Archive for April, 2010

The Web’s Wild West

The New York Times has a column today about a judgment in favor of former vice president Al Gore and his cable channel Current TV, which were taken to court after using a freelance photographer’s work without permission or payment.

The column describes the new “Wild West” of the Web, as Scott James puts it, where information and ideas are shared freely with a Napster attitude. Here in Florida The Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald all share stories freely among their Web sites. It is a troubling trend for freelancers who make our living by the assignment.

I have a Google Alert set up on my name to help me monitor where it appears, although I am sure there are instances that slip by me. The lesson here for freelancers is to protect your ownership of your work. Today it is as important a job for you as your reporting, writing, broadcasting and photography itself.

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Apply by April 26 for all-expenses-paid seminar on “Covering the Green Economy” featuring best-selling author Jeff Goodell

Jeff Goodell, investigative journalist and author of “How to Cool the Planet,” headlines the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism’s “Covering the Green Economy” seminar June 28-30 in Phoenix.

This specialized reporting institute on the intersection between business and the environment is available to 20 journalists, who will receive all-expenses-paid fellowships. The deadline to apply for a fellowship is April 26.

The seminar’s other speakers include Susanne Rust, co-author of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Pulitzer-finalist investigation into toxic goods; award-winning environmental reporter Craig Pittman of the St. Petersburg Times; green-transportation expert Jim Motavalli; investigative reporter Russ Choma; and Pulitzer-winning journalist Irene Virag. Check out the full agenda.

Through the generous support of the McCormick Foundation, fellowships cover the full cost of training, lodging, materials and most meals. In addition, fellows receive a $450 stipend to help offset travel and other costs.

This three-day seminar, combined with two follow-up Webinars, will help attendees track stimulus money earmarked for green efforts, cover the growing industry of eco-friendly cars and follow trends in food sustainability. We’ll also host sessions that dig into how to quantify sustainability in a variety of industries including health care, construction, solar, water and coal.

Free Webinars on personal finance, financial statements and being an entrepreneur

Learn in only an hour a day without leaving your desk with these free Webinars:

Sign up for all our free training at

Free “Investigative Business Journalism” workshops with top reporters-turned-profs Alec Klein and Gary Cohn

  • May 7 in Portland, Ore.: Join Pulitzer winner Gary Cohn and former Washington Post investigative reporter Alec Klein in this daylong workshop, “Investigative Business Journalism on a Beat,” as they walk you through the steps to successful investigative business stories. These two top reporters-turned-journalism-professors will take you through the investigative story from start to finish: refining and pitching an idea, developing and interviewing sources, plumbing public documents, and organizing and presenting the story effectively in multimedia. Come with an idea for an investigative project, and leave with a story pitch to take back to your editors. The emphasis will be on pursuing investigations while still covering your beat.
  • June 9 in Las Vegas: Come an afternoon early for the Investigative Reporters and Editors annual conference and polish your investigative business reporting skills with Alec Klein in this condensed version of “Investigative Business Journalism on a Beat.”

Both free workshops are sponsored by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, but you must sign up at Space is limited.

Questions? E-mail Linda Austin, Reynolds Center executive director, or call her at 602-496-9187.

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Wanted: Quill column

Hey freelancers! I need a column for the Freelance Toolbox in Quill, the SPJ magazine. I’m especially interested in hearing from people who freelance in broadcast or photo journalism.

Note that this is a labor of love and requires quick turnaround; perhaps you have a blog post that you could expand into a column.

Send me your ideas, at michaelATmffitzgeraldDOTcom.

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Magazine bounceback?

For raw glamour, glory and word rates, freelancers look to big magazines. Those magazines mostly spent last year serving as nails to the economic hammer, but now may be bouncing back.  The Media Industry Newsletter highlighted the top five ad page gainers for magazines publishing May issues, which posted between 40 percent and 82 percent increases in ad pages over last May’s issues.

The top gainer was The Atlantic, which is now up 23 percent for the year. MIN quoted its publisher, Jay Lauf, as saying that “the Darwinian shakeout we’ve been seeing on the print side is leaving the strong survivors in a healthy place.”

What do you think: are magazines that survived last year now in good shape? Or is this cluster of survivors just in a part of the desert where some water still remains?

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Journalist’s guide to SEO

In journalism school we learned how to attract readers through snappy leads. Today our objective is to attract search engines, too, through search engine optimization or SEO.

Are you a journalist with a Web site or blog? Before search engines can list your site among their search rankings they must locate it, and there are ways you can write your content to help search engines do that and list your site higher among their rankings. This is called search engine optimization. It’s not much different from writing news stories in ways to attract readers, although yes I understand the idea of writing for a search engine is a bummer.

Think of it this way. Readers never will find your content unless search engines do, right?

Yesterday I spent some time researching SEO practices as a means of improving my own blogging. Here’s what I found out.

  • Fundamentally SEO is about keywords. Think about the keywords readers will use in locating your content. Search engines analyze content beginning at the top, so place special emphasis on your headline, subhead and first graf. Notice how I included the keywords “search engine optimization” and “SEO” here in my first graf, even though it seems a little cluttered.
  • Write clearly. Search engines don’t understand double meanings, and they have no sense of humor. Replace pronouns and adjectives with keywords.
  • Write short. Search engines give most weight to a site’s first 500 words. So if you want to write longer consider breaking up your content among multiple pages. That way search engines will analyze all your content rather than just the first 500 words.
  • Search engines reward sites with fresh content. So update regularly.
  • They reward sites with links. So link often.
  • But don’t sacrifice quality for SEO. Search engines — and readers — respond to quality content. Don’t overstuff your content with keywords and links. Search engines can recognize deceptive tactics, and they can ban your site from their rankings.

Want more information?

  • The Society of Professional Journalists offers a comprehensive Digital Media Handbook.
  • This blog called Save the Media penned by a 20-year newspaper veteran now working on a communications Ph.D. offers some helpful tips.
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The future of freelancing

The Future of Freelancing conference at Stanford University helps freelancers explore their evolving careers and stay inspired to do their best work.

The two-day event, June 18-19, will bring together assigning editors from leading traditional and digital publications. The first 30 registrants will be eligible for a private meeting with an editor. Confirmed editors include David Zalewski of The New Yorker, Sydney Trent of The Washington Post Magazine, Clara Jeffery of Mother Jones, Jonathan Weber of the Bay Area News Project and many more.

Registration starts Friday, April 9, for American Society of Journalists and Authors members; Friday, April 16 for other experienced journalists. Click here for more information and e-mail questions here.

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