A reminder of Wolcott Gibbs’ points about good writing (from James Thurber)

James Thurber noted 31 points about good writing made by New Yorker editor Wolcott Gibbs. They include the following (via Charles Miller on the CoJo blog):

– Writers always use too damn many adverbs. On one page recently I found 11 modifying the verb 'said'. 'He said morosely, violently, eloquently, so on' … It is impossible for a character to go through all these emotional states one after the other.
– Word 'said' is OK. Efforts to avoid repetition by inserting 'grunted', 'snorted' etc are waste motion and offend the pure in heart.
– Our writers are full of clichés, just as old barns are full of bats. There is obviously no rule about this, except that anything that you suspect of being a cliché undoubtedly is one and had better be removed.
– The more 'As a matter of facts', 'howevers', 'for instances' etc, etc you can cut out, the nearer you are to the Kingdom of Heaven.
– On the whole we are hostile to puns.
– Try to preserve an author's style if he is an author and has a style.

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It’s still early days for journalism to adapt to the networked environment

So says Doc Searls, on a panel at Harvard:
"Big newspapers, big magazines, big radio and TV… these are industrial age creatures. Some will persist in the new age that is coming upon us. But they will need to adapt to the new networked environment, where everybody can contribute.

That environment is very new. Think of today as a moment in the early paleozoic, say in Cambrian time. In that context Facebook is a trilobite. Twitter is a bryzoan. The Huffington Post is a primitive sponge. For small-j journalism, this is not the End of Time, but the beginning of it. Will big-J journalism survive? Only if it adapts. While some of that adaptation will be corporate, the leadership won’t be in the corporate system. It will be among the journalists themselves. Just as it was, and still is, with technology companies and the geeks they employ."

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How social networks can help save media (Jim Brady, True/Slant)

Social networks have created an under-exploited advantage for media companies, suggests Jim Brady:

"…news consumption has now become seamlessly blended into the daily lives of so many consumers. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to read the newspaper, you completely dedicated yourself to it at the breakfast table or dinner table or den for some fixed period of time. When you were done, you went off to work, paid bills or went shopping, and news wasn’t a part of the equation.[…]

Now, think about media consumption in the social media era. Today, content from media companies lives in the same stream as so much other information in a consumer’s life. […] Now, if you’re using e-mail, Facebook or Twitter — three pretty big chunks of time for most Web-savvy consumers — you can, at any moment, be pulled back into news and information. This is a massive opportunity, and one that requires news organizations become fuller participants in those venues."

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Four factors critical to journalism and publishing

Adam Tinworth flags up social, mobile, real-time, and location-aware technology:

"I think it [this graphic] neatly encapsulated the four issues that will effect the web, and which the publishing business needs to get its head around. I talk a lot about social on here, and the whole hyper-local journalism movement is, to some degree, predicated on the idea of geo-centric technology, even if the potential benefits of geocoding information haven't really been discussed.

The whole mobile environment has been changed by the new breed of smart phones, led by the iPhone, which are turning users into voracious data consumers on the move, and the Real Time web is becoming, in a technological sense, a very real proposition (and, if fact, I should write a post about that).

This graphic is the sort of thing every publisher and journalist should be looking at and thinking "what does this mean for what I do?" "

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Aspiring journalists must specialise, says Malcolm Gladwell. Try stats or accounting…

From his interview in Time: "The issue is not writing. It's what you write about. One of my favorite columnists is Jonathan Weil, who writes for Bloomberg. He broke the Enron story, and he broke it because he's one of the very few mainstream journalists in America who really knows how to read a balance sheet. That means Jonathan Weil will always have a job, and will always be read, and will always have something interesting to say. He's unique. Most accountants don't write articles, and most journalists don't know anything about accounting. Aspiring journalists should stop going to journalism programs and go to some other kind of grad school. If I was studying today, I would go get a master's in statistics, and maybe do a bunch of accounting courses and then write from that perspective. I think that's the way to survive. The role of the generalist is diminishing. Journalism has to get smarter."

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SEO basics can help, but great content — and telling people — is what really counts

Great post on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) by Derek Powazek (who ought to know): "If someone charges you for SEO, you have been conned. […] The problem with SEO is that the good advice is obvious, the rest doesn’t work, and it’s poisoning the web.

[…] the One True Way to get a lot of traffic on the web. It’s pretty simple, and I’m going to give it to you here, for free: Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again.

That’s it. Make something you believe in. Make it beautiful, confident, and real. Sweat every detail. If it’s not getting traffic, maybe it wasn’t good enough. Try again.

Then tell people about it. Start with your friends. Send them a personal note – not an automated blast from a spam cannon. Post it to your Twitter feed, email list, personal blog.

[…] It’ll take time. A lot of time. But it works. And it’s the only thing that does."

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An editor reflects on her use of Twitter

"Cara Ellen Modisett, editor of Blue Ridge Country, tweets. With two Twitter accounts for business and one for personal use, she tweets with purpose and with creativity.

“The basis of Twitter is conversation,” says Modisett. “Each individual Twitter account has its own voice. When I tweet as an editor, it's more about relationships; when tweeting about the magazine, it's to promote the content of the magazine. I find my instantaneous voice on the web.”

Twitter also serves as her reporter's notebook. “My tweets become my notes. I go back to my Twitter feed to put the story together. Sometimes a tweet becomes a kernel of an idea which can lead to something larger creatively and journalistically.” Recently, Modisett tweeted events and observations live during the Virginia Press Women's conference."

Interesting discussion about professional branding online follows in the comments on the post on Handshake 2.0.

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ZDNet retracts story: one unverified source, key player not called

Some basic errors in our reporting, admits Larry Dignan, editor in chief of ZDNet:

"Overnight one of our bloggers, Richard Koman, reported that Yahoo handed over user names to the Iranian government. We’re retracting the blog post. Here’s what went wrong.

First, the post was based on a single source who had a clear agenda. That source wasn’t properly filtered and his charges weren’t verifiable by credible sources.

Second, we never called Yahoo to verify the report or get an appropriate response. Blog networks still need to follow journalism 101 and Yahoo should have been called. In summary, our checks and balances went awry. We put a lot of trust in our bloggers to get it right and frankly we let you down with this report.

The chain of events can be found on the post, but we wanted to do a separate item for the record. My apologies again and we will be taking corrective measures to prevent this breakdown."

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Three things for newspapers to work on, suggests Google boss Eric Schmidt

From his Q&A with The Times:

"Personalize the news – at its best, the on-line version of a newspaper should learn from the information I'm giving it – what I've read, who I am and what I like – to automatically send me stories and photos that will interest me.

Make the content available anywhere – as more "smart" or web-enabled phones hit the market there will be even greater access to what can be considered mobile reading platforms. […]

Embrace journalism as a two-way conversation – the advent of real-time reporting […] means micro-blogging and citizen journalism are here to stay. This phenomenon, combined with the potential benefits to the reader of knowing what their friends or others are reading or saying about events, means newspapers now have a chance to be a 21st century community forum. The more this dialog among and between the newspaper and its readers develops, the greater the opportunity newspapers will have to make money from their content."

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Are non-profits the future for journalism?

Michael Massing highlights the US trend of non-profits for journalism (in NY Review of Books):

"For all the impressive projects out there, their [commercial sector's] economic base seems tenuous, and my encounters with them left me feeling sobered by the obstacles they face.

My inquiries into the nonprofit world, by contrast, left me heartened. Here I found all kinds of excited activity. Much of it, I discovered, had been set in motion by an Op-Ed piece that appeared in the Times in late January. David Swensen, the chief investment officer for Yale's endowment management team, and Michael Schmidt, a financial analyst there, argued that in light of the struggles of newspapers, they should consider turning themselves into nonprofit endowed institutions, like universities.
The opening won't last forever. Lurking in the wings is a potential new class of media giants. Google, Yahoo, MSNBC, and AOL, all have vast resources that could finance a new oligopolistic push on the Web."

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