Why people (even journalists) don’t pay for news – and what to do about it

A newsstand in London

A newsstand in London. Picture by Duncan Harris, Wikimedia Commons

It’s no secret that journalism is going through cataclysmic change.

It’s as if we are trying to sell horse-and-cart combos at the same time that Henry Ford is rolling the Model-T off the production line. As pointed out here by Eric Beecher, the “unconventional business model” which saw public interest, independent journalism being subsidised by the sale of cars, jobs and furniture (classifieds – remember them?) is deader than the dodo.

In the place of classifieds are a variety of “business models” where news organisations try to figure out how to make money when people won’t actually pay for the pure product (journalism) and have gone elsewhere for the cars, jobs and furniture.

I have sat around over many a glass of wine with journalist friends, bemoaning this state of affairs. But I don’t think any of us have ever spent much time on really thinking through WHY it is that people won’t pay for news (assuming they were ever willing to pay, of course – many saw the news as a wrapper to the real stuff: horse racing results, crosswords, horoscopes and classifieds). And here’s another question to ponder: Do journalists themselves pay for news? Do I pay for news? Continue reading

Who cares about award ceremonies? I do

Renee Moodie SEO certificate

My certificate

I recently completed a course in search engine optimisation through GetSmarter, which offers an online platform for short-course training from the University of Cape Town.

My statement of results is in, and so is my certificate.

My pieces of paper made me happy. As did the 10 weeks of being a student again (one of my most recurring dreams is that of returning to university). I’m a serial over-achiever in exams, motivated to learn and driven to do well. I know that this kind of marks-driven learning is only one way in which knowledge is gained and shared – but it still matters to me, as one part of the lovely process involved in learning something new. Continue reading

What I learned at the MMX17 Conference

Iman Rappetti

Iman Rappetti was MC at the conference

In mid-August I spent two days at the Menell Media Exchange Conference in Johannesburg. The meeting, organised by Duke University, aims “to create and support a sustainable and robust media community in South Africa and beyond, through programs, fellowships and conferences”.

This year’s event was around the theme of Truth & Trust and is well-documented in stories, videos and podcasts by student journalists covering the event (Friday and Saturday), and I am not going to attempt to duplicate their excellent coverage. Rather – and somewhat belatedly – here is a set of my impressions, thoughts and observations. Continue reading

Could you ever write something in a library book?

Rows of books in Stockholm Public Library

Stockholm Public Library: Picture: Marcus Hansson, Göteborg, Sweden

When I was in Grade 2, I had a teacher called Miss Reynolds. She was outwardly terrifying and children in Grade 1 spent a lot of time hoping they would not be placed in her class.
But there I was, stuck with Miss Reynolds for a whole year. And it turned out she was lovely – my first life lesson in the uselessness of worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.
My memories are hazy, but in a clear indication of how good it was, I do remember clearly that we had a big tin of dog biscuits kept ready for the daily visit of a big golden neighbourhood dog called Shannon and we all took turns to give him a biscuit.
But one day, in a fit of six-year-oldness, I took a book and hit my desk mate on the head with it. I don’t remember why, and I don’t think I hit the child all that hard. But Miss Reynolds was mightily displeased. I can’t remember the punishment (being made to sit in a corner, probably) but I remember very clearly what she said: you don’t do that to a book. (In retrospect, it’s a little odd that she cared more about the book than the other kid.)

Continue reading

Five different kinds of editing

I’ve been editing things for a very long time now, and long ago stopped thinking consciously about any of it.

But an upcoming workshop I will be offering at Cape Town’s Bergvliet High School on how to edit your own writing meant that I had to go back to basics and deconstruct a little.

It occurred to me that the list I made for that workshop, looking at what I see as the different kinds of editing might be useful to writers and people who are starting out as editors, so here it is (with examples where needed):

Proofreading – correcting basic errors like spelling, grammar, formatting and applying house style

EXAMPLE

This sentence has a grammar mistake:

Other musicians followed, though their music didn’t reach as bigger an audience as they would have liked.

Corrected to:

Other musicians followed, though their music didn’t reach as big an audience as they would have liked. Continue reading

Enough with the water restrictions – let’s try something else

water droplet

A precious resource. Picture: Lexi XU, Unsplash

As a household, we’ve been saving water for months now. Cape Town is in the grip of a drought, and there is no end in sight.
So we have put in a rain water tank, and are flushing the toilet with water saved from showering. We’ve long had a wellpoint for the garden, and have hardy plants. We are catching vegetable-rinsing water. We are taking short showers and wearing our clothes for longer to cut down on the washing.
In short, we have been fully supportive of our municipality in its efforts to stave off the day when the dams run dry.
But now I have had enough. Continue reading

A must-read about what it means to be a journalist

Person looking through documents with computer

Picture: Strelka Institute, flickr

When I was a full-time journalist, I kept an eye on news and views about my industry – and did more of that as the years wore on and it became apparent that my industry was in Big Trouble.

Now that I am a freelancer and am able have a bit more of a flexible approach to how I use my working hours, I have a bunch of feeds I use to keep an eye on things, with a particular eye to any bright ideas about how to get journalism out of its Big Trouble.

After a while, there’s a sameness to much of what I find: journalists in the States doing Trump-gazing, techy types proposing new data-driven models, lots of hand-wringing about fake news and lots and lots about how Facebook and Google have eaten our lunch (and breakfast and supper too).
Continue reading