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"Tell the chef, the beer is on me."
One of the best and easiest ways to record your event to set up screencasting software on the computer you use to drive your projector. You can automatically capture the slides synced with the presenter’s voice! This makes for great event summaries.
The trickiest part of being a NetSquared Local organizer can sometimes be coming up with event topics. One solution to the idea conundrum is to survey your members and ask them what they want to learn, but often what you get back is deafening silence.
I would never presume to define “presence,” but I knew it when I saw it: the handsome, tall, man who’d just walked into the seminar room had it in…well, tweeds. With leather elbow patches. The face was tanned, a full head of carefully combed white hair looking, somehow, regal. He looked like a 62-year-old man at peace, the lines on his face speaking of a life that had not fallen into any of the predictable old writers’ traps of mania, abuse, depression. It was a portrait of inner peace, framed in high-WASP.
He’d entered the room only after we, his new students, had all taken seats around a huge wooden table whose scale seemed to reduce us to shrunken, through-the-looking-glass-size kids. Everything about his aura spoke of Serious. He wore an unreadable, impassive expression. No one dared speak; one doesn’t casually ask the visiting bishop how his day has been when he’s climbing up into the pulpit to deliver his sermon.
To gain entrance into John Hersey’s 12-student senior-year writing seminar at Yale you had to submit writing samples and something about “Why I should be in John Hersey’s seminar,” which, for writers, was the crowning class in school. I thought I’d have no chance in hell. I was not an English major; I had no interest in Yeats, Keats or ’eats of any kind. Yes, after many terms of creative writing instruction (including one with David Milch, who taught wildly, extemporaneously, in the same blue T-shirt, like a character from his cable series Deadwood, if Deadwood had been about academia), I’d written tons of stories, but like me, they’d always tended to be painfully self-indulgent.
John Hersey’s work was anything but. But there, somehow, I sat and, like everyone else in the room, watched him take his spot at the head of the table, which now seemed like the size of the deck of an aircraft carrier. His body language vibed that he cared less whether we thought him iconic, average, or a hack. Oddly, I sensed no ego. It would soon become apparent that the seminar was to be didactic in the purest Greek sense: He would teach because he was highly capable of it and qualified to do so; and because he had to, for the sake of the endurance of the literately written word.
I won’t presume to be exact in recalling the first thing he said to us (this was 37 years ago), but I remember it being very close to this: “If anyone in the room thinks of himself or herself as an artist, this is not a course for you. I teach a craft.” I remember his opening manifesto not only because its message shocked me — the artiste! — but also because of the measured intonation with which he’d presented it. Over the course of the next 12 weeks or so, I came to see how seriously Hersey took his spoken words — print was a medium in which he felt far more comfortable. Many of his words felt carefully considered: minimum verbiage for maximum effect, delivered in an even cadence, never rising high or dipping low; free of mellifluence or emotional emphasis.
Glancing around the room, I sensed that on a scale of Most Legitimate Yalie to Least, I was likely at the bottom of that scale, No. 12. At No. 11, I recall a spacey, cute girl across the table with unwashed hair (whom I immediately vowed to myself to seduce) and 10 other people, from our class of 1,500, none of whom I knew, and none of whom seemed like people I would know, and never did thereafter: probably a few Secret Society members; no doubt an editor of the Yale Daily News. Serious Yalies, some who probably subscribed to Granta, none who subscribed to boxing’s monthly bible, Ring Magazine, or kept an ounce of weed in his dorm drawer.
We were there because Hersey was iconic, of course, and had been so for 30 years because of Hiroshima, a feat of journalism so profound that it remains the only story to which The New Yorker ever committed an entire issue. The piece remains iconic simply because no one, in the ensuing seven decades, has threatened its perch as the finest piece of reportage ever. Once someone nails something, it stays nailed. It will endure as long as the written word (and the threat of nuclear annihilation).
Hiroshima’s subject matter was topical to my peers. We’d all been duck-and-cover grade-schoolers, obsessed with The Bomb. When I’d read, in 11th grade, his account of the effects of the first nuclear bomb used in warfare, as told through the accounts of six survivors, I’d been riveted on more levels than I could account for: The literary one. The reporting one. The human one. The horror one. The history one. To me, this was art, just as I’d thought Hersey’s novel A Bell for Adano, which I’d read in ninth grade, had been art.
That one had been fiction and one nonfiction mattered little; to Hersey they were both examples of a craft. He was going to teach us how to write. Period. And if that’s where we were starting, without art, then, what the hell, I might as well go all-in. I knew I’d never be a good novelist; even then I knew I would always be too egocentric ever to tell a universal tale. But I also thought that, at the very least, with my one tool (despite being the son of two people with the cultural curiosity of Pop Tarts, I’d been genetically endowed, somehow, to put together evocative sentences) maybe I could make a living as a journalist, and a living would be a very good thing to make.
I immediately felt, on that first day, as if I knew the man. We’d both been veterans of prepIvyworld. And even if my hair rested on my shoulders and I dressed like my hero Kerouac when he was taking his first hit of cheap tokay in the Tenderloin on a Saturday morning, I was a rebel with a cause: I was going to be a Writer. My Tom Wolfe wasn’t the Kandy-Colored “New Journalist.” It was Thomas Wolfe, looking homeward. I drank Dreiser’s prose; Melville is still my god. Whatever was going to happen to me in life, it was going to have to involve laying my words somewhere, for bucks, like a bricklayer laying his bricks.
And the man standing before me was the epitome of Writer, in his prime. He was not here for himself; this was man so private he had literally never given an interview. I was now granted a private audience. For three months. In a sanctum sanctorum. To this day, memory suggests that I seldom — if ever? — saw him smile. If I did, it was a very subtle slight upturning of the corners of his lips, not really enlisting the rest of his face. Eventually, I came to think that he figured if we didn’t perceive him as serious, we wouldn’t take the business of writing seriously enough to be writers.
What else did he say that first day? One thing stuck with me, and has never unstuck: “It’s not about what you choose to put in, it’s about what you choose to keep out.”
The textbooks? As I remember, one: The Writer’s Craft, edited by John Hersey. A lot of essays about writing by writers who’d likely been more than happy to earn a few bucks by laying down some truisms. I’m sure that many of them were instructive; I remember none. I do remember that some of them preached things that we 12 already knew instinctively, like using active verbs, and asking yourself, after writing a word, whether, with more thought, a better word might offer itself.
The first assignment? Write a story; same as every week. I spent the next few days writing the best short story of my life (not that I’ve written many, or published any) on a legal pad, in pencil, with lots of cross-outs and erasures, taking out a whole lot of stuff, before typing it. It was about a kid who was fascinated by the Chrysler Building’s Deco majesty before a distant aunt took him inside the place, to a board meeting in the Cloud Club on the 66th floor, where he spent two hours listening to masters of industry bore themselves to death. The yawning aunt begged an early exit, for she knew the lesson had been implanted in the kid as they rode down in the ebony-and-rosewood-inlaid elevator: Majestic monuments to power are simply temples to cruel illusion. It’s character that counts in the end.
It was just minor-league-Dos Passos-y stuff, but it was okay, probably because, as someone with barely an ounce of the stuff — character — I’d nailed the theme. Then the worst thing that could have ever happened happened, although in the end, it proved to be a blessing. The next week, Hersey came in and said he was going to read aloud the best story that had been submitted, and it was mine. And in the space of 39 seconds of hearing John Hersey read my story, I went from being stunned to fatally cocky.
Having been certified by an iconic writer, I wrote the next few stories in about an hour each. The fourth was about a kid who skipped his classes for a day, dropped LSD, drove to Aqueduct racetrack, lost a lot of his parents’ money, but had a conversation with Cab Calloway, who was handicapping from the Racing Form in a corner, and so the kid’s day was a success. This was based on an actual day, although a) it was only weed, and b) I broke even. But Calloway had been there, which was cool.
Hersey called me into his book-laden office for a private conference. Now, I knew the story sucked, and I was ready hear so. I sat down, across from his desk. He was no less imposing for being seated; he sat straight. His desk’s contents had ordered themselves. As usual, he wore coat and tie. Memory suggests a lit pipe, but maybe I’m just making that up. My story was in front of him, with the typical finely penciled notes in the margin. I expected him to say, in his own language, “What happened to the guy who wrote that great story last month?”
Instead, looking me in the eye — and again, in my language, not his — he said, “Are you okay? Are things okay? I hope you’re not getting yourself in any sort of trouble.” I’d like to say now that this time the face was a tad less impassive, but perhaps I’d be transferring false affect onto distant memories. If it were fatherly in any way, in no way did it express overt concern. Put it this way: He didn’t faux-earnestly look me in the eye, with fingers entwined, and lean across the desk or anything. The words, his precious words, had said it all.
I said something like, “Oh, that’s not me, that character,” although, of course, it was, and, obviously, he knew it. Then I stammered something like, “I’m fine, sir, thanks, I really enjoy the course, and I will try and do better,” and tried to leave his office with a shred of dignity intact.
I was devastated. I had desperately wanted his approval from the day I’d learned I’d made his cut, but I hadn’t been willing to do the work to earn it. Given a chance to study at the feet of a man who’d won a Pulitzer, had written for a TIME magazine staff that included the likes of James Agee, I’d taken him no more seriously than my freshman fall-term teacher, a guy whose claim to fame had been organizing a retro do-wop band called Sha Na Na.
Or David Milch. Who now writes killer, like, fuckin’ dialogue … for series that get cancelled after three weeks.
That was the bottoming out. I had let The Master down, and, very subtly, he’d let me know it, without having to say so. He was now finally teaching me. And, thankfully, would continue to.
Less than two months remained. I had started at the highest high, plummeted to the lowest low. Now the only sane option left, since I’d decided not to squander my limited time on a hallowed campus, would be to osmose the man’s wisdom by listening and watching and taking accurate notes. The classes were instructive enough, since by now, most of my colleagues had gained enough confidence to add their own insights (and these were pretty damned astute kids).
The conversation became more free-flowing each week, as Hersey said less and less. He knew how to prime our pumps. The student stories got better, too. More and more, I looked forward to the class for all the right reasons; ego, indeed, gradually sapped itself out of the way. Hersey was no longer The Voice; he was now the editor of an oral, ongoing, 12-voice story.
I’d stopped reading the essays entirely because I had come to understand, and have understood ever since, that the only things worth reading if you want to learn how to write are well-written stories — like “Into the Valley,” Hersey’s account of being on patrol with a company of First Division marines on Guadalcanal.
My father had been a company commander in the same division, on the same island. He’d died when I was 7, so I had no idea what had happened over there. And so I read Hersey’s account halfway through the seminar. It was so vivid that I could smell the jungle undergrowth, and hear the whistle of the sniper’s bullet from the top of the banyan tree.
Of course, I lost the notes from those last half-dozen classes, as (thankfully) I have lost all of my stories. But here’s a handful of thoughts that are directly traceable to what I learned from John Hersey the rest of the way (during which time none of my stories, rightfully, were ever again read aloud):
1) In good fiction, the reader absorbing a compelling narrative never notices the writer as intermediary. In nonfiction, that translator’s presence is inevitable. Since the former is the ideal relationship with the reader, the more you can bring that non-point of view to nonfiction narrative, the better. In other words, as a writer, no matter what the hell you’re writing, do your best to kill your ego, even if those are mutually exclusive ideals. (i.e.: He could have told the story of the effect of that atomic bomb on an innocent city by telling us what he found when he went over there, and it would have been a good piece. Instead he gave the story over to the six survivors, and it earned a place in immortality.)
2) Let the story, invented fictitiously or real-world, speak for itself. Do it honor and justice by re-presenting it. If you have to writerly-ly enhance it, hammer its meaning home, it is not worth telling.
3) Editors are there for a reason: not because they aren’t good writers, but because they are very good at what they do. It is their craft. Get to know them, and always respect them. (In one of the countless drafts of Hiroshima, Hersey described an atom-bombed bicycle as “lopsided.” One day Wallace Shawn questioned whether the word “lopsided” was the best possible word. Hersey lay awake that night, and then scrolled the word “crumpled” on a piece of paper. The next day, arriving at the magazine’s offices to resume editing, he found the pages from the day before, and found the page in question. The night before, in the margin, Shawn had written, in the margin, “crumpled?”)
4) If what you leave out is essential, then the details you choose to leave in must be essential. (i.e.: The dank, decaying, ominous scent of a jungle is relevant if the man smelling it might be about to die from an unseen bullet, but maybe not if your story is of the prison road gang laying a highway through it).
5) Storytelling is so universal that, for the several centuries when writing disappeared in the Aegean, The Odyssey survived orally until it could be written down. Never veer far from the story.
6) As the possessor of a craft, having now served something of an apprenticeship, we owed it to the world to practice that craft.
The coda to this tale is very weird, and Hersey would appreciate it. In 1988, he was accused of plagiarism. In the 76th time of the 63-year history of the magazine, The New Yorker ran a “Department of Amplification” — a fancy name for a correction. He’d written a piece about Agee, and an Agee biographer claimed very publicly in various interviews, and through his lawyer, that Hersey had ripped off several sections of his book — if not word for word, then certainly beyond accepted decorum, since Hersey had not credited the biographer for many anecdotes. I was hugely disappointed.
Three years later, I was hired on staff by GQ and, as had been the case in Hersey’s seminar, my first major piece was good enough to eventually be included in Best American Sportswriting of the Twentieth Century, edited by David Halberstam. Part of me wanted to send that story to Hersey, on the Vineyard, to prove that he’d made me a writer. But I didn’t, because the “Amplification” had colored my lens. A year later, he died.
In the ensuing years, very good writers I knew and very good writers I didn’t know were also accused of plagiarism. A fellow staffer at GQ even wrote a book on the matter, wherein I came to be something of a student of what a strange swamp we were mucking about in. The likes of H.G. Wells, Alex Haley and Doris Kearns Goodwin had been wading in it. In the Agee piece, Hersey had not lifted more than a few words; he had certainly not lifted the other writer’s ideas. He simply had not said, in his magazine piece, where he’d gotten some of the information. In his piece, it’s clear that he hadn’t pretended to have gotten much of the stuff firsthand; he just didn’t give attribution, when he should have.
Now: As I write this, what I’m supposed to be writing are the final chapters of the biography of a man who has written several autobiographies and has already been the subject of a biography. He is not talking to me. I have used several anecdotes from those several books. And I am going to give everyone I drew from all the credit they deserve. Which means that Hersey is still teaching me. And more importantly, I can finally see him as what he was: not just a scarily imposing teacher and frighteningly talented and ambitious writer, but a human being possessed of frailties, flaws — and incredible, estimable, enviable talent at a craft. Pressured by a Hotchkiss-Yale-Luce pedigree to excel at the highest.
Craftsmen — writers, bricklayers — make mistakes. “Artists” need not worry about such scrutiny, such vigilance, such oversight. They can indulge their whims. And I think Hersey would agree when I say: More’s the pity for them.
Peter Richmond holds a B.A. in philosophy from Yale and has been awarded Moravian College’s first annual fellowship to pursue a Masters of Arts in Teaching, beginning this fall. His work has appeared in periodicals including The New Yorker, the New York Times magazine, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Parade, GQ, Details, Architecture, Parade, ESPN the Magazine, TV Guide and Grantland. His journalism has been included in more than a dozen anthologies, including Best American Sportswriting of the Twentieth Century. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Class of ’89. He has published five books and is working on two others, each for an imprint of Penguin. He lives in Dutchess County, N.Y., with his wife, wine purveyor Melissa Davis, three chickens and a cat.
Join Nieman Storyboard on Pinterest! We’re expanding our reach via categories on everything from reporting resources to tip sheets. Among our growing number of boards:
Narrative news: Fresh quick reads, pinned daily. Up now: How Twitter is shaping the future of storytelling, via Fast Company.
Nieman store: Links to details about the great and growing number of works published or sold by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, including our popular Telling True Stories anthology and The Future of News as We Know It, by Nieman Journalism Lab, one of our sister publications.
Inspired: Storytelling curios in journalism and beyond. Hemingway’s recommended reading list for young writers; the nine stages of story as told by a vase of flowers; a Dorothy Parker telegram proving all writers suffer; Henry Miller’s writing commandments; Harvard professor Stephen Burt on the intersection between poetry and news (from our sister publication Nieman Reports); former Nieman Fellow Megan O’Grady on the beauty of the counter-narrative.
Interviewland: Q-and-A’s on narrative journalism and more. Conversations, so far, featuring Joan Didion, David Finkel, John McPhee, Hunter S. Thompson, Janet Malcolm, Chris Jones, Joshuah Bearman, and Junot Diaz.
Gear: We’re addicted to great pencils and pens and notebooks and gadgets and organizational ideas — and we like to share. So enjoy that.
Best of Storyboard: Good pieces you might’ve missed, including, for instance, a rollicking storytelling talk with ESPN The Magazine‘s Wright Thompson, and seven storytelling tips from Nora Ephron.
Wish list: We’re hoping someone writes a great narrative about … at the moment, cicadas.
Also: Reading lists, class props, miscellany, tattoos, and more to come.
Have fun in there.
Cameragod down under came up with a novel concept to booster the rep of one of my favorite sites – b-roll. (b-roll is the go-to site for broadcast news cameramen to discuss gear, gossip and more.)
Here is his tip – and a great one it is. I would never have thought of this.
And here is my tip – and oldie but goodie. Especially if you’re fairly new to the biz.
I look forward to more of these and hope to learn from an amazing group of peers.
“Snow Fall,” the widely celebrated New York Times multimedia narrative on a deadly avalanche in Washington State, won a Peabody this week for being “a spectacular example of the potential of digital-age storytelling.” The project packaged a six-part story by Pulitzer finalist John Branch, accompanied by interactive graphics, video and character bios of the expert skiers and snowboarders caught in the danger. It also marked the Times’ foray into the e-publishing of long-form singles.
“Snow Fall” opens with an otherworldly video loop of snow blowing across a mountain slope—functioning as a photo that moves—and Branch’s action-oriented lede:
The very thing the 16 skiers and snowboarders had sought — fresh, soft snow — instantly became the enemy. Somewhere above, a pristine meadow cracked in the shape of a lightning bolt, slicing a slab nearly 200 feet across and 3 feet deep. Gravity did the rest.
Snow shattered and spilled down the slope. Within seconds, the avalanche was the size of more than a thousand cars barreling down the mountain and weighed millions of pounds. Moving about 7o miles per hour, it crashed through the sturdy old-growth trees, snapping their limbs and shredding bark from their trunks.
The avalanche, in Washington’s Cascades in February, slid past some trees and rocks, like ocean swells around a ship’s prow. Others it captured and added to its violent load.
Somewhere inside, it also carried people. How many, no one knew.
This week, Branch walked an audience through the project—conception to clicks—at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. (For the thread, search #SnowFallUGA on Twitter.) Click through for Storyboard’s Storified version of Branch’s talk about the reporting, organization, buildout, intention and editing behind one of the most ambitious storytelling projects in Times history:
A friend recently asked me for advice on how to be a successful consultant. They’re finding that people and businesses are regularly asking for their advice and that, as interesting as those conversations are, they require a significant investment of time. The advice benefits the person or organization asking, but my friend isn’t getting compensated for the time. This is a classic situation where the thought of doing some consulting on the side, or starting a consulting practice, takes shape.
It should come with no surprise that I’m a big advocate of consulting: after more than a decade-and-a-half of consulting for some of the most interesting and inspiring organizations in the world, I have no intention of getting a “day job” anytime soon. So, when a friend or colleague asks for advice about the world of consulting — something that happens with surprising frequency — I’m very happy to wax poetic about my experiences at great length. Today I’ll share just a few of the key things I’ve learned along the way.
Reflecting back on more than a hundred consultations, I thankful for a journey full of growth and improvement. I’ve deepened my knowledge in the areas that I consult — digital publishing, software development, e-mail and content management, and so on — but I’ve also racked up a fair amount of knowledge about the practice of consulting itself. It’s actually a topic that I’m slightly obsessed with: not just how to consult, but how to be a successful consultant.
I define “successful” quite simply:
So, the question that most people ask is: “How do I get there from here?” Or “I’ve got a 9-5 salaried position, but I’d like more variety in my work life, how do I start down the path of consulting?” Here’s what I usually recommend:
First, invest in a copy of Peter Block’s book “Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used.” This was recommended to me by Jon Stahl back in 2003 or 2004 and reading it had a profound impact on my processes, and — ultimately — gave me a sense of clarity about my role as a consultant in various types of projects and situations. Given the wealth of information in that book, I won’t touch on Peter’s suggestions here.
Next, give some thought to what consulting “products” you can offer. Consulting is a nebulous art and to a lot of people holds little meaning. “I’m a consultant” doesn’t really answer the question “What do you do?” very precisely. And, as Peter Block points out, we are all consultants of one kind or another. In my experience, having specific “consulting products” helps people visualize something tangible that they can invest in. For example, I’m a digital publishing consultant and I have a small number of hand-crafted products for publishers around software development, e-mail and content management, and so on, and being able to say specifically, “I have a standard approach, it requires an investment of X, so-and-so invested in it, this is how it worked out for them, and I can do that for you too,” helps organizations see how that solution could apply to their own needs.
Along the same lines, I’ve found that it’s helpful to have some variations of the same “consulting product” to better fit with a range or needs. In my case, I use the length of the commitment, or the depth of the consultation. For example, I do a fair bit of consulting around e-mail programs for publishers, i.e., e-mail list growth, acquisition and retention, list hygiene, automation, and, obviously, using e-mail to drive outcomes. The products I offer are based both on length of commitment — i.e., an audit and recommendations would be a short engagement, whereas an audit, recommendations, and ongoing evaluation would be a longer engagement — or how hands-on the work will be, e.g., an audit and recommendations vs. actually being involved in the implementation. I’ve also found it useful to do some thinking upfront about these variations and my own comfort level, e.g., what’s the length of engagement where the client will receive the optimum value and does the client have enough internal resources to actually implement the recommendations on their own? These variations provide opportunities to test out the consulting relationship with shorter, more light-touch engagements and can shed light on how a longer project might unfold.
Now that you have your products and various sizes and types of engagement around that offering defined, it’s time to get your pricing memorized. At some point in the conversation with a potential consulting client you will be asked “What do you charge,” or, if you are not asked that question, you should be ready to say, “My consulting rate is X, is that something you can work with?” In either scenario, you should be clear and concise: What you charge by the hour, by the day, or for specific types of consultations. You want to be very clear about the investment required to move this conversation from “just talk” to “let’s get to work on this.” Being unclear here — for example, by waffling on your pricing or not having it memorized — often makes the next step, getting a committment from the potential client, very difficult. I usually provide my hourly rate, and then examples of the investment required for typical projects at the 20, 40, and 80 hour points, and I’m clear about what’s delivered in each of those situations.
If the cost of the investment is a challenge for the potential client and you would really like to undertake the engagement, the best advice I’ve ever received (which I used often in my early consulting days) is to offer to provide some extra hours on a pro-bono basis. For example, I might say “I really find this project interesting. I believe that I can bring a lot of value to it. I sense that the investment is an obstacle for you. I could invest another five hours into the project at no cost, to ensure that you get what you need, if that would help us to move this forward.” In case you’re missing the point here: don’t lower your rate simply to get the project. Lowering your rates has many potential consequences, e.g., devaluing your time in the potential client’s mind, having to explain different rates to different potential clients, billing issues (“What did we agree I would charge?”), and — eventually, as your practice grows — making some work less of a priority than other work because the rates being charged are different. Trust me: one rate, stick with it, and offer other perks or incentives to move things forward.
Finally, the step that most people who are new to consulting have the most difficulty with in my experience, is actually transitioning from a conversation about an area of expertise to a conversation about consulting, and — ultimately — to a conversation about how to get a commitment to move forward on a specific project. There’s no one way to perfect this process but, without a doubt, practice makes it much easier. There are, however, several tips that I’ve found useful along the way:
First, when a colleague or potential client asks to have a conversation with you about your experience — perhaps to give them some insight, or advice or what-have-you — make that initial conversation short and convenient; I usually answer “Sure, let’s have a thirty-minute conversation on the phone.” This ensures that we can both explore this relationship with the minimum time investment. I actually do pay attention to the time when on the call and try to leave the last five or ten minutes for closing the loop in some way, i.e., answering the question “Is there potential here to move forward with something tangible.”
Second, when we arrive at the end of that first conversation, I make a point of presenting my products and their pricing and indicating that some committment would be required to move this conversation forward. For example, I might say (as long as it’s true!) “It sounds like my Product X would be a great fit with the challenge you’re describing right now. My consulting rate is Y per hour. Clients typically invest betweeen Z and A for this kind of work, depending on the length and depth of engagement.” Now the conversation is framed properly and the person at the other end has the information they need to decide if they would like take the next step.
Third, if the size of the project is large and there are other stakeholders involved in making a decision, I will certainly make another hour available to define the scope of the consultation and the deliverables, but — if you do agree to move on to this step without starting the clock — be clear that the meeting is to define the scope of the project and not to brainstorm ideas, and also try to ensure that there are decision makers in the meeting, by which I mean the person who could sign the contract or consulting agreement.
Last but not least (in fact, it should almost be listed first), the most important skill to learn as a new consultant is saying “no.” I’ve (politely) turned down more consulting opportunities in my life than I’ve undertaken by a factor of two at least. Knowing when to say “no” is a blog post unto itself, but — for now — it’s worth taking a few moments to reflect on how long each consulting enagement can typically be (often months, even for short engagements) and really thinking about the fit between you, the client, and the project. If you have any reservations or red flags in the initial conversation, or any follow-up conversations about the scope, saying “no” can often save everyone time, energy, and resources. Thinking back on my own experiences, I can’t think of any projects that I’ve turned down that I regret turning down, but — on the other hand — there are projects where I said “yes” and have experienced some sense of regret at some point. Saying “no” is almost always the right thing to do if there’s any question about the fit, because, in the end, you can always use that time to improve your consulting process, to find new clients, or to just take some time off.
We all have those little tricks up our sleeves…the tricks we use to fix it, shortcut it, or make it easy for ourselves.
Some years back I posted a quick little emergency “fixit” for those days when your last miniscule lav windscreen disappears. At the time I was experimenting with using my computer with a camcorder plugged in to see if I could record “live” into iMovie.
It worked. The way I shot the video I mean. And the trick works pretty well too. All you’re doing is creating a dead zone above the mike head that keeps wind from hitting the head.
Fast forward six years to today…or rather earlier this year. I needed a way to fix my Lectrosonics wireless receiver to my Panasonic HMC150. The body is so compact and nearly every surface has dials or gizmos that I couldn’t figure out where to put it. Out of desperation I would use the hand grip…or pocket it tethered to a long enough XLR cable. Awkward.
Looked around on the Internet, but most of the fixes either didn’t look like they’d work with my camera or were way too expensive. So I did what any sane person with too much time on their hands would do…I diddled and daddled and did some thinking to boot and came up with my own gizmo.
I’ll make a video later on…but here’s the drill. Countersink a threaded hold into the plastic. Fill said hole with super glue and screw in the cold shoe. Wait for it to dry. Attach Velcro to fit. Put mated piece of Velcro onto your receiver (or whatever else you want to attach to the camera).
Cost: assuming I could have bought just enough for this one holder, probably less than $10. As it was, I bought enough plastic for four holders (around $14), five of the cold shoes at around three and a half bucks each, and the Velcro roll ran nearly $15. The super glue I had lying around the workshop.
What would I do differently? I got the cold shoes cheap on Amazon.comAmazon. If I do it again, I’d probably go for more heavy duty shoes…I can tell the ones I got are not sturdy enough for long term use.
Oh – and once I went to all of this trouble, I found exactly what I needed (same basic design, but metal) over at B&H.
So – two of my tricks are out of the bag…and my partner in crime, Larry Nance, is working on more fixits, make-its, and shortcuts for our book, The Basics Of Videojournalism. The OMB, VJ – the current day Jack (and Jill) of all trades.
I have been collecting posts, articles, tutorials and general how-to materials that relate to how journalists use social media. I started about two weeks ago, as I prepare for a workshop in Singapore.
They are curated here: Social Media and Journalists.
The collection is housed at Scoop.it, a curation site that goes a step beyond social bookmarking sites such as Delicious and Diigo, and which privileges text and tagging — rather than visuals (like Pinterest). For this particular project, I’m finding it very useful.
One example of its utility is that I can offer up a link to a subset of the complete collection by using my own tags: see all posts tagged with “Instagram.” This kind of selection is always useful in teaching and training. Unfortunately, you cannot combine tags (e.g., Instagram + howto) to narrow the search results.
I could have chosen Tumblr for this project, but I’m liking the way Scoop.it works. One of its best features is that when you “scoop” a link using the Scoop.it bookmarklet, the Scoop.it interface opens in a one-third-screen vertical overlay (shown in the first screen capture above). This allows me to scroll up and down in the source material, which makes it easy to write my annotations and choose my tags. I don’t have to flip between browser tabs.
The toolbar shown above appears at the bottom of every posted item. It’s fast and easy to edit your posts and to change or add tags. It’s also easy for others to share your posts on a variety of social networks.
A big drawback is that I can’t download or otherwise preserve my collection. If Scoop.it goes bust, I will lose all my work. There is an RSS feed, but the links go only to the Scoop.it posts; there is no link to the source material in the RSS feed. Bummer.
Scoop.it isn’t brand-new — the site launched in November 2011.
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As the year comes to a close, it's worth a look at the some of the most intriguing developments in journalism education in the last year - from approaches to using social media and curation to new initiatives on data journalism, from academe's role in the news industry to leveraging publishing platforms.
1. Hanging Out is In: Journalism educators are constantly exploring new techniques that can bring some pizzazz to the classroom and better engage students. And one new tool that created lots of excitement this fall was the video Hangout feature of search giant Google's new social network Google Plus. Hangout lets users easily organize live video chats with up to 10 participants, group chat, screen share, co-view YouTube videos, access via mobile, etc.
Although the tool doesn't appear to have yet found its full potential with J-schools, the possibilities seem broad -- not only to improve interaction with students, but between them, as well as among faculty or even between schools. Some journalism educators this fall, for instance, used Hangout to bring expert speakers or even whole panel discussions into their classrooms, or to generate group chats with adjuncts or for news meetings. Among the possibilities: facilitating group projects outside of class, holding virtual office hours and hosting student Q&A sessions (here's more on Hangout, and more on the education potential of Google Plus). To grasp the full potential for the tool, some suggest letting students take the lead -- by showing them how Google Plus Hangouts works, then allowing them to find creative news uses on their own. Educators interested in Hangout might want to check in with USC Annenberg's Robert Hernandez of #WJChat fame, who's exploring a monthly Hangout about teaching.
2. Friending is Out, Subscribing is In: With the introduction of news-related services like subscriptions, the social networking powerhouse Facebook is finding more uses in J-school classrooms, where it's a tool for reporting and source development, user engagement and expanded distribution. But a stumbling block for many is the long-standing question - to friend or not to friend? Some folks won't do it as a matter of principle; others acknowledge the power politics by only accepting, rather than initiating invitations. But it's increasingly possible to bypass the dilemma. Using subscriptions, for instance, students can follow select faculty updates without the "friend" relationship. And the use of closed Facebook groups allows classes or larger groupings to share info without crossing any personal boundaries.
3. Aggregation. Teaching aggregation may be controversial in J-schools (is it journalism or is it not?), but that hasn't stopped some from taking full advantage of one of the smarter curation tools - Storify. One fan is Hofstra's Kelly Fincham, who writes how journalism educators can use Storify not only to teach students to curate social media, and gain credibility and exposure, but also for faculty to organize readings and create virtual handouts for classroom use. Others have used it to curate training events and to teach beat reporting basics, or have taught it (and curation) as part of the core copy editor's function. Check out this Storify on using Storify for journalism education and another on tips for using Storify in reporting.
4. Players in Community News: It's long been a tradition for the J-schools to contribute to the general flow of news, but in the void created by the shrinkage of commercial news outlets they're now playing a far greater role in meeting community information needs. Beyond such ongoing projects and partnerships as those at USC Annenberg, Berkeley, Arizona State, NYU, the multi-university partnership of News21 and others, now add a new year-round news outlet from Columbia. The volume of university news sites has grown so extensively that American University's J-Lab has created a directory of dozens. Plus, journalism academe is getting into the money end of the business with the exploration of new business models to replace the collapse of the old -- for instance, CUNY, where I teach, has created the country's first master's in entrepreneurial journalism.
5. The Rise of the Journo-Programmer. An ambitious hybrid of journalist and computer scientist is what some have in mind as part of the future of journalism. As Columbia was launching its dual-degree masters in journalism and computer science (more), Northwestern last winter announced a $4.2 million Knight News Innovation Lab run by the journalism and engineering schools (more). Other schools are focusing on just making student journalists smarter about doing data within their journalism courses, becoming adept at everything from simple programs like spreadsheets and web-based visualization tools to more sophisticated software like Flash. Influential online journalism educator Mindy McAdams proposes all J-schools have a full-fledged data journalism course, something a few schools appear to be doing (Columbia is one; CUNY is another). Meanwhile, the explosion of smartphones and tablets - the latter are starting to show up more in classrooms, though not without debate over best practices - has encouraged some schools to explore app development, whether through simple thought exercises or by actually building apps from the ground up in dedicated courses.
6. Portfolios, Off the Rack: While some instructors make the case to continue teaching basic HTML and Dreamweaver to journalism students, others are increasingly focusing on finding ways for students to quickly set up and customize simple professional portfolio sites. Wordpress seems to be the answer for most, urged upon or even required for students. Academics then actively swap the best themes and favorite plug-ins for everything from Twitter feeds to quizzes and maps, while touting their students' best work (examples here and here).
Of course, this column only just touches on major trends and key players, so feel free to suggest more in the comments below, and this column try to circle back around to report on them in more depth in the coming months.
A. Adam Glenn is associate professor, interactive, at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and a long-time digital journalist and media consultant. Connect with him on Facebook or LinkedIn, and follow his Twitter":http://twitter.com/AAdamGlenn feed. This monthly column draws liberally from conversations about digital journalism teaching practices on the online educators Facebook group of the Online News Association. The ONA Facebook group is currently a closed group but you can view ongoing conversations (see our group Q&A tracker), or join in via ONA membership.
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This week, MediaShift will be running a special series on navigating the relationships between kids and media. Stay tuned all week as we explore topics like this one.
Once you have a child old enough to use a remote, the angst begins over how to control access to media. And absent the will to live a technology-free existence, media access is virtually impossible to control.
Still, I have been able to assemble some tips on ways to at least try to influence how children navigate the media landscape. These are some of the conclusions I've reached after talks with friends and family, and a lot of personal experience as a father.
Once they get a bit older, you can turn on whatever parental controls your TV provider or set allows, sometimes even block access to certain channels.
A few friends and family members don't subscribe to cable TV. You can also go without TV, which one friend told me she has done since before the era of video on the web.
HINDRANCE 1: TV? What is this, the 1990s? Most media shown on TV is soon available on some other screen the child has access to. As I said to a friend whose children were issued notebook computers in middle school: "Once they get laptops it's game over."
HINDRANCE 2: Media is pervasive out of the home. Family members in Minneapolis don't have cable. So, their daughter for years has just gone over to the house of a friend who seems to have every channel known to man, as well as a giant plasma screen.
Even at school, your children might watch movies and shows without your explicit permission. I was unhappy, for example, to learn that my child during elementary school recess on rainy days was put in an auditorium to watch entertainment that was anything but educational.
HINDRANCE 3: Parental controls are often based on rating systems that may not match your values. My friends and I, for example, find sometimes startling levels of violence in programming that's considered "safe" for children, while a fleeting bare breast in an innocuous setting will cause a show to be blocked.
You can restrict access and set permissions on your wireless router for different computers (via, for example, identifying the computer's "MAC address" -- a unique identifier code for every computer's WiFi antenna). Some routers allow different permission levels for different computers, so you can restrict them from accessing certain web addresses. On some routers, you can also monitor activity on the network.
You can also set yourself up as an administrator on a computer, and make your children simple users, then use browser tools to restrict access to certain web addresses and kinds of content.
HINDRANCE 1: Do you really want to be the admin on your children's computers and have to be called on every time they need to download some little plug-in to access something they may need for homework or to play a legitimate game?
HINDRANCE 2: Your progeny (they are smart, aren't they?) may find a workaround and get the content from some avenue you haven't blocked. If you restrict them at the browser level, for example, they may figure out a way to download through a different browser.
Another friend was able a few years ago to block his daughter's access to AOL Instant Messenger chats by, he said, denying access on his home router. But the means of accessing AIM and other real-time social engines have ballooned to where he knows it would be a losing battle now to even try.
My movie-obsessed 15-year-old nephew knows how to fake proxy servers and make a website think he's coming from a different IP address or country to get around restrictions where he lives.
He and his spouse also require their children under the age of 16 use computers in open areas of the house rather than their bedrooms.
HINDRANCE 1: Neighbors. My friend and his wife noticed their children doing homework in a cramped area near the front porch. It turned out they were accessing an unprotected wireless network named "Stevo" emanating from next door.
HINDRANCE 2: Going without wireless can tie your own hands. My friend, who is a busy hospital doctor, found it to be a hassle when he had to get online at home and find a free port while the kids were doing homework.
In a house like mine, where I'm constantly accessing media in all corners for work and pleasure, I have trouble imagining going without wireless.
HINDRANCE 3: Children often have access to smartphones and tablets, on which they can consume media over a cellular network, and sometimes tether to a computer to give it wireless access.
HINDRANCE 4: Laptops can be carried to places with WiFi over which you have no control.
HINDRANCE: My 14-year-old daughter and nephew are masters at finding whatever they want to watch. They're fans, for example, of the British version of "Skins," which is considerably more frank about sex and drugs than the American knockoff.
If they can't get what they want through Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and other legitimate services, they seem to find it some other way. When they can't get a whole show, someone inevitably posts choice bits to shared sites like Tumblr or YouTube.
I have told my daughter of the agreement reached between content providers and cable companies to limit access to unapproved content, so she can better understand the dangers of downloading material that our ISP finds illicit.
In our house we encourage media consumption together, as a family. That way, at least, we can ask and answer questions, discuss what we're seeing and hearing, and I can gauge reactions and levels of sophistication. I'd rather have an idea of what's being consumed than believe I can place blanket restrictions.
HINDRANCE: Many children, once they're old enough, will resist watching shows with the family. Friends and I have experienced various excuses and explanations.
Our children will say they've already seen a show we want to watch and don't want to watch that episode again, or that something they want to watch isn't appropriate for younger siblings.
Rather than resign myself to losing battles, I try to influence media consumption -- and production -- habits by instilling values and judgment. My daughter at this point would have to be pretty dull, for example, to not understand the risks of a) putting embarrassing personal material online or b) interacting with someone she doesn't know.
I try to encourage her to tell me what she's watching and listening to, even if it makes us both squirm a little at times.
An upside for a media professional like me is that children often act as a window into other media worlds. My daughter told me of YouTube sensation "Fred,"":http://www.youtube.com/user/Fred whom I've since researched and now use in lectures to demonstrate the power of the new social ecosystem.
I also believe we can't lord it over children if we're going to let them have rich, interactive lives, while hoping they have gained values and judgment that buffer them from the worst possibilities.
I know my daughter won't share everything with me. Yes, I can see her Tumblog and am her "friend" on Facebook. But I also am well aware that there may be other Tumblogs, social networks and websites where she does things she hides.
I do hope I've helped arm her with values so that in creating and consuming content she shows the good sense I've seen on so many other occasions.
Read more stories in the Kids & Media series on MediaShift.
Photo of family watching TV together by Paul Emerson via Flickr.
An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk.
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Huffington Post :: While Google+ has a slick design and Google clearly tries to make the platform as intuitive as possible, but your first few days with the new social network can still be overwhelming. You may expect to log in and immediately see all your friends' activity with no effort at all. Or perhaps you're looking for a Facebook clone in every sense. You'll find neither on Google+.
So many new terms - what exactly are these "Sparks" and "Circles? And what are the other key features of Google+? Craig Kanalley has prepared 15 tips for newbies.
Continue to read Craig Kanalley, www.huffingtonpost.com
The Knight Digital Media Center is providing a live blog of its five-day event which started yesterday offering advice on setting up a community news start-up, including how to move an idea from concept through to implementation and how to work with volunteer contributions. Tipster: Rachel McAthy. To submit a tip to Journalism.co.uk, use this link – we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.Similar Posts:
So you're thinking about starting a local blog. Maybe you're a reporter tired of office politics and lowest-common-denominator assignments. Maybe you're a neighborhood gadfly who wants to create a new place for locals to gather. Maybe you're a realtor who wants to generate new leads.
Either way, your local blog, like most new things, will probably fail.
It will fail to support you.
It will fail to win an audience.
It will fail to have real impact in your community.
I meet a lot of local bloggers and people thinking about starting local blogs who ask me for tips or for feedback. After having several of these conversations, it seems useful to pull these conversations together in one place modeled after a great piece Paul Graham of YCombinator wrote back in 2006. He found 18 mistakes that kill startups. I think the mistakes that kill local blogs can be condensed down to five.
Let's break them down.
#1. You're doing it alone.
The first reason your local blog will fail is because you don't have
the right people working on it. Notice I said "people." No, you will
not succeed working on this alone.
As a solo local blog founder, you alone will be responsible for creating the content, editing it, distributing it, selling ads around it, promoting it, collecting payment, accounting for the money collected and spent, and then covering all your legal bases. That's an incredible amount of work. More importantly, any time spent on any one of these tasks is time NOT spent on the others. If you go it alone, your business will be single-threaded. Everything will have to run through you before it can happen and you can't always be available. In a single-threaded business, if the one agent needs to take a break, everything else grinds to a halt.
As Graham puts it: "When you have multiple founders, esprit de corps binds them together in a way that seems to violate conservation laws. Each thinks "I can't let my friends down." This is one of the most powerful forces in human nature, and it's missing when there's just one founder." If it's really just you, then your team is weak and your blog will fail.
#2. You don't know your market.
The next reason your blog will fail is because you didn't do your homework. In the case of the local reporter who's been covering her beat for a few years, yes, she knows her subject matter inside and out, but that's just the tip of the iceberg of necessary knowledge for building a business around it. For example, does she know:
a. How many people are actively looking for coverage of her beat?
b. The average incomes of those people?
c. How many of them have Internet access?
d. How much time they spend online?
e. What businesses or organizations would like to reach those people?
f. How much money they spend annually in doing so?
I could go on. My experience has been that very, very few local
bloggers have answered any of these questions or have any intention of
answering them in the course of working on their blog. And these are
not tricky, obscure questions. These are questions that any business
founder would need to answer in order to be taken seriously or stand a
chance at success. If you don't know these things, then you didn't do
your homework and your blog will fail.
#3. Your content is weak
The third reason your blog will fail is because your content stinks.
It stinks because it lacks a point of view and it fails to address a
real, general human problem.
Whether you're a trained journalist, a neighborhood gadfly, or a
realtor, your content probably lacks a point of view. As a newspaper
reporter, you were trained to be objective. As a gadfly, you have
relationships around the community that you have to protect and worry
about. As a realtor, you will never say anything bad about the
community you cover and therefore will be a bore.
Your blog has to have a point of view and a voice because people only
engage with things they can wrap their heads around and get familiar
with. Your local blog will only succeed if it wins an audience. You
win an audience by building relationships between your stories and
readers. No one relates well to something they don't know and
understand. Your blog has to have strong, easily remembered stances on
local issues people actually care about or it will fail. Groupon
is a company that sells deals, not local news per se, but they have a
phenomenal grasp of the voice and point of view of their content. Read their style guide here.
Which brings us to the other reason your content is weak. It's weak because no one wants to read it. And no one wants to read it
because it doesn't address any real, general human problem. For all
the bluster about hyper-local coverage and blogging in the last five years,
as someone who runs a city-specific social news site where people vote
for the stories they actually are interested in, it seems pretty clear
that most people don't give a fig about what's happening day in and
day out in their local elected bodies. That stuff matters a great deal
to other elected officials, people who do business with elected
officials, and the political/news nerds in your community, but that's
If your local blog is focused on covering local government, it should be a subscriber-only, paid newsletter that goes out to just those people. It should only be a public blog if there's mass interest in the subject matter, which there just isn't for a lot of the stories showing up on hyper-local blogs. If your content lacks a point of view and is centered around things that the general public isn't interested in, it will fail.
#4. You haven't thought through your business model
Let's assume you figured all this stuff out. Now how are you going to
make money? Ads, you say? Okay, great. Have you answered these
-What kind of ads? Banners? Text links? Sponsored posts? Real-time ads?
-Who's going to sell them?
-How are they going to sell them?
-What are you going to charge?
-Who are you going to sell them to?
-What's the value proposition of buying your ads over someone else's?
-How many ads do you need to sell to cover your costs?
-What the heck are your costs?
Until you answer these questions and more like them, your blog will make no money and it will fail.
#5. You have no distribution strategy
Finally, your local blog is going to fail because you can't
distribute it to enough people. If your local blog is ad-supported,
then your ads are your product and your content is a marketing tool
created to bring people to look at your ads. In order for you to sell
ads, you need to have people coming to look at them. You need
eyeballs on your blog. How will you get them?
Twitter and Facebook are good but not great answers here. Both can
drive significant traffic but require a lot of work on your end. Also, their purposes are at odds with yours. Facebook and Twitter are
your competitors. They sell ads to the same people you probably want
to sell ads to. They would be perfectly happy if you didn't start a
blog at all and just started a Twitter/Facebook account and posted your
content there. If you are a local blogger, Facebook and Twitter, not
your local paper, are your biggest threats. Why should someone visit
your blog when they can read your headlines alongside other
neighborhood headlines over there? They are useful but can't be your main tools.
Search could be a win for you, but have you devised a search engine optimization strategy?
In the end, the main mistake is looking at it wrong. You are not starting a blog, you are
launching a small business. You are no different from the guy opening a bar up the road. You are both starting small, local businesses. You need to know something about blogging
and social media, yes, but what you really need to bone up on is what
it takes to run a small business. Instead of going to the local
blogger meetups in your city, you should go to the local small business
owner and entrepreneur meetups. Instead of following the latest
social media news, you need to read up on the latest advertising,
marketing, and search strategies showing results for actual media
entrepreneurs in the field. This is the main mistake local bloggers make that dooms their efforts.
But if you can avoid this and the other five listed above, you'll have a chance to start something that will sustain you and have a real impact on your community. That's a special thing.
There are opportunities out there for local blogs, they just need to be considered and approached with the right frame of mind.
To submit a tip to Journalism.co.uk, use this link – we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.Similar Posts:
A few months ago I heard ProPublica’s Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson speak at the Digital Editors Network Data Meet, giving their advice on data journalism projects. I thought I might publish notes of five tips they had here for the record:
Online applications prove very popular with users – but they are more often a landing page for further exploration via stories.
Publication is not the end of the process. If you invite users to submit their own information, it can lead to follow-ups and useful contacts.
In other words, ask for basic details such as location, age, etc. but also ask for ‘their story’ if they have one.
That seems to be the limit that people will realistically respond to. Use radio buttons and dropdown menus to make it easier for people to complete. At the end, ask whether it is okay for the organisation to contact them to ensure you’re meeting data protection regulations.
Just because you didn’t use it doesn’t mean someone else can’t find something interesting in it.
"Tell the chef, the beer is on me."
"Basically the price of a night on the town!"
"I'd love to help kickstart continued development! And 0 EUR/month really does make fiscal sense too... maybe I'll even get a shirt?" (there will be limited edition shirts for two and other goodies for each supporter as soon as we sold the 200)