Monday, June 4, 2007

Newspaper of the Future, pt. 2

I'll add a few points to the list I started yesterday. I'll start with an obvious one.

8.) It may not be on paper at all. It may be on some sort of portable device. Newspaper publishers have invested for years in flexible, e-paper displays that feel like newsprint but update like websites. None of the projects have come to fruition ... yet.

9.) Its readers may not be united by geography. They may be a community of interest or enthusiasm.

10.) It will shift and evolve rapidly, as its readers' needs shift and evolve.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Newspaper of the Future

My predictions (wishes?), in list form.

1.) It will have fewer pages and be physically smaller (perhaps tabloid) in size.

2.) It will have longer articles that offer more in-depth reporting an analysis.

3.) It will be precisely targeted, either in terms of geographical area or interest.

4.) It will have a vivid voice, which will provoke reader reaction.

5.) It will be sleekly designed.

6.) It will have a web component that will complement, not duplicate its contents.

7.) It will either be free or more expensive than today's papers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Not just Romenesko, of course

I don't want to give the impression that Jim Romenesko's sins are his alone.

Other journalists are just as guilty. They write about the New York Times or the Washington Post and present the struggles they find as the struggles of "the industry."

Please. The news media contains many industries and does many things. It serves many markets. Reporters and editors and photographers and bloggers exist in cities other than New York and D.C. Their work will continue, whatever becomes of the name-brand institutions.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Is Romenesko bad for journalism?

Jim Romenesko's site harms the news media.

Let me say that again, in case any of you missed it: Jim Romenesko's site harms the news media. It's not the only negative force, of course, but that doesn't excuse it.

Let me take a step back and acknowledge that I, like everyone else in journalism today, can't help but read Romenesko's media news blog. I began in the summer of 2001 and continued for years. But I want to stop.

Here's the basic reason why:

Romenesko keeps us from doing our jobs.

That's bad, bad, bad. Journalism derives its credibility from covering the news that affects everyday people. Journalism's basic function is providing accurate information and communicating it in a pithy way. Romenesko interferes with that function.

His blog focuses on individuals who work in the media. So the focus shifts from the stories we do to the people who cover the stories. Who cares about beat reporting? Let's debate the importance of Katie Couric or Bill Keller. Self involved? Check. A distraction? Check.

Romenesko also presents the national media as an entity. If its on his blog, it's news. So a plagiarizing college reporter sits beside a disgraced media executive, a reassigned columnist and some nonprofit report.

What do these things have to do with each other? Nothing, except appearing on Romenesko. That's enough. They also divert our attention from a central point of journalism:

It's local.

If you don't work at the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal or USA Today (and that covers the vast majority of active journalists, if you can believe it), your primary job is covering your particular area. Its personalities, its disputes, its very nature.

Experts in the field say local coverage is the key to news organizations' survival, but who needs an expert to tell you that? If you purchase a newspaper or visit a local website, you want to know what's happening around you.

That also means that the business side of journalism is, primarily, a local business. Some papers and sites continue to do well in that local business. But you wouldn't know that from the constant doom and gloom on Romenesko. Yes, outside forces buffet journalism. But there have always been threats to our mission -- and news folks kept doing their jobs.

Romenesko threatens that. The blog portrays a single, monolithic journalistic entity plodding aimlessly toward its own destruction. Then it provides a forum for people to complain about that plodding. Then people complain about the complainers.

What does this have to do with journalism? Nothing.

Poynter, I'm looking at you.


2010 update

Ha. Oh, my. I still think some of my points here stand up, but of course Jim Romenesko's site isn't bad for journalism. (It may indeed distract folks, but so does visiting YouTube.)

From a remove of three years, I'd say that Jim was, in his way, covering an important story. The news media of the time was too self-involved. That has changed. Folks are finally buckling down and doing the work of creating a new, vibrant media landscape. And that's a good thing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Searched, Searcher, Searching

Without further ado, I'm proud to present the return of the Copy Massage - Editor Evolved search term feature. Here are the phrases and words people used to find this blog over the last month. My comments follow.

how to write a stylebook entry
good friday massege
"true massage stories"
sucker abbreviate *
run the gauntlet gantlet
tasked a verb copyeditor **
philadelphia lost my copy of my GED
new republic david sedaris entire article
efforting definition
front page quote apostrophe gripe
how can I write farewell massage
Definition of the word efforting
"In their hearts, writers think of editors" ***
editor evolved
evolvEd editor
"concord monitor" pride

* I believe that would be suc.
** This copy editor says, "No, no, no!"
*** I only wish this were the case.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Quick Jab

Headline from Romenesko:

"Shafer's surprised more journalists aren't scolding Sedaris"

My reply:

That's because David Sedaris is not a journalist. Duh.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Normally, I am a stalwart defender of truth, accuracy and the American Way of Journalism. But this tempest in a teapot over David Sedaris strikes me as a waste of energy and sense.

To recap:

The New Republic reports
, shockingly, that the humorist's essays are not all 100 percent true.

Slate's Jack Shafer, known for never having any fun, ever, accordingly scolds Sedaris.

The News and Observer (from Sedaris' native neck of the woods) pooh-poohs the entire matter.

The New Republic article's author then fired off a broadside to Romenesko.

So that's where we stand. And it's all ridiculous and stupid.

Anyone who has ever so much as read a page of David Sedaris knows he exaggerates. What's more, that exaggeration (sometimes fabrication) is one of the appealing parts of reading him. You constantly shift between believing and doubting his accounts. That queasy tension between the real and fabricated defines his method.

And, he's not a journalist. Let's repeat that. He's not a journalist. He's a humorous essayist. What's more, he's a humorous essayist who has constantly made it clear that his writing contains extremely exaggerated accounts of events.

So let this go, please. Go chase the next plaugurizing college reporter.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Kurt Eichenwald Speaks!

And boy, is he unhappy. Read his lengthy letter to Romenesko here.

Right now, I'll let him speak for himself. But I do find it dispiriting when a journalist -- someone committed to open, public inquiry -- talks of suing others for libel.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

More on Eichenwald

In a comment below, Tom Mangan raises some good points on my post. This is what he had to say:

Clay, have you seriously asked yourself what you'd have done?

Which comes first, your " journalistic ethics" (a concept widely ridiculed as an oxymoron) or the perfectly normal human urge to protect a child from exploitation?

High ideals sound fine in theory but in reality I'm thinking I'd have done something like what Eichenwald did. He should've told his bosses and should've handed off the story and, yeah, he shouldn't have written the story w/out revealing the money issue.

But if he'd have stood aside and said he was a journalist first and the kid was just going to have to hope somebody else helps him out, he might've been an "ethical journalist" but what kind of person would he be?

Sorry, but I flat reject the notion that if you want to help people you should find another line of work. That's why most of us get into this biz.

I replied to this below, but I'll post the reply here, too. I want to make clear, for the record, that I went into journalism to help people. The issue, perhaps, is how we offer that help.

I wrote "help someone in that way." And by that, I mean a direct payment to someone you're writing about.

Most journalists, including myself, do what we do because of its public service function. I don't think that's wrong -- that's the basis of our craft.

But I do think there's a line in what we do -- the line that keeps journalists removed from the public arena as actors. And I think Eichenwald crossed it. He was doing good work as a person -- but perhaps not as a journalist.

Let's put it this way. If all he did was help the teen find a lawyer, loan him some money and otherwise help him out of the situation, that would be fine. I would applaud him. He was being a good person.

But Eichenwald then decided to write a story about it. He didn't give it to someone else on the Times to write about. He didn't tell his editors he felt too personally compromised to write about the boy. No -- he wrote the story and accepted the plaudits that went along with it.

In some ways, that was a selfish act.

This also isn't getting into some of the problems with the story itself and the associated trials and publicity around it.

I could write an entirely different post about that, but perhaps the article ran too long ago.

Folks will look at this issue in different ways. Journalism often forces us to make moral choices -- and the judgment we have to live with, ultimately, is our own.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

No, No, No

No, "former New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald," you do not lend a source $2,000. You do not forget to mention this to your editors. You do not do it, even if, as you tell a reporter, "we were gambling 2,000 on the possibility of saving a kid's life."

It is not our responsibility to save lives. It is our responsibility to inform people, and then allow them to make those decisions themselves. We do not pay them to do so.

That this ex-Timesman feels his loan is no big deal, that he can still defend his actions --

It makes me lose my train of thought.

But it compromises Eichenwald's reporting. It compromises his story. It compromises discussion of the very real issue (teen sex exploitation) raised by his work. If you want to help someone in that way, take social work classes and look for a new career. Really.

Story via Romenesko.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Leaving Fingerprints

Editors want to leave them. They want a sign that they read that story, by God. I understand.

But resist.

Just because you can change a reporter's story doesn't mean that you should. Just because you can tweak and alter every sentence doesn't mean you should. Resist, editors of the world. You have nothing to lose but your nitpicks.

Understand, I'm not defending errors. You should ferret those out and exterminate them like ... er ... ferrets. But if you can't tell the difference between your favorite nitpick and an honest-to-God mistake, then you need some time alone.

Editors play a peculiar role in newsrooms, after all.

A huge amount of copy flows across our computer screens, yet we don't write it. We often design layouts for that copy, but we don't physically print the newspaper. We write headlines, sure, but those are then subjected to the stern glances of our peers. They often (thankfully) make us redo them.

We have great potential power. Yet, if the machinery of the newsroom flows correctly, we don't use much of it.

But we want to use it. Oh, how we want to leave something of ours on a story. So we pick something, something petty. We make all attributions "Jones said" rather than "said Jones." We decide to eliminate all semicolons. We decide no paragraph can be longer than three sentences and enforce our will ruthlessly.

Each of these nitpicks can be defended. (I'm sympathetic to all of those examples.) But after we spend our energy and time making these changes, how much better is the story? Even the most grouchy among us will admit: not very.

So hold back. Restrain yourselves. Make the changes that need to be made. Find the real mistakes. Rework the bad writing. Communicate and collaborate with reporters. Make the stories better.

Don't leave your fingerprints all over something just because you can.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

For our reading pleasure

Take a gander at this somewhat extreme column from Poynter.

I don't agree with it all. But it aims at the heart of what I'm trying to write about here.

Money quote:

"What we have become are journalists trying to keep things stable. We are trying to survive in the world we've known for another five, 10, 15 years. What you hear in conversations are: "I'm trying to hold out till the next buyout" or "I'm trying to make it to retirement." These are not people facing challenges bravely, but rather people in hiding, hoping to be passed over, undiscovered, until they can make their way safely out of town."

Monday, January 8, 2007

Attempt at a manifesto

Part two

In my last post, I sketched the changing media landscape. Allow me to summarize.

1.) More information is available now than ever before. This is a good thing for consumers of information.

2.) This abundant and free information poses a problem for the traditional news media. This has led to upheaval.

3.) Desk editors are uniquely positioned in newsrooms to deal with this new reality. We edit a wide array of stories, summarize them in pithy ways and concern ourselves with reader response.

What does this all mean?

We, as editors, can take a leading role in leading our newspapers into the future. We spend most of our workdays online anyway. We check facts. We see what other news sources do. We browse websites.

So we shouldn't be afraid of these changes. We should embrace them and learn about them. Write a blog. Record a podcast. Socially network. Make these things work for you. Make these things work for you newspaper.

Ultimately, we must accept change in our jobs. I wrote about this in the last post as well. Most of us are no longer solely copy editors -- we're editors, with the responsibility the title implies. And we will take on more roles as newsrooms acclimate to the web.

We should welcome these roles. And we should ask for more.

Make no mistake: The future of the news media is not about offering less. It's about doing more and doing it better. Abundant folks online offer free commentary and news collection. We have to coexist with them -- and we won't do it by shutting ourselves off in the windowless rooms of the past. We have to stay open and curious. We shouldn't be afraid to try. We shouldn't be afraid to fail.

Jobs will go, yes. But jobs will also be created. Positions in a new media universe will exist. And if newspapers can't employ all the people they used to, we shouldn't take that as a signal of the world's end. We should simply keep doing what we do, whenever and wherever and however we can. Reporting. Editing. Analyzing. Afflicting the comfortable and all that jazz.

Consumers want their news. We know how to give it to them. Let's do it.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Attempt at a manifesto

Part one

The news media are changing. No surprise there, at least not to anyone who has followed it in the last -- oh -- decade.

For readers, the changes have meant access to a broader array of information, opinion and entertainment than ever before. In other words, the changes have been a good thing. And don't tell me it means readers need more time to sort through websites than to go through a paper. That's poppycock. It takes awhile to find favorites, true, but once you have the addresses bookmarked, web browsing zips along.

For folks who create the news media, these changes have caused problems. Notably, the economic infrastructure that kept newspapers in the black (quite far in the black in many cases) has crumbled as ad dollars migrate to the web. The same problem, to varying degrees, has hit magazines and television. Meanwhile, news websites have made money, but not as much money as their print brethren.

The web has also made reporters of everyone. Websites, blogs, video journals, etc. have sprayed from the populace like water from a geyser. Everyone has a little printing press sitting on his or her desk, and in most cases that printing press is steaming away.

Whither the news media?

Well, jobs have gone. Newspapers have cut costs to look more economically viable. As the amount of information online has swelled, many news outlets offer less. The physical paper, in many cases, has shrunk. And newsrooms still react to the web cautiously, as though it is a threat and not the future.

So here we are. I've written six paragraphs and have yet to mention copy editing. My first job out of college was copy editing. That's what I trained to do. That's what this blog -- originally named Copy Massage -- was meant to cover. What do all of these changes have to do with our corner of the newsroom?

Like the media as a whole, copy editing is changing. Some of us may still be able to spend eight hours a day wrangling commas and debating the finer points of usage. But most of us, I expect, now do far more. Some of us design pages. Some of us post stories to the paper's website. Some of us provide first reads to late-breaking stories. Some of us write occasional stories.

In a broader sense, many copy editors have already been absorbed in the new world. Some of us read blogs. Some of us write them. Some of us post on message boards. Some of us, doubtless, film our own goofy videos and post them on Youtube.

In other words, for most of us, "copy editor" covers only a sliver of what we do and who we are. We are, instead, simply editors. We take content and assemble it for public view.

Our job in no way requires physical paper. Our job, in fact, is uniquely suited to deal with the changing media world. Editors have a range of knowledge and experience that allows us to quickly sort through content, saving the good and axing the bad. Information is -- and has always been -- our business.

(In part two, perhaps I'll reach some conclusion about what this all means.)

Monday, January 1, 2007

Blog evolves

Copy Massage is dead. Long live Copy Massage.

Well, the address of the blog is still But that will change. The blog has become Editor Evolved, for reasons I hope to make clear soon.

All past posts will remain. Why not? The name has changed, but this blog has increasingly concerned itself with a wider media world. I ramble, though.

Welcome to Editor Evolve.