Wick Communications

Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

Wear the T-shirt

In Business on 28 Dec 2017 at 1:57 pm

A few years ago, my publisher got us each a blue T-shirt with the Half Moon Bay Review’s logo written across the front. He thought we might wear them to events the newspaper sponsored and so on. I didn’t like it. I didn’t wear it.

I didn’t get it.

But I do now. The reason I didn’t get it is rooted in a cancerous mindset that was instilled in journalists of a certain era. The inability to “stoop” to branding continues into the new millennium, and can be seen in all sorts of misbehavior. Many journalists still disdain social media. They don’t return complaining emails. They eschew reader comments as somehow beneath them.

Journalists are observational by birthright. If you aren’t paying attention to the unspoken signals around you, you aren’t much of a journalist. It helps you understand the dynamics of a government meeting, what’s going on behind the scenes on the campaign trail and many other subtle but telling points necessary to tell the truth. And, as a young journalist in the 1980s, I couldn’t help but observe that cynicism was the default mode of virtually all of my peers. It’s partly a defense mechanism. You can’t take seriously all of the terrible things you see. Part of the problem is due to conflating cynicism with skepticism. If your mother says she loves you, by all means, check it out, but you don’t have to roll your eyes and be an ass while you’re at it. … Read the rest of this entry »

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The future of sports coverage

In sports on 26 Oct 2017 at 2:49 pm

In a recent New York Times piece, Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann left no doubt what they are seeking to accomplish at The Athletic. They want to stomp living hell out of newspaper sports sections.

I say, good on them. Best wishes.

My earliest memories of a newspaper revolve around reading Jim Murray columns in the Los Angeles Times. In the early 1990s, I waited impatiently for Tuesday’s USA Today, throwing away all but the sports section so I could focus on the week’s baseball stats and my fantasy team. That was about the time, I made my living writing sports for newspapers. Tonight, I will gladly cover a high school football game. Sports are never far from my heart.

Ideally, I would prefer the local newspapers cover sports the way they once did. Failing that, competition is good and coverage even better. And it’s great to see someone paying talented sports writers what they deserve for being the local experts on what is often the most interesting part of the town.

Two other thoughts about The Athletic and the threat it represents. It’s one thing to make a bet with other people’s money that you can attract enough paid subscribers in Toronto. It’s something else entirely to do so in Benson, Ariz. I don’t see even a hint that The Athletic envisions taking over the kind of granular coverage that is our bread and butter. … Read the rest of this entry »

‘Takeover’

In journalism on 26 Oct 2017 at 2:42 pm

If you are a fan of journalism, if you believe this thing we do is ultimately our salvation, please find a copy of the Fall 2017 edition of the Columbia Journalism Review. (Or read it here.) It’s a must-read for anyone producing journalism in the United States today.

The entire issue is dedicated to the relationship between President Donald Trump and the press, and what that means for a society that feels perpetually on the brink these days.

The magazine offers a deep dive into the role of Ivanka Trump in the White House and how her interactions with the press through the years might shape what we see now. A former editor of the New York Observer tells how then publisher (now first son-in-law) Jared Kushner ordered a “hit piece” on a bank executive the Trumps thought had done them wrong. CJR gives us a rollicking history of the White House press room, and a truly scary look at what it’s like to cover a political protest these days. … Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook and us

In Social media on 26 Oct 2017 at 2:37 pm

As Halloween approaches, there is a lot of fright over Facebook. Last week, The Guardian ran a story about tests at the social media giant that included the subhead, “New system could destroy smaller publishers if implemented…” (Apparently, Facebook is experimenting with shifting “non-promoted,” meaning non-advertising posts, off the news feed and onto some secondary feed where no one will ever see them. That would leave your news feed to be all ads and those things your friends post.)

Apparently, when implemented in Slovakia, publishers saw their reach drop 80 percent.

Meanwhile, the CEO of an interesting journalism collaboration startup called Hearken said we should not rely on Facebook anyway if, you know, we want to make money.

We all post to Facebook in a variety of ways. Most of us bought into the idea that we should “go where the eyeballs are,” which in the 21st century is Facebook. I myself have argued that smart publishers want to be seen and that means posting on our platform as well as being thoughtful about all the other ways we can promote our journalism — including Facebook.

The problem is that we have increasingly turned over the means of distribution to companies with their own agendas. When we post to Facebook, we give a third party our analytics. We give up the opportunity to differentiate our product from everything else on Facebook. We train our readers to go there first. And we give engagement to a third party. … Read the rest of this entry »

‘Liddle’ Bob Corker

In Ethics on 13 Oct 2017 at 7:32 am

What you see above was a middle paragraph in Peter Baker’s New York Times story about the ongoing acrimony between the president of the most powerful nation in the world and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Or, as Donald Trump calls him, “liddle Corker.”

Friends, these are strange days. When the news isn’t dominated by calamity on a global scale, it is littered with things like this. Small-minded inside attacks that are unworthy of public debate much less public office. In fact, you may ask yourself, is it news at all?

I think it is, when you are dealing with national offices and people who can create wars with a touch of a button. The state of mind of Bob Corker (who started it, I guess, by saying the White House was an “adult day care”) and Trump is of vital national interest. That is true for a range of what might to some seem private affairs. If you are a high-ranking senator or the president of the United States, there is no such thing as private.

But what if the above exchange occurred between, say, the mayor of your town and the city’s development director? Is that news? I think that is a much more difficult question for reasons I have a hard time articulating. Let me try.

For one thing, I think local officials are allowed to have private lives and private animosities. Sometimes. Otherwise, we’ll have a very hard time finding anyone (let alone someone qualified) to run for local public office. … Read the rest of this entry »

The future is coming…

In Innovation on 13 Oct 2017 at 7:28 am

The Future Today Institute issued its report on tech trends for journalists heading into 2018 and it should make us very nervous.

Let’s start with this: The institute would have us believe the smartphone is dead. That would be the same mobile technology most of us are still understanding.

The future, say many smart people is in conversational interfaces with zero UIs. Right. If you don’t know what that means, you are not alone. It means the future will not have a touchscreen. Or typing. Or writing of any kind. You will talk to your new overlord. Think voice control or artificial intelligence. The report predicts that by 2023, half of our interactions with machines will be using voices — ours and the machine’s. It predicts massive upheaval as a result. For instance, when you type nyt.com into your browser you know you are dialing up a trusted brand. But how will you know the “sound” of, say, the Sierra Vista Herald?

Speaking of artificial intelligence: “It is vitally important that all decision-makers within news organizations familiarize themselves with the current and emerging AI landscapes,” the report states. Are all of our decision-makers current with emerging AI landscapes? (Luckily, the report includes a primer for the one or two of us who may have fallen behind on our study of the future. The report is long and the format takes some getting used to, but it’s super interesting.) … Read the rest of this entry »

We need more female leaders

In Newspapers on 13 Oct 2017 at 7:22 am

Over the past week, all of us have read at least a little bit about the transgressions of movie impresario Harvey Weinstein. He turns out to be more of a mongrel than a mogul.

It’s hardly the first time we’ve seen men abuse their power in similar ways. We’ve seen this bill come due before. (Hello, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton!)

So, how does this continue to happen? How do some men — and let’s face it, we’re almost always talking about men behaving in this way — come to feel they can behave like this? I surely don’t have all the answers, but I do know one thing: These sexual power plays are much, much less likely when there are women of similar power in the room.

I bring this up here because of an important study that was just released by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The organization found that many legacy news organizations have made strides to include more women in management over the last 15 years, but some have not. And whatever the progress, women and minorities are still woefully underrepresented in newsrooms in general and particularly in positions of power in those newsrooms.

Here’s something else I know in my heart: If the people in our newsrooms do not reflect the people in our markets we will never be able to truly understand their needs. All-white, mostly male newsrooms are a slow-motion disaster for our industry. … Read the rest of this entry »

Write with structure

In Writing techniques on 5 Oct 2017 at 3:42 pm

I confess I have never spent much time with the writing of John McPhee. I don’t regularly read the New Yorker and his books always seemed to center on East Coast things that didn’t immediately interest me.

Well, now I’m sure I was wrong. Last week’s New York Times Magazine piece set me straight.

The portrait is of a highly disciplined writer who spends more time on getting the structure right than choosing just the right word. Most of us don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about the architecture of our writing. Too often we pick up the paintbrush and start slinging bright colors on the page before we’ve hung the drywall.

McPhee says his interest in the structure of his work began long, long ago when a teacher made him write an outline before getting on with the writing. My guess is you don’t do that. I myself generally only outline things when I’m contemplating a long narrative. Otherwise, I convince myself that I have already done that heavy lifting solely with my mind’s eye. Most of the time, I’m fooling myself. A quick outline, jotted on a napkin, might be all it takes to make sure your story begins where it ought to and hits the right notes as it careers on to the ending.

The weird snail-shell looking thing at the top of this post is McPhee’s image of a story that became “Travels in Georgia,” an essay he wrote for the New Yorker in 1973. … Read the rest of this entry »

Is Tom Petty dead?

In journalism on 5 Oct 2017 at 3:37 pm

Tom Petty died this week. Then he came back to life, for a while.

CBS News, among others, reported that he was dead about mid-day on Monday. Shortly thereafter, one of the most respected names in news reported that he hadn’t, in fact, died. There are a lot of misdemeanors committed in journalism, but to be wrong about a death is pure felony. It’s extraordinarily hurtful to family and friends. It puts a cannonball-sized hole in your credibility. And it will make you the butt of jokes for years to come. (“The report of my death is an exaggeration,” Mark Twain told a newspaperman after another periodical actually printed his obit. That was 1897. The fact that you’ve heard that story before is all the proof you need that these stories stick around…)

The initial erroneous reporting on Petty’s death came from something someone at the Los Angeles Police Department said, apparently in an off-the-cuff discussion with a reporter. My guess is LAPD was on the scene when the famed musician was taken to the hospital, but did not file an official report as it wasn’t really the department’s case. Cops are people too and sometimes they gossip.

So, here’s the challenge: If you can’t believe the police, who can you believe?

Good question. Ordinarily, I would say if you get a news tip from a man or woman in blue, you are golden. For one thing, they tend to be tight-lipped. If they are telling you something, it’s probably true. Most likely. Almost always. … But not always. … Read the rest of this entry »

A new ‘Co/Lab’ in Arizona

In Innovation on 5 Oct 2017 at 3:30 pm

Many of you have probably been reading about an exciting new project that has brought some of the brightest minds in the industry to Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of journalism. It began with a question: Can news literacy be made universal?

Obviously, that is a tall order when literacy is low by many measures. I think the fundamental challenge is that so many of us just don’t want to hear about complications. We’ll take 140 characters and a photo, please. To be literate is to be curious and to put our mind to tasks.

Anyway, this collaboration is sponsored by Facebook. I know. We’re letting the fox in the henhouse. One of the project idea men is Dan Gilmour, who is a very well regarded former newspaperman who benefited from being at the right place at the right time as a columnist in Silicon Valley at the turn of the century. He says in a blog post that he trusts Facebook to do the right things now, having done so many wrong things then. We’ll see, I suppose.

Dan is right about the problem, in my view. We’ve ignored the “demand side.” We were arrogant. We owned the means of production of the news for so long we just thought folks valued us for that reason alone. Not so much, it turns out. … Read the rest of this entry »