Journalism

I’ve largely retired as a digital-media consultant (for reasons explored here), but I remain keenly interested in the opportunities and challenges posed by the digital world, with a particular interest in sports news and sportswriting. Digital gurus who don’t understand sports are missing essential trends and experiments they need to know about: There is no longer any serious argument within sports departments about the need to be digital-first, the rhythms and metabolism of sports coverage and consumption are now almost wholly digital, and the audience demand for up-to-the-minute sports information and analysis is off the charts compared with any other aspect of the news industry. If you want to know where the future of news is brightest, it’s right here.

I’m a former adjunct faculty member at the Poynter Institute, and spent a year as an ombudsman for ESPN as part of the Poynter Review Project. That role grew out of a weekly digital-sportswriting column I wrote for Indiana University’s National Sports Journalism Center. Nineteen of my best NSJC columns have been collected — along with new material – as an ebook, Sportswriting in the Digital Age. It’s got a wealth of practical advice about writing for the web, blogging, using social media, access and coverage, and how new digital outlets and habits are remaking journalism careers and the practices of athletes, agents, teams and leagues. Oh, and it’s cheap. Check it out in Kindle format from Amazon here, from Barnes & Noble here, or from Smashwords (PDF and other formats) here. Or you can get it through Apple’s online bookstore.

Other thoughts on the challenges and opportunities for digital-age journalism are archived at my blog Reinventing the Newsroom.

My background: I caught the journalism bug in high school, working with X-Actos and paste-up, cut my teeth as an intern for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Fresno Bee before they ever had Web sites, and earned my first regular paycheck working for an environmental trade pub in Washington, D.C. I was hired by The Wall Street Journal Online in the fall of 1995, when it was a single section (in battleship gray) and had yet to charge a subscription fee. In nearly 13 years at WSJ.com I was a reporter, columnist, editor, blogs guru and special-reports guy. Increasingly, I found myself the editorial guy in the room with the developers and the business people, because I could translate what they wanted into newsroom resources and figure out what we could do, what we couldn’t do, and what we could do if a few things worked differently. I learned how to tell when the challenges we faced were technological and when they were cultural — and when the two had become so tangled up that reinventive surgery was called for.

And — because there’s no such thing as writing too much — I started up a co-written blog about the New York Mets. Faith and Fear in Flushing began as an experiment and wound up being the wisest thing I ever did as a professional writer. Singing for my supper without a newspaper’s name behind me taught me about creating traffic, engaging readers and building community — and showed me that every writer has to think of himself or herself as a brand.

I’ve learned that journalists have to adapt in a host of ways to the tumult of the digital world. We have to be prepared to write stories multiple times for multiple channels. We have to adapt our writing to new styles, understanding that the same tone doesn’t work for an article and a blog post and that Web audiences want a more-personal connection with writers. We have to make ourselves into micro-brands within our publications, engaging readers with not only our writing but with blogs, chats, social media and video. Above all else, we must understand news organizations as a business, learning about traffic, time on site, sharing and other things once left to the business side of the house.

This new world is sometimes daunting, but none of this stuff is as hard as writing on an old green-screen terminal, or rearranging columns with an X-Acto. And it brings its own rewards in an immediacy of impact and a deeper engagement with readers.

Below are some of my efforts to come to grips with where journalism is and where it needs to go:

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