Two more interesting stories today. One is by former Herald colleague Jack Sullivan examines a Boston racism Twitter scandal that actually didn’t exist. The other from the Washington Post is on the alarming lack of women in top media positions.
Not all Tweets are created equal.
A colleague directed me today to this NPR story about the agonizing effort that advertisers put into their Tweets and other forms of social media. Imagine Don Draper and his crew, huddled around a table, but instead of concocting a story board, they are crafting the best 140 characters to sell a product or service. According to the report, a corporate tweet can be 45 days “in the making.” Said reporter Aaron Taube, “For instance, at this past year’s Super Bowl, Hyundai set up a war-room, and they had 30 people watching the game together and it was everyone from the head of integrated marketing to a caricaturist.” They were waiting to tweet anything that related to Hyundai.
Later my Twitter feed sent me to a story in the Onion about arguments among the Cheetos Social Media team arguing over whether a tweet really reflected Chester Cheetah’s voice. “You know that Chester would not say the word ‘snacking,’ he’d say ‘snackin.’ Chester is a smooth, cool cat. This tweet is not smooth or cool,” one manager angrily declared.
The Onion is a faux news site…. or is it? What does Chester say?
What are the fundamentals of professional writing?
That question was put to the MAPW Advisory Board, a board composed of working professionals and educators in journalism, public relations, specialty publications and other areas. The board meet in May to discuss a broad range of issues about the best practices for teaching professional writing today. Here is the list that the board developed. Please feel free to comment and add your suggestions as well.
- Learn AP style and other tools of grammar and structure
- Learn to write on deadline or in a time-crunch situation. Practice organizing information quickly and effectively
- How to take notes, traditionally and using latest technology. How to record video, audio.
- Practice basic reporting skills.
- Interviewing techniques – how to conduct sensitive interviews.
- How to organize thoughts in real time. Planning an interview and structuring it so you obtain the information you need in a focused way; thinks about what you want to accomplish.
- Learn how to do research in multiple ways.
- Know the difference among different kind of copy, such as PR pitches, news stories, features, press releases.
- Read the best of what is out there: Columnists, magazines, blogs. Reading makes for better writing.
- Explore reviewing, what it means to be a critic and how they are under pressure to put out information very quickly.
- Learn how to handle comments from readers/consumers.
- Learn to deal with an assortment of social media. Use it to see what’s out there. Don’t use it merely as a headline generator.
- Acquire good Power Point presentation skill. Learn to host, not just write. What you write may end up being read.
- Be able to pitch a story. This can require knowledge of global markets.
- Learn “what tells a story.”
Members of the MAPW Advisory board include: J.P. Faiella, CEO of Image Unlimited Communications; Adam Gaffin, Founder, CEO and Chief Troublemaker at Universal Hub; Renee Graham, Senior Writer, Suffolk Alumni Magazine; Lily Lynch, Communications Director, Massachusetts Nonprofit Network; Danielle McLean, President, New England Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists, Wicked Local reporter; Michael Rutter, Communications Director, HarvardX, Public Affairs and Communications; Joseph Sciacca, Editor-in-chief, Boston Herald; Nichole Vecchiotti, publisher Union Park Press; Lyn Whinston-Perry, Executive Editor, Journal Watch Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Massachusetts Medical Society; Kathleen Caruso, editor, MIT Press.
Social media has become so deafening that it’s hard to believe that it’s still a mewling infant. Facebook is only about 10 years old, Twitter dates to 2006 and the World Wide Web itself goes back to 1989.
If the history of social media were a game, we would be just about to start the first inning, as Victor Lee, vice president of digital marketing at Hasbro, told an audience at the Public Relations Society of America-Boston’s Third Annual Social Media Summit on May 21. Which is something we must keep in mind as we increasingly adopt new social media — we are still working out what all this will mean.
Social media is one big baby: According to Lee who did not cite any particular sources: 4.5 billion “likes” are posted on Facebook daily; the total number of likes has reached 1.13 trillion. And now we have Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, and other apps that are are still a twinkle in a developer’s eye.
The summit panelists described some of what they have done in bringing up baby. They post recipes and pointers on Facebook; they create forums for feedback – even if negative – or for sharing stories about the product. Emily Brutti of Ocean Spray described how the company responded with a crazy video challenge to Jimmy Fallon who harped on the need for cranberry jelly single slices. Last check: 10,000 plus views.
Consumers have more and more social media outlets to complains about (or sometimes extol) products and services. The smart company realizes this and finds an appropriate way to embrace feedback. You have to be out there to deal with comments – you have to be humble and acknowledge your mistakes, the panelists said. Explain as you would to a friend in real language, not corporate double-speak.
But the panelists were fairly honest about one thing – they are not quite sure where this is all going even if it’s clear they had to get on the train. A number admitted to using sites like Google+ without being sure what benefit they provide; they just wanted to not miss anything. Others were more specific about which social media works for them – and which didn’t. Pick and choose your outlet, they said.
A line from that old Motown hit song, “War, what is it good for? “kept running through my head during the summit. Yeah, we know we need social media but panelists did not have many specific examples about exactly how Twitter increased sales or how Facebook improved profits. Social media falls into an area that is hard to quantify – like brand identity or loyalty. We need it, but what is it good for? Absolutely … something.
In my years in various newsrooms, I have watched many upper-level editors – both men and women – get the ax. Most firings, I would say, were based on performance, record and other factors and, on the whole, I seldom disagreed with the firing. But there are often many, many people in an organization – a corporation, a newsroom, a school – who are incompetent or barely competent, disorganized, petty, lazy, unpleasant but who somehow survive year after year. Colleagues shake their heads and wonder why do the fates favor this person? A deal with the devil? Reward for a past life well spent? Sometimes I have seen folks let go for what were purely personal issues with a manager or (rarely) an underling. And while I’ve seen men and women fired in equal numbers, I can say this with certainty: The women were usually fired more quickly than the men. With a few exceptions, males were allowed to continue with incompetent, even abusive or lazy behavior for far longer than their female counterparts. Yes, they were often eventually fired. But they seemed to last longer as top management failed to act.
This principle appears to be operational in the very public firing of Jill Abrahamson as executive editor of the New York Times after three years. Social media and pundits have lined up to declare Abraham was a victim of sexism, or that she was “overpaid and self-pitying” (the New York Post) or that she and the Times owner just “had difficult relations, which only frayed with time,” as Ken Auletta wrote in The New Yorker.
Without denying that Abrahamson made mistakes, Amanda Bennett, who had been likewise fried from the position of editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote of the double standards applied to the genders: “Men with even more spectacular and difficult flaws than ours get not only longer tenures but also much softer and more dignified landings.
We’ve come a long way, baby – of that I’m sure. But we still need to level the playing field for beginnings and for endings.
UPDATE. May 22
Roger, we are ready to launch.
The first MAPW class, on Grant Writing, meets this Tuesday. I will be sitting in on the class — I’m always interesting in learning ways to get money. In this case, however, it’s for worthy causes or organizations.
In July, our Multimedia, Social Media and Software class for the Professional Writer will run. Our slogan: It’s a Tweet or Be Tweeted World.
This past Tuesday, the first advisory board meeting for the program was held with a wide variety of reporters, editors, educators, PR professionals and bloggers/online experts. The meeting was excellent and I will blog about the issues we discussed when I gather my notes. But here’s the takeaway: Even amid the vast amount of media being produced — the tweets, Facebook posts, texts, citizen blogging — all agreed there still is a crying need for responsible, trained professional writers who can act as gatekeepers who can try to ensure accuracy and fairness.
Columnist Alex Beam is my favorite curmudgeon. I have adored his smart and sour writing for years. I probably disagree with his politics – mostly – but you can’t argue with snark, you just gotta ride with it. Beam was a long-time columnist for the Boston Globe and remains a contributor. He’s an author; his latest is American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church.” One would think he was living easy, given his long career, credentials, fellowships and awards.
So it was a bit surprising, even for a professional bearer of dour tidings, to read his recent column on “Writing is bad for your wealth.” Which basically reiterates a frequent lament that writers don’t make much money. One wonders if Beam looked at his most recent royalty statement and Globe pension and then sat down at his computer to grouse.
Coincidentally, this quote by the ever acerbic Dorothy Parker (above) has been making the rounds on Facebook. A friend told me about seeing it and then it popped up on my news feed which is heavy on writing-types. Writers tend to glory in their penury — quality, we insist, does not necessarily equal a fat paycheck. Unlike other professions, we can take comfort in the “fact” that money is no indication of ability. We are all poor geniuses, right? Still we brood (as does Beam) about the writer who scores the six-figure advance or gets a fat contract for his/her insipid but curiously compelling blogging.
As someone who has made a living (more or less) from writing for 40 years now , I have to admit that it’s not a field with the income security of say, advance computer programming or being a Kardashian. And yet it is a honorable (more or less) profession and I would not trade my experiences for anything. The same is likely true of Beam. Sure, we bemoan the decline of newspapers and magazines and the enforced brevity of Twitter or the often incoherent rants of pj-clad bloggers. But there are more outlets and more opportunities today for writing than I ever dreamed of when I started covering county fairs and traffic accidents for a little hometown newspaper back in the dark ages.
Today, if you want to write, you are less dependent on those bitter stonewalls called “Editors” or “Publishers.” A. J. Liebling — another fabulous curmudgeon – once wrote, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Well, we can all own our own press today, whether you use the podium wisely or not.
Getting paid for writing? Aye, there’s the rub. No question making a living at writing can be tough. Then again, with all the content being created for the Web, there is a crying (if not wailing) need for writers with style, skill and grammatical abilities. Working a day job is a long-honored practice of novelists. But there are plenty of writing opportunities in the nonprofit world and many creative positions in the for-profit world. Writers with multimedia skills, such as video, and social media mien will be increasingly in demand as companies and organization strive to cut through the electronic clutter with sharp, sizzling prose and valid information.
Dorothy Parker might say, “They shoot young writers, don’t they?” Naw. The kids will be asked to blog or Twitter about it first..