Archive for July, 2012

Silly spam comments you don’t have to read

© Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

There’s one good thing about spam: It’s often so totally ridiculous, badly written, inappropriate and obvious that it generates a good laugh. Such is the case with many – at times, most – of the comments that people try to post here. (Well, they may not be actual people; “they” might be robots or other non-human content generators of some sort.) Our colleagues and real readers will be glad to know that comments at the SPJ blog are moderated, so you don’t have to see the stupid stuff that people attempt to post  here. (I know some people may think of moderation as censorship, but trust me, friends – you really don’t want to see some of this junk!)

Just a few examples of items checked and deleted in one half-hour span – and there were several copies of each of these, in every one of our discussions:

“Fake paycheck”

“you are not really a lot more smartly-liked than you might be now”

“Hey I loves the wonderful blog many thanks and please continue…”

“Days ago a change in Google search engine platform make anonymous public proxies, almost useless.”

“Cottage Cheese Diet Blog…”


Free Online Games billiards !”

There have been others that were even dumber, and sometimes just the “sender’s” name or URL is even more laughable than the message itself.

I often wonder about the purpose of such attempted posts. They’re so patently spam that I can’t imagine anyone letting them appear on any kind of blog, whether personal or professional, but they must be worth something for people (or ‘bots) to invest time and effort into sending them. Letting their site names and URLs see the light of day must have some value.

Now if only SPJ colleagues would be as active in “populating” our blog with worthwhile comments as the spammers try to be with nonsense!

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Doing content writing – is it worth the effort?

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (

I recently was involved in a LinkedIn discussion about content writing. Someone opened the discussion by saying he was “looking for experienced content writers” (I won’t waste your time with the rest of his message; suffice to say he wanted people fluent in English, but his command of the language was nominal). I asked what he was paying and was mildly surprised to get a response; one usually doesn’t in these conversations.

The fee was a whopping $4 for 200 words. Most of the people in the LinkedIn Group – including me – said that was a ridiculously, if not insultingly, low fee that we wouldn’t accept. In response, the “job” poster said this would be a long-term, ongoing arrangement, as if that would make up for the low fee. A couple of people said they wanted to know more about the offer.

Last year, I tried a content-writing assignment for a colleague, so I would know what I was talking about in discussions like this. It involved 500 words per article and a far more generous rate than this LinkedIn poster was offering – still not my usual rate, but comparatively generous for such work. I found I could turn out two articles an hour at 500 words each if I really pushed myself and didn’t try to write at my best. Just a couple hours of that kind of work, even with articles that involved very little research – basically re-spinning the same info three or four different ways – and with the incentive of a relatively reasonable rate, was incredibly draining, and not very satisfying. I can’t imagine trying to churn out enough 200-word articles at $4 each to make it worthwhile.

A member of the LinkedIn group proposed, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that the job poster pay $200/day for this work (in advance, for several months’ worth of content). Now, that looks like an appealing amount for churning out what probably would be the writing equivalent of garbage; no one who pays $4 for 200 words really cares about the writing being any good, so it might seem like easy money. And it’s not an amount to sneeze at in our current economic conditions, especially for anyone new to writing, new to freelancing, recently laid off, unemployed for a long time or simply desperate for income for any reason.

The original poster responded to that proposal, by, predictably, saying he wouldn’t do advance payments, but I did the math from the writer’s perspective anyhow – math is not usually my strong point, but it wasn’t hard to do in this case. At $4 for 200 words, you’d have to write 10,000 words a day to earn $200 a day. At the standard manuscript page of 250 words, that’s 40 pages a day. That’s a lot of writing. I write fast and efficiently, but even I would have a hard time writing 10,000 words/day, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be under that kind of pressure every day. At the two 500-word articles an hour that I was able to do for that content-writing project, that would be 10 solid hours of writing a day. Can you do that? Would you want to?

Even if someone would pay a couple hundred dollars a day for content writing, though, should we do that kind of work? That has to be up to the individual journalist, but I hope enough people start to say “no” to put some of these sites out of business. They don’t contribute much of value to the world of journalism, much less anything else, and they waste the time, skill and energy of anyone who really can write and deserves to be paid appropriately for that time, skill and energy.

(We don’t usually post rates here, but this seemed to be a worthwhile exception.)

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Some media outlets seek “quote approval”

In an article by Poynter Tuesday, Steve Myers reports that some media outlets are seeking quote approval before running stories, particularly those that involve presidential candidates. Fortunately, Myers learned, that the Associated Press is not among those media outlets.

Poynter Story:  AP Doesn’t Let Sources Approve Quotes

John Brummett of Arkansas Online comments. I particularly like this part:  “…serve the reader and voter, not the newsmaker.”

Arkansas Online:  Goodbye, Journalism

How do you feel about this? Do you think getting quote approval is an acceptable practice, or do you think it grants too much editorial freedom to those being interviewed?


Dana E. Neuts is a full-time freelance writer and editor and is the publisher of and An avid SPJ volunteer, she is the regional director for SPJ’s region 10, serves on the membership committee, and is the chair for the freelance committee. She is also a candidate for the office of national SPJ Secretary/Treasurer. Followe her on Twitter (@SPJDana, @SPJFreelance, @VirtuallyYourz).



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Lessons from Jonah Lehrer

As a freelance journalist, I’ve occasionally reworked material on the same topic for multiple stories. I haven’t done much of this, but I’ve often brainstormed how to get more mileage out of my work. I’ve read books from freelancers who talk about repurposing written material, presenting new angles for different audiences. It seems appealing, especially for my bottom line.

So it piqued my interest when prominent science journalist Jonah Lehrer recently got himself in trouble for doing just that. Media blogger Jim Romenesko broke the story that Lehrer had “self-plagiarized,” sometimes paragraphs at a time, in numerous pieces for various publications.

It triggered plenty of discussion in the media, including everything from sharp criticism to shrugs and everything in-between.

Since then, a handful of Lehrer’s stories for The New Yorker, where he started working in June, have been flagged with disclaimers about the duplication of material. Also, Lehrer apologized in The New York Times, saying it was “a stupid thing to do and incredibly lazy and absolutely wrong.” The New Yorker has promised it won’t happen again.

Some noteworthy speakers on the subject have defended Lehrer, asking, “How bad is it to repeat oneself?” Others have pondered the broader context, blaming the “more-is-better” ethos of the web, for Lehrer’s slip-up. Others call him an idea man, not a straight-up journalist. Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, whom Lehrer has been compared to, backed him up, saying that in this new media environment, the rules for bloggers are still being written.

The situation got the SPJ Freelancers Committee talking about the practice of repurposing work. Our comfort levels with doing so ran the gamut, with some people shying away from the practice altogether. But a couple of my colleagues are veterans at this, and they offered some tips for recycling pieces while staying in editors’ and readers’ good graces. I’ve included some of their thoughts, below.

For the most part, it’s a matter of transparency from the get-go, they say.

Committee member Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has done some repurposing through the years but “only very carefully — making sure it’s clear that a version of the information has been published,” she told me.

Once, she submitted a profile on a small business owner that she’d written for the St. Louis Argus to Essence magazine. “They sent me a check for $75 and published it almost verbatim. My first national clip!” she said.

For several years, she wrote about the annual conference of the International Association of Business Communicators for a number of publications, often drawing from the same material. Her clients were OK with the overlap; their publications came out at all different times and went to different audiences, she said.

More recently, she started contributing to a newsletter for a client for whom she also pens a monthly marketing column. Before she started this gig, she let her client know that she writes for an association magazine in the same field.

“This client said it would be fine if I rewrote some of those articles for her company’s newsletter,” she said.

By the same token, “The association editor says it’s OK as long as my articles for her come out first and the repurposed ones are noticeably different,” even if the same sources and quotes come up, she said.

So, how does this differ from the Lehrer case? “I’m being open about this with my clients and their readers,” she said.

Another committee member, Dana Neuts, agrees. If a writer goes to the involved editors and says, “‘Hey, I used this story over here and I think the example I used also applies here. Do you mind if I reuse it?’ Then the second editor has the opportunity to view the original piece and decide if he wants something fresh and new or if reusing the original work is acceptable.”

When a new version of a story runs, she suggests including a citation of some sort at the bottom, noting the similarities, as The New Yorker has done for the Lehrer pieces.

“To me, the issue boils down to being forthright with your editors so they have enough information to make the right decision for their organization. It is also a matter of professional courtesy,” and it doesn’t take much time or effort, she said.

As someone who’s frequently worked under tight deadlines, I can understand the impulse to quickly copy-and-paste. At the same time, in a business that’s all about informing people, it makes sense to me to be open and honest about a story’s back-story. I’m thankful to Lehrer for reminding me to do that. Now I just need to go back through my work and figure out what pieces might deserve a new slant.


Anna Pratt (Twitter @annapratt) Email

As a staff reporter-turned-freelance journalist, Anna Pratt, who lives in Minneapolis, Minn., has ventured into garbage houses, spent the night in a homeless shelter and witnessed a fistfight in a church basement, all for various stories. Over the past nine years, her byline has appeared in the Star Tribune, The Line, the Southwest Journal, the Minnesota Independent and several suburban and community papers, web publications and broadcast media in the Twin Cities. She’s had many beats, including education, community news, business, development, arts, civil/human rights and immigration. Pratt chairs the programming committee for the award-winning Minnesota Pro Chapter of SPJ and she’s running for president-elect of the chapter. She also serves on the organization’s national programming committee. To read more, visit

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