Four email newsletters worth trying

My 17-year-old son doesn’t understand how people can possibly spend large portions of their day reading and answering email.

As far as I can tell, he deals with the issue by magisterially ignoring all email sent to him.

For the rest of us, the inbox is a place where we seem to spend a lot of time. I have systems to make email easier, and I regularly cull emails that I don’t ever read, or that I don’t need.

And yet, email can be a source of good reading, and of inspiration and knowledge.

I recently wrote a post about staying abreast of the latest trends in journalism. One of the steps I recommended was to subscribe to email newsletters – they bring the latest news to you, instead of you spending time seeking out what you need to know. I generally subscribe to any newsletter that looks interesting. I then read it and decide whether it stays or goes. Over time, my interests might change, and then my newsletter subscriptions change too.

Here, then, is a list of the newsletters that I actually read at the moment and find valuable, both as a journalist and a private individual.

Naked Data

Naked Data comes out every Friday and is co-written by Jason Norwood-Young and Adam Oxford. It covers the global South and tends towards data and coding, but it always has links to stories and projects that are interesting or ground-breaking, or both. For journalists of all kinds, it is a weekly prod in the direction of new trends and a resource specifically for people working in data visualisation. Also – it’s funny.

One man and his blog

Adam Tinworth writes a range of newsletters, and I subscribe to all of them (except the one about the ospreys, though I have been tempted). He offers a wide take on journalism trends, social media, newsletters and business models for the journalism profession. Articles he links to are preceded by his own take on the issue, which is always sensible and thought-provoking. I’ve given up many of the journalism newsletters that I used to subscribe to in favour of Tinworth’s missives.

Bloomberg City Lab

Not journalism related. A look at issues of urban planning, climate change and related matters. There’s always something worth reading – even though I hit the Bloomberg article limit quite early in any given month.

The Ruffian

I think I was pointed to the Ruffian by Adam Tinworth. These newsletters are a collection of links to interesting things Ian Leslie found on the Internet, or to his own writing – accompanied by thoughtful summaries. I have never been disappointed by following a link from one of his newsletters, and use them in my own social media sharing.

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your organisational or communication needs (coaching, editing, writing, social media). And you can subscribe to my own newsletter here.

Main image: Stephen Phillips – on Unsplash

Journalism skills – what you need to learn (and keep learning) to succeed

In the old days, just four or five months ago, if I met new people (remember that? going out and meeting people?), if I was asked what I did, I would say: “I am a journalist.”

Truth be told, that doesn’t really cover what I do at all. In the lengthy process of re-evaluating my business this year, doing an online business questionnaire revealed that what I actually do is help busy people get things done. I take the skills I have acquired and put them to use doing whatever needs doing: writing, editing, proofreading, sub-editing, online journalism, social media, being a shoulder to cry on, making a plan when things have gone wrong, providing gentle observations about what I see, helping untie management knots, cutting through to the heart of a problem, keeping track of projects… you get the picture.

Continue reading

How to tell truth from… everything else (Fake News 101)

This is the year of the little round virus. So it’s also the year when we all really, seriously, need to get a grip on “fake news”. It’s always been important, but we are now in a place where sharing something dodgy on WhatsApp might affect someone else’s health.

Journalists are engaged in complex debates about this (of course) – what is fake news, how to counter it, is fake news even the right term for it?

For everyone else, this is what you need to know.

“News” is a report on events that happened, generally found in a newspaper, an online newspaper, a TV news broadcast or a radio news broadcast. Or perhaps a Twitter thread, or a live blog. (It can also be an investigation, an interview, an exploration of two sides of an issue. The people quoted in these ways will have been subject to some due diligence by the reporter or publication.)

The basic idea is: this news refers to something that actually happened, or something that is widely understood to be factual or truthful

(And, yes, of course, those reports will be slanted in some way: the reporter and the news publication will have their own ideas and opinions and prejudices.)

When it isn’t news

BUT If the report says something happened, but it didn’t, then it is a lie. If it so distorts the event that most reasonable people would think something was fishy about the report, it is dis- or mis-information. If it is written to further a particular political aim, it is propaganda. If it gives health advice that is not based on generally accepted science, it is quackery. If it interviews people who are at the fringes of anything, without making that clear, it is dubious. All of that is now called “fake news”. Journalists might not like the term, but it is useful shorthand.

Most people don’t really want to be guilty of sharing lies and trickery (I assume). But they do it anyway, mostly without thinking too much about it. I think that is because a lot of the time, the “report” confirms their own beliefs, or says something that they would like to be true (and perhaps they just want to share something entertaining with their friends). We are all gossips, in the end.

Simple rules

So how to tell when not to share? I have some simple rules. The first, and most important, is to click on the link and actually look at whatever it is you are about to share. Then ask yourself:

1. Does it come from a reputable source? (My 2018 post about that is still useful.)

2. Does it have a date and the name of the person who wrote or produced it? (The date is important – people often share old stories, which are then taken up as if they are recent news).

3. Does it have links to other places where this has been reported, or to background sources?

4. Do a Google search – are there other reports about the same topic?

If you can answer yes to those questions, you can probably go ahead and hit the share button!

* A version of this was first published in my newsletter.

* Main picture: Hayden Walker, Unsplash

When a caption goes wrong…

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A White House reporter for the Associated Press found herself in a spot of bother this week: a tweet in which her “caption” did not identify one key figure was picked up by South African on Twitter and all hell broke loose.

One Darlene Superville was attending the G7 Summit in France and snapped a shot of a clutch of world leaders, one of whom was South African president Cyril Ramaphosa. Thing is, she initially called him an “unidentified leader” in her tweet (effectively a photo caption). She later re-did the tweet, this time with his name, but not before she had been called lazy and disrespectful by South Africans on Twitter. Many people suggested that a simple Google search would have done the trick. Continue reading

Copyright: What it is, why it is important

Advert for my coaching businessOne of the trickiest things in online publishing is the question of copyright – especially with regard to photographs and other kinds of illustrations.

Collins Dictionary’s learner section has a simple way of defining copyright:

If someone has copyright on a piece of writing or music, it is illegal to reproduce or perform it without their permission.

Oxford (a premium version but here is the link) is a bit more complex:

The exclusive and assignable legal right, given to the originator for a fixed number of years, to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material.

In other words: someone, a real human being or beings, made something. It belongs to them and they have a right to be paid if you use it. Continue reading

From truth to ego: Effective journalism in the digital age

I was recently asked to be a presenter at a workshop offered by Safrea (the freelancer’s organisation in South Africa) – and given the topic: Effective Journalism in the Digital Age.

When I sat down to prepare for the workshop (which mutated in the end into a webinar), I realised that I needed to define what effective journalism means. The term was thought-provoking – probably because journalists themselves don’t often think about what they do in terms of its effectiveness.

Markers of effectiveness

The list I came up with ended up having two dimensions: effectiveness for the intended audience, and effectiveness for the journalist him, her or theirself.

In no particular order, my sense (based on experience and my own observations on this side of the fence) of what readers want is this:

  • Ease of access and readability – readers don’t want to have to work for their information
  • Fairness and accuracy – readers want to know they are getting the more-or-less unvarnished truth (but they will also want it to fit in with their pre-existing biases)
  • Education – people want to learn things (but not be lectured)
  • Entertainment – people want to have fun
  • A story – we are, as Terry Pratchett said, the storytelling chimpanzee, the Pan Narrans. Human beings simply cannot resist stories
  • Useful information (this includes a wide spectrum: from what is happening with the local train service to what is happening to my country, and from a timely recipe to how to get the baby to go to sleep).

Journalists want to:

  • Find things out, satisfy curiosity (see below about gossip)
  • Allied with that, they love a crusade, the opportunity to uncover a wrong or tell the truth (as long as it fits in with their pre-existing biases). They may even believe they can change the world for the better
  • Have their egos boosted
  • Have fun and be part of a tribe (journos are often misfits of various kinds, so hanging together is a good thing. Plus… they love to gossip)
  • Make some money – they want what they do to be fairly compensated (so journalism needs to get itself a decent business model).

How does that work in the digital age?

To satisfy readers (and therefore be effective) journalists need to:

Maintain all the old basic skills and values: Accuracy, fairness, balance, clear language, telling truth to power, public interest, accountability. Oh and the long hours and bad habits…. (see above about the tribe).

Tell stories (just in many different ways): Journalists need to master some or all the different platforms on which stories are now told, from video to Instagram stories.

Keep learning: Journalists need to keep up with trends and tricks, and keep upgrading their skills. This tweet shows how different things are from the days of the picture illustrating this article!

Keep an eye on the money: In the past: “Magazines and newspapers sold subscriptions to readers, and sold eyeballs to advertisers… we controlled a valuable pipeline to reader eyeballs, a pipeline advertisers wanted to fill with information about their products. Then the Internet came along, and suddenly, we didn’t own the only pipeline any more.” (Adapted from an article by Megan McArdle, Washington Post).

Now: To make journalism effective in the digital age, all journalists (from the most elevated editors to the lowliest of interns) need to spend every waking hour working on this problem. They need to research business models, write about them, and understand how analytics and metrics and trends work.

Keep the ego happy: All journalists are to greater or lesser extent attention seekers. It used to be the byline that kept us going, and now it’s social media. Pick a platform and start talking!

Above all remember the reader (viewer/listener/audience): The reader is king, queen, prince and princess. In the digital age, there are no captive audiences and no one is willing to read anything just because a journalist thinks it is important. Understand readers. Don’t make them work too hard, think about where they are: on their phones and tablets.

From text to gif, work on making journalism accessible!

Some of the topics in this post will be covered in more detail over the coming month – stay tuned! Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Main picture: CBC journalists in Montreal in 1944. Picture: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (public domain)


Press freedom is all very well, but where’s the business model?

Advert for my coaching businessIt’s World Press Freedom Day and Twitter (aka the place where journalists talk to each other, while fondly believing they are talking to Their Readers) is busting at the seams with opinion pieces and calls to action.

I had no intention of adding my voice to the fray, but a piece by Glenda Daniels, Associate Professor in Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, collided in my brain with a thread I admired on Twitter recently, and demanded some opining of my own.

Professor Daniels notes how hard it is to discern the real news from the “fake”, and says that one of the threats to the public’s trust in the media is the decimation of senior staff in newsrooms. She mourns in particular cuts in the ranks of sub-editors, who she says play a key role in fact-checking. She talks about the creation of sub hubs: centralised sub-editing services, where “one sub-editor will end up contracted to two or three or even more titles”. She writes:

“Many of the sub-editors in these set-ups are not particularly senior, lacking the institutional memory that would allow them to detect factual errors. And those who do remain have no particular loyalty to one title, so feel less pressure to thoroughly, rigorously check facts – a process that takes enormous time, especially when you are editing scores of stories each day. What should replace those full-time, dedicated sub-editors? I believe that fact-checkers could be employed instead.”

There is nothing to disagree with here. I support the importance of fact-checking and its role in keeping the trust of readers alive, but I think there’s a deeper issue that needs unpacking too. Continue reading