The Best Media Writing of the Week

On Photojournalism's Death, iPad's Limits for Magazines, Freelancer Malnutrition and Social-Media 'Strategy'

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There's no better story for our linkbaiting times than the declaration of the death of something. The journalistic equivalent of putting down the chest paddles, giving a solemn nod and intoning the time of expiration of some institution, practice or even industry has become a source of life or, at least, traffic for many a web news property. One of the better instances of this macabre genre to pop up recently is Neil Burgess' tolling of the bell for photojournalism. That the sentiment -- that news photographers are now there to cover events, not issues -- comes from the head of a photography agency make the piece all the more powerful.

We should stop talking about photojournalists altogether. Apart from a few old dinosaurs whose contracts are so long and retirement so close that it's cheaper to keep them on, there is no journalism organization funding photographers to act as reporters. A few are kept on to help provide 'illustration' and decorative visual work, but there is simply no visual journalism or reportage being supported by so called news organizations.

Jeff Jarvis is often grating, usually correct and always relevant. So it's an educative moment when a post on his influential BuzzMachine fits into a happy place on that matrix. "Whither Magazines?" qualifies as such a post. Written in the wake of the news that Time Inc. is getting set to replace CEO Ann Moore with former Meredith big Jack Griffin, the piece identifies eight bits of actionable advice for publishers as they try to stop the bleeding of their businesses. It's as useful and concise a digest of where the industry needs to go as you're likely to find. And it doesn't hurt that Mr. Jarvis is quick to cut through the digital snake-oil act Steve Jobs has been performing for all those desperate mongers of gloss:

The iPad is not, not your salvation. Oh, it's nice and elegant but your editors are leading you over the lemmings' cliff because they think the public wants the world packaged just as they used to package it. The link robbed them of that control forever. And that's great news to you because you can now listen to your customers, your readers, instead of your editors. You can escape the cost and tyranny of editorial ego and determine what the community wants most. Fine, have apps. But the winner in your war, friends, will be the one who breaks out of the old models and scales to enable a huge community instead of a small audience.

Nick Denton's regular emails to his Gawker Media staff should be a monthly joy for anyone who works in digital publishing. The short, funny missives listing the company's top stories for the prior month are a baring of the soul of web journalism -- and that soul is made of a Google Docs spreadsheet. It shows Denton to be entirely comfortable with his company's editorial amorality as well as its apathy towards the journalistic conventions that once structured the priorities of major news gathering organizations -- notions such as "public service." The main point of Denton's most recent email is that there is, as he put it, "too much news on the web; and way too little explanation." And here he adds some demographic color:

There were four stories featuring teenagers in the top 20; the 11-year-old girl abused by the evil trolls of 4chan; the 15-year-old who tricked Apple; the 17-year-old who swapped a phone for a Porsche; and the 19-year old extorted by the world's worst person. In terms of web interest, we know that female trumps male. Youth also trumps age.

Meghan Daum's "My Misspent Youth," published over a decade ago in The New Yorker, still stands as the best piece on the urban freelance existence and what it does to the soul and the FICO score. But this week former New York freelancer and new Memphis newspaper reporter Richard Morgan did the genre right with his "Seven Years as A Freelance Writer, or How to Make Vitamin Soup," published in The Awl. As you'd expect, Morgan details all the shoddy treatment at the hands of editors and the penniless existence in an entertaining enough way, even if it's difficult at times not to wince at the extreme whininess of such a project. After all, deciding to become a magazine writer as magazines suffer massive new competition for advertisers and readers is tough but not quite akin to being enslaved and thrust into the skin trade. What saves him is that he can write. Anyway, here's the vitamin soup part:

Freelancing means walking from the West Village to the Upper East Side and back because you don't have enough money for the subway. Freelancing means being so poor and so hungry for so long that you "eat" a bowl of soup that's just hot water, crushed-up multivitamins and half your spice rack (mostly garlic salt).

Social-media blather is an easy target that's already riddled with bullets but, apparently, there's still flesh left to wound. I'm not sure when this naughty little macaroon of a website popped up, but What the F*** Is My Social Media "Strategy"? caught on this week. It's simple. When you go to the site, you're greeted with some sort of new-marketing evangelist crap, like:

Provide brand ambassadors with compelling conversation hooks to enter into communities and fuel advocacy

Should that strategy not fit your needs, you can click for another and so on and so forth until you have the relevant and engaging content that you and your audience of stakeholders need. The sad thing is that some of this "advice" has already been plugged into decks.

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