Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Copy Editors, the end is near & other quick hits

On the other side of the pond, British writer and sub editor Justin Williams predicts:

You have a window in which you can save your career in journalism. But that window is closing and will be tight shut within the next six to 12 months.

Your immediate boss is probably so deep down in the bunker that he or she is not going to help you with this. You’ve got to do something about it yourself.

His Survival Guide for Sub Editors and Other Curmudgenons has 12 things he thinks you should be doing right now if you are a copy editor. Among them:
  • Accept the buyout if you're within seven years of retiring and don't have kids in college or a big mortgage. It can be "an enormously liberating thing."
  • Learn the content management system and learn about search engine optimisation.
  • "Stop fighting about working arrangements and get on with it."
  • Stop pestering the communities editor for a blog and start generating some real content that might actually drive some traffic our way. Acquaint yourself with what (within the boundaries of taste and decency) plays well on the aggregators and then dive deep into the blogosphere to find the weird stuff that drives traffic.
Anyhow, you get the idea.

Some other things worth reading:
  • Tony Curzon Price's The Blind Newsmaker has been out since January on Open Democracy, but I hadn't seen it till recently. He makes some good points, echoing some I've made here, about the value of "core" journalism in a digital age (hint, not a lot), and he suggests the optimism that digital alternatives will be able to replace the newspaper's role are misplaced.
  • One thing I've noticed lately is a turn in all the discussion about business models. Where it used to be "if we keep working on it, someone will find it," now creeping in is a bit of doubt about whether a true business model for journalism will ever be found. Ryan Sholin begins wading into the question. Be sure to follow the links in the comments, especially to Seamus McCaulley who writes: Maybe the elephant in the room is a reluctance to even think of newspapers (or journalism or whatever you want to call it) in business terms. Because if we did, we wouldn't start with the premise "since we're definitely going to keep making journalism, how can we pay for it?" We'd already be thinking "is there enough of a market for journalism to keep doing it?" And nobody wants the answer to that question, because we kind of know already what it probably is. (Sort of bringing us back around to Price's essay and my earlier thoughts on this blog about journalism's value.)
  • And Nicolas Kayser-Bril follows up with an online question in which 100 people in the Chicago area on Facebook chose what they most could not live without. Fast-food joints were at 31%, football players at 27% and high school teachers at 24%. Journalists came in fourth at 10 % and auto mechanics at 8%. There are so many ways to attack polls like this, despite Kayser-Bril's note that the results are "statistically significant," but it does give you some food for thought. It might be a fascinating poll to do with a rigorously sampled population.
  • Speaking of online questions, back across the pond again, Paul Bradshaw of the Online Journalism Blog poses the question: Should we be teaching students for a journalism industry that doesn't really seem to want them -- or as Paul puts it "isn't exactly splashing out on job ads at the moment." He posed the video question; the responses aren't very hopeful. I especially like Andy Dickenson's thoughts. Pat Thornton says he learned almost nothing in j-school that applied to what he is doing in the real world. (Thornton's post-school experience, it should be noted, has been largely that of Web editor and related posts; I still think a reporting position might have a different view. And though I agree with him that we silo too much by medium, I wonder sometimes if we unfairly lump any kind of writing and editing instruction into "print" when what we really are trying to teach are the exacting journalism skills that have been more closely associated with print but transcend it when executed well.)
I leave you with this quote from Kevin Anderson of The Guardian that I think says so much:

So many journalists think ‘If I’m a good writer, that’s all I need’. That’s bullshit. There is an arrogance among journalists about the craft of writing. Journalism students will need more than the ability to craft a good sentence.”
His post is so good, I'm embedding it below (you'll find his comment at 6 minutes in):

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