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Today's word on journalism

May 8, 2009

The Last WORD


The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium —St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season —the WORD's 13th —peters out.

It's been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that's below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and —of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded —dozens of daily newspapers ("I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying--it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off." --Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it's hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe --we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods --like tapioca, dog biscuits and salmon --while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.
Summer well, friends.

Speak up! Comment on the WORD at

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Feedback and suggestions--printable and otherwise--always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Hop on social media bus, pros tell USU journalism students

By Mark Vuong

April 15, 2009 | LOGAN -- Five professional journalists came to USU to talk about how technology and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook are beginning to play a big role in today's journalism.

Staff at Ogden's Standard-Examiner are required to Twitter, said education reporter Brooke Nelson, while Facebook use is encouraged but not necessary.

"I hate Twitter. I loathe it with every fiber of my being," Nelson said at Tuesday's print journalism presentation held at the Eccles Conference Center. Usually she has Dianne Lewis, reporter for the Examiner, do her tweeting for her, she said.

Although Nelson dislikes Twitter she understands the necessity of it in order to bring in traffic to the online edition. The more traffic, the more ad revenue the company receives, she said.

Lewis, who covers Box Elder and Weber county government, said she loves Twitter and tweets about random links and offbeat AP stories.

While the Standard-Examiner doesn't require the staff members to use Facebook, it does encourage them to mention the paper in some way in their profile, said Nelson.

The staff at the Examiner are also encouraged to use Digg, Lewis said. Digg is a site where users can post links and rate the posted links -- the higher the rating, the closer the link is to the top.

The Standard-Examiner may be up to date with technology but not every company is.

Deseret News reporter Joe Dougherty said his company is behind the curve when it comes to the use of the Internet to bring in more readers. Deseret News has yet to require staff members to use social networking sites such as Twitter, he said.

"I think our editors are still deciding how to tackle this online beast," Dougherty said. "Personally I haven't figured out the benefits from it. How does that help me? Should I put, Hey I'm looking for this and allow my competitors to know what I'm working on?"

Social networking sites are not only used for providing links to the author's works or others' works, or tell people what a person is currently doing but it can also be used to find people to interview.

Nelson recalled a time when she used Twitter to find sources to interview for her story about the athletics fee increase at USU, known as crowd sourcing. She said she found three to four people that were willing to grant her an interview.

City editor for The Herald Journal, Emilie Wheeler, said she brought up the idea of using Twitter to the Internet committee two months ago and they did not like the idea. She and one committee member are the only ones who like Twitter and use it, she said.

Matthew Flitton said his duties as associate editor for Ensign magazine, aside from editing, include transferring articles into extensible markup language (XML) and updating Ensign's Facebook page. He said it wasn't until six months ago that he learned XML.

Michael Sweeney, journalism and comminucations department head, who moderated the panel, asked whether things were being done differently to adjust to the younger readers.

Nelson said the content has not changed but the platform has. Instead of doing five to seven mid-length stories in a week, she typically writes four short and one in-depth story, she said.

Newspapers make a profit on ad revenue and as revenue declines due to decreasing numbers of circulation, papers are struggling to stay in business -- the higher the circulation, the more likely advertisers are willing to pay to put their ad in the paper. Several newspapers have already died, such as the Rocky Mountain News and Seattle's Post-Intelligencer. Now, only an online version exists for both.

Lewis said she has heard people complain about purchasing a newspaper, saying they don't want to buy the newspaper when they can get it for free online. But it's the company that pays the staff to find and write the stories -- no staff, no news, she said.

"We taught people that information from the paper was nothing because we're giving it to them for free," Flitton said.

Revenue use to be deemed as a "dirty word" that no one spoke of, he said.

However, Nelson said these days at her meetings, the editors always talk about ad revenue and if any cuts need to be made.

Dougherty shared his thoughts on how people should pay for online content, saying it should be a pay per article. It should be like what iTunes does, he said, proposing that each article should cost 10 cents to read.

The panel also gave advice for aspiring journalists.

Wheeler told the audience of about 15 journalism students that she loves Web portfolios.

"Don't guild your lilies" though, warned Flitton, recollecting a time when a potential employee brought in a PowerPoint presentation on a CD-ROM and the presentation had music from the musical Pirates of Penzance playing and it contained quotes from the movie Batman Beyond. It didn't have any of her clips, he said, it just showed that she knew how to use computer software but that wasn't what he was exactly looking for. He also said do research in the cover letter that aims specifically at the company the person is applying for.

"I've had some letters that were formal and I threw it away without looking at them," he said. Also check the spelling of names. He said he throws the letters away if there is a misspelled name.

"If you can't multitask," Nelson said, "this isn't the job for you."

Lewis said she wants to see clips that show the person can dig for information rather than just showing that the person knows how to interview two people. Lewis also told students to learn how to edit -- films, audio, photos. While students don't necessarily have to take a class, she said, they should at least play around with the program.

There is a free guide to learning how to use RSS feed, Diggit, Facebook, etc., Flitton said. Search Journalism 2.0 on the Web, it's free to download, he said. "All these things you need to get a job in a changing industry."

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