Seriously. Here Comes Everybody.

Mark Joyella and Tiffanie WongUntil a few days ago, I was the blogger in the family.  On my wife’s suggestion early this year, I launched this site to track the layoffs that were then a daily nightmare in newsrooms from coast to coast.  More recently, my focus has been on what happens next, and how all of us can stay relevant–and working.

When I walked away from my reporting job at WPLG in Miami at the height of the job-shedding, my blog got a sudden flood of attention, being picked up and linked by many of the major trade publications and websites.  It happened again when I wrote about NBC’s purchase of local domain names from coast to coast.

The other day my wife showed me what real web traffic looks like.  You see, she’s now the blogger in the family.

I could wail and moan about the injustice of it all–I write about journalism, for God’s sake, and the fate of a Nation and all that.  I write about jobs, and history and technology and blah blah blah.

My wife?  You may know her blog by now.  It’s certainly been in the papers and all over TV and the web:  she writes My Husband is Annoying, a site devoted to my quirks and eccentricities, like having a favorite green sweater (okay, sure, it does show up a lot in our vacation photos) and sometimes finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning (it’s not just me, right?)

Well, as a joke, she posted a few less-than-flattering photos of yours truly, and described what it’s like to live with me.  And we figured, hey, our friends will get a kick out of this. Post it to Facebook and get some LOLs.

A few Facebook comments and Tweets later, and the wife’s blog was mentioned by a hyperlocal website here in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Heights Blog, which got things rolling with the pithy and classic headline, “Area Man is Annoying Husband.”

714275As Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody could have told me, things were about to get weird, and fast.  First came the commenters.  A few LOLs, but a few “you sucks” also, and some strange, very personal comments on the nature of our marriage and my wife’s motive in creating the blog.  It was a blunt reminder that the media has shifted forever to an everybody-can-speak-without-your-permission dynamic, and the Old Media gatekeepers have no gates anymore.

As is happening in digital newsrooms around the world, editors post news stories online, reporters and anchors blog about their lives and hobbies–and then here comes everybody; some loving it, others eviscerating it.  How are stations, websites and papers handling comments?  My wife and I debated it in capital-J fashion:  give everyone their say no matter how offensive?  Keep the blog light and fun, as it was intended?  Or only weed out the truly sickening and borderline threatening?  Where’s the line?

My wife, a strong and amazing woman, posted every insulting comment–and the LOLs and You Go Girls–save one, which was truly unfit to print.

Then came the second wave:  the media.  Snarky New York blog Gothamist wrote up the site, as did a Dutch blog that translated My Husband is Annoying (we think) as “Mijn Man is Vervelend. The pageviews began to skyrocket.  My LocalNewser record high fell quickly and it wasn’t even close.

Then the New York Daily News came calling, putting my wife and I across an entire page of the paper, and posting a video interview on the front page of the DN’s website.  I found odd satisfaction and pride in the News proclaiming me “New York’s most annoying husband.”

That article landed on BuzzFeed, and you could literally watch my wife’s pageviews jump by the hundreds every time you hit “refresh.”  It was astonishing.

Before we were out of bed the morning the News hit the streets, bookers from network morning shows and syndicated daytime shows were calling, along with radio stations from Florida to California.

I was recognized while shooting a story for WPIX at the New York Transit Museum by someone (I thought they were going to say “aren’t you the guy from TV?”) who said, “you’re the husband.  From the paper.  The annoying husband.”

This truly is a demonstration of the speed we’re working at these days.  Bret Favre signs with the Vikings and the reporter with the scoop goes to Twitter, not TV.  Why?  Have to. Can’t afford to wait.  It’s a new world.  If you can remember three-quarter decks?  Well, you’ve got to re-wire your brain and adjust to the new speed.

It’s fast.  And we, as journalists, don’t really have any access to the brakes anymore.  We can’t slow something down when it’s moving too fast.  If we do, all that will happen is we stop moving forward and other journos–or just the masses–will tell the story on their own.

Here comes everybody.

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Local Newsers: Miserable on the Job, Desperate on the Beach, and The Return of Ramen Noodles

wisemug

John P. Wise

This week’s deeply honest and revealing post by John P. Wise has gotten a lot of local newsers thinking about the atmosphere in newsrooms across the country–about how the pressures from the top to make that damned money machine work again has trickled down to the producers and overnight editors and reporters and photographers and control room crew, making everyone flat out miserable.

And when I saw a tweet online from a Pacific Northwest winery about their upcoming employee summer Barbeque, complete with ribs and Pinot Noir, I was reminded of what it was like to work in local news just a few years ago:  at times, it was a hell of a fun place to be.  Then travel budgets evaporated, photogs lost their overtime, and along with that came a make-sure-the-crew-gets-lunch-even-if-you-miss-the-interview mandate and, as John so brilliantly described it, a complete lack of interest in the people doing the work.

Welcome to San Diego!  Clothing Allowance?  Ha!  No.  But Hey, Here's Your Camera and Tripod.

Welcome to San Diego! Clothing Allowance? Ha! No. But Hey, Here's Your Camera and Tripod.

Today, a post about one-man-bands in San Diego is good reading, as is the photo that goes along with it.  A reporter who’s just landed that San Diego job at a top station, only why is this woman not smiling? Not long ago, snagging a gig at KGTV would be a pretty sweet move.  Now, it’s almost a one step forward two steps back maneuver, with reporters arriving from smaller markets only to find the first part of life in the big city:  learning to shoot your own stuff.

And then there’s life after the job, after the layoff, after the cliche-ridden conversation with a manager who’s gotten too bored letting people go to even bother coming up with a new, personal way to talk to someone.  And in a flash, you’re on the beach, as they used to say in better times.

But as Gina Callaghan tells us today, it’s a scary place to be, where talent, skills, and smarts don’t automatically translate into paying work.  I think all of us can help each other out, and I urge you to visit LocalNewser’s companion site, CoachReporter, where we’ve just posted an article from a business coach on a key topic:  how do you take a resume that tells employers you’re absolutely qualified to work in a dying industry, and translate that to the emerging digital industry that’s replacing it?  We know we can do the work, but how do we show that?

Other coaches will be offering advice and suggestions on rebooting careers and, as Ann Nyberg says, navigating the change that’s surrounding us.

946pw8001DISPATCH FROM THE FRONTLINES:  Gina Callaghan

I hope that package of ramen noodles in the kitchen remains sealed.

In a strange way, keeping those noodles together means the strands of hope on which I base my future employment will also remain intact.

In June, I was laid off from my job as a Web producer at a local TV station. Between the festering stench that is the American economy and a contracting media industry, I didn’t harbor any great sentimental thoughts about the business. That chapter is finished, so move on.

But where does one move?

Many employers in the “real world” value writing skills, the ability to work in a deadline-driven environment, flexibility, multitasking, good time-managers – all attributes found in your run-of-the-mill newsroom staffer.

However, many of those same people will balk at hiring a newsie for several reasons.  A common red flag is when interviewers ask, “You are used to a fast-paced newsroom. Do you think you can adjust to a different way of working?”

Oy! The unofficial motto of the media business is “adapt or die.”

Of course, the above only applies if you are lucky enough to get an interview.

Then, there is age. One recruiter, impressed by my resume, looked off to the side and said, “I don’t want to get sued but I think my client might say someone with your, uh, background might find it challenging to work with people just starting out. And the site is all about music and pop culture.”

Huh?  Never mind the fact that I worked at Fox, home of “American Idol” and did a stint on the National Enquirer’s copy desk.

“How old do you think I am,” was all I could blurt out. Didn’t get the job. (By the way, I am over 30 and nowhere near death).

Sure there are some relevant job postings out there. I sit home, chain-smoking in an old bathrobe, zipping resumes to that black hole called: resumes@thiscompany.com.

And then there is the rest of the day. I recently started a blog about cats, did some gratis social media consulting and enrolled in a class. Perhaps most importantly, I have learned that generic orange juice is $1.99 as opposed to the $3.99 and up for brand names.

Whether my next job is in media or a real-estate office, I realize this period is a good time to take stock of personal passions and chart a new course. However, like many laid-off news types, the more pressing issue is navigating the choppy waters of daily survival – and keeping those ramen noodles in the pantry.

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Beyond Local News Layoffs: The Mood in the Newsroom–Local Newsers Are Scared, Overworked, and Miserable

Since leaving the day-to-day world of reporting for a local television station, I’ve heard from friends a lot of the same kind of comments when I ask, “how is it?”

“Worse than ever,” is what they say.  News has never really been a place where everybody’s happy (why is that?), but with the money printing machine no longer working, the managers letting their intensity to produce turn into dark humor at best and outright boundary crossing at worst, local newsers describe a business that at times seems to have all the fear and chaos of an industry in the turmoil of change, but somehow devoid of the excitement of the dawning of something new.

This lack of inspiration, I believe, is another indication that stations are deeply invested in the television of the 70s, 80s and 90s, and have turned the screws on employees in an effort to make that fading reality somehow work.  It’s as if you could just whip a horse hard enough, you could make the elegant horse and buggy a competitor to the car.

But the horse is miserable, and in many cases, the horse has had it. They want out.

I got to know John P. Wise during our time at WNYW in New York. A smart guy whose talents spread from the written word to a photographer’s eye and a comedian’s dry wit, he always seemed to me the kind of person who makes a newsroom more enjoyable. In catching up recently, I learned he’s lost his heart for horse-and-buggy work.

wisemugDISPATCH FROM THE FRONTLINES:  John P. Wise

(Back when Pat Forde used to write for The Louisville Courier-Journal, he’d begin some of his sports columns with: “Deathless prose.” That’s your warning that this piece is slightly all over the place. Hope you can follow along.)

What a terrible time it is these days to get laid off from your job, what with the sour economy and all.

And getting fired isn’t much better.

But that’s what happened to me about five weeks ago. I actually got over the ego tweak a few weeks prior when I was told I was being placed on a 30-day probation. That very night, rather than plotting a course to try to save my job, I instead came home, after another unappreciated 11- or 12-hour day, of course, and outlined my next project, a nationwide tour in which I’ll cover the upcoming college football season on the road, an endeavor you can already follow now at http://onegreatseason.com.

OK, back to getting fired. I saw a movie recently in which an actor playing a CIA official told an attorney general who was threatening the CIA guy in some way, something to the effect of, “once we realize that life is finite, it becomes easy to accept everything else.” The guy meant that if something doesn’t work out, it’s OK; life shall continue. Just do something else. It’s up to the outgoing to decide if he wants to go out on his feet or on his knees. Will you play by their rules? Or do you need your own?

Now don’t get me wrong; being let go last month was hardly Hollywood dramatic or even surprising. After six years at Internet Broadcasting and nearly three years at FOX — two successful stretches I’m proud to have under my belt — I just lost the passion to be a news guy. I can admit my share of the blame here, which is to say that I’m entirely responsible for my firing. But let me also offer a piece of advice for big media so it doesn’t lose other talented, enthusiastic, once-passionate journalists.

It’s OK to be friendly. It’s OK to have your act together. It’s OK to be honest. These attributes are things you probably desire in those who work for you. So why would you think you don’t need to return the favor to them? While I can admit it was me who lost the passion, perhaps more supportive superiors could have coached me back in.

I know times are tough. Layoffs are all over the place. Bottom lines boast fewer numbers to the left of the decimal. These facts, however, do not allow you to keep a toxic, negative environment in which the vast majority of your people are unhappy. Think about that for a minute. Let go of your corporate instinct and let that sink in: your people are unhappy. And isn’t happiness what we’re all in search of more than anything else?

Yet many of your people feel guilty just for taking the 15 minutes necessary to venture out for a sandwich with which they’ll promptly return to their desks and work while eating — but surely not enjoying — it.

This plate of sour grapes isn’t addressed to one former employer, but to the industry overall. I’ll never understand how in a communication business there are so many terrible communicators. It has astounded me for 17 years, since I got my first stringing job at a major metro daily and was excited to say hello to a veteran columnist as I passed him in a quiet corridor, and didn’t even get a look back in return.

Now I’m not saying that I’ve found zero happiness in the handful of newsrooms I’ve worked in since 1992. But if you work in news, do me a favor today: ask 10 co-workers if they truly enjoy their jobs, their newsrooms, their supervisors. I’ll endorse my first unemployment check over to you if just one of them says yes to all three.

I’ve enjoyed many of my assignments. Shoot, I’ve enjoyed most of my years. I’ve won a Murrow and a couple of SPJs; I was hoping to get my hands on an Emmy one day. But if it means I have to be “very excited” to ramp up, move forward, peel off, reach out, touch base and circle back before the conference call or the managers’ meeting, forget it. I’ll gladly go back to valet parking cars. I’m totally serious, and I’m totally pushing 40.

Most job ads you see for editorial people include a note like “creativity a must.” That’s a laugh. I’ve attended many morning meetings and watched reporter after reporter bring good ideas to the table and get shot down far more often than not. Long before the tedious gathering, the agenda is already set by someone who’s either never walked the beat or hasn’t in at least 20 years.

Stations say they’re looking for new and creative, but they’re not. Instead, they want the apartment building where a fire was put out an hour ago, but since nothing else is happening, they’ll send the chopper anyway to talk to the one person who was injured so mildly that he’ll give you the all-important exclusive interview right then and there. They’ll call it news, and after the commercial they’ll tell you more about a flap or a controversy or a danger or a Jonas brother.

Certainly I realize nothing’s perfect, but your place of employment, where you spend 40 or 50 or nowadays 60 hours a week, shouldn’t be dysfunctional either. I don’t expect a picnic; that’s why it’s called work. But so many good news people I talk to fully hate going to their jobs. And the fact that most newsrooms aren’t even 60 degrees doesn’t help matters.

There’s been no shortage of talk the last few years of the great changes impacting in the industry. Technology is certainly at the forefront of the new frontier, but what about the other changes? The great managers are those who can do more with less, but in the current climate, where staffs have been gutted and gutted again, is it a legitimate expectation to not only try to maintain the same level of productivity, but to increase it? Having editors write scripts isn’t resourceful; it’s just a good way to turn out bad copy in most cases, and perhaps miss slots. It’s one thing to build a staff of multi-tooled storytellers, but in some cases you just have to be realistic.

Maybe it’s CNN’s fault for starting round-the-clock news two decades ago. Like any TV trend, everybody else — national and even local — played follow the leader. And like any fad, TV or not, we gobble it up, shove it down our customers’ throats, try to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible, then try to stretch it out and fatten our pockets for as long as possible, and then act surprised that blue skies aren’t forever. We flatter ourselves into thinking we’re more important than we really are. Does the makeup-cake reporter really need to tag out of her story with driver-safety tips like “wear your seat belt and obey traffic signals and signs” a couple hours after yourtown’s latest fatal car accident?

At this point, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame. The damage has been done, and while exciting changes in technology hog the ink in the trade pubs, other changes in humans will be just as critical if the industry is to survive.

[Wise has left the news business to pursue a passion project he’s been wanting to pull off since 1994. Visit http://onegreatseason.com to find out what it is.]

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The Ticket to Web Heaven? Use Your Call Letters

WTOC11_LOGOA lot of the fun started seeping out of local television when call letters were foolishly replaced with cookie-cutter network/channel number IDs like ABC7 and NBC5.  For a person who plays a pretty mean game of call letter trivia (wanna know what WIS, WGN, WSB, WTOC and WFTS stand for?  I’m your guy), the perfectly idiotic march away from decades of history that all those call letters represented was depressing indeed.

Now I’ve confessed to my own local television nostalgia, and just the other night over drinks, I bemoaned the loss of the Sears Tower name for that tall building in Chicago.  I hated it when South Florida’s proud Joe Robbie Stadium became the decidedly lame Pro Player Stadium, and, well, you get the idea.

So here’s my message to local television stations trying to dig a deep trench around their turf on the web:  don’t get clever and for Heaven’s sake forget about your network affiliation.

Go old school.  Use your call letters.

As I’ve reported here, lots of companies think there’s money to be made by owning the dominant online news site in any given market.  NBC–being NBC–bought up “NBC(YourTownNameHere)” domains from Presque Isle to San Diego.  But guess what sites do the best in terms of grabbing people’s attention and, more importantly, holding on to it?

WRAL:  Calls as Old as Jesse Helms

WRAL: Calls as Old as Jesse Helms

Sites with call letters and obvious connections to years of covering news in any given town.  Sites like WRAL.com in Raleigh. What affiliate is WRAL? Who cares. Here’s what’s important:  the station’s website dominates all others in Raleigh in terms of minutes spent reading news and, perhaps, checking out those web ads:  the average total minutes spent on wral.com, according to research by Internet Broadcasting was 156 minutes.

By comparison, the minutes spent figure for ABC O&O WPVI in Philadelphia, which uses the domain 6abc.com, was a mere 5.5 minutes.

The numbers don’t hold true for every market–in some places, like Sacramento, kcra.com has a low total minutes figure of 3.4–but by and large, the call letters that have juice seem to translate from television to the internet.

As Arul Sandaram at Internet Broadcasting told me, “While this is clearly just one data point, and much work still needs to be done in getting stations to fully embrace their future as cross platform content/distribution companies, I am hoping you see this data as we do: as a spot of promise for the local TV industry.”

CBS Has Been Nice, But KSL Knows Those Calls Are Their Brand and They OWN THEM.

CBS Has Been Nice, But KSL Knows Those Calls Are Their Brand and They OWN THEM.

It tells me one thing.  Embrace what got you this far, and don’t throw it away.  If you have nearly half a century of equity in an identity, why not use it? WFAA in Dallas does, and they have one of the highest “time spent” figures in the study at 30.7 minutes.

Salt Lake’s KSL has a similarly strong number at 61.8. Both stations, in case you weren’t sure, use their calls as their web ID.  It’s not the magic bullet, but I think it’s a logical step, especially if you’re in a market where the online competition is a newspaper with 100 years of equity in its name.

WFMY:  Bring Back the Dancing Elf Guy!

WFMY: Bring Back the Dancing Elf Guy!

So WFMY in Greensboro, North Carolina?  Here’s my free advice to you.

You went on the air in 1949 as WFMY (trivia challenge: what do the calls mean?). The guys over at WBTV went on the air the same year.  There’s a lot of history there.  And the paper in town, the News and Record (www.news-record.com), has roots to 1890.  So if somebody who lives in Greensboro wants to know what’s up in town, what makes you think they’ll sit down at the computer keyboard and have the impulse to type in www.digtriad.com?

C’mon, people.  If we intend to survive as local news operations, we’ve got to think.

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What’s Next After TV News Reporting? Reality Dating Shows, Of Course

From News to Reality:  Houston's Cynthia Hunt

From News to Reality: Houston's Cynthia Hunt

Hey, I’m no purist.  I’ve got bills to pay.  After I walked away from my Miami reporting gig, as I’ve shared here, I tried a bunch of things to bring home the proverbial bacon.

Just the other day, I found myself back at the anchor desk, which felt familiar, but I was in a warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I was being attacked by zombies.  That was pretty different. (Watch CollegeHumor.com for that one soon)

So I’m hardly one to judge at the news former Houston reporter Cynthia Hunt will be back on the air in Texas this week–as a contestant on the reality dating show “Holidate,” which, according to the Houston Chronicle‘s Lana Berkowitz, is a new show that takes women from different cities and swaps them, letting each test the other’s dating pool for a match.

Hunt, a former KTRK and KPRC reporter, told the Chron “I came to Houston and started reporting at Channel 13, I was the youngest reporter on the air at 25. Now I’m 38! I can’t believe I’m still single.”

In a promo for the SoapNet show, Cynthia is a little more pithy: “There’s been no sex in this city for a while,” she says.

Now from what I’ve learned of dating and marriage via reality television, this is an excellent path to a lasting, loving relationship.  And a paycheck.

Good luck, Cynthia.

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Will Report for Food

jshop logo temp2 08.02.09We may not be exactly beloved by the community at large, but damn are we journalists resourceful, especially when the mortgage has got to be paid.

A group of laid off Los Angeles Times journalists has banded together to create The Journalism Shop, a collection of stellar reporters left on the beach by cutbacks and buyouts who want just one thing:  to work.  “The Los Angeles Times’ loss can be your gain,” the site’s ‘About Us’ reads. “Our interests range from freelance magazine journalism to book writing, deep project research to report design and writing. We encourage you to tap into our vast reservoir of experience and skill to bring to your own projects the caliber of journalism that helped make the Los Angeles Times one of the nation’s top newspapers.”

Award-winning journalists hanging out a shingle and saying, simply, “hire us.”  It says a lot about where we are as an industry.  A similar site, ProPhotographyNetwork, offers the same services, or as Matt Randall says there, “We will shoot anything, anywhere, for anyone.”

Do local television types want or need to do the same?  Are we on camera types satisfied with the work our agents are doing?  Would a “TelevisionProducersCollective” help?  These are the kinds of ideas we can talk about at LocalNewser’s companion site, where I hope to offer peer coaching and mentoring to journalists who could benefit from a little guidance given the crazy world we’re working–or, like the ex-Timesers, not working–in.

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Fairly Useful Demonstration of Bottom Feeding in Local News: The Exclusive and the Porn Star

In the fight of our time in local news, where do you put your effort?  What story or principle drives you to go right up to the line and take a stand?  What’s so important at this pivotal moment in local journalism that getting it done’s–arguably–even worth important than even possibly being wrong?

In Ft. Myers, obviously, the answer:  porn stars.

WINK_320_240_defaultYup.  No momentous battle over outfitting reporters with cameras, or breaking stories online at the expense of the six o’clock news.  No dustup over linking or the shifting world of attribution online.  Certainly no heated debate over cost-cutting, news sharing agreements or grounding choppers.  No, the fight right now in Ft. Myers is over one station’s use of another’s “exclusive” with a porn star, Anabela Mota.

In Ft. Myers–have you been following this story?  It’s way more interesting and visual than health care, and you’ve done that cash-for-clunkers deal to death, right?  Anyway, it’s pretty justifiable since, technically, it’s a political story:  Fort Myers Beach town manager Scott Janke got fired recently after town officials learned his wife, the lovely Ms. Mota, is also known in porn circles as Jazella Moore, whose website includes this biographical tidbit: “I discovered that by approaching sexual pleasure resolved of guilt and fear and with need distilled to shared, creative adventure, the paradox of the Madonna/Whore was broken and with that the power of ecstatic joy could triumph. So I became a priestess of the erotic arts.”

The Interview Stations Went to War Over

The Interview Stations Went to War Over

When the former town manager and his bride appeared on CBS’ The Early Show, it was, of course, high-five time in the newsroom of Ft. Myers CBS station WINK-TV.  But the crew at NBC station WBBH rolled tape on the interview and turned around a clip for their newscasts, citing “fair use.”  [Not to get all capital J journalistic on you, but “fair use” is defined as the use of limited amounts of copyrighted material for the purposes of commentary, criticism and parody, without seeking permission to use said material from the copyright holder]

Didn’t see the WBBH newscast, but perhaps they really were using the porn star interview for the purposes of classic commentary and criticism.  Benefit of the doubt and all.

“It is fair use. Our attorney agrees it was fair use,” Darrel Adams, WBBH news director, told the Ft. Myers News-Press. “It was the first time a major news maker in our market was talking. It’s that cut and dried.”  (Am I nuts, but if I, as a local news reporter, get a major newsmaker to talk for the first time about a big story, isn’t that the essence of an exclusive, and precisely the opposite of a story that other stations have the legal right to cherry-pick just because it’s BIG?)

wbbh-6pm_open_tagAnd you ever notice how–sweeping and unfair generalization here of course–it’s always newspapers sending lawyer to court to fight over access to governmental records and access to courtrooms, while television stations usually only pay the lawyer (or threaten to) when it’s about a piece of tabloid video or a gruesome 911 call involving a family member pleading for help as gunmen storm their home?  What’s up with that?

The “fair use” fight over a fluff interview with a low-level government employee and his priestess of the erotic arts will surely boost local TV’s standing in this regard.

But hey–I’m sure the numbers were up.

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