Least favorite words

I don’t think I actually have “least favorite” words per se (at least not that I can put on a blog), although context does put me off as an editor.

  • “And” or “but” when used to begin a sentence.
  • “However” when used to begin a sentence with the sense of “although.”

OK, if he doesn’t want us to read his papers

[Rupert] Murdoch plans to put News Corp content, including from UK newspapers such as the Sun and the Times, behind a paywall and has threatened to remove it from Google’s search index and Google News. (“Google to allow publishers to limit free news access”)

A paywall is fine, if he thinks that will work for his company (I have my doubts), but if the stories don’t show up on Google I won’t ever read them. The newspaper sites I go to daily are the Guardian, Aljazeera, China Daily, and the Imperial Valley Press, and I get a daily email of headlines from the New York Times, but I also read other newspapers when I am searching for coverage of specific news. In that case, I typically use Google as my search engine.

It’s certainly an interesting time for journalism. I’m eager to see what new business models arise from the ashes. Let’s all hope that the dross is what is cut away and that incisive, insightful reporting and investigation in the public interest is what survives.

Interview with a New Yorker

A The New Yorker copy editor, that is! I especially liked her comment that “The hours at The New Yorker are from ten to six, and I try to be on time, as it is embarrassing to be chronically late when you don’t have to be at the office till ten.” It’s interesting to find out the differences with book editing (and with the processes we have at UU World).

Although my details differ, I have this same feeling about my job:

The thing I like most about my job is that it draws on my entire background. I know a little Italian and Greek that sometimes come in handy. I once caught a mistake in Middle English (in a piece by Andrew Porter yet)—the only time my graduate degree has ever had a practical use. I know the name of the airport in Cleveland, and that can be useful when you’re reading a piece of fiction by a Southern writer who is making things up about northern Ohio. It’s redemptive to have a practical use for the arcana of Roman Catholicism.

via Copy Editing at The New Yorker Magazine. An Interview With Mary Norris | Red Room.

Utne Independent Press Awards Nominees 2009


Utne magazine announces its Independent Press Awards Nominees 2009:

Surely you’ve heard that print journalism is doomed: layoffs this, budget cuts that, blogs, Twitter, podcasts, paid content, and so on. We, the deciders of the 20th annual Utne Independent Press Awards, must respectfully disagree with this conventional but flawed wisdom.

Take a look under “Spiritual Coverage” about a third of the way down the page!

More journalistic evolution

Steven Berlin Johnson has a similar take on the evolutionary process of changing the way journalism is done:

So this is what the old-growth forests tell us: there is going to be more content, not less; more information, more analysis, more precision, a wider range of niches covered. You can see the process happening already in most of the major sections of the paper: tech, politics, finance, sports. Now I suppose it’s possible that somehow investigative  or international reporting won’t thrive on its own in this new ecosystem, that we’ll look back in ten years and realize that most everything improved except for those two areas. But I think it’s just as possible that all this innovation elsewhere will free up the traditional media to focus on things like war reporting because they won’t need to pay for all the other content they’ve historically had to produce. This is Jeff Jarvis’ motto: do what you do best, and link to the rest. My guess is that the venerable tradition of the muckraking journalist will be alive and well ten years from: partially supported by newspapers and magazines, partially by non-profit foundations and innovative programs like Newassignment.net, and partially by enterprising bloggers who make a name for themselves by breaking important stories.

Now there’s one objection to this ecosystems view of news that I take very seriously. It is far more complicated to navigate this new world than it is to sit down with your morning paper. There are vastly more options to choose from, and of course, there’s more noise now. For every Ars Technica there are a dozen lame rumor sites that just make things up with no accountability whatsoever. I’m confident that I get far more useful information from the new ecosystem than I did from traditional media along fifteen years ago, but I pride myself on being a very savvy information navigator. Can we expect the general public to navigate the new ecosystem with the same skill and discretion?

Let’s say for the sake of argument that we can’t. Let’s say it’s just too overwhelming for the average consumer to sort through all the new voices available online, to separate fact from fiction, reporting from rumor-mongering. Let’s say they need some kind of authoritative guide, to help them find all the useful information that’s proliferating out there in the wild.

If only there were some institution that had a reputation for journalistic integrity that had a staff of trained editors and a growing audience arriving at its web site every day seeking quality information. If only…

Of course, we have thousands of these institutions.  They’re called newspapers.

Journalistic heavy lifting

Well, everyone else seems to be blogging Clay Shirky’s Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, so I may as well, too. I think there’s a lot of sensible points for us to consider at work with our quarterly membership periodical. The take away? We need to do something different. We don’t know (and can’t know in advance) which something different will work. Try lots of things.

Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone — covering every angle of a huge story — to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?

I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.

. . . there is one possible answer to the question “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did.

Journalism has always been subsidized. Sometimes it’s been Wal-Mart and the kid with the bike. Sometimes it’s been Richard Mellon Scaife. Increasingly, it’s you and me, donating our time. The list of models that are obviously working today, like Consumer Reports and NPR, like ProPublica and WikiLeaks, can’t be expanded to cover any general case, but then nothing is going to cover the general case.

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. . . .

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

Community funded reporting

As a sometime-participant in community-supported agriculture, I don’t find the idea of community-funded reporting entirely oddball. I even think it’s a creative idea. But I want to see how it works out.

Spot.Us is a nonprofit project to pioneer “community funded reporting.” Through Spot.Us the public can commission investigations with tax deductible donations for important and perhaps overlooked stories. If a news organization buys exclusive rights to the content, donations are reimbursed. Otherwise content is made available through a Creative Commons license.

Non-letter typography

Wonderful post on the terminology of numeral and punctuation typography:

In “Emoticons During Wartime,” a recent article in The New Yorker (December 10, 2007), Tom McNichol documents the usefulness of emoticons in communicating by visual innuendo. Emoticons can mean whatever the writer and reader want them to mean, until, of course the meaning is explicitly defined for all by The New Yorker. Two striking examples are:

“=|:-)= This e‑mail is being monitored by Uncle Sam for your protection,” and “:-x I’d rather not say in an e‑mail that’s being monitored for my protection.”

Making the big time?

Who knew the Utne site had blogs? They do, including one on spirituality, and we made it with a story I put in our Winter 2007 “Reflections” section: Suicide, Faith, and Compassion

Kate Braestrup encountered this sad reality in her work as a chaplain for game wardens, an experience she recounts in an excerpt from her memoir, Here If You Need Me, published in the UU World, a publication of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.