The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Free Advice

For what it's worth.


Old men of the Valley Press Club

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!

15 comments:

Larry said...

Tom, your smugness isn't very becoming, even while you make some cogent points. Just lighten up a bit, okay? I live in a condo complex of some 264 units and all the print copies of the major area newspapers are sold out daily from our multiple onsite vending machines. There are still tons of folks who, for various legit reasons, still like to hold the news in their hands, rather than at their mouse (mice? meeses?). I think the Internet & print media will find a point of equilibrium and continue to coexist. If enough of those (already or soon) laid-off print people are intelligent enough to make the changeovers you suggest, then hopefully only a small percentage of them will slip through the cracks. As for the Valley Press Club...shame on 'em, but there's plenty of misinformation or lack of follow through over the Internet, too. Even some bloggers are occasionally guilty of this.

Tommy said...

Hey, I've earned the right to be smug.

LarryK4 said...

Yes Tommy you have.

The nitwit (who shares my first name) uses anecdotal ultra provincial observations about newspaper sales in vending machines at his condo while the major news sources themselves report declining circulations and Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

This 'Free Advice' post should be required reading for Journalism 101 students for many years to come (not to mention their instructors).

Mike Dobbs said...

Tom: The Valley Press Club's primary role is to raise money for scholarships for students entering journalism. It is the only press club in the state and one of the few in New England.

While this year's communications conference at WNEC didn't include as much new media as I would have liked we are working on a public event about area bloggers as part of our public programming this year.

Just to correct your statement, I've written about the conference in the past. The lifetime achievement award is part of the overall event.

There are people working in the club that are trying to bridge the gap between the old and new, the traditional and non-traditional.
I am a member who has done his best NOT to perpetuate the abuses of the past – re: support of the status quo. I'm not alone.

Using one brush to tar us all is unfortunate at best.

You may want to see what I've written about the new media on my blog and at Pioneer Valley Central. As someone who is working in the press every day, I do have a different perspective.

So if you had my photo from the event would I too be "an old man" at age 54? How old are you?

Mike Dobbs
Board Member (but not speaking for them)
Valley Press Club

Tommy said...

Just to correct your statement, I never said you hadn't written anything about the conference in the past. In fact I never mentioned you (or your age) at all.

I said I couldn't find anything (except the article I linked to) written about the conference since it happened, including your blog, where six full days after it happened you still had written nothing.

As for the award, while referrring to the official brochure I did describe the award as part of a larger event, I simply pointed out that the Springfield Newspapers article did not discuss anything but the award. So please correct your own statements, not mine.

Mike Dobbs said...

Tom, for many years I've held you in very high regard as an innovator and a local media gadfly – heaven knows we've needed more of both.

Despite our recent problems over your involvement over your participation in PV Central, your designation as being a leader in the new media hasn't diminished in my eyes.

I did think, though, that what you wrote was unfair and incomplete. I tried to point that out. I don't think your presented perception of the club and what it is trying to do is totally accurate.

If you're pissed at me, well, that's life. My intent was simply to say we're not all old men and we don't all ignore the new media.

By the way, your statement about my not blogging about it infers you are on a moral higher ground since you blog about every day and I don't. I congratulate on this discipline, however the work schedule I've been forced to undertake sometimes prevents me from blogging. If this is some sort of sin, well, I've never denied I'm a sinner.

All the best in the coming year,

Mike

Tommy said...

I have hesitated to say anything about the PV Central incident, wishing to let the nonsense over it fade away if possible, but people keep bringing it up, so let me set some facts straight.

Although I participated in the earliest discussions of the project, I NEVER actually posted an article or participated in the project once it was launched, with just a single exception.

I posted one - just one - small portion of an article on the site, as a teaser to invite people to come read the whole article, but then discovered that, without my permission, the entire article had been published on PV Central.

Seeing how my personal control of my own copyrighted material was not respected by PV Central, I never again submitted any material whatever to the site. But I wasn't mad, and didn't complain, I just resolved that from then on I would be simply a benign observer of the project and leave it at that.

Months passed, and no one from PV Central ever contacted me about why I was not participating in the project in any way. I assumed it was because they had concluded the obvious - that I was no longer involved. However, PV Central continued to leave my name up on the site, along with the one article they had appropriated from my site, and to use my name purely for promotional purposes. That was okay with me, since these were my friends, and I saw no reason to make a fuss over it.

However, when Mo Turner of the Valley Advocate contacted me, and as an old friend expected my frank and honest appraisal of PV Central, I wrote back and told her that I had stopped contributing long ago (and had never really begun to) and then I gave her the reasons why which appeared in her article.

So that no one would be caught off guard by my remarks, I emailed them in their entirety, including remarks that were not included in Mo's final article, to all of the members of PV Central.

Therefore I was surprised to see that after the article's publication there were accusations that I had somehow betrayed the members of PV Central. For example, Bill Dusty's Advocate letter published last week falsely implied I had been a full participant in the project while also neglecting to include that my comments were fully known to all members before their publication in the Advocate.

I'm bored by the whole matter and regret that local bloggers were needlessy made to appear to be squabbling in public. But I don't need to belong to a "team" of any kind in order to blog. In fact I've been blogging since before most people had ever heard of the term blogging. My only intention in my very brief and extremely limited involvement in PV Central was to try to be helpful to other Valley bloggers.

I honestly don't know what I did to annoy anyone in PV Central, beyond perhaps refusing to feed the Advocate pro-PV Central bullshit I didn't believe. If so, I would suggest that those who were annoyed by me can successfully avoid futher annoyance by leaving me the fuck alone.

Bill Dusty said...

Tommy,

How has your copywrited material been disrespected? You're the one who put it on the site. Nobody's messed with it. Did you want it removed? Ask. I'll take it down, no problem.

Saying that you warned us about your comments before they *actually* appeared in the Advocate (just prior to its publication) is a bit like saying you warned a city you were bombing it after the bombs fell. Very courteous, but still painful.

In any event, I think it would have been more appropriate for you to talk to us about any problems you had beforehand, since you were in our meetings as a member, not an observer. But what's done is done, though. I'm sure we'll all survive.

Anonymous said...

what's PV Central?

I googled it and google is telling me "this site may harm your computer" so I don't want to click to see this website. Can someone tell me what it is?

I have never done a google search and had google tell me the site will harm my computer, so I am leery of looking, but I am curious. Thanks

Caty said...

I think grey mustaches can be sexy.
& Tom, you are a superlatively smart, incisive observer, but you are coming off as having all the ego of someone who's claiming they invented the wheel, here, somewhat in this post and moreso in this comment thread. Not attractive, and it doesn't promote your beliefs--or you--to your readers.

Tommy said...

Hey, like they say in Texas: It ain't braggin if it's true!

Bill Dusty said...

Anonymous..

There was a hack on our server that Google detected and warned people about on their search results page. With the help of Masslive's Jeff Hobbs, the hack has been removed. Afterward, I changed passwords and updated our software. If you do another search, you should see the waring message is no longer there.

Tommy, I couldn't find any of your content on the PVC site, if that's the issue. I'm sorry you feel the way you do about all this, but you know, you are the one who stoked the fire with your critical remarks about us. We just responded to the fire.

All that said, I still think you're a good guy, and I wish you luck in all your future endeavours.

Tommy said...

The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that there was poor communication on all sides and we both sort of over-reacted. Let's just forget about the whole episode so that nothing will prevent us from co-operating on future occasions if warranted.

Bill Dusty said...

Yep ;-)

Larry said...

Caty...thanks for helping me make my point. And to the "other" nitwit who shares MY name, you ignore the basic point of my comment about the newspapers daily selling out. I'm acquainted with enough of the residents in my condo complex to know they have internet access as well, and still they use their spare change to buy print copies of the newspaper. As I wrote (but you didn't read), both versions of the news will coexist, once a sales equilibrium point is reached...whether Tom likes it or not.