It’s 1999. Christina Aguilera’s self-titled debut album is at the top of the charts. Even if you eschew pop music, you might catch yourself humming “Genie in a Bottle” because it’s all over the radio, and it’s so darn catchy.
Meanwhile, ‘70s glam rocker Gary Glitter has just been thrown in jail for downloading kiddie porn. While some people are preparing for a Y2K apocalypse, others are “partying like it’s 1999” to a Prince song penned sixteen years before.
If you were a music journalist in 1999, the means by which you learned about and reported on newsworthy events was significantly different from the way you’d do it now. The speed of music news has accelerated from how quickly a publicist can hold (or lose) your attention on the phone, to how quickly a rock star can type a 140-character tweet. Gone are the days when aspiring music reporters were beholden to editors who could decide whether or not a story ever reached the general public.
Now, in the age of the blog, an editor might actually approach a writer and offer him/her a job that the writer hasn’t even applied for. In short, things have drastically changed.
Three Journalists — One Decade
John Nova Lomax, Ben Westhoff and Jeff Weiss are all music journalists. In terms of age, twelve years separate the oldest of the three writers from the youngest. However, all of their careers in music journalism began within the last ten years. The times at which each of them started in the biz — and the technology available to them — have given each one different experience of their field.
The veteran of the three, Lomax, is 39. In the late ‘90s, he became the sole contributing writer to the Houston Blues Society’s music journal. In 2000 he started freelancing for the “Houston Press,” an alt-weekly owned by Village Voice Media (VVM), and by 2001 he was the music editor there.
“I kind of came in through the back door,” he said. Lomax is now a staff writer at the Press. Over the years, his work has been featured in several VVM publications.
Westhoff is 31. He lives in Hoboken, NJ, and has made a living writing freelance articles, primarily on rap and R&B, for six years. He has written for “Spin” and numerous VVM publications, including “LA Weekly” and the “Village Voice.” Internet pieces for sites like Pitchfork and NPR.org have also become a mainstay for Westhoff.
“Over time, steadily, a bigger and bigger percentage of the money I make for writing has come from online stuff,” he said.
The youngest of the bunch, Weiss, is 27. He lives in Los Angeles. After graduating from college in 2003, Weiss said he wrote “all these really stupid emails to “Rolling Stone” and “Pitchfork,” like ‘Please hire me.’”
He ended up contributing to the “San Fernando Valley Business Journal,” and in 2005, he started his own music and pop culture blog, Passion of the Weiss. The blog took off, eventually landing Weiss writing gigs at the “Los Angeles Times” and “LA Weekly.”
Weiss says an editor at “LA Weekly” approached him about becoming a contributor to the paper. Within just a couple years, Weiss had gone from getting turned down for journalism jobs to being offered them without asking — thanks to the popularity of his blog, now receiving about 2,500 page views per day.
As one might expect, three writers in different stages of their careers have a mixture of similar and diverging opinions on their craft. What’s astonishing, though, is how much their industry has changed within a relatively short period of time.
In 1979, The Buggles declared that “Video Killed the Radio Star.” In 2009, the latest music casualties seem to be the publicists, dead at the hands of social networking sites.
“The Internet has sort of killed the publicist off,” Lomax said. “Not completely. But every year I’ve had fewer calls from publicists by a factor of about two or three.”
He paused and then added, “You know, which is great.” Though Weiss has only been covering music for a handful of years, he agrees — hypothetically, anyway.
“Ten years ago, you were relying on the publicists to get that promo, and if you didn’t get that promo, then you were kind of screwed,” he said. “Now with the culture of the leaks and with MySpace, you don’t really need that.”
Lomax couldn’t be more thrilled that music publicists are becoming a thing of the past.
“Publicists have made me break stuff in my office,” he said. “Through no fault of their own. I mean, they’re just doing their job. But you just get the same call, and they all have the same patter, where they’re saying, ‘I just want to reach out to you. This band will be in your area.’ And sometimes they don’t even get the fucking town right. Like, they’ll say they’re playing the American Airlines Arena, and I’ll go, ‘Well, that’s in Dallas.’ And they’ll go, ‘Oh yeah, uh, the Verizon Center.’”
To be fair, not all publicists are inept, and some artists still use them. But, increasingly, bands have learned a cheaper way to promote themselves: the Internet.
There is a good conversation going on Seesmic right now about the best online tools for beat reporters.
One of the beat bloggers we follow, Mary Louise Schumacher, started the thread on Seesmic because she is going to be training her colleagues on beat blogging. She is asking people for advice on the best online tools for beat reporters.
I’d strongly encourage all of you to check out the thread and join the conversation. In short, I’d suggest experimenting with different tools, and I’d also recognize that different beats work better with different online tools. Both points are discussed on the Seesmic thread.
If you don’t have a Web cam, you can respond in the comments section below this post.
Here is the original video in the thread:
Here is David Cohn’s response:
And here is my response:
There are many other responses, and all of them are informative. Join the conversation so we can learn together.
Following along the lines of an earlier theme we highlighted this week, many news organizations aren’t giving journalists enough guidance when it comes to the Web and social networking tools they are directing employees to use.
It’s common for journalists to be told they need to start blogging or get on Twitter or have a Facebook presence. What’s far less common is what exactly these journalists are expected to do with each of these Web tools. At Beat Blogging, we have seen certain tools work wonderfully for one beat, while being a failure for another.
A blanket directive will not work for journalism. Different news organizations have different readers (some more tech savvy then others, for instance). Different beats have different readers and so on.
Technology is a far different beat than local courts coverage. In fact, k-12 education is a much different beat than higher education. We wouldn’t suggest that all of these beats us the same Web tools in the same ways.
Many journalists are wondering what to do because they are being given little guidance from bosses who often don’t understand the technologies they want employees to use. For instance, someone I know was told by her boss to get on social networks like Twitter and Facebook and to also look into blogging. Her and her coworkers weren’t giving any guidance as to what they were supposed to be doing online. Her boss just wanted them to get online and survey the lay of the land.
But all of you who use these tools know that’s not really helpful. Can you imagine being told to go on Twitter for work but not being told what to tweet about? Are you supposed to tweet work related stuff? If so, what?
Are you supposed to tweet whatever? Your personal life? If so, what’s off limits?
Within a week of this new “directive,” an employee was fired for comments she left on a blog while at work. She went over the top, but her boss did tell her to get out into the blogosphere. Well, how far out there should she have gone, and what was off limits?
News organizations often follow a me-to mindset, where they rush to jump onto the latest trends without first formulating a coherent strategy:
Jennifer Reeves, a Reynolds Institute Fellow who is studying new media, said many news organizations are embracing new technology because it is cool, not because it really delivers a better product.
“A lot of newsrooms need to take a breath and see if the markets need it and find a way to use it logically,” she said.
At Beat Blogging, we think that social networking and other Web tools can really help journalists and journalism, but we also think that careful deliberation should be made before jumping into any of these tools. It’s important to understand each tool, and it’s also important to have a plan for what to do with each tool.
Beat Blogging wants to hear from you:
- Is your news organization asking employees to do more, especially online? What are you being asked to do now?
- Does your organization have a specific plan for how to utilize blogging, Twitter and other social networks?
- If you haven’t been given guidance, how has social networking gone for you?
- If social networking and blogging is going well at your news organization, why?
- You can leave comments at the end of this post, e-mail connect [at] patthorntonfiles [dot] com or contact us with this form. If you want to talk off the record, please e-mail us.
You need a very strong idea, and only that can tell you which of the networking tools, sites and technologies might be right. Otherwise you have technology driven projects. A company decides to go with Ning, or they’re encouraging us to use Facebook or the editor wants us to be on Twitter. Whenever I hear things like that I actually feel innovation failing at those organizations.
Rosen advises that journalists and news organizations should first figure out what they want to do with a given social network. There is a big difference between merely joining Twitter to get a presence on the social network and joining Twitter because you want to use it to send out live updates from court room trials, for instance.
A lot of news organizations invariably join Twitter and immediately turn their feed into an RSS feed. Those news organizations have completely missed what Twitter is about and will not be able to attract a strong following on Twitter.
But then there are other news organizations who use Twitter to do something unique. Some news organizations might use Twitter as a sort of public Page 1 meeting, while others might send out interesting links. Individual journalists might use Twitter to help find sources or to help report live events.
We’ve found at Beat Blogging that different social networks work better for different news organizations, beats and journalists. Ron Sylvester can’t really use Twitter for source development because not enough people in Wichita, Kansas are on Twitter. Sylvester can still use it, however, to help report.
Etan Horowitz, on the other hand, can use Twitter to find sources for stories because his beat is on technology. Twitter is filled with people in the tech industry and people who like technology. Sylvester and Horowitz are both successful using Twitter because they have a very specific idea of what they want Twitter to help them with.
Most of the beat reporters I have spoken with have found little use for Facebook. Yet, it’s a huge tool for Khristopher Brooks. Brooks, a higher education reporter, specifically uses it to find student sources for his stories.
Yes, you read that correctly. The Quad-City Times has its own social networking site just for its readers. Quadsville is far beyond what most newspapers are doing with social networking.
Once people sign up for a Quadsville account (the same account they use to access the Quad-City Times) they can write blog posts, post photos, share videos and interact with other members of Quadsville (even send private messages and start their own groups). Quadsville was started because the Times wanted users to interact with each other outside of just the comments on staff stories and blog posts.
Ultimately, Quadsville is all about community. Melissa Coulter is the Mayor of Quadsville. She is the mayor, instead of editor or producer or whatever because Quadsville is based around a civic model. And a major leads a community, while an editor is much more detached.
“We really wanted this to be a locally focused site,” she said. “That’s where my title of major comes from. We also have a council with some of our more trusted and regular bloggers who have some moderation capabilities and help me keep the community clean and in line.”
Her job as mayor is much less top down than a typical editor. She is not so much trying to steer content or conversations as much as she is trying to make people want to interact more. She goes out, in person, and tries to get organizations on Quadsville, and she also highlights interesting conversations that are happening.
“Basically, I’m trying to build participation in the site,” Coulter said.
The Times has allowed readers to comment on stories for several years now, but readers told the TImes that they wanted to interact with each other more. Yes, they could interact in the comments section of stories and posts, but that wasn’t the level of interaction that Times readers wanted. They wanted more.
“One of the things we found with comment streams is that comments would veer way off topic,” she said. “Quadsville lets them guide the discussion and interact with each other on a more personal level.”
And yes, they have a business plan beyond advertising. You’ll find out what that plan is and so much more in this week’s podcast, including:
- How they do live chats, easily and effectively.
- Some tips for community building
- How do the two sites interact?
- Using Quadsville for source development for reporters.
There was a time when I thought Twitter mostly made sense for large and national beats, with readers who were tech savvy.
After all, if your readers aren’t on Twitter, what good is using it? Well, I was wrong.
Wichita, Kansas is not a tech hub. It’s not known for being particularly bleeding edge with technology or Web adoption. It has a median household income of about $40,000, and Kansas is around the national average with regards to the percentage of people over 25 with college degrees.
This doesn’t sound like the greatest test bed for a social networking service, Twitter, that only has a few million users worldwide, who are largely concentrated in wealthy, educated areas in major cities (D.C., New York, San Francisco and the Bay area, London, etc).
Nonetheless, Ron Sylvester, a court reporter for The Wichita Eagle, has found great success with Twitter. The thing is, his readers don’t have to have Twitter accounts to enjoy his tweeting. All that is required for Sylvester to be successful with Twitter is for him to harness the platform well.
Sylvester uses Twitter to cover court trials live. People love being able to read what is going on and why, especially at major trials. Most of those people will never join Twitter, but that doesn’t stop Twitter from being immensely useful for Sylvester.
One of the keys to harnessing Twitter well for information dissemination is realizing that a Twitter feed can be embedded onto virtually any Web site. People can consume Sylvester’s Twitter feed in a variety of ways:
- People can go to Twitter.com/rsylvester and view his feed. Sylvester does not make the mistake of protecting his feed. He allows anyone to view it. Yes, there are people who follow his beat that are on Twitter, but a lot more people are glued to his Twitter feed even though they don’t have Twitter accounts. During court trials, people love his live tweets.
- On his blog, What the Judge Ate for Breakfast, users can find his Twitter feed embedded on every page. As people navigate around his blog they’ll find a continuously updating stream of news that Sylvester is publishing via Twitter.
- People can subscribe to his Twitter RSS feed. Many, many more people use RSS readers than use Twitter. Beat reporters can just make another subscribe to button with a link to their Twitter RSS feed.
- People can view his Twitter feed when he embeds it into blog posts or onto his newspaper’s Web site. Sylvester can make a blog post that says, “Today I’m covering this trial live. Below you’ll find updates throughout the day from the courtroom.” Sylvester can then embed his feed right into that blog post.
Think about this: Let’s say you’re covering a big event, you have several written pieces about the event, have some video and are posting live updates.
All this information could be placed together in a single blog post (or on a page on your Web site, CMS permitting). The post could link to each written piece, with a description. Video content could be embedded onto the page, and the live Twitter feed could be embedded as well. This way people can grab all your content in one convenient place.
Etan Horowitz, a technology columnist and blogger for the Orlando Sentinel, on the other hand has many readers on Twitter. His beat covers a topic that has a lot of overlap with Twitter, and many of his readers aren’t even in the Orlando area. He often asks questions on Twitter about people’s tech habits, which help him write stories and blog posts.
It’s a different use than Sylvester’s. Both are using Twitter in ways that make sense for their beats. Horowitz can use Twitter to help him find sources and information for his reporting, while Sylvester uses Twitter as a major tool for reporting information.
They are starkly different uses, but both work very well. Horowitz, by the way, also embeds his Twitter feed onto his blog. For Horowitz, this can be a great way for readers to know that he is on Twitter.
Always keep in mind that social networking services like Twitter, delicious, Publish2, YouTube, Viddler, etc usually allow their content to be embedded onto other sites. This makes these tools much more powerful and flexible for journalism. Embedding content allows journalists to have conversations on and off site, while also allowing their content to reach broader audiences.
Even if most of your readers will never understand or use Twitter, you can still effectively use Twitter to help report.
Welcome to the inaugural Leaderboard. Each week we highlight the most innovative beat reporters. The leaderboard changes weekly, and we’ll have new nominees up on our homepage starting today. Continue sending in your nominees.
Kent Fischer | The Dallas Morning News
- Kent Fischer and Tawnell Hobbs (both work on the DISD blog) have taken their beat blog to another level ever since a budget crisis broke out on Sep. 10.
- The DISD blog’s traffic has spiked through the roof since this crisis broke out, largely due to the incredible coverage that Fischer and Hobbs have done.
- Fischer was put on the leaderboard this week in particular because of his coverage of recent layoffs. Before layoffs occurred, he got a hold of a list that had all of the cuts at each school. He redacted the names from the list, but it was still a powerful tool for people to see which schools would be hardest hit by the layoffs.
- What really took Fischer’s coverage over the top was not only his ability to report hard numbers before anyone else, but also his ability to provide people with a voice. His open letter to those laid off or affected by the layoffs received a lot of powerful and heartbreaking responses. On October 16th alone, the DISD blog received 343 comments, and that was with the blog software being down for about three hours.
Beat blogging lessons from Fischer:
- Beat blogging allows reporters to concentrate on core reporting
- Guest blogging from community members
- Audio interview with Kent Fischer about building a blog on steroids
- Kent Fischer debuts new feature to hoist user comments
- Blog readers lead to A1 story for Dallas Morning News
- Interview with Kent Fischer about his readers helping him uncover a major story
Eric Berger | Houston Chronicle
- Berger has long been one of the most innovative beat reporters. He is a master of user engagement.
- Recently he asked his readers to be his assignment editor and to tell him if there were any stories they would like him to cover. Berger got a lot of responses, and he took the best ideas and put them to a vote on his blog.
- Berger’s latest efforts haven’t required a lot of time on his part but have resulted in a lot of user interaction and engagement. His readers are actively debating which topic makes the most sense for Berger to tackle and why. People are even giving Berger tips for how to cover each story. For instance, “Also, since solar arrays are typically installed atop buildings, spread across vacant fields or built as parking lot shade structures, it might be useful to explore the maintenance requirements/costs that will be incurred to actually collect energy for many years beyond that needed to replay the initial investment.” Yes, Berger’s readers add a lot to his blog, and that’s because Berger actively encourages participation.
- Dispelling FUD on news Web sites and blogs
- Harnessing the wisdom of users at the Houston Chronicle
- Berger back at his conversation starting ways
- Audio interview with Eric Berger on building an online community
- Using a survey to take the conversation to the next level
Ron Sylvester | Wichita Eagle
- Sylvester is being put on the inaugural Leaderboard because of his use of Twitter. Not only is Sylvester one of the most innovative beat reporters with Twitter, but he also embeds his Twitter feed on his blog and on pages on the Eagle’s Web site. Not many of Sylvester’s readers are on Twitter, but a lot of people view his feed because of how visible he makes it.
- This one of the biggest lessons Sylvester has taught me. You don’t need the youngest, most tech-savviest audience to effectively harness a social media tool like Twitter. You just need to know how to put it in front of people’s eyeballs.
- Sylvester has used Twitter to revolutionize how he covers court trials. Readers can get continuous updates from trials in succinct 140-character bites. But Twitter also functions as a notebook that allows him to quickly write summary blog posts and stories. Not only has Twitter allowed Sylvester — a print reporter — to cover trials in real time, but it also allows him to write his print stories quicker too because he has found that Twitter makes a better notebook.
Monica Guzman | The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- Guzman’s job is to foment user engagement, and unlike the other people on this list, she is an online only reporter.
- One of the things that stands out about Guzman’s work is her ability to draw people into other content, even print content. This past week Guzman highlighted a thoughtful letter to the editor from a small-business owner in response to a PI editorial that suggested the government may need to help create jobs. She used this exchange to get users interacting with each other by asking, “Seattle small business owners: Considering the fragile economy, should government stay out of the way?”
- It’s a pretty simply concept: Guzman highlights thoughtful comments from users and asks people for their thoughts on those comments. She actively looks for ways to get people talking.
Has social networking transformed how you report and connect with users? If so, why?
If social networking hasn’t helped you, why not?
We need your help highlighting the most innovative beat reporters in the world for the Leaderboard.
Every day we’ll have new nominees, and every Monday we’ll have a new leaderboard. But we can’t do it alone. Together, however, we can find the most innovative beat reporters. We’re looking for people who are pushing the practice of beat reporting using social networking, blogging and Web tools.
There are several ways for you to contribute:
- Join our Publish2 group — Publish2 is a lot like Delicious but it’s just for journalism. Join our group, submit your best links and we’ll select which ones to nominate each day for the Leaderboard.
- E-mail us – It can be as simple as just sending us a link. If you can explain why this link should be nominated that would be even better.
- Twitter — Send me or our beat blogging account @replies and DMs with your links. Or you can reverse the flow of information and ask us why we nominated a beat reporter for the Leaderboard.
Specifically, I’m looking for how you are using Twitter in ways that allow you to do your job better. Does Twitter allow you to reach more people? How do you use Twitter differently than you use other Web and social media products?