Gee the Valley Press Club had its 6th Annual Communications Conference at Western New England College last week, but this gathering of newsmakers apparently wasn't itself very newsworthy. The only account of the event I could find online was on Masslive.com. That was a brief article about the award the Club gave to Springfield Newspaper writer Barbara Bernard. However, the article gave the impression that the only purpose of the conference was to give that award.
Yet someone sent me a brochure from the event, which showed that there were also a lot of workshops and panel discussions about the news business, none of which has been reported on anywhere that I could find, which is remarkable for an event presumably filled with media people. The brochure also showed who was on the panels, and that one group was very conspicuous in their absence from the discussions - internet news reporters such as bloggers. Thinking maybe the brochure was incomplete, I went to the Valley Press Club website to see if I could find out more.
But their website hasn't been updated in seven months.
The site did have this redeeming feature though, a wonderfully unflattering photograph of Springfield Mayor Dom Sarno.
A lot of what went wrong in this Valley over the past several decades can be laid at the feet of the members of the Valley Press Club. It was they who told us what a wonderful mayor Mike Albano was. It was they who covered Papa Ray Asselin for three decades and never saw a thing. It was they who promoted one disastrous economic development scheme after another. Had they done their jobs, a lot of bad policies and bad politicians would never have been able to inflict the harm they did on our Valley. As Al Giordano and I used to describe them, they often functioned as the Valley Propaganda Club.
Question: What is the Valley Press Club going to call itself when its presses fall silent?
All three major Valley print media outlets, The Springfield Newspapers, The Hampshire Gazette and The Valley Advocate announced cutbacks and lay-offs in the past month. It is not the first round of reductions, nor will it be the last. It would be easier to feel sorry for those endangered by the ever accelerating collapse of the printing press based media if they hadn't been so damn smug back when they were first warned that the internet would one day swallow them whole. As they spiral down the drain, so clueless they can't even update their own website, it is difficult for we online pioneers not to jeer at the members of the Valley Press Club, "We tried to warn you!"
But why be mean about it? I'll do them a favor they don't deserve and tell them the answer I would have given, had they the sense to invite someone like me, to the only question that was really worth asking at the whole damn conference:
If I want to still be in the news business five or ten years from now, what should I be doing?
Here's what I would have told them.
Actually go online. - New Media guru Jeff Jarvis sometimes gives (for a high fee) workshops to newspaper staffs trying to transition to the internet. One of the first questions he asks the reporters in the room is, "How often do you go to your newspaper's website?" He was at first shocked, but no longer, to discover that the vast majority of the newsroom staff NEVER goes to the paper's website. Despite the fact that their entire professional future, if they are to have one, is to be spent online, they themselves are often unaware of what their own online product is like.
Geek Yourself. - So at the very least you should check out your website daily, probably as the very first thing you do when you arrive at work. If you are not spending at least a couple hours a DAY doing nothing but surfing the web to see what is going on in cyberspace, you are not adequately informing yourself to the extent necessary to meet your journalistic responsibilities. You wouldn't write a news article without checking your sources, why would you write for the internet without an intimate knowledge of what's out there?
Steal From the Best - Just as important, you should check out not just the sites of your print competitors, but of citizen journalists as well. Don't be afraid of them, they are the people you used to call your sources. They are also the people you used to call your audience, although in the past you seldom heard from them except for the occasional letter to the editor. Ask yourself how your website could better convey the news. Imagine yourself as a visitor to your site who didn't work there. What would you want to read? How would you want it presented? What are others doing that seems to work - or not? How can you incorporate what works into your own website?
Brand Yourself - As a journalist, you undoubtedly have areas of expertise. People interested in the subjects that you are knowledgeable about will come to a site with your name on it. You need to make yourself known independent of your employer. No longer can you stand behind the prestige of your paper. You need to be marketable in your own right. Turn your byline into a brand. Promote yourself relentlessly and independently of any mainstream media connections you may have. Start blogging today, because the sooner your name is out there the more your name will be worth on the day when you get that inevitable pink slip.
Become a Capitalist - Amazingly, many reporters used to pride themselves on the fact that they knew nothing about the business end of their profession. Now every news gatherer who wishes to make a living must become an entrepreneur. For all the hype about the newness of the internet, the business model online is exactly the same as it has always been in Old Media: Present what will draw an audience and then sell that audience to advertisers. No longer can you rely on staff people you hardly know in some mysterious part of the building to do the "dirty work" of turning a profit. Now it is your responsibility to make yourself profitable, and a disdain for business is an attitude you can no longer afford.
Rediscover Your Idealism - Begin to do the things I've mentioned and the world of online writing and news gathering will begin to open up to you, along with its unlimited opportunities. Remind yourself of what drew you to journalism in the first place. The desire to write? To inform? The internet gives you the opportunity to write like never before, with no space limitations, no editors to grant or withhold permission, and no barriers on where your creativity can take you. The gatekeepers are gone as the age of total artistic freedom has arrived. This is the new golden age for writers, so rejoice in the fact that you are alive to enjoy and to profit from it. As you report on the topics and the issues you are most passionate about, you will also be making money as advertisers pay you in order to reach those who share your passions. Once the wonderful day arrives when print media is irrelevant, all that money currently squandered on print ads will flow like a river of gold to those online who are ready to grab their slice of the multi-billion dollar pie. No longer tied down to the stingy salaries of newspaper companies, you may even become rich. It all depends on what levels of excellence you are prepared to reach.
So my print friends, I forgive you for the way you laughed when I appeared on the scene as our Valley's first blogger, and when I tried to tell you that I was the future. We are all in the same boat now, and I wish you well as you join me in cyberspace. There is nothing to fear and everything to gain. As your presses cease, I salute you at the start of a great adventure.
Today at the Amherst Survival Center someone brought in a injured snowman. All that was left of him was his head and hat.
Fortunately with the help of some of the children at the Center we were able to make him a new body. Below is a picture of me at the Center with Heather, a popular radical performance artist.
What happened to the mustache I told you I was growing? I discontinued it because it came in with so many grey hairs it made me look old rather than sexy. Oh the harsh realities of life! Here's a picture of me as I appeared in the Hampshire Gazette in 2006.
Sadly, crack addiction aged me ten years. Oh well, at least I'm still here, and I'm grateful for that. And don't you doubt it, I've still got a few tricks up my sleeve!