Write Hard. Share Soft.

Writing has been on my mind a lot lately, even though you haven’t seen much of it here this month.Lapel pin that reads "Write Hard. Die Free"

Two posts on writing crossed my radar this week that I wanted to share – the first of which is actually about how much you should share on the Internet.

Since this is a personal blog in the sense that I’m not trying to generate any business through it, my topics can sometimes be of a personal nature. Alongside a lot of posts about social media, I’ve blogged about vacation trips and parenting, issues facing women and girls, books I’ve read and talks I’ve attended.

But, there have been times when big things were going on in my personal life that I didn’t share here. Sometimes because I’m thinking about how they might reflect on me personally and professionally, but often because I’m thinking about the impact on other people involved and what their comfort level is with me sharing.

Sarah Kathleen Peck shared her personal rules for this on her blog this week when she asked “How much should you share with the internet, anyways?

Peck says she only shares about a quarter of the things she’s written, if not much less, but she still writes to process things that will remain private. “Share everything with yourself. Put your words down, write your heart out, and keep that journal flush with ideas,” she suggests. Perhaps it’s something I should consider doing in an old-fashioned paper journal.

If I get to the point where I’m typing it out long-form, I’m probably going to post it, so for me there’s a lot left unwritten. Unlike the many emails I’ve typed saying what I really wanted to say in response to someone, but deleted before hitting send. <wink> And, I have often censored myself on Twitter. Learned that lesson early.

The platform of Twitter was a big part of the next essay that caught my eye – “The Ongoing Story: Twitter and Writing” where Thomas Beller ponders how great literary figures might view Twitter and how much we currently think in public.

He also hits on reason I might like Twitter so much: “…because it is a medium of words and also of form. Its built-in limitation corresponds to the sense of rhythm and proportion that writers apply to each line.” He also notes that it brings a sense of performance to writing, because it’s being done live.

I’m not sure I’ve written much about it here, but a somewhat dormant passion of mine is dancing. When asked in a creative writing class once to write about my favorite place, the dance studio with its well-worn wooden floors and walls of mirrors was the place I selected. But, the stretching, the learning, the practicing done there is all about taking it to the stage. As much satisfaction as I get just from the act of dancing, there’s something to be said for the validation of hard work through the applause of an audience.

But writing and tweeting are different from dancing because they involve words rather than movement. Beller ponders if putting an idea into a tweet makes it public and whether that fact diminishes the chances it will grow into something “sturdy and lasting.”

I’ve often thrown out tweets with the hope I might get some nibbles of interest in the topic, so I could then use the resulting conversation in a blog post. But, more often than not, they simply drift along the twitterstream like one of many fall leaves in a creek. Lost in the multitude and not eliciting any response.

Are they unseen or is the topic just not intriguing to others? Beller asks in his piece, whether writing that is never seen by anyone other than its author even exists?  I think I know what Peck’s answer would be.

I started this blog as just a writing practice exercise and I try to remind myself that is all it is, rather than worrying about Google Analytics or how many comments, shares or likes each posts receives. But, I’d be lying to say I don’t get a little joy whenever someone does say they like what I put down here.

My thanks to both Peck and Beller for their thought-provoking pieces this week. May they start their weekend on a high note knowing that someone out there was listening.

Image via Creative Commons by Mel Green

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Two to Tango: HowToPitch.me and Pitching Notes Want to Match Them

Dancers doing the tango in ArgentinaThe dance between public relations professionals and journalists has always been a bit of a tango – the two are linked in a close embrace, share a common axis and it can be rather volatile.

Recently two new services crossed my radar that attempt to help fill the dance cards of each of these groups with partners matched to their appropriate skills.

First was Pitching Notes, a U.S.-based, free service where members can share their reporter experiences with other PR professionals. Reporters are also encouraged to join so they can tell members how they prefer to be pitched, and what will most likely get a response from them.

In an Orlando Sentinel story last month, co-founder Jeannie Clary said it can be a challenge to convince public relations pros it’s ok to give negative feedback about a reporter, as well as the positive.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Clary said. “We sometimes have a fear of upsetting reporters in the industry with a bad review. But including those types of comments, without insulting anyone, helps keep reviews honest and everyone accountable.”

At the time that article was published, Clary’s team was still trying looking for ways to actually make money from the site. According to an email to members last week, however, they’ve begun experimenting with special levels of membership to address this.

Pitching Notes has created two classes of membership: “General” and “Club.” Only Club members will be able to access the pitching notes and reviews for each media professional. In addition to creating revenue, they hope that the change will help spark the growth of the database – limiting who has access and encouraging more people to submit notes, including those potentially negative ones.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, HowToPitch.me has launched with a very similar goal. Billing itself as a personal space for journalists and bloggers to state what they’re interested in and what they aren’t.

The creator of HowToPitch.me, Nicholas Holmes, told Journalism.co.uk:

“So much ink has been spilled on PR spam and how to stop it. Part of the problem is that access to journalists is still a bit of a walled garden. You have to pay for media databases – and I don’t see why that should be the case.”

A freelance travel writer himself, Holmes’ own profile provides a peek into the type of content he’s hoping more journos will provide.

Screenshot of HowToPitch.me Profile

I wish both services all the best because their shared goals can only help improve the dance.

Tango image via Creative Commons courtesy Bernardo Lopez

The Slow Death of the Newspaper Business Continues

In 1988, I entered Louisiana State University majoring in news/editorial journalism. Mid-way through my education, the Los Angeles Times was reporting that the nation’s newspaper publishers were facing “severe troubles on advertising and circulation fronts.”

Just one year later, The Morning Advocate newspaper there in Baton Rouge became simply The Advocate because the afternoon edition of The State-Times ceased publication. Several other cities with multiple newspapers or morning/evening editions also went to single-newspaper towns around that time.

Into that environment I graduated with a degree that should have pointed me to a career as a newspaper reporter, so I promptly fled to graduate school and public relations.
Newspaper Death
Flash forward twenty years and the Nielsen Wire blog was still asking “Is the Great American Newspaper Dead?” They said that “hope for a resurgence of the printed newspaper seems like a pipe dream.” And, “readership levels among younger persons would have to more than double to provide enough audience to sustain the big papers, and that would require reversing a declining trend that has been ongoing for decades.”

So it shouldn’t have really been any big surprise this week when I heard the news (through Facebook) that the New Orleans Times-Picayune was cutting back from daily to a thrice-weekly publication schedule. (although it surprised many of their employees who heard it first on Twitter, rather than from their employer).

Still I could only summon up a one-word comment as I shared the news on Twitter – “Wow.”

I don’t really have to state the obvious impact that the Internet has had on all this – the Nielsen story was on a blog, the first reports about the Times-Picayune were on a New York Times blog, and I heard about it on Facebook, while their employees heard it on Twitter.

I certainly am one to embrace things digital, but I also still like seeing the Austin American-Statesman in my driveway (or yard, usually when there’s wet grass to walk through to get it) seven days a week.

I love the speed with which I can download new books to my Kindle, but love a little bit more the fact that I’ve got a 1st edition signed copy of “Interview With The Vampire” on my bookshelf.

Maybe I’m just stuck in the middle of old and new. Raised on a diet of three newspapers in the house (one daily, two weeklies) by a teacher-turned-librarian mother, but growing up to be one of the metaverse evangelist crowd. Part of the first generation they couldn’t put a name on, and just branded with the letter X.

I see the sense it it when Jeff Jarvis says newspapers “had better have become digital companies.” The publications I primarily work with almost all have online versions, and after an interview with one of their reporters it seems strange if more than 24 hours passes without seeing the story they were writing show up in a Google alert – or on their Twitter account.

So, why do I feel a little sad?

Image via Creative Commons by Michael Scott

Challenging Myself to Write

When I started this blog several years ago, it wasn’t to establish myself as an expert at anything. I didn’t even have a topic of focus (hence the boring name of the blog). I mainly did it in order to practice writing.

I’ve always enjoyed writing and hear often that the best way to become a better writer is to write. Since I was at a point in my career where I wasn’t doing much writing for my job, I took to the blogosphere to ramble about whatever came to mind.

Looking at how long it’s been since my last post, however, you’d think my mind was pretty empty.  It’s not. My Twitterstream can verify that. I’ve just had a hard time making time for thoughts longer than 140 characters.  At least, that was the excuse I made to myself – lack of time.

Then I saw Alexis Rodrigo tweet:

lexirodrigo tweet

And – bang – it hit me that I was really letting that very thing get in my way. For some reason, I put more pressure on myself in my blog to write something meaningful, well-researched, balanced. It must contain links to related posts or news articles to make it richer. I hear my journalism professor reminding me to include at least three sources in my article.

But, that’s a false pressure I put on myself here. I’m not a reporter. This is not a daily newspaper. No one’s paying me, and they’re not necessarily expecting me to present unbiased reports on the day’s top stories. Heck, who knows if anyone even reads it.

And that’s the point. Or, really, it’s not the point. I need to remember that I’m doing this for myself, and if someone else gets something out of it along the way, well then that’s just a bonus.

So, thinking along the lines of Nikki Pilkington’s blogging challenge, I’m going to challenge myself to post something here every day for the next 30 days.  You’re forewarned if you do read this that there’s no telling what might be coming. It may be related to my work or my family. It may be useful or simply something to pass the time. Heck, it might even be what I had for dinner (maybe with the recipe to add a little something useful to the post).

The point is simply to get myself back into a habit of hitting the “publish” button again. So … here we go!

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Twitter Can Haz Zombie Stringers?

The other night I glance up from my laptop to view the heartbreaking images Nightline was showing of the devestation in Haiti and the photo credits began to catch my attention.

There amongst credits for the New York Times and other mainstream news organizations was Twitter.  Not, the individual who tweeted the photos, but just Twitter. And it led me to muse (on Twitter) about whether Twitter is now a news organization and we’re all its stringers.

Not the paid sort of stringers that freelance their writing, photography or video skills and get paid individually for each piece that a news organization decides to purchase. No, we are all a vast team of unpaid zombie stringers.
Zombie Stringers
Thank you to Eric Jusino for this photo to use via Creative Commons!

It’s not like paid stringers get any more glory.  When credits are given they go just to AssociatedPress or Reuters or such, rather than the individual who took a photo (writers at least get the byline in most cases).

Stringers can be a great resource for smaller news organizations who want to expand their coverage internationally. But, being a stringer can also be dangerous work for low pay and little glory.

Maybe I was just in that sort of questioning mindframe from reading Simon Dumenco’s AdAge post titled “Be Honest: What’s Your Real Twitter and Facebook ROI?

I’d love to hear more thoughts from some of you out there like Old Media New Tricks. It’s not like Twitter is selling our tweets or anything. Oh, wait. Yes, they are. It would only be a small step for them to start seeking payment from local newspapers and television news shows…

All you zombies hide your Twitpics!

Gee, That Looks Familiar: A Commercial Trend

I will always remember my very first journalism professor (although I don’t remember his name) for two things he cynically told the class at the beginning of the semester:

  • Journalists are all drunks, and
  • There are no original stories left to be written

Harsh realities for fresh, young students. And, while the first may not be universally true, it didn’t take me long to become a believer in the second.

I was reminded of it today and how it applies to more than just news reporting by a question IABC’s Chair Barbara Gibson tweeted over on Twitter.

But, to step back a bit, you may or may not have heard about an online firestorm this past weekend regarding a commercial from Motrin. Although many were outraged at the commercial or at the reaction to it (I injected my two cents worth on that at ThisMommyGig), the first thing that honestly jumped into my head when I saw it was that I’d seen it before.

Not it exactly, but its style was definitely familiar; and, it was the second time I’d recently seen that style. I’m not sure which came first in a true time line of their creation, but I first saw this in the Girl Effect video I posted here on Blog Action Day. That video was very effective, in my opinion, so I view all similar ones I’ve seen after it as pale shadows.

First, there was the Starbucks election day commercial. It was also effective enough to give some people chills; but, I immediately thought “Girl Effect” when I saw it. I must not be alone since it pops up in “Related Videos” for the Girl Effect video on YouTube. Then, I saw the controversial Motrin commercial. And, today, Barbara noted the similarities of it to the Ford F-150 commercials. Each successive one steps a little further away from the original, but the use of typography is undeniably similar.

Commercial Images

It’s widely said that to imitate someone is to pay the person a genuine compliment — often unintended. Some say this happens in design due to the fact that we are all exposed to the same shapes/forms/patterns. In other cases, such as the already iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster, it is very intentional.

In that instance, it’s been called a “graphic design home run.” But, when it happens in writing, it’s often called plagiarism.

And, it has been contested in advertising, as well. Apple’s iPod commercials are a great example. They’ve been both copied and accused of copying!

If you get a chance, take a few moments to click through the links above and watch the commercials. Then, share your opinion on whether or not you think this is coincidence, flattery or my imagination.

Why I Still Subsribe to the Print Newspaper

Every morning as I’m heading out the door to work, I quickly grab a strange non-electronic information transmitter from my front driveway and carry it with me to the office. It’s my local newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman. Why do I insist on subscribing to the paper even though my husband thinks it’s a waste of money? Maybe it’s sentimental. I did get my degree in news/editorial journalism and one of my high school jobs was reporting on my school’s sports for the parish (as in county, if you live anywhere but Louisiana) newspaper.

I’ve been thinking about it more lately as I see Stowe Boyd declare that newspapers are dead already, but just don’t know it. I could jump in on that meme that some say Jeff Jarvis started. I’m a new media type person after all, so I could talk about all how the internet will kill the newspaper (yeah, like video killed the radio star).

But, then I see Ryan Sholin, who blogs about future of newspapers, online news and journalism education, talk about how he has historically used the print edition, and I begin to think that’s more of my take on the subject. This is my personal blog after all, so I’ll take the personal look at why I still like the newspaper:

The Sunday comics – I read the comics every day, but there’s nothing I like better than a quiet Sunday morning lying around in my PJs full of homemade blueberry pancakes reading the full-color version. Don’t get to do it nearly as much as I used to since my daughter talked me into teaching her Sunday School class, but it’s still nice to have them there.

The local news – while I get a lot of my national and international news from the internet and the newspaper is usually a day late with a lot of that, I always seem to know local things my husband doesn’t and it’s usually stuff I read in the paper. Like the fact the one of the roads near us in dire need of repair is on a list to get improved in 2009. Or, the review of the newest restaurant that we should check out on our next date night. Which leads to…

The food section – sure I surf the web for recipes and get a lot of inspiration from hours of Food Network (the only non-animated shows my daughter and I can agree on), but there’s something about anticipating that weekly special focus in the paper. Long ago I started pasting newspaper clipping recipes to create my own cookbook and while the book also contains recipes I got via e-mail, ripped out of magazines or printed from the web, it’s often those newspaper clippings I seem to go back to the most.

Local advertising – and into this category I’m lumping those ads for local festivals, the circus coming to town and the arts openings, as well as the cool furniture store’s twice-a-year sales. Sure most of that I could also get from the free weekly Austin Chronicle, but that’s still a paper vs. online.

So, I guess as I look at the things I like about the print newspaper, a lot of my attachment is sentimental and might not be shared by generations to come. But, I don’t think that means internet will kill the newspaper. Instead, I think I align more with Mark Glaser at MediShift who envisions a future tense for newspapers; and, with Kevin Maney at Conde Nast Portfolio.com that problems in today’s newspaper biz are about more than just the internet.

And, I’ll keep subscribing. Thus, doing my part to keep their business going until they figure out just how to fix those problems and move forward into a new phase for the Fourth Estate.

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