Monday, January 14, 2013

How much value is Facebook?

Newspapers, like The London Free Press, see themselves as riding the crest of change. They have a Facebook page and Twitter account.

Only 16 Likes, two Comments.
Ah, the all important social media. I'll bet the department heads at the paper thought the readers would find the Facebook page indispensable. But I checked a page of pictures posted from the Knights vs. Ottawa 67s game and found only 16 likes and two comments.

I checked a few more photo groupings. The post that did best attracted 26 likes and five comments. Another got nothing, nada, zilch. It got absolutely no likes and not even one comment.

Wow! Those numbers are low. Heck, back in December I did a little shoot at a London school of Irish dance and got 201 hits, 19 likes and six comments. Of course, not being as cool as the LFP, I didn't post to Facebook.

Maybe newspapers would do better if they paid more attention to their core business: news. Maybe Quebecor and Sun Media should consider hiring a few more reporters, photographers and copy editors. (For a story on the loss of copy editors, read Copy editors laid off more than other newsroom staffers in the King's Journalism Review.)

A dedicated online copy editor might cut down on errors like this one found on the Free Press Facebook page: National Ballet School audtions (sic) in London

My photo essay attracted more than two hundred hits.

Some of my online posts have attracted nearly 8000 hits on their own and some months I get more than 5000 hits for just one blog. I've got seven blogs!

I use both Facebook and Twitter but I find Google sends me the most readers. And Google is the gift that keeps on giving.

Since the early '90s, at least, I've wondered if newspapers would profit by forming an alliance with Google. Possibly they should consider making it easier for Google to track all of a newspaper's content. Newspapers should negotiate a deal along the lines of Google Adsense. Everyone would benefit.

Maybe Google could show the papers a trick or two on how to make money on the Net.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Journalists: Frontline historians

Dan Brown, an editor at The London Free Press, recently wrote a piece entitled: Journalists are not wannabe historians.

"Every time I hear someone describe journalism as “the first draft of history,” I shudder inwardly.

It’s not a fair definition of what reporters, photographers, columnists and editors do on a daily basis.

Even worse: It’s kind of insulting to the members of my chosen profession. It suggests all we journalists are is second-rate historians."

Dan Brown is right: Journalists are not automatically historians, not even second-rate ones. Furthermore, a good argument can be made that journalism is not automatically a profession. J-Source, the Canadian Journalism Project, delved into this question last January with an article, "Can journalism be a profession?"

Media law specialist Klaus Pohle, an associate professor at Carleton University, is quoted in the J-Source article: "In our system . . . anybody can be a journalist . . . ." Therefore, he argued, journalism is not a profession.

Personally, I have never been enamored with the job titles of journalist and photojournalist. I have always preferred reporter and photographer. I came to the newspaper business straight from three years of art school. My friend, hired at the small Ontario daily at the same time as I, had recently graduated from university with a BA in English. In later years, my friend became the news editor putting out the front page of a large, important Canadian daily.

But, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Dan Brown's is right. Maybe he is a professional journalist. I assume as a professional journalist, he must report serious infractions of his profession's code of conduct. I'm not sure to whom Mr. Brown reports, nor do I know where to find the universally accepted code of conduct, but I am sure Mr. Brown, as a professional journalist, knows these answers.

While working in the newspaper game, I was often shocked by the stuff that masqueraded as news. For instance, I was totally appalled when the Ottawa Sun hired two young models to pose topless for a news story — the young women took turns playing the topless sunbather role with their bare backs kept modestly towards the camera. I wrote about this in a post, Who's a photojournalist?, that has been hit by journalism students and others from around the globe.

Here are the Ottawa Sun cutlines that accompanied the posed photo, left, run when the paper retrieved the archived image to illustrate another story a year after running the first piece: "Last summer, Lisa Regimbal, left, bear (sic) it all while chatting with Connie Morden." (Yes, bares was spelt incorrectly. And I discovered the names of the young ladies were switched from first publication to second.)

After Mr. Brown gets this breach of journalism ethics dealt with by the profession's ruling body, I hope he gets in touch with me. I'll give him a few more iffy items to look into. He tells us, "I take this [journalism] seriously. As a journalism educator, it’s up to people like me to dispel these myths."

I liked it better when journalists, working closely with talented editors and skilled photographers, were proud to put together a rough draft of history on a daily basis. I don't imagine respected journalist Alan Barth meant to insult Mr. Brown when he used the phrase in a book review appearing in the New Republic in 1943. (Yes, the phrase was coined and popularized by journalists.)

Perhaps, Mr. Brown needs to grow a thicker skin. Maybe, just maybe, he is too easily offended. I have hunch that most in the news business would agree with Jack Shafer writing in Slate:

"What makes 'first rough draft of history' so tuneful, at least to the ears of journalists? Well, it flatters them. Journalists hope that one day a historian will uncover their dusty work and celebrate their genius."

Will those historians also sift through blogger posts?


Addendum: If Dan Brown takes offence at this post, I'm sorry. Like Mr. Brown, I care deeply about journalism and the direction in which it is headed under the guidance of huge companies like Quebecor, owner of Sun Media and The London Free Press.

Since getting into blogging, I've learned that people working in the media have the thinnest of skins when it comes to criticism. This is not to say that Mr. Brown will take offence, but he might.

If I write a harsh piece on financial advisers, I get well thought out, well reasoned and very polite e-mails. But from reporters I get e-mails banged out using the largest of fonts in the boldest typeface. Reporters often earn their income holding others up to intense examination. Being taken to task in a small, inconsequential blog does not compare to being criticized in a daily newspaper.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The invisible Randy Richmond

Back in May, 2011, when Randy Richmond of The London Free Press was just beginning his long series examining London, Ontario, the journalist asked: "The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and an endearing baseball club aside, who wants to be the Cleveland of Canada?"

I found the question irritating and illuminating. Cleveland, like Detroit, is a Midwest American city that has been on the decline for half a century or more. It's a sad and an all-too-common tale in the rust belt. Think: Gary, IN, or St. Louis, MO, or London, ON. London hasn't lost population like the U.S. cities but London has lost a great deal of its manufacturing.

It is now early 2013 and Richmond is still cranking out articles in his seemingly endless series examining London. Because of his interest in London and in urban planning I am always amazed when I attend a ReThink London event and notice that Richmond is not there. Heck, it was Randy Richmond who made me aware of the similarities between Cleveland and London -- but London lacks the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I'd love to thank Randy for this insight.

Today I came across a little piece posted on The London Fog blog: The Invisible Randy Richmond. I thought of Randy and ReThink London and I smiled.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Mixing clip art with journalism

To see the photo and story, click link.

As a former newspaper photographer, I prefer photographer to photojournalist, I am amazed at the clip art masquerading as news photography found in papers today. Surfing the Net, I came upon this example of clip art illustrating an opinion piece published in my local paper.

Why do I prefer photographer? Well, much of my life's work was spent shooting pictures to be shims on a page. I shot visual cliches, medical researchers holding petri dishes in front of their faces.

Today, newspapers no longer even pretend that the photo running with a story actually reflects reality. At least back when I was working we tried to run pictures of real people, often those in the story, even if they were posed doing silly stuff. Now, a clip art photo of two models pretending to be students illustrates an opinion piece on journalism and correctness. The clip art agency is given credit under the photo.

You know, when you really think about it, maybe today's clearly faux news images are more honest than yesterday's.

I find this very sad. For years I ran a photojournalism seminar and brought shooters like Edie Adams to London to speak. Adams was a fine photojournalist and I always hoped that the newspaper editors and photographers attending my seminars would return to their newsrooms invigorated. They didn't. They found the seminars entertaining, not enlightening.

This not to say that all newspaper photographs are phony, they aren't, but too many are and it often makes it impossible to tell the real from the faux. A professional plumber always installs a toilet that functions, a professional electrician always installs a light switch that works but a professional photojournalist cannot make the same claims about his/her photojournalism.

And if you do not find anything wrong with using clip art to illustrate news, using pictures shot well before a story was even a glimmer in an assignment editor's eye. Think about this: the same attitude often colours news stories. Reporters bring back stories from the field that confirm the beliefs that they held long before they were given the assignment. Think "crack babies."