t allow me to release numerical data.”

The Reliable Sources segment was designed to show Politico’s preparation for covering the vote over the health care bill.

Blogging about the PMS for editorsweblog.org, Alexandra Jaffe wrote:

“(The editorial meeting) was pathetic.  All white folks at the table deciding the stories to cover.  Not one African American or any other minority,” says a journalist in an e-mail to the National Association of Black Journalists e-mail list.
Another laments: “How can they consider themselves ‘new media’ when they look just like the old media?”

The lack of diversity at this meeting was striking because of the visual uniformity of the scene, but it reflects a developing trend in the newsroom.  Although minorities compose over 33 percent of the population in the U.S., in 2008, as reported by the American Society of News Editors in their annual census, only 13.4 percent of journalists were people of color.  

Women fare only marginally better, with seven male bylines printed at major magazines for every one female byline.  Newsweek, which has a 39 percent female editorial board, reports that the four most common jobs for women today are stereotypically “pink-collar” jobs, with 43 percent of women working as secretaries, nurses, teachers and cashiers.  Of Newsweek‘s 49 cover stories last year, men wrote all but six.  And only two women currently work as editors of top circulation dailies in the U.S.

I teach my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University about the necessity of inclusiveness, about diversity of thought and how it shifts content and how every source for every story must be considered for race, age, gender, ideaology, geography, disability, education, income and orientation. You can’t get a broad diversity of sources on all stories, but you have to try. Why? Because it improves the journalism. Stories cease to be flat and become fully dimensional.

And then I came home to see my son, Brendan’s, new issue of Men’s Health. On the cover? “Cars! Beers! Breasts! And 9 Other Things Worth Living and Dying For.”

What more can I say.

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Everyman is Everywhere

In town visiting three students on Journalism Residency, I was driving past the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art yesterday. The banner flapping from the lightpost read: “SFMOMA, Your own narrative fills in the blanks.”

In my inbox, an email from Vogue (I buy it for the articles), urged me to “share my own Vogue story.” The text read: “Each month we tell you what inspires us, what moves us, and what takes our breath away. But now we want to hear from you. Share your Vogue story. Tell us how the magazine has been apart (sic) of your life.”

You really want my story?

My answer is that I see it in my mailbox every month,  take it out, flip through the pages and sometimes laugh at the gaunt 20 year-olds teetering in impossible heels with ratted wild wicked witch hair. Sometimes I take the fragrance inserts and rub them on my wrists. I read the profiles. Sometimes I see a pair of shoes that make me swoon.

But they are right, it is “apart” from my life. Not an integral part of my life. It is a magazine. And no matter how much I loved the movie, “Sepetember Issue,” I believe deep in my soul that Anna Wintour cares not a wink about my story.  The disingenuous attempt at inclusion feels false. No one wants Vogue to be about everywoman. For that I can look in the mirror.    

Still, it seems so many outlets want my story. Your story. Your narrative. Our narrative.

Each morning my Google Alerts for “everyman” include up to 20 entries of mentions from the trend toward “everyman” Oscars this year to pity for the downfall of Tiger Woods as Everyman. I don’t think so.

The overuse of the word and the notion of “we’re all in this together” supports my notion that we are immersed in a culture where the avergae citizen  is more appealing and newsworthy than an elite celebrity.

Sometimes the moniker is not deserved or sincerely applicable. Take Scott Brown, Republican’s No. 41. He is no Everyman for me, even though that has become his subtitled reference. Show me an everyman who poses for Cosmopolitan and wins a Senate seat. John Edwards was not an everyman either. He was a cheating slug.

Is he really an Everyman?

Pizza Hut and Comcast have everyman advertising campaigns, the late Walter Cronkite had everyman appeal, Barack Obama was an everyman and now not so much. Books, magazines, museums, ads, movies, pols, everyone and everything want to appeal to everyman.

Some of it I don’t buy. Some of it is just slapping a popular title on anything and everything.  Everyone is not an everyman.

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