Can we just leave HRC alone? Please?

Standard

Just when she thought she could grieve in peace, along comes yet one more reporter who couldn’t resist taking a photo of Hillary Clinton…staring at her phone. Clinton is sitting alone at a restaurant table, presumably having just finished breakfast, and she’s…staring at her phone.

She’s not surrounded by handlers, adoring fans, the press corps, or Secret Service agents. She’s just doing what a lot of us are probably doing right now: staring at her damn phone. But because she’s Hillary Freakin’ Clinton, it’s apparently newsworthy enough to at least this reporter that she felt the need to not only snap the photo but post it to her verified Twitter account. Because, you know, there just aren’t enough photos of Hillary post-election doing everyday things.

Yes, I realize that, having lived in the public eye for most of her life, Clinton shouldn’t really expect to just disappear into obscurity, no matter how much she might wish to do so. She has both loathed and loved being in the spotlight, and has been willing to sacrifice more than any of us could possibly imagine so that she can perform public service and catapult herself to one of the highest levels of government as Secretary of State.

Most of all, though, she’s willingly sacrificed her dignity a million and one times as our national punching bag. Louis C.K.’s eloquent, brilliant summation of Hillary’s qualifications as president, which he shared on Conan shortly before the election, pretty much nails the role she’s played in the political arena for decades:

Folks, after all of what this fierce, terrifyingly smart woman has endured on our behalf for most of her life, can we just let her be for awhile? Surely she deserves at least that. She’s earned the right to grieve and recover on her own time, on her own terms, whether she wants to do it in the privacy of her home or the privacy of a quiet moment at the breakfast table in some restaurant. No one is doing the nation any favors by projecting her unguarded moments on our collective psyche, as if she still owes us anything. If anything, we owe her a debt we can never really pay back.

Journalism’s last throes?

Standard

The New York Times just announced that, in order to shore up their revenues, they will be increasing prices from $5.00 to $6.00 for the Sunday edition, and from $1.50 to $2.00 for weekdays and Saturdays. They will also be shuttering the Boston Globe.

After the close of the Rocky Mountain News, which I used to read quite often when I lived in Grand Junction, CO, no one should be surprised that even some of the oldest and most established newspapers are suffering and threatening closure. It doesn’t make it any easier to watch all of this carnage, though. I love newspapers — used to read several a day — but even I admit that I’m cutting back on my newspaper-buying. The Dallas Morning News daily is now $1.00, while the Sunday editions are $4.00. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you have an alternative and you’re a self-employed person with a limited budget, the online editions are awfully tempting. That does mean, of course, that I’m the reason why these folks are losing their jobs, why cities are saying goodbyes to their only newspaper, but hard decisions aren’t just the purview of big corporations. We individuals have to make them as well.

Some people have said that the newspapers themselves are to blame for allowing their content to essentially be distributed for free on the Internet, while requiring folks at coffee shops and grocery stores to actually fork over their dwindling dollars for a paper copy. I agree. The only way that the remaining newspapers can survive is to return to the pay-for-content subscription model, since those advertising revenues will never return. People who’ve grown accustomed to free content will holler and howl and bitch and moan, but remember what everyone said about Napster and the demise of the music industry after the former was shut down by the authorities? Now, the industry is as healthy as ever, and plenty of people not only don’t mind paying for music on iTunes, they’re doing it in droves.

Newspapers will always have a role to play in our society. Sure, bloggers like me and tons of Web sites provide just about any iota of information you could possibly want about what’s going on in the world, but think about it: where do these folks get much of their info? Citizen journalists with Flips and digital cameras around the world supply us with lots of on-the-ground photos, videos and content, but nothing beats the kind of quality writing and analysis that experienced professionals provide. I know of wonderful commentators and bloggers online whose talent and skill rival those of a Nicholas Kristof, but they’re few and far between, and their own relatively limited resources will never allow them to have the kind of breadth and depth and reach of a, say, New York Times.

I still have faith that newspapers are here to stay. The question, though, is whether or not they recognize their continued relevance and make the changes necessary to shore up what remaining resources they have to transform themselves and their failing business model into something that will weather this economic storm,

Would you care if your town lost its only newspaper?

Standard

Grand Junction has a relatively healthy media community: we have two newspapers, including one daily and one tabloid that publishes three times a week (that would be the Grand Junction Free Press, my personal choice and for whom I’ve written the last two years); a biweekly business tabloid; a senior-news tabloid; a Things to Do tabloid; a student newspaper published by the Mesa State College journalism department; and a gorgeous glossy monthly, the Grand Valley Magazine. That doesn’t include the much smaller community papers, including the Fruita Times and the Palisade Tribune. The Free Press, as many know, went from a Monday-Friday circulation schedule to Mon-Wed-Fri recently, in light of economic conditions that have hit the Western Slope, but it remains very popular and continues to publish the kind of community news and announcements that everyone clamors for.

Considering the relative size of the city, then, Grand Junction’s media community is surprisingly robust. Dallas, for example, has only one newspaper, the Dallas Morning News, and more than one media pundit has predicted that the neighboring Fort Worth Star-Telegram will close and soon be folded into the greater Belo empire. The Irving Daily News used to be published 2-3 times a week, but the Morning News eventually either drove it out of business or took it over entirely; now the Morning News simply comes out with a local edition once a week, distributed only to the subscribers in that area. The same thing happened to a number of other community papers in the greater Metroplex, although a few hearty souls managed to survive and somehow thrive.

You could get D Magazine and its many isotopes (D Home, D Weddings, D CEO, etc.), but they all come from the same small publishing group and share the same staff. There’s the so-full-of-itself-it’s-annoying-but-you-can’t-help-reading-it Paper City, but it’s unabashedly by and about the creme de la creme of Dallas social elite, so the rest of us read it just to be able to lick the pages, so to speak, and wonder what it would be like to be able to wear haute couture.

You could also get The Dallas Observer, the scrappy, award-winning independent weekly whose elegant, breezy, and downright eye-popping prose trumps that of the boring ol’ News anyday. It’s my and B.’s favorite, and we’re so glad it’s still there.

But still, for a metropolis with millions of people, Dallas suffers from a scarcity of great writing and great reporting. The handful of talented writers at the Observer and the News have more than enough to fill their column inches, but the Big D starves for more.

So yes, I’m moving from an amazingly media-friendly community to a shrinking one, and yes, I realize the irony in that statement considering the recent layoffs at the Free Press and the still-ongoing sale of the other paper in town, the Daily Sentinel. Am I going to miss that richness of local content, the gee-willikers tone of reporting and the proud, zealous efforts to elevate that local content above all others?

Hell yes.

Would I care if my town — and even though I’m leaving soon, I still consider it “my town” — lost either of its newspaper? Oh god, yes. I would care if we lost the Sentinel, and I would weep buckets if we lost the Free Press. I grew up at a time when Dallas had not only two newspapers (the Morning News and the venerable Dallas Times Herald) but two editions, a morning and evening. It’s more than mere nostalgia, too. I really do believe that newspapers represent the best and worst of a community, a demilitarized zone where neighbors as well as enemies can bring their grievances and concerns in the most democratic of all institutions and come to civilized solutions. It’s where we go to learn about our world, our neighborhoods and wards and villages, about births and deaths and all the terrible and wonderful stuff in between. Sure, we have the Internet, but with very few exceptions, the really good articles and essays unique to one’s town or neighborhood could really only be found in print. You can find a million people more than happy to sound off on the latest mayoral misstep or the shenanigans at City Hall, but only a tiny fraction will really have something worth reading.

It’s devastating to know that few people would care if they lost their town’s only newspaper, and not at all because I’m a journalist and freelance writer. I’ve had a unique opportunity to contribute to the local news, but it’s unlikely to happen in Dallas, where a kajillion out-of-work, frustrated journalists with far more experience than I are competing for the few remaining slots at the only game in town. But I do care deeply about the newspaper, not the least because — despite what some of the respondents say in the Pew survey linked above — local TV news shows bleed mediocrity. I rarely watch the local news here in Grand Junction, and I’m likely not going to change once I’m back in Dallas.

TV news reporting barely skims the surface of the news, and it certainly never strays beyond offering up the most basic of facts. To really understand the context of what’s happening, I turn to the local newspaper, where reporters and editors cull the sound-bites to uncover bits of the truth. Sometimes they get it right, but more often than not they give the reader more insight than she could ever hope to get from watching a ten-second video on the 10 o’clock babblefest. And with the newspaper, at least you’re spared all the “banter.” Oy, the banter. Is it any wonder that they’re referred to as personalities and not reporters? (I suppose that’s still a step-up from Hairdo, but not by much.)

I remain optimistic that cooler, more practical heads will prevail and that the “death of journalism,” as declared by gloomy prognosticators, will be nothing but a mere bump in the road. I refuse to believe that we are creating a world that will no longer recognize quality writing, critical analyses and solid investigative reporting. I can’t imagine that we will soon live in a society that will rather get crappy content online so long as it’s free, rather than pay for the really good stuff that we used to take for granted. It may be naive of me to believe that such a world couldn’t possibly survive, much less thrive, but I have faith that we’re a lot smarter than that.

National Public…Newspapers?

Standard

My favorite editor and I had our semi-bimonthly-whenever-we-have-a-chance breakfast meeting this morning, and inevitably the conversation turned to the state (fate?) of newspapers and print media in general. He had been asked to talk to a journalism class at the local college and, considering that he just came off a month of layoffs and pay cuts, it apparently wasn’t exactly the most inspiring presentation to make in front of people who hope to have his job (or something like it) someday.

We got to thinking, though, about what kind of newfangled business model newspapers and magazines can adopt in the future that will ensure their survival. The New York Times published an op-ed piece in January from David Swensen and Michael Schmidt advocating the transformation of newspapers from for-profit enterprises dependent on advertising to nonprofit, endowed institutions “like colleges and universities.” An online commentator has already derided that proposal, but I can see the merit in it. One of Jonathan Weber’s complaints is that endowed institutions would be beholden to the tastes and opinions of a small group of people, i.e., the donors. That would indeed be a problem if the organization were only endowed by a small group of people, but most endowed institutions receive funding from an enormous pool. The bigger the institution, the better.

People who’ve never worked for a nonprofit often mistakenly assume that the agency’s funding comes primarily from grants large and small. That may be the case for very small, single-person start-ups, but in order for most nonprofits to survive the long-term, they must obtain on-going funding from non-institutional donors. That’s why an Annual Giving or Annual Fund program is so critical to any institution — college, university, the Red Cross, or the local homeless shelter. Most grants eventually end, and most are restricted in their requirements, i.e., they can’t be used for general operating expenses but must instead be used for specific programs. Indeed, many foundations specifically state in their guidelines that funds cannot be used towards endowments. Also most institutional donors require that the recipient organization have a way to fund their operations long after the grant monies expire. That’s where the Annual Giving campaigns come in.

Would such a model work for newspapers? I got to thinking about National Public Radio. I used to work for the NPR/PBS affiliate in Dallas — I’ve been a huge fan of public radio since at least my college years and loved my time at the station. NPR or even PBS fans will be familiar with the public broadcasting model; anyone who’s ever listened to the membership drive spiel knows how it all works. Most of the funding for NPR and its affiliates come from its membership, and several times a year the stations all hold on-air fundraising drives to solicit donations and new members. They get some limited revenue from ancillary ventures — e.g., a local station produces a documentary about, say, global warming, the broadcasting license for which is purchased for a fee by other stations interested in airing it — but the majority of a station’s funding comes from Listeners Like You.

Would such a model work for newspapers? Radio has a more intimate relationship with its audience, of course, with its announcers and deejays. I know that I felt as if I had known KERA’s Sam Baker forever, long before I actually met him in person and became his colleague, simply because I woke up to his voice on my radio every single morning. The Dallas folks are especially good at working the mic, as they somehow manage to make even the pledge drives fun to listen to. (Now that’s a personality.)

But would it work for newspapers? Can, say, a public media organization operate on a membership basis much like NPR and PBS, with members pledging to support the paper’s operations via monthly or annual monetary gifts? The business department would no longer employ advertising reps but rather professional fundraisers (which is what I did at KERA) who go out into the community and solicit donations from individuals, or who work the phones and computers like they do during public radio/TV drives and request donations telephonically and electronically. And reporters and editors can do their jobs as they always have done, “without fear or favor.”

[The “media” and public perception is that public broadcasting is a bastion of liberal reporting and commentary, but what we found when I was at KERA was that we had an almost equal number of people calling and writing to us complaining that we were giving too much airtime to conservative, right-wing commentators and reporting. That demonstrated to us that we were doing our jobs, providing balanced, thoughtful journalism. Our varied listener/viewer audience would not have allowed us to lean in one direction or another simply to satisfy the political sensibilities of one person or group. Indeed, the fundraising side of the building interacted very little with the reporting side (much to my disappointment, because you know that I would have much rather worked on the reporting side, but I digress). It’s the same situation with newspapers — the business side ostensibly is entirely separate from the content/editorial side. To be otherwise would be to invite justified accusations of perceived bias in reporting because of advertiser influence. At KERA we fundraisers took comments and complaints from our donors — from the $35/year donor to the $10,000/year donor — and duly passed them on to the content folks when necessary, but only for informational, FYI purposes, never to influence their coverage.]

I could see a situation where newspapers might try that type of model (among many, I’m sure, and some that we have yet to imagine). The traditional model that has worked for years is obviously dying, so it would behoove all of us who work in journalism to overcome our inertia and timidity in trying out new technologies and systems and pursue new ideas and strategies. The nonprofit, public-broadcasting model may end up being completely inappropriate for newspapers (pledge drives via print may not be nearly as compelling as they are on TV and on the radio, for example), but like the ailing healthcare system, it’s either sink or swim. We try different things and see if they work rather than sticking stubbornly to a template that’s clearly no longer viable. Eventually — maybe — we’ll find the answer.

Structure and Software

Standard

I’m constantly surprised at how much I’ve been able to keep up with my NaNoWriMo responsibilities. It’s amazing at how much one can get done when one creates a detailed schedule, no? I used to keep an hour-by-hour schedule when I first went to college. I wrote it all out every night for the next day, in half-hour increments, sort of like this:

5:30-6:00 Wake up, shower, eat breakfast
6:00-8:00 Study
8:00-9:30 Anthropology
9:30-11:00 Study
11:00-12:30 Algebra
12:30-1:00 Lunch
1:00-5:00 A&P Lab
5:00-7:00 Work
7:00-7:30 Dinner
7:30-9:00 Study
9:00-10:00 Read
10:00 Bed

It’s pretty specific, but I find that, being the chronic procrastinator that I am, this is what I need to plan out my day. Otherwise I could end up, say, at 5:00 and wondering, Where the hell did the day go? Oh yeah. Emails and watching The Daily Show on Comedy Central’s Web site. Riiiiight.

It doesn’t always work out perfectly, but so far it’s given me the chance to keep up (for the most part!) with NaNo. And this weekend I’m going to see about upgrading my old cell phone and my trusty-but-hefty day planner into either a Palm Centro or a Blackberry. I’m finding that my shoulders have reached an allowable weight limit, and my planner — sooo useful though it may be — is giving me shoulder and neck pain like crazy. That, plus my TMJ, is keeping my physical therapist nice and busy. Hence, the move to a PDA that will hopefully (hopefully!) keep me more streamlined and even more organized. Am I asking too much out of a little handheld device? Probably. I mean, it’s called a smartphone for a reason.

I’ve taken up a couple more projects this month, so that’s both keeping me busy and financially afloat. I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but I found a nifty little online software program called Zoho.com (I think I mentioned it on Twitter) for project management (among other utilities, but PM is what I use it for most often). I tried the free option (1 project at a time), but found very quickly that I actually have more projects that need juggling and would therefore need to upgrade. For $12.95/month on the Standard Business Plan, I can have up to 10 projects and 2 GB of file storage. Not bad, eh? Especially since I can write it off on my taxes as a business expense (Gawd, I love deductions). Although I worked as a PM Assistant several years ago, I’m still learning my way around project management and know that I haven’t even come close to mastering even this relatively simple program, but so far I’m totally loving it for allowing me to keep track of everything on my little plate.

Everyone else seems to use Microsoft Project, which I did have loaded on my business laptop years ago during my corporate days, but I never did really get beyond playing with it, since I was laid off not too long after I was promoted to that position. At the time everyone hated it, thought it was more unwieldy than Photoshop (is that even possible?), but lately I’ve heard fewer complaints and more compliments. Good on Microsoft, but considering the cost, I’ll stick with Zoho.com for now unless and until something better comes along.

Okay, back to the daily schedule. Structure, structure, as my writing teacher used to say!

Help a Reporter Out

Standard

No, I’m not talking about me. (Although I appreciate any offers of help. Especially those involving the ingestion of lots of rich, dark chocolate, or even the disposal of lots of rich, green money.)

Peter Shankman is a high-energy PR guy based in NYC whose pet project, Help a Reporter Out (HARO), has become the go-to place for journalists looking for sources and experts/ordinary people wanting to become sources. Are you doing an article for Cosmopolitan about the most popular sex toys in use among, uhm, fundamentalist Christian couples? (What? I’m just flying by the seat of my pants here. Cut me some slack.) Post a request on HARO, and he’ll get you in touch with tons of potential interviewees out there.

You can also participate by signing up and offering to be a source. All you have to do is submit your name and email address, and a couple of times a day you’ll get a list of HARO requests from reporters and freelance writers all over the country. You don’t have to be an expert in anything esoteric (although they welcome that, too); you can just be Joe Schmoe wanting to — say it with me, folks — Help a Reporter Out. This morning’s list, for example, a request from a reporter doing an article for Bloomberg for anyone looking to buy a used or new Toyota Prius, and another one asking respondents what they would love to see in their game room for the 2008 holiday season.

So that’s your good deed for the day. I don’t know Peter personally, but check out his Web site/blog/Facebook/Twitter account sometime. Seriously, the man doesn’t sleep. Or at least he doesn’t appear to. He’s a very strange but seemingly friendly man. And that’s good enough for me. 🙂

Oh, and don’t forget about my cool giveaway of Robert W. Bly’s Getting Started as a Freelance Writer Expanded and Revised Edition! The deadline is Tuesday, July 22nd, so make sure you post your comment to enter the contest!

How to be a columnist

Standard

Ashley over at Feministe.us recently wrote a thought-provoking post that doesn’t really introduce anything we don’t already know about the gender-imbalance in the media, but which nonetheless should be read by anyone who thinks that the news is a “fair and balance” field.

I’ve always been loathe to toot my own horn, but lately I’ve been getting pretty good at it. I do think that I’m one of the best writers in local media, and while the competition isn’t especially steep, I’m proud of that fact. I am, however, very well aware that people still consider me as a “woman writer,” and not simply a writer, without the sex-based qualifier. I write a lot about so-called “women’s issues,” and don’t apologize for it. Unfortunately, while those issues are global and affect everyone, they’ve always been identified with our sex and therefore de-legitimized as “hard news.”

I do think that my editor does strive to have an equitable newsroom, and a glance at the masthead can attest to that. His community/Web editor and right-hand person is a woman, and half his reporting staff are female. While most of his Op-Ed columnists are male, I suspect that that imbalance has more to do with fewer women in the area submitting to the paper. I think that stems from a number of perfectly valid reasons:

  1. Women traditionally have far more on their to-do list than men. See any statistic about the number of hours women devote to housework versus those of men. (I solve that dilemma by minimizing the time I spend on housework. I vacuum maybe every two months, but as it doesn’t really reflect my quality of life nor my husband’s, I’m not too beat up about it.)
  2. A lot of people — men and women alike — don’t realize that the op-ed page is open for submissions from anyone in the community with something to say and the basic ability to craft a logical sentence. Now, mind you, that last part isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds, but theoretically the barriers to admission, especially here in this relatively small town, are fairly low.
  3. I strongly believe that women have a bigger tendency towards perfectionism than men do. Likely because we know that we’re always judged more harshly than our male counterparts, we’re afraid of looking foolish if our work is anything less than stellar. Now, granted, I always try and do the best I can with my work. However, I also recognize that if I wait until I create Shakespearean prose before I fire off a column to my editor, I’ll never get published. As my thesis advisor in grad school once wisely opined, It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done. Anyone who’s followed my columns and features over the past year know that the quality of my writing can be inconsistent, but as long as I get my point across, I’m happy. And published.

I would suggest that anyone — but women in particular — with something to say should sit down with pen in hand or laptop on the desk and just start writing. Don’t worry about the first draft. That’s why they call it a draft. It’s supposed to be imperfect; it’s to be your repository of random thoughts, musings, anecdotes, all related to whatever subject about which you wish to pontificate.

Want to write about the need for emergency contraception to be available to rape victims at all hospital emergency rooms in your area? Sit down and write whatever comes to your mind about the subject, even if it’s just a to-do list of things you need to do to pursue it: statistics on rape victims who end up being pregnant; people you need to call to inquire about the availability of the medication at their facility; laws in your state regarding this issue. Write down what you think about it, and why. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t all make sense just yet — that’s what the editing and redrafting is for. Remember that writing about a particularly thorny and complex issue is the first step towards understanding it. That’s why journaling has become so hugely popular. Writing down one’s thoughts helps to organize them and to enable you to glean some kind of insight from the random ideas in your head about them.

When you’ve finally exhausted all of your thoughts on the matter, and your brain feels like it can’t dump any more onto the paper or screen, put it all aside for now and let it “stew” in its own mess for a little while. Leave it aside for a day or so, and let it just sit in peace while it sorts itself out in your head. Like meditation, writing your thoughts down can help clear the decks in your head to see the issue more clearly. That doesn’t mean that you should abandon the brainstorming process — because that’s what this is — so if and when you think of something else to add in the meantime, go ahead and throw it in there.

Now, after it’s been marinating in your head and on your paper/screen for a couple of days, go back to it. Using those notes as a guide, start writing your column. Begin with a strong opening sentence, perhaps with an anecdote about how a friend of yours who was brutally raped entered the local ER and was not only advised that she couldn’t get emergency contraception, but that she would have to go to another ER across town in order to access it. Use powerful words, and avoid that dreaded, ho-hum passive sentence.

Avoid this:

Melanie was upset and angry at the doctor’s blithe attitude towards her dilemma.

And use this instead:

Melanie burst into tears of rage and frustration at the doctor’s blithe attitude towards her dilemma.

See the difference? Which do you think conveys best the emotion Melanie must have felt in the ER?

Now, I’m guilty as much as the next person about subjecting my readers to the passive sentence. But I do my best, as anyone does, and try not to let it happen too often.

Write your column as if you’re explaining your position on the issue to a friend. Some columnists write in an especially erudite manner — paging George Will! — and others write like the thoughtful, well-read, classically-trained academics that they are, e.g., the late, great William F. Buckley. Others write in a more casual manner, like the wonderful Nicholas Kristof. Everyone has a different writing voice, and the key is finding yours. That’s what will distinguish you from all other columnists, and hopefully garner you a loyal following.

I do think that I’ve yet to really nail down my own voice, but I’m getting there. The key is to write, write, write. Have others read your work and give you their comments and feedback. You don’t have to follow them, but at least consider what they have to say, especially those who read the type of columns you aspire to write.

Don’t let weeks go by before you submit your column to the editor. The New York Times and USA Today are extremely competitive markets for would-be op-ed writers, but most local papers allow a little more idiosyncrasy in their guest columnists. Even if you don’t think your writing rates publication, send it in anyway. Don’t, of course, send in crappy work that you haven’t edited, spell-checked and at least run by a couple of capable buddies. Don’t waste the editor’s time, as even in the smallest papers they’re probably inundated with work already. But just because you’re not Anna Quindlen doesn’t mean that your voice and opinion don’t deserve to be heard.

Nowadays submitting a column is super-easy. Most newspapers, if not all, allow electronic submissions. You can find the email address either on the page itself or on their Web site, or just pick up the phone and call the paper’s switchboard and ask them where to send an op-ed. Some newspapers take days to respond, while others — USA Today among them — will do so within 24-48 hours. Seriously. I’ve submitted columns to USA Today and the Chicago Tribune and received rejection notes (usually a line or two) by the following day, if not that day. It doesn’t mean that they hated it from the first line. It could just as easily mean that they didn’t think it fit their needs at the time. (That’s what I like to tell myself.)

If your piece doesn’t get printed, no worries. Keep writing. Writing only gets better with practice. Read the paper, have conversations with your friends and co-workers about issues of the day, and remember to take notes about things that particularly catch your attention. Write more essays, and keep submitting them to your favorite papers’ editors. Publishing is all about being persistent, after all. Eventually, you’ll find the forum where your voice fits best.

The Death of the Newspaper Salesman

Standard

More layoffs are in store for a venerable, award-winning newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News. As a journalist this concerns me personally, as I make part of my living by crafting and providing fresh, well-written news and features for various publications, including newspapers. The fact that the Mercury News is affected pains me even more, as the pub is such a well-respected name in the business. Their staff won Pulitzers back in the day for an expose on erstwhile Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ “ill-gotten wealth” (a popular term in the Philippines nowadays) that many cite as the beginning of the end for the man and his corrupt administration.

Still, is anyone really surprised about news such as this? Newspapers have been losing readership for years, even more so since the Web really exploded in the late 1990’s. I read the Grand Junction Free Press during the week, The Daily Sentinel on Sundays, and occasionally the New York Times, the Denver Post, or the Rocky Mountain News. That is, if they’re lying around at the coffee shop for free. But for the most part, I get my news from NPR and various sources on the Web. My favorite news sites after NPR is actually the Sydney Morning Herald and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The latter is fairly obvious, while the Morning Herald is just an extremely well-written and thoughtful broadsheet, with insights about the world from a non-US lens. I devoured the paper during the time I spent in Sydney several years ago and came home with a bunch of clippings. It’s a useful and informative look at world events from the perspective of a Western nation that’s not the US, one with an eye towards Asia and who recognizes that the Asia-Pacific region is where we’ll see the most action over the next century.

But again, I read that online. While I love the tactile nature of newsprint (minus the inky smudges they leave on my fingers and any white fabric within touching distance), it’s much cheaper and easier for me to catch the day’s news and analysis online, where I spend most of my day anyway.

Today’s journalists and other media professionals, including freelance writers who still derive most of their income from offline sources, would do well to begin learning more about writing for the Web. Whether it’s starting a blog at your newspaper or on your own, or perhaps starting your own Web site focusing on anything from snarky political commentary to selling your baseball cards, the best way to soak up the free education provided by the wild wild Web is to just jump in and join the fray. Start your own media empire. Create the kind of content you’ve always wanted to read and write, as opposed to the tightly circumscribed text you’re required to churn out for your boss or editor.

Don’t get caught up in any romantic fantasies about The Front Page and the dying art of newspaper writing. I love it as much as the next journalist, but I’m pragmatic enough to know that the future of information sharing, even literary journalism, lies in the electronic frontier. The last thing you want to do is to get left behind while the rest of the world spins away in that digital vortex without you.

Two in one!

Standard

I got two bylines in the local paper today: my regular weekly column and a feature article on Frank R. Hayde, a friend of mine who recently published his first solo work, The Mafia and the Machine: A Story of the Kansas City Mob. (He co-authored a book about Zion National Park a few years ago. It’s available for sale at all U.S. National Park bookstores as part of the Story Behind the Scenery series.) Frank’s currently a park ranger at Colorado National Monument but had somehow managed to find time to research and write a history of the Kansas City Mafia and its ties to local politics.

And I complain about not having enough time to do everything.

Had a fantastic conversation with Tom Acker, a professor of Spanish at Mesa State College and a well-known immigration activist. KEXO, the only local station that broadcasts Spanish-language programming, is threatening to pull all of that if they can’t bring their advertising revenues for the programs to $15,000/month. They’re asking for a monthly “sponsorship” of $500 from at least 20 businesses in order to keep the lights on for Alex Martinez and Esmeralda Martinez, the two DJ’s who run the shows. Acker is a fantastic resource for just about anything you want to know about immigration and the local Hispanic community; I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issue, the fact that — according to Tom — 20% (!!) of the local population is Hispanic (when I thought we were talking single-digits here) and that they’re so invisible, despite their purported numbers.

I hope to learn more as Tom introduces me to others in the community familiar with the issues at stake. I have a feeling there’s a huge amount of information about minority issues in our region that remains hidden — deliberately or not — from the rest of us.