Is this the future of print?


All aboard the Twitter train

If you’re interested in becoming part of yet another Twitter-related trend, do not hesitate to join the CUP “twibe” at this website.

I know. Twibe. It sounds stupid. I guess it is stupid.

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

Forget about what they’re calling it, just learn it

New media.

Social media.

Web 2.0.

Are those all the same thing? Are they not? I don’t know anymore, and I’m tired of trying to find out. Everyone has a different name for whatever it is that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia, podcasts, and Google have done for the Internet and, as a consequence, for the obvious good of humankind.

Maybe some of those are new media, others social media, and yet others “web 2.0” (a stupid term, in my opinion).

I call it hypersocial media. I’ll explain that in another post.

But it doesn’t matter what people call all of those things. Instead, focus on learning how to use these glorious online tools to your advantage. If you’re categorically opposed to Twitter, have it your way. But always remember that there are people getting ahead of the game — any game you can think of, really — just by typing 140 characters at a time.

Don’t try to explain away whatever you think is the non-utility of Twitter, because there are people who are using it to market themselves, their products, and their brand. And you can, too.

If you are a freelancer who wants to get your name and work into the world, you don’t have to use Twitter or Facebook or any other Internet-based media. But you should, because it can’t hurt and it will probably help you. Networking in the real world is difficult for a lot of people. Creating and updating and maintaining a webpage isn’t in everyone’s schedule. Why should it be? Freelancers are usually either working or looking for work, so where is there extra time?

Twitter does not take much effort. It’s a hell of a time-saver.

I missed the latest CUP conference in Saskatchewan, but I gather the message was something along the lines of whether or not print is dying is irrelevant because the best thing you can do for yourself is prepare for whatever the next phase of journalism happens to be and it seems like right now that is online journalism so upgrade your skills and get ready for a roller coaster of a career!

I wasn’t there, but I agree.

Here are some things you might consider doing to better prepare yourself for whatever the next phase of journalism happens to be:

  • Immerse yourself in hypersocial media so much that it becomes second-nature. Remember when you played baseball or hockey or volleyball or soccer and your coaches told you to practice “the fundamentals” so much that you didn’t even think about catching with two hands or keeping your head up? It’s like that. Make hypersocial media part of your daily routine. Don’t obsess about it, but just slot it in.
  • Learn how to set up a podcast. Set up a podcast. Make it a habit to understand podcasting culture and understand that freelancers can pitch podcasts to editors. Try it. I did.
  • Don’t ever think that newspapers will die. Every time you do, a kitten dies. Long live print.

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

The No. 1 thing you need to be successful

This fall, I will hit my 10-year mark of being a journalist. I don’t mean wanting to be one, I think that has always existed somewhere in me. No, I mean working as one, being published. Last month marked five years since I got my first full time job as a reporter/photographer at a small weekly paper.

The industry has changed a lot in those 10 years. In 2000, all I heard was how the industry was dying and the internet was going to take over the role of newspapers. I think people told me that change was imminent. Flash forward nearly 10 years and its almost as though we forgot about that one for awhile, but had to rev it back up again.

That being said, the internet is a huge part of my job as a copy editor. I never thought I’d be looking to learn html and other coding-type things.

The other thing that’s changed is that I don’t want to write all the time. When I was 17 and 18, I had a desk job at the Spectator and freelanced. Sometimes I had two, or even three, articles in the paper per day. The former editor in chief used to call the youth section on occasion the Sarah Millar section because it was my copy and not much else.

Now I have a desk job, but I’m not itching to write the way I once did. I still end up writing for the blog as often as I can, but my writing doesn’t seem to be what defines me any more.

But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in the 10 years I’ve been doing this: my passion for my job. I love what I do.

There are still days when I come to work and actually tear up a little as I walk into the newsroom. I almost have to pinch myself in order to make sure this is really real, I’m really doing this.

And I believe it is that passion, that enthusiasm that sets apart the successful journalists from everyone else.

I’m not talking about the world-famous, Pulitzer-prize winning journos either (I don’t think that much of myself!). To me, success is measured based on happiness. There’s a difference between the people who do this because they love it and because they need to, and those who do it because it pays the bills.

If you are lucky enough to be in the first group, then I have some encouraging words for you: we will get through this recession. Even as the jobs dry up and things look bleaker and bleaker, if you are willing to do whatever it takes to work in this industry, you will succeed.

You may never be the world-famous, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who solves world peace and writes a book about how easy it was, but you’ll be doing something you love and that means more than all the fame in the world.

Take it from me: despite my odd hours, and my weird schedule, I wouldn’t trade in a second of what I do for anything in the world.

— Sarah Millar

Why selling out isn’t (necessarily) evil

Situation: You’re a freelancer who has a few contacts at newspapers or magazines, but their budgets are tight and they can’t offer much. You tend to have a story on the go most of the time, but it’s a stretch to pay rent and eat (less important, usually) every month. And then you hear about a job in public relations. It pays well. You know you could do a great job.

What do you do?

You might tell your folks that jobs are scarce and you should take it (“in this economy, amirite?“). And your folks might concur. But you still can’t shake that nagging feeling that you’re selling out.

Well, depending on the gig, don’t feel like you’re selling out. When times have been tough, I’ve taken a couple of jobs doing sort-of public relations, and I don’t think it’s corrupted my reporting genes.

I worked with the Canadian Forces. Yeah, last June for a week, I worked at CFB Kingston for 12 hours a day. It wasn’t PR, but it was fake reporting. I played a reporter in an exercise that trained Canada’s next group of battlefield commanders. It was all fake. They had a mission and I worked with mostly former-military folks to make it harder for them to complete it. I could go on and on about those six days, but I won’t. I made money, gained experience, had a good time, and felt like I actually became a better reporter because of the experience. I also learned a lot of acronyms.

Did that time in Kingston comprise “selling out”? If it did, I’d sell out again if the opportunity arose.

I did PR for a student union. Just a few months ago, I co-hosted a podcast during the annual elections of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. It was hosted by, and the show even garnered some attention from another school out on the east coast. At the elections bureau, we did everything we could to promote voting and engagement and democracy. Over 80 interviews were conducted with candidates — lots in English, lots in French — for all kinds of elected positions. It was a lot of fun. But it was total PR. Maybe.

Here’s why I don’t feel like I “sold out” completely. The only thing we “promoted” was, again, voting and engagement and democracy. I suppose we were promoting the SFUO (we did smack talk a few other student unions, after all), but we weren’t endorsing any particular candidate, group of candidates, or ideology. We were as neutral as possible during interviews, which was appreciated by the candidates. Did voters see the show as public relations? Maybe.

In the end, though, I don’t think that exercise did anything to tarnish my record as a reporter.

If you take jobs doing public relations, corporate writing, or any pseudo-reporting job (see above), don’t think of it as the end of the world. It might even make you a better reporter.

For the record, I would give up any of those jobs for even the worst-paying reporting job. Just sayin’.

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

Jumping in to the deep end

People often give me a weird look when I tell them what I do, especially people who know me well.

“You work in a sports department,” they say.

“Yup,” is my common reply.

“Sports?!? You?!?”

Okay, I know it’s shocking. While I am by no means a girly-girl (doing my hair and makeup every friggin’ day is just too much work, I’d much rather be sleeping), I also am not that much of a guy’s-girl. My knowledge of hockey really only existed to the extent it did because my team went all the way to the Cup finals in 2007 before rolling over and dying in five games.

Or at least that was my sports knowledge.

In the past year-and-a-half since I started my job, my sports knowledge is getting better. I argued with my grandfather about the Masters over Easter weekend and actually had a real argument instead of just making it up as I go along.

Sure, there’s a lot I still don’t really know. And I still have pretty girly reasons for liking some players over others (it shames me to admit, cuteness is still a factor, no matter how many teeth a hockey player may be missing), but I also know enough about these guys and their sports to have an intelligent conversation.

My point? Never say, “I’ll never …” Why? Because you never know until you try. Try a beat that scares you, that you know nothing about, get out of your comfort zone.

Copy editing sports with little to no sports knowledge is kinda okay, writing about sports (which I’ve been doing on a somewhat regular basis since starting my job) with no knowledge is kind of impossible.

More than anyone else who knows me, I never thought I’d be working with sports, writing about sports or get excited about sports. After I got my job, I got a couple sports books to help me with terms and stuff I didn’t understand, but I’m learning regardless of the reference books I’ve read.

My whole career, I refused to write about sports (even when I was the sports editor of a weekly paper). I always passed the buck, made someone else do it because I was too afraid I’d be bad at it. In fact, I wasn’t afraid, I was certain.

When I started this job, I wished someone along the line had pushed me and made me do it. It would have been easier to get my feet wet at a smaller publication than a national one. Or that’s what I thought at first.

Now I realize, there’s no one here pushing me into the deep end, I’m doing it all by myself. And that is sometimes the most rewarding part of my job.

— Sarah Millar

Lessons from last week

I just returned a few weeks ago from spending five months on the road, reporting from places like Borneo and Jordan. So as a freelancer, my life is now fulltime pitching. Pitching is an art unto itself and I’m learning more about it as I go. So here’s four lessons I learned from successes and failures last week:

1. Send the right clippings

Here’s the situation: I was pitching a travel story to an editor I had unsuccessfully pitched before. From a conversation with a colleague, I knew that he was looking for a story on the destination I was proposing. But I haven’t written any straight-up travel stories (you know: the food at this place is blah blah, the view from my hotel room was blah blah, and so on). My only travel articles are quirky narratives and my other experience writing from exotic locales was on issue stories. How to convince this editor I’m the one to write about the proposed destination? (hint: not how I did it)

I sent in the three features I’m most happy with without explaining what they were. Like most editors, this guy is busy, and only gave my proposal a quick look. Two minutes (literately two!) after I sent the proposal I received a rejection. “I’d have to see more typical travel stories, Erin. The ones you linked to were okay but didn’t give me much flavour or colour or anything very distinctive. Sorry, but I can’t help you based on those stories.” Ouch.

My mistake? Since I didn’t have any typical travel stories, I should have told him why the clippings I was sending were relevant. He clearly didn’t read the stories; I sent 12,000 words of clippings and got a response in two minutes. He saw right away that they weren’t relevant and moved on.

2. Having a website works… really

When I went from a fulltime writing and editing job to having a few features on my lap while traveling, I really missed writing daily. My writing skills were also not as sharp as before. So I started writing long blog entries on my travels just to keep writing.

Not only did it keep me writing, but having a website allows me to control my professional image. And occasionally it pays off. Two newspaper editors contacted me out of the blue to publish entries as travel stories.

3. Recessions can be good for freelancers

For once in my career, I have an advantage being based in Vancouver. With all the layovers and budget cuts, newspapers can’t always afford to send reporters across the country to cover events. I got an unexpected assignment this way last week.

Where do you live? Paying attention to what is going on in your city and which out-of-town publications will want to cover it can get you work.

4. Pitch multiple ideas

I realized this week that pitching ideas isn’t just about selling one story but starting a relationship with an editor (duh). Here’s a success and a failure that led to me finally figuring this out:

Failure: I sent one story idea to an editor I have never met. In my email, I included all the usual stuff (my background, clippings, link to website, pitch) but nothing beyond that. The editor didn’t want the idea and because I gave her no other reasons to stay in touch, I got a one-line rejection.

Success: I sent three ideas to a magazine that were appropriate for specific sections. By describing why I thought the ideas would fit in where, the editor knew that I read the magazine. I also made it clear that I was very interested in writing for him and that I had more ideas if he wasn’t interested in the ones I proposed. He responded that the ideas I sent weren’t a good fit at the time but suggested we chat on the phone so I could get a better idea of what he was looking for and he could get to know me. I ultimately got an assignment out of the phone call. I’m planning to ask for a similar phone meeting every time I get rejected.

Do you have any recent lessons to share with us?

-Erin Millar

The power of working with numbers

Sit down and understand how to use Excel. Seriously. Just like that time I tried to look brilliant by saying get involved with campus radio, I hope to be able to — sooner rather than later, if all goes well — demonstrate the utility of Excel for freelancers and non-freelancers alike.

Until then, learn about equations and sorting and filters.

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

inside page: There aren’t any jobs…

So, Nick is right.  There will be jobs.  But, he’s also wrong, there won’t be any jobs.  At least not if you apply for jobs thinking a degree in journalism or previous journalism experience is going to cut it.  There were more than 3000 applications for a Page Editor position at a major daily in the city, the position got filled internally.  You have to stick out like a sore thumb.

So, what’s the common thread or facets of the all the career paths of those who work at the Star?

  • Many have worked for SunMedia and the Globe and Mail before the Star
  • Many started at the Star, then went to other news organizations, and came back
  • Many live in, grew up, or schooled in the GTA.
  • Speaks or has knowledge of a foreign language, relevant to Canada or the GTA.
  • 20 + years experience in, not just newspapers, but at news organizations like The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, The New York Times, AP, CP, Reuters, Bloomberg, etc.

What makes some of them stick out?

  • Amateur musician with advanced audio producing abilities
  • Advanced scuba instructors qualification
  • Pilot’s license
  • Sailed the world for a decade
  • Evolutionary biology degree, J-school grads are here and  there, but in no way the majority.
  • 3D rendering and drawing skills
  • Theatre costume designer
  • Took a year off work to live in Zanzibar.

Your clips matter. But who you are matters too.

My resume has all my journalism related jobs, (3 student paper jobs at 3 different student papers, 3 different positions with CUP, all in 3 years) plus freelance listings.

But, it also has stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily see on some people’s resume.  Like volunteer experience, or the year I spent driving go-karts at an indoor race track as a test car driver, or the summer I spent at CFB Trenton getting my pilot’s license at CRGS, or the time I impersonated a reality tv star online for 3 weeks, was proposed to, offered an interview at a Texas radio station and  didn’t get caught (ok, that last one is not on my resume, but entirely true).

You need to do more.  Some solid clips and a reference from your journalism prof or an editor at your student paper ain’t going to cut it.  I could tell you how to diversify, how to cater your application, but I’m not going to preach, I hate preachy bloggers.  So, I’ll just leave you with a quote:

Read between the lines:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

How many of these can you do?  What else can you do besides write, photo, edit, and design?

  • No really, I’m curious, what else people put on their resumes apart from straight forward jobs listings, hobbies etc.

There will be jobs

If you’re a student journalist who wants to bridge your experience into the Real World, chances are you are terrified right now. Newspapers and TV outlets are shedding jobs like crazy, and it seems impossible to break in to the business.

For now, yeah, it’s going to be a rough gig to land a steady job in the newsroom of your dreams. But lots of evidence suggests that young people will eventually be at an advantage when recessionary times end. Allow me to explain with a few facts that I am confident are facts.

1. There will always be a demand for news coverage

No matter how many jobs are cut, people will always want news. Whether it’s printed in a newspaper or posted online, consumers of news will always exist. Recession or not, demand is there.

2. Recessions end

A couple of nights ago, CUP Ottawa bureau chief Carl Meyer and I attended a National Press Club of Canada panel. It was about the future of journalism, and it featured a few prominent media types: Canwest’s David Akin, the Globe‘s Bill Curry, CBC Ottawa’s Paul Hambleton, and community newspaper guru and Algonquin journalism professor Joe Banks.

While all of them admittedly had trouble predicting what the hell the future of journalism would look like, they were all optimistic about the survivability of traditional mainstream media. The prevailing conclusion was that although the Internet would quite obviously continue to capture the attention of news consumers, there will remain a market for morning newspaper delivery and nightly TV news.

In other words, jobs are flying out the window right now. But that won’t last. When there are jobs, they are likely to go online — but again, not exclusively.

3. Newspaper readership is steady (h/t Akin)

Canwest reported today that, based on readership data from the Newspaper Audience Databank, “the Internet is not supplanting newspapers’ print editions as Canadians’ main source of news”.

Some key findings about adult readers from the Databank’s latest poll:

  • 48% read a daily newspaper on the average weekday
  • 73% read a printed daily newspaper in the past week
  • 19% read a daily newspaper online in the past week
  • 77% read either a printed or online edition of a daily newspaper in the past week

Not bad numbers, really. Check out the page, and you’ll see that they’ve held steady over the past few years.

4. Community papers are hiring (or at least not firing)

Panelist Banks emphasized very much that despite the financial troubles of many large media outlets, most community newspapers in Canada are steady. None have succumbed to financial pressures, he suggested, and they are the top hirers of Algonquin journalism grads.

The keys here: News will always be covered; resources won’t always be limited by recessions, and outlets will adapt to the Internet; people are still reading papers; and many small-scale outlets are thriving.

Hopefully that paints a cautiously optimistic picture of all of our futures in journalism.

Nick Taylor-Vaisey