Accidental freelancing

What is a recently laid off journalist to do? You need to make a living but you’ve lost your job.  Freelancing is one option but the transition isn’t easy, says Michelle Goodman, who’s been a full time freelancer since 1992.

She’s posted some terrific advice on how to survive your first year as a freelancer. Among my favorite “get started” pointers:

Your bed is not an office.  Set up a desk that’s yours and yours alone and isn’t visible from your bed or couch. Use a curtain if you have to. The point is to establish a bit of separation between work and play.

Your alarm clock is your friend. When you work from home, the temptation to sleep until noon can be overwhelming at first. Don’t give in. Adopt a regular work schedule (at the desk by 9 a.m. is my vote), preferably one that meshes with the clients you work for.

Finding clients is a little tougher, Goodman admits. You can’t just sign up for a freelance job site, sit back and wait for the work to roll in.  Most gigs come through referrals, many of which come from other freelancers, so it makes sense to get to know the “competition.” And you absolutely must cast your net as widely as possible.

If you haven’t yet e-mailed a note to everyone you’ve met since the day you were born, saying that you’re now accepting freelance projects, get cracking. Be sure to include a link to your Web site (mandatory).

Finally, these two bits of very good advice. Don’t work without a contract if you want to get paid, and limit your pro-bono and barter work. If you give too much time away for free, Goodman says, you’re not freelancing, you’re volunteering.


Say no to staging

It’s always good to be reminded that there are ethical lines in journalism that shouldn’t be crossed. One of them is staging–telling people what to do or asking them to repeat what they’ve done so you can get it on camera.  As Tracy Boyer puts it at Innovative Interactivity:

Allowing videographers to stage scenes, situations and/or actions is NOT journalism. We are here to document what we see, not recreate what we missed.

I can’t argue with that, but I wish Boyer hadn’t titled her post “Broadcast journalism ethics needs to change.”  And I wish she hadn’t asked, “How is it that journalism ethics can vary so greatly from print to broadcast?”

The truth is, there are unethical journalists in every medium–something Boyer briefly acknowledges before zeroing in on her main target, TV photographers.  What set her off was this New Yorker piece describing an ABC News interview:

Before the taping, Ron gave Tina a bereft, searching glance. The cameraman was hoping to capture it. “Could you look at your wife again?” he said. Then he asked Tina, “Could you look at your husband?”

To Boyer, that suggests the photojournalist was trying to make up for having missed the “money shot” he needed to create an emotional story. To me, it suggests the photojournalist knew he was going to need some cutaways so he could edit a two-person interview being shot with one camera.  Good people might disagree about whether that qualifies as staging.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not condone staging. It’s not just a violation of basic journalistic principles; it damages the credibility of every news photograph and video. The NPPA ethics code, which applies to all photojournalists, doesn’t use the word staging but its message is plain:

• Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.
• While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.

I’m not wearing blinders, by the way. I know staging happens. I’ve had fights with TV photojournalists who have tried to “direct” people while shooting B-roll for stories I’ve reported.  But I’ve also seen print photographers stage shots in the field, which is equally unethical.

To make the case against staging stick, it’s not useful to point the finger at just one set of violators (TV) and quote just one set of critics (print), as Anh Stack does in this piece at Black Star. Let’s hear from broadcast photojournalists who don’t engage in staging. And let’s be clear that we’re condemning a practice, not a medium or all the journalists who work there.

Twitter your resume

What can you say in 140 characters?  The Media is Hirin’ Twitter feed is collecting short text resumes from journalists looking for jobs. Among my favorites so far:

Will Work for Milk Duds: Nationally known film critic Larry Ratliff looking for new gig.

Top that! Send yours by email, and be sure to check the feed for job postings, as well.

This “hiring” feed is a new service from the people behind The Media is Dying, a Twitter phenomenon that launched last November and now has more than 11,000 followers.  The “dying” feed tracks layoffs and closings in the news business, but it’s not run by journalists.  The brains behind it are PR professionals whose mission is “Helping flaks pitch better and update lists.”

According to the Blog Herald, the authors want to remain anonymous but they don’t want to be misunderstood.

There is a big misconception out there about us with people saying we like reporting bad news which couldn’t be further from the truth. We welcome all good news and hope one day the service won’t be needed.

So do we.

The Web changes crime & coverage

Crime reporting is a staple of local news, so it’s important for journalists to provide context for their stories. At the 4th Annual Guggenheim Conference on Crime in Society, dozens of criminal justice reporters, criminologists and representatives of law enforcement gathered to talk about new research, policies and trends affecting criminal justice and the coverage of the system.

In a session on the impact of the Web in this arena, Doug Salane from the Center on  Cybercrime Studies at John College of Criminal Justice said that he continues to see more traditional crimes moving into the online world as computers and the Internet make things easier for criminals.

“For example, the “pump and dump” scheme to artificially raise the price of a stock – a botnet can send millions of emails about a stock for a very low price,” Salane said. Those emails encourage investors to buy a stock, which would pump up the price and allow the criminal to dump his own stock for big profit.

He also talked about a change in the way journalists need to look at hacking. “Hacking was individuals in the past, trying to prove something. Hacking is now more of an organized activity, largely emanating from outside the U.S., which makes it much harder to address, and the motive for most hacking is now profit.”

Salane discussed “carding sites” – Web sites, often based in Asia, that will sell all sorts of information about individuals for 80-cents an identity.

“This underground economy is growing at an alarming rate,” Salane said.

So, how does a journalist keep up with this growing form of crime? Salane points to the Internet Security Threat Report, which tracks the latest in Internet-based crimes.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics tracks identity theft, in particular, and will be issuing a new report in the fall of 2009.

Using nat sound online

In TV news, natural sound is the other part of every picture–even if the sound is silence. You have to capture it by getting a mic close enough to pick up good quality ambient sound. Then you have to use it, up full or under narration and sound bites.  It’s important, because while video can show what happened, it takes natural sound to help viewers experience what happened.

How you edit with audio makes a huge difference to the viewer’s experience. TV editors often use a technique that’s sometimes called an “L-cut” to sneak audio from the scene that’s coming up next into the scene that’s just ending. The audio foreshadows where the story is going and draws the viewer along, making the edit seem less jarring.

That same technique can be used effectively online when using full screen text in lieu of narration.  When text graphics pop up with no audio, the viewer may feel like the story has come to a dead stop. So try adding some natural sound from the video that’s coming up right after the graphic to keep your online stories moving.

Want an example? Check this video at the Washington Post.

[If anyone can tell me how to embed a Brightcove video, I’ll be happy to do it.]

Should journalists be armed?

The question, posted on the international journalists’ network IJNet, drew me up short. Wouldn’t carrying a weapon jeopardize a journalist’s neutral status? Couldn’t it put them more at risk, especially in a war zone where a gun could make them appear to be combatants? So why even ask the question?  Here’s why:

Following the recent fatal shooting of Russian reporter Anastasia Baburova, who worked for Russia’s liberal opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the paper’s management announced last week it had appealed to Russian authorities to allow its journalists to carry weapons.

News organizations in Mexico and Iraq have made similar requests recently, but it’s not a new issue. This AJR report a few years ago looked at threats against journalists in the Philippines.

So should some journalists, in some situations, be armed?  No, says Ron Steinman, former NBC bureau chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Wearing a gun, he says, does not protect you from harm, it causes harm.

When reporters carry a weapon, forget the argument of how the subject of your story looks at you when they see you armed. It changes how you cover news. Reporters never want to be part of the story. When you carry you have become a different person.

Sounds about right to me. What about you?

No simple job

The digital development director at WUSA-TV in Washington, DC, doesn’t just manage the station’s Web site. Patrick O’Brien is also in charge of five local microsites focused on everything from young moms to entertainment to high school sports.  So what does he really do?

Here’s one specific way that O’Brien uses Twitter: as a kind of community-powered scanner. makes it easy to track Tweets from or about one specific city. O’Brien has found news tips on the DC page before they ever hit the old fashioned police and fire scanners.

O’Brien has also used his Twitter feed to look for new hires.  “I’m following several intern organizations,” he says. He’s posted jobs on Twitter and  interviewed some of his Twitter followers.

With WUSA’s recent conversion to an all-VJ newsroom, O’Brien is helping to train the staff to use new media tools like Twitter. Two of his other favorites: DrPic, a free online app for cropping and compressing photos, and YouSendIt, which makes it easy to transfer large files.

So that’s what a digital development director does.

Charging for content

How can a news organization make real money online? The answer may be the key to survival for many mainstream news outlets, but nobody’s really found the magic formula yet.  Most sites depend on advertising, which does bring in revenue but not enough to support a newsroom.

The Wall Street Journal is the only major newspaper that’s successfully employed a subscription model online. The New York Times tried it for a while for some content but eventually dropped its “Times Select” plan.  Now, executive editor Bill Keller says the idea of charging for content is back on the table.

In an online response to readers’ questions, Keller says the Times is engaged in a “lively, deadly serious” discussion about ways to make consumers pay for what the newspaper produces.  Among the options: Reviving a subscription model, a micro-payment model, and a fee for downloading the paper to new reading devices like Amazon’s Kindle.

Time Magazine’s Walter Isaacson has also weighed in on the need for a new business model.  But Mark Potts calls all of this discussion ridiculous, reflecting “gross naivete.”

Whatever the model of the future turns out to be, we’ve definitely come a long way since KRON-TV aired this report back in 1981:

Ten rules for video journalists

Travis Fox

Everybody likes lists, right? Travis Fox of the Washington Post shared his “10 golden rules” for video journalists at a recent workshop at the University of Miami on creating video narratives.  [Thanks to Chrys Wu for sharing this, as well as another great post, “How to tell a Multimedia Story,” that focuses on audio.]

  • Golden Rule 10: Get “X-roll.” X-roll is when you get your interviewee’s money quotes in their natural environment.
  • Golden Rule 9: Shoot within 180 degrees around a subject. In other words, don’t walk around your subject when interviewing them.
  • Golden Rule 8: Sequence your video with a variety of detail, tight, medium, wide shots as well as cut away shots. 50 percent of shots will be tight, 25 percent medium and 25 percent wide
  • Golden Rule 7: Remember 80:20 ratio (80 percent should be b-roll and 20 percent should be interviews)
  • Golden Rule 6 Get close to the subject when interviewing them for audio purposes
  • Golden Rule 5: Stay quiet when shooting
  • Golden Rule 4: If you do not get the shot, you do not have it.
  • Golden Rule 3: Do not move the camera when shooting (unless you are an advanced videographer)
  • Golden Rule 2: Hold every shot for 10 seconds
  • Golden Rule 1: Wear headphones

Can’t argue with any of them.  Hadn’t heard the term “X-roll” before; in the textbook, we call that “active interviewing.” And I’d amend rule #6 to read, “Get microphone close to the subject.” I do hope you’re not depending on a built-in camera mic to get top quality sound.

Newspapers fight back

Tired of all the “print is dead” headlines, a group of newspaper executives is fighting back.  The Newspaper Project, launched today, will counter what organizers call “the misrepresentation of newspapers and their continuing importance to the public, to the marketplace and to democracy.”

The group is running print and online ads promoting the view that newspapers are very much alive and growing, if you consider the print and online audience together.

Leading the drive is Donna Barrett, CEO of an Alabama-based community newspaper group and president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. Her mantra, according to Editor & Publisher:

Newspapers don’t have an audience problem. Newspapers have a revenue problem, driven primarily by the recession.

That first assertion is debatable. All traditional news media have an audience problem, don’t they? And the revenue problem isn’t just driven by the economy. A shrinking audience (and yes, the audience IS shrinking) means you can’t charge advertisers as much as you could when their ads reached more people.

While it’s true that the overall audience for newspapers on the Web grew last year, that may be due in part to the extraordinary level of interest in the US election. And despite the online audience growth, revenues were actually down, according to MediaPost.

The decline in online revenues, while small in dollar terms, is still a crushing blow to the newspaper industry, as the digital medium held out the primary hope for newspapers, which have seen their print ad revenues implode due to Internet competition.

I do applaud another newspaper initiative that caught my eye today: the executive editor of the Tacoma News-Tribune, Karen Peterson, is trying to publicly shame Seattle broadcasters into giving credit for stories lifted from the paper.

We think it’s important for two reasons: First, you should know where your news is coming from so you can judge its credibility; and second, it’s a professional courtesy to give credit where credit is due.

Absolutely right. TV newsrooms have much smaller staffs than newspapers, so they can’t cover every story the paper does. But that doesn’t mean they should feel  free to lift stories from the paper and use them without attribution. That’s stealing, and it needs to stop.