Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category


One experience can change everything

The SPA member badge, which is displayed on my web site. (Photo: SPA)

The SPA member badge, which is displayed on my web site. (Photo: SPA)

This weekend, in Loughborough in the English Midlands, a few of my colleagues and their peers are getting together for the Student Publication Association‘s annual conference.

At the helm of the conference are sessions on honing the journalistic craft, alongside awards, networking and the ability to celebrate the work of these student publications up and down the UK.

The timing of their meeting comes at an interesting time for media in Britain, as The Independent, once the UK’s youngest newspaper, ended a 30 year run in print to become a digital only publication.

In addition, there are continued talks in Parliament about the future of the BBC, as its Royal Charter comes up for renewal next year, as the publications owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation continue to make headlines ahead of Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking.

Indeed, student media in the UK too has not had it easy recently, something observed in my writing and coverage of British media, from censorship of The Badger, the student newspaper of The Badger at the University of Sussex in southern England in the beginning of the academic year, to the threat of expulsion raised by University College London against one of its students, Rebecca Pinnington, for something she wrote for Pi Media, the university’s student media hub.

Yet, aside from the questions surrounding the future of media in the UK, and the issues surrounding student media, there is a common thread between my colleagues and their peers. Indeed, it is the reason why people the world over go into journalism — they do it not to seek fame or fortune, but to do a service for their communities, large or small, irrespective of beat.

Many of those in attendance at that conference are either journalism students, or students studying a variety of subjects, including English Literature, History, Politics and Economics, hoping to either pursue an MA in journalism or go to a training course to obtain an NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualification. They’ve done work placements at broadcasters, newspapers or web sites, and also worked in student media.

But irrespective of what they study, and the route they plan to take, they all have one thing in common — they believe in journalism and the Fourth Estate, the role it has in a democracy, and the role it can have to help millions of people cope better with the world around them. All they want to do is tell stories and make a difference. They want to be a part of journalism’s future, even as the industry itself around the world goes through changes.

I think of this as this week marks four years since I joined Kettle Magazine, a fellow SPA member (I also, for the record, hold a personal membership with the Association). Even though I am working 3,000 miles away from the UK, I have been able to receive a unique education.

The people I have met, who have become my friends, and the ability to help the next generation of journalists ignited the passion for why I wanted to go into journalism, and the sort of work I want to do. Its a reason why I signed up to be an SPA member, and why recently I renewed my membership with SPJ for another year. Its an education I am deeply grateful for, an education I hope to continue receiving, and an education I hope I can experience on the ground in due course.

They’ve also reinforced one other thing — irrespective of platform, and where the industry goes, there is always going to be a need for journalists. Indeed, even in this digital age, no matter what country your from, it takes one experience to remind you why you sought to enter this profession, and the rewards that come from it.

And that is worth celebrating, not just today, but every day.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Tempted with fabrication? Write a novel.

Some say the cardinal sin of journalism is plagiarism, but me? I say it’s fabrication.

I won’t deny that plagiarism, even self-plagiarism, is stealing, deceptive, and unethical – but at least the information you swiped is true (unless the person you stole from is, in fact, a liar, which complicates matters even further).

In a journalism lecture this week, we watched the 2003 film “Shattered Glass,” a movie about the infamous journalist-gone-rogue Stephen Glass from The New Republic. Now, I hear, he’s attempted to reshape his life by becoming a fiction author (something he should have pursued in the first place) and trying to earn a law degree. Some guy.

Besides getting lost in Hayden Christensen’s eyes (Oh Anakin, you’re my only hope), I was struck by the nerve of Glass – befriending the newsroom, enticing every one of his colleagues into a web of lies, lies, lies – only to find out that he’d been making up stories all along.

And you bought that.

Which gets into a whole other ethical debate of fact-checking and the perils of speedy journalism. While, yes, the fact-checking system is setup to detect minor spelling errors and consistency mistakes, it’s not designed (nor should it be) for those who write with deceit.

But still, why cut out that vital defense between writer and reader? I’d argue that fact-checkers should be the last to go – not the first – from the newsroom. We’ve seen one too many times a reporter taking liberties, knowing full well that his or her writing will not be checked for error or valid fact.

The speed at which journalism has accelerated to can also become a temptation for those writing on a tight budget. If it’s just you and your keyboard – and an hour till deadline – who can stop you from fabricating quotes, people, and therefore truths?

Fabrication cuts right to the bone of journalism – the heart of the craft. Journalists pride themselves on being truth-seekers and will often sacrifice time, money, and sometimes even their lives to get a story out into our information age.

Those journalists who fabricate stories seemingly spit in the face of those battling fatigue, jail time, and exile for the sake of democratic free speech. Think about THAT the next time you’re tempted to insert fiction into your nut graf.

At the end of all this, if you’re still enticed by made-up stories? Become a novelist…just don’t be a journalist.

Bethany N. Bella is studying journalism, anthropology, and geography at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at bethanybella.com.

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Clickbait vs. Long-form: What Do Readers Want?

I hardly ever click through on ‘clickbait’ – but that’s just me.

Maybe it’s because I know the tactic well, having studied the art of a compelling, click-driven tweet in my journalism classes at Ohio University. Or maybe it’s because all these “9 things you never knew about leaving guacamole in the refrigerator” articles are starting to wear me down, as a news consumer.

Where are the stories that make me think? Where are the articles so long they blur the line between news and novella? Where is the journalism that’s journalism – and not cute GIFS of cats rolling around in confetti?

And I’m not the only one wondering.  

According to a recent article published on Re/Code – a fabulous, media-focused news source, I might add – Internet wanderers are starting to flock towards long-form, speciality content instead of the assumed clickbait publishers think we want.

A report from BuzzSumo, referenced in the article, claims that long-form articles (3,000–10,000 words) have a significantly higher share-rate than short-form articles (less than 1,000 words).

The author of the article, Joe Hyrkin (CEO of Issuu), also notes how the Internet has successfully fueled a “niche market” of information, where news consumers of varying age and interests find their own corner of the online world and like to linger there awhile.

“Clearly, vibrant subcultures are gaining major momentum online and offline,” Hyrkin writes. “The members of these communities crave content that is relevant, thoughtful and teaches them something new. They are hungry for content that dives deep and adds to their sophisticated knowledge base. For enthusiasts, ‘snackable’ is not enough.”

While, yes, I am one of those news consumers who prefers the long, in-depth review of a particular issue I’m interested in, I have a few hesitations about this “death of snackable content” claim.

Going back to the BuzzSumo survey: Since when did sharing clickbait prove whether you were reading clickbait? While posting a BuzzFeed quiz result is a nice addition to your Facebook feed every once in awhile, I’d wager that most people are selective about their clickbait share choices.

It looks more impressive to your audience or friend group if you share a thoughtful, long-form piece (even if you didn’t actually read it all the way through), instead of sharing every “Which Disney Princess Are You?” clickbait quiz you took.

And another observation, made by one of my brilliant journalism professors – and one I happen to agree with. Think of the motives of Hyrkin and why he might be making this argument about the death of clickbait content.

Issuu is an online magazine publisher’s platform, and magazine pieces are typically long-form features. Of course Hyrkin would be arguing (and hoping) for long-form content to be “in.” His company and livelihood depends on it!

Overall, I’m encouraged to hear that clickbait may be on the downward spiral, and niche, hobbyist-driven content may be on the rise. How refreshing would my Twitter feed be, without the constant threat of clickbait material, forever lurking in my timeline?

As the Internet redefines my generation’s “reading for pleasure,” I just hope it saves some long-form links for me.

Bethany N. Bella is studying journalism, anthropology, and geography at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at bethanybella.com.

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Transparency for All

I wake up anxious every day, just to find out what Obama will be doing in the afternoon.

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Perhaps my enthusiasm for The New York Times Now newsletter has got me a little carried away.

The era of digital journalism is upon us, where we consumers can uncover the president’s whereabouts, the history of Pac Man, and the leaked merger of two media companies before their employees even hear of the negotiations –– all at the tap of a screen and the stroke of a thumb.

It seems that everything is and can be known, while nothing is secret or sacred for long.  With trust comes a yearning for greater transparency, a transparency that was once denied by all.

We have yet to experience an age of fluid, free-for-all information in America as we encounter today.

Those inspirational posters in elementary schools across the country speak at least one truth: knowledge, I’ve come to learn, is power.  The masses are no longer deposited in darkness, shackled from the bitter underbelly of reality.  We can touch the truth, the stories from the “other side” –– if only we so choose.

I never appreciated how journalists have truly become the gatekeepers of society’s information until I thought about President Obama and his endless, ever-changing agenda.  If I didn’t have the thorough research, wit and intellect of journalists at the Times, I’d have absolutely no concept of the events occurring in Washington D.C., let alone with whom the president was having lunch.  I’d be clueless and unawares in my small hometown of Ohio (a state that nobody ever cares about until election season starts).

You see, I’d know the high school choir and band rosters for next school year, the best price for blueberries from the local groceries, that the house across the street is for sale.  But I wouldn’t have any concept of the tragedies in Nepal, have read BuzzFeed’s bulletproof resumé advice, or know that John Kerry broke his leg in Europe earlier this week.

I’d be left in blissful, mind-numbing ignorance, but I’d be none the wiser.

I read articles, I follow journalists because there is always something more for me to gain.  I marvel at how I will never, ever stop learning in this life, so long as I choose to keep exploring.

Journalists pave the path for discovery, for intrigue, for curiosity.  We are forever indebted to their services, their tireless effort to share with us, the audience, another glimpse of the world beyond our front door.

So next time you share a story with a friend –– a story that took place beyond your ivory tower town –– pause, and retweet a journalist.  You only know so much as your fellow human beings let you know, so support the journalists who tire away for your attention.  They’re doing this for you.

Bethany N. Bella is studying Journalism, Political Science and Environmental Studies at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at bethanybella.com

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

The New Mobile: News For the Next Gen

The art of storytelling and the consumption of news are both timeless human habits, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the journalist’s craft disappearing into the ether, just yet.

What journalists should be monitoring (and monitoring very closely) is the method of news consumption and how that news is translated to a mass audience on a day-to-day basis.

Before the printed word, oral declarations and one-to-one conversations were the only mediums for audiences to internalize the news.  And after newspapers and pamphlets came about, the print method didn’t last forever, either – it was overcome by online news and the proliferation of the Internet at the end of the last century.  Now, mobile is to web as web was once to print.

News organizations have been scrambling to jump aboard the mobile train, for fear of losing yet another audience population practically programmed to tap-tap-tap away on their smartphones all the livelong day.

But will the mobile fever last, or will it disintegrate before companies like Apple and Samsung have a chance to engineer smartphones large enough to comfortably read articles online, while also allowing for other mobile transactions like phone calls and text messaging to take place? (Is such an invention even humanly possible?)

I had an interesting conversation about this mobile trend with Meghan Louttit, a multimedia editor at The New York Times, this past week at the Online News Association at Ohio University student group meeting.

Meghan suggested that her peer group is actually taking this trend in reverse – that the print editions of books and newspapers have become a novelty item, a vintage collectible of sorts that shouldn’t be counted out of the market so soon.

I was genuinely surprised.  Who would have thought that millennials in their twenties and thirties are starting to subscribe to the Sunday Times, when they should (in theory) be exclusively devoted to digital updates and alerts?

Maybe this is a small trend that will eventually fade into the LED-screen sunset, but it was an interesting trend to consider, nonetheless. (I believe one of my journalism professors in attendance assured me that I would have to pry his Kindle away from his cold, dead hands).

I’d like to issue a response on this notion: Will print news make a rebound, or will mobile phones and tablets continue to issue a new wave of technological news consumption?  Are you a devoted Apple consumer (iPad, iPad Mini), or have you branched out with a Windows or Kindle Fire tablet?  Have you transitioned to reading the news only on your phone, or do you prefer reading articles on the web (or the old-fashioned print way)?  Does this method of consumption change when you read fiction?

Email me responses at bethanynbella@yahoo.com or tweet them to me @bethanynbella.  I’m curious to know if I should (finally) invest in a tablet, and if so, which one.  Or should I stick it out and wait to subscribe to my local newspaper – when I start making an income of my own, that is.

I look forward to your replies.

Bethany N. Bella is studying at Strategic Communications and Environmental Political Science at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at bethanybella.com.

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Tablet or Traditional? News Consumption

One afternoon in my second semester at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, I grabbed a copy of the morning’s The New York Times, more on an impulse than as a conscious, consumer choice.

When you attend one of the top-ranked journalism schools in the country, reading and consuming news in the traditional sense (think thick, inky newspapers and ever-present CNN coverage) is standard – and addicting.

I was never a read-the-newspaper-every-day kind of person until I started rubbing elbows with other collegiate academics, most of whom keep a copy of the Times under their suit jackets, like an essential accessory.

Resorting to a classic case of peer pressure, I soon began plucking a Times from the shelf every day, skimming the headlines over morning coffee – you know, what ‘smart, news-engaged people’ do.

But then one morning, after having watched the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011) in my journalism class, I stared incredulously at my Times and thought, “Who have I become? A digital-age person caught in the mentality of a traditional news junkie, living in the past?”

It’s no secret: Print journalism is undergoing a massive revolution.

Some critics claim it’s dying. Either way, print journalism has suffered incredible losses in the past five years alone, thanks to a surge in online news consumption and mobile compatible content.

Page One took The New York Times as a case study in this traditional journalism dilemma – one of those elite print models that’s grappled with financial hardship and a rapidly evolving audience, all while the American technological age keeps plowing ahead.

I’ve been conditioned to think that a newspaper – real, heavy, ink-blotted paper – is the only respected or sophisticated method to consume daily news.

And yet, what was I getting out of this old model that my digital subscription to the Times couldn’t have provided as easily, or more conveniently?  Perceived intelligence or blind optimism?

I thought, if I only consume news through traditional mediums, and ignore digital media, I’m championing a sputtering art form.  Like supporting the Cleveland Browns, instead of finding another, more promising team to root for (my dad’s an ever-hopeful Browns fan, but I gave up on them years ago).

It’s time to face the facts: Newspapers aren’t the sole providers of news, anymore.

And I’m choosing to live in the future, and support the next wave of journalism distribution, with my smartphone, my laptop, and my thumbs.

For those who think (or desperately choose to believe) that the printed newspaper will ever dominate as the primary method of news consumption in the future? Join the digital wave, while you still can.

Bethany N. Bella is studying at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at bethanybella.com.

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Ask Questions, Get Answers

You know the phrase, ‘Ask and you shall receive’?  No other advice rings truer for young journalists who are itching to get out in the business.

It’s the classic professors’ ploy: “Questions? Anybody have questions?” The professor implores, as he paces the floor. More often than not, the room answers with squeaky shoe-shuffling. Students, especially prideful college students, are reluctant to admit what they don’t know.

But journalists are the curious ones of the bunch–the ones that ask questions to strangers over the phone; the ones that seek out sources, data, and numbers on the Internet.  So why are we still afraid to ask questions, when we’re practically spoon-fed opportunities to do so?

The journalism profession is hands down a learn-on-the-job kind of trade–don’t expect a morning lecture to earn you the keys to the kingdom of ledes.  There’s only so much knowledge a reporter can gain from reading a textbook before she just has to pick up the phone herself.

And as inexperienced, young journalists coming into college–feeling free, confident, and sometimes a little cocky–we need all the help we can get.

My advice for journalists-in-training is to always ask questions.  Even when you’re sitting in an Anthropology lecture on Gender and Ethnicity, challenge yourself to ask the professor–a well-learned scholar, no doubt–a question about his or her experiences pertaining to the topic at hand.  I bet you’ll walk away from the lecture feeling more engaged and more likely to remember the material for an exam (yes, journalists still need to pass exams).

But don’t just ask questions in the classroom.

Find other journalists working in the field and kindly ask for their advice.  Even better, find a journalist (or two) already doing what it is you aspire to do, and ask them how they got there. Chances are, you’ll receive some smart, succinct advice and a new ally in this competitive field.

Journalists already love talking to strangers, and what journalist wouldn’t enjoy an email or two to give his own advice, for a change?

Trust me: The professionals out there? They were college journalists once, too–surviving on coffee and late night snacks while trying to write that perfect nut graf.  Stay one step ahead, and keep asking questions. Pretty soon, you’ll have yourself some answers.

Bethany N. Bella is a multimedia journalist studying at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bnbjourno or browse her work at bethanybella.com.

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Should Students Pursue Journalism?

A headline from HuffPost Media this week stopped me in my Twitter-prowling tracks: “Employment Rates Are Improving For Everyone But Journalism Majors.”

My first reaction was to cringe. I’ve always considered myself capable of well-reasoned decisions. Prone to follow the logical path, I have a reputation of calculated intelligence.

So why was the most important decision of my academic career – to pursue an undergraduate degree in journalism – singled out as a seemingly embarrassing career choice?

It’s true: the odds aren’t exactly in my favor when it comes to a predictable job market in journalism.

With the decline of print newspapers and the surge in freemium, online news models, journalists must now enter the market with a secured internship or a potential job offering in mind – or risk getting swallowed up in the sea of unemployment.

Journalists-in-training like me are learning not only the basics of inverted pyramid structure and AP Style nuances but also the importance of networking and social connections. Because no matter how well a journalist can write, the business has become a who-knows-who arena of opportunities.

Eat or be eaten, as they say.

But despite these unfavorable odds of security and market prospects in the field of journalism, I couldn’t be more firm in my resolve to continue my journalism education.

Journalists are the gatekeepers of information – independent seekers of truth.

We ask the questions bubbling inside the human head.  We are animals of curiosity with a desire to inform, to educate, and to entertain our audiences.  We don’t just tell you what you want to know, but we tell you what you need to know.

My advice to young journalists: decide for yourself if this profession is merely a hobby or a lifelong devotion.

If you’re looking for a passive, ‘9-to-5’ work schedule, I’d suggest taking a different path. Those guarantees aren’t likely to come in a typical journalism job description.

But if you value the ability of language to shape and transform a community, stick with it.  Dream up a destination. Carve out a goal. Give yourself a concrete reason for persisting in this evolving and unpredictable craft.

Take the responsibility of finding and discovering the truth of our world into your hands. Own it. Embrace it.

I am proud to call myself a truth-seeking journalist. What could be a more honorable job description than that?

Bethany N. Bella is a multimedia journalist studying at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bnbjourno or browse her work at bethanybella.com

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Embrace the Age of Social Media

Social media–or what I like to call a journalist’s savior.

When I decided junior year of high school to become an environmental journalist, I assumed I’d just be writing stories for tree huggers; I never thought one day I would need to be marketing myself on the Internet, too, in order to survive this job.

Because of Tumblr blogs and Facebook status updates, tweets on Twitter and snaps on Snapchat, everyone in the digital age is now considered a storyteller–a title once earned only by those trained as professional journalists.

But now the lines have blurred:  Who can tell the news?  What is a credible news source?  Who can we trust for information?

Online journalism: it’s a relatively new term coined for the surge in digital readership, although I’d argue it’s both the present and the future of journalism as we know it.

And if you’re a journalist not active–or just a silent avatar–on Twitter and Facebook, you’re already irrelevant, lost in the fathoms of cyberspace and letting someone else tell your story.

I’m surprised that at this stage in the digital revolution there are still journalists who do not promote their own work–their livelihood–to readers online.

When I read an article from National Geographic or The New York Times, I expect to see who has written the article and find them on social media.

Maybe it’s a compulsive response as a nosy American, but I relish the opportunity to connect with the man or woman who has produced what I believe is a quality piece of news.

I want to know where they live, what they’re interested in, and what else they’ve written.

And just like me, your readers want to know the same thing about you as a journalist.

Accept the transparency of online journalism and embrace the curiosity of your readers.

Give them something to look at on social media. Show them you’re engaged in the digital age. Prove to them that you’re relevant, that you’re ‘tuned in’ to the information their thumbs so desperately crave. Give them a reason to trust in you as a credible news source.

And above all, give them a reason to return to you for future information.

Staying engaged with the current trends of American consumers–this is how you will survive and thrive as a journalist in the 21st century.

Bethany N. Bella is a multimedia journalist studying at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bnbjourno or browse her work at bethanybella.com.

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Cuba opens its door to U.S. journalists, but be careful

Flag of CubaA landmark diplomatic agreement between the United States and Cuba also opens a door to American journalists who encountered obstacles in glimpsing inside the closeted island nation over the past 50 years.

The agreement, which President Barack Obama outlined in a televised statement Wednesday, among other things eases travel restrictions for 12 economic, legal and social purposes and includes freer journalistic activities. Stringent entrance restrictions for journalists have been in place since the United States ended diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and embargoed trade in 1962.

The United Nations has condemned the embargo annually as inhumane since 1992. Cuba says the embargo has cost it more than $1 trillion in essential trade.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests,” Obama said in the broadcast. “… These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

Journalists generally needed expressed permission from both the U.S. and Cuban governments and were advised to carry an approved or stamped media pass from their employer and a few copies of previous bylined work to demonstrate employment. Freelance journalists, meanwhile, were required to carry a signed letter from their hiring editor saying they were on assignment for a specific purpose.

It’s not known yet to what extent restrictions will change.

But even with the door opening from the U.S. side, American journalists likely will find attitudes slow to adjust in Cuba. The nonprofit Reporters Without Borders says journalists from other nations are still detained in that country. Others have been accused of terrorism or beaten.

Cuba is No. 171 out of 179 nations on RWB’s 2013 Press Freedom Index.

“Anyone trying to disseminate opinions critical of the regime continues to be exposed to harassment, threats and arbitrary arrest,” RWB says. Internet use is also still strictly controlled through the purchase of expensive permits, though that is supposed to change under the new agreement.

Central to the agreement announced Wednesday was the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor arrested by the Cuban government in 2009 and sentenced in 2011 for traveling with telecommunications equipment and using a mobile phone in violation of that government’s regulations.

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