Hilarious skit by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert for the Chicago Gridiron Show

where the mind goes
where the mind goes (Photo credit: sally garden)

Sponsored by the Chicago Headline Club, the Gridiron Show skewered local politics and media from 1987 to 1997.  A labor of love by a kooky bunch of journalists, pr peeps and politicians, it was also a benefit for student scholarships. This bit between Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert is laughing out loud funny. Writing is attributed to  Adam Ritt, with tweaks by the critics themselves. The video is out of synch but listen to the audience response.

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Do you write for free? Of course—kick some sand in my face!


Nate Thayer tells a story about his negotiations with The Atlantic over writing a story specifically for them, where the “They pay us with bylines” meme is taken to an absurd level. They ask him to write for free.

Read the email exchange and weep!

I can  share a story of my own.  It’s not exactly about journalism but it’s about what we journalists go through trying to make a living with our skills as communicators.

A few weeks back, I got an email from a recruiting firm about a “ghost” blogging job for the CEO of a high tech firm. I figured this was a small start-up company but I like those and said I was interested. I received a call from the young lady who breathlessly asked me to report for an interview with her agency, telling me “The company will probably want to hire you tomorrow!” I rearranged my schedule and went downtown and signed some endless paperwork presumably so the recruiters could present me to the client. In my conversation with the recruiters, I  learned the name of the company. It was a multi-billion dollar financial services company, and I knew a bit about their business having covered some of what they do while Real Estate Editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. I also was able to easily research back through their layers of management to see that despite the happy contemporary face they marketed to the world, it was in reality a refreshed online version of predatory lending run by the old school billionaire bunch.  I figured working for them was a bit like working for Satan but what’s a hungry journalist to do?

Of course, I conveyed none of this knowledge to the recruiter. I figured they could afford to pay a decent hourly rate given their size. The recruiters seemed very excited about my credentials, and my potential with the client.

About one week later the recruiter called to say that the firm had found someone else to do the ghost blogging for them. “They found someone to do it pro bono,” she said, her voice quivering a little.

Hmm, I thought. That’s a tidy slap in the face.

I suspect forces at work here beyond just the simple monetary dynamics of the job. Through LinkedIn, I learned that the person making the hiring decision had a very high level public affairs position and was undoubtedly familiar with my critical coverage of the greedy tactics endemic to lending during the real estate bubble in the mid-oughts. That likely played into the company’s decision.  But that’s a connection the young recruiters would not have made. Who knows if they really landed a blogger for free.

So think about this the next time you meet an under-employed journalist. If she did a good job watchdogging her beat, the industry she reported on might not value her insight and talents. In fact, they might want to kick sand in her figurative face now that she is no longer protected by the legal and salary resources of a newsroom.  As much as the public needed to know the truth, that industry needed for her to shut up.

Truth is not necessarily the hallmark of public relations. And that’s what a good journalist does her best to deliver – the truth.

It’s just one of the many complexities journalists face when looking for work.

It was not bylined work, so they were not paying to access any of my journalistic “halo.” As a digital producer, I do help folks with marketing but not with my byline. You can’t pay me to say good things about you under my byline – which is solidly attached to my reputation as a journalist. I write about this in a Medium piece called The Byline that Can’t be Bought.

Hire me full time and take me captive with a salary, benefits and fully disclosed affiliation to do your marketing – with this I would gladly cross the street. Do you find this confusing? If so, let me know.


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Can your trusted personal brand earn your pay?

Embedly Powered

via TED

Ask. Connect. Be vulnerable. That’s what Amanda Palmer says fuels her musical earnings in this moving and persuasive Ted talk.

Is trust the currency that will pay for local news? Can your trusted brand as a journalist pay for the work you do? Maybe the answer  depends on some key things.  Does your news come from the heart of your community? Does your audience value your work as much as you do?

If they do, maybe 1000 true fans is all you need. If not, how can you adjust to the needs of your audience?

Think about it — how has trust fueled your news site? How can you create more of it?

Or is Palmer’s talk another case of persuasive propaganda fueling a misty-eyed view of the Internet? News sites, you tell me. Are we just tilting at windmills here?

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Can 1,000 true fans make a living for journalists?

Journalists and niche sites looking for a revenue model are just a peek around the corner from what looks like some workable answers. If you are conversing with your audience in a way that is relevant to them, and you ask them for support they will be there. That is if the principle of 1,000 true fans proves true for news as for other kinds of bloggers, curators and synthesizers.

Obviously, the power of passionate followers is not news to folks like Maria Popova and her Brain Pickings as Felix Salmon points out in his recent post for Reuters. And Andrew Sullivan, in a much reported move, recently went public with The Daily Dish. My Continue reading Can 1,000 true fans make a living for journalists?

New reward — “Get our Homicide Data!” a smart idea hits the real world on Kickstarter

Crime-Scene-Tape3NOTE: I don’t know exactly what happened but this post was up and was kicked down along with the rest of my site. The Homicide KickStarter project was successfully funded Sept. 13 by 1,110 backers who pledged $47,450 total. As it turns the founders didn’t get any bites from newsrooms that wanted to buy their  homicide data crunching services, but the following items did sell. 

Pledge $500 ore more.
4 Backers Limited (6 of 10 left)

Lunch with Homicide Watch founding editor and 2013 Nieman-Berkman fellow Laura Amico at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

Pledge $1,000 or more

 1 Backer Limited (29 of 30 left)

Year in Review Sponsor. You get a preview of our 2012 Year in Review, plus a skype chat with the reporters putting it together, plus a sponsorship message, link and image on the splash page. This sponsorship won’t expire. You’ll also receive the entire collection of Year in Review stories packaged as a ebook.

Pledge $5,000 or more

 1 Backer Limited (4 of 5 left)

The Homicide Watch team will guest teach a class or lecture for an audience of your choice.

Looks like some folks with money see value in what Homicide Watch can teach them about being innovative in journalism.
Read my Huffington Post column on Homicide Watch.

 A One Year Student Reporting Lab within Homicide Watch DC by Homicide Watch » New Reward: Get Our Data! — Kickstarter.

This provokes some questions. The big resistance by government to opening data back when I was in government was that data was a potential revenue source for government. Of course, they were not necessarily thinking of crime data in this way, but other types of data was considered to be very valuable and government was making big money by selling it. Now here’s a new groups selling it, so how is that different?  so

Back in June, we published a six-month review of homicides in 2012: Decreases in Gun, Domestic Violence, at Forefront of 6-month Homicide Decline.

The story, which included a map and summation of half a year’s stats, took us about four hours to complete. We never had to file a FOIA. We just asked questions and our database started pouring out answers.

  • How many murders have happened this year, compared to this time last year?
  • Who were the youngest and oldest victims?
  • How many cases have at least one suspect under arrest?
  • What is the racial and gender makeup of victims (and suspects)?
  • Where did most homicides happen?

These are questions every news organization should be able to answer. We collect this information as part of our reporting process and store it in our custom-built database. Now you can use the same data.

For every victim and suspect, we collect a name, age, race and gender. For victims, we also record a date of death, homicide method (shooting, stabbing, etc), place of death (hospital or at the scene) and incident location. For suspects, we record arrest dates and case status.

If you work for a news organization, think about how long it would take to gather all of this information.

We’ll export the data at your request, so you can ask in September (when this campaign ends) or in January (if you want two calendar years) or any time later.


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Narrowcasts showcase creativity on social Web

The social Web challenges me to get out of my way and to think anew about whatever it is that I am doing – whether it is washing dishes or crafting a Tweet. But still it’s easy to get stuck in a mindset that values fast and efficient over fun and meandering. It’s a times like these that I go mingle with the creatives to recharge with what’s new and exciting. It’s in these creative narrowcasts where I find the passion of fandom unleashing the potential of the social Web.

If you don’t get off Facebook much, you might want to meander around Kickstarter and see what’s playing front page. Your friends or your kids have probably sent you to this service that provides a great set of tools — from video to messaging to marketing advice — to help you fundraise for your project. There’s one caveat. You have a deadline for raising your nut and if you don’t make it, you’re out. A stroll around Kickstarter is always amazing , often moving and usually inspiring. Seeing others creations might give you some ideas for your own.

This week, I stumbled upon a Kickstarter project: Good Ol’ Freda. Freda Kelly was the secretary for The Beatles from the early days at the Cavern Club until 1970. She’s still a secretary and until now has been mum about her life with the fab four. Now she’s opened up her scrapbooks to a filmmaker and they are looking to raise $50,000 by Nov. 12 for their film project. Shes offering all kinds of goodies in exchange for your donation.

Another place to easily get lost in a wonderland is YouTube. And not just in the old music video section. There’s real talent at work here making excellent niche TV shows that are better than the best of Hollywood, precisely because they are so deeply engaging with their audiences. A fan girl friend recently pointed me toward Issa Rae’s “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” which Rae creates and stars in. The production values and acting are very good. But the writing is superb and funny.

Or if you are feeling geeky, you can head on over to the Twit netcast network, “Netcasts you love from people you trust.” Here you’ll find some inspiration for that underused conference room, that yoga studio that’s empty during the day or the slow time at the café in the afternoon. Set up a stage and some talkative folks and you have a TV show. OK. The folks on This Week in Google aren’t every day people — they are some of the Internet’s most prominent thinkers — but you never know what talent lives in your building or up the block.

I was bungling around on Facebook and found actor friend Don Bender is involved in a new online theaterical production by Jamil Khoury, Silk Road Rising, which he says is engaging theater onstage and online around important issues. His play, Mosque Alert, is about “Two suburban American families living in Naperville, IL -one Christian, the other Muslim- find their lives torn apart by a proposal to build a new mosque in their community.”

Khoury says:

In the hopes of generating deeper engagement around this issue, I have designed a ten-step, interactive, on-line, new play development process that will assist me in developing and writing my play “Mosque Alert.” Viewers are encouraged to both influence and assist me as I pen this new play.

My ten step artistic process allows each participant to act as co-creator throughout the entire development cycle. I like to think of it as a spiritual convening of the individual with the art.

Each of these is a narrowcast co-creation with a passionate audience. It’s the way the future of the Internet is rolling out. There are millions of ideas blossoming. Yours could be one of them. If you know who your people are, you can find your idea. It can be as simple to execute [the writing wasn’t simple] as a humorous tweetalogue like Dan Sinker’s Mayor Emanuel, which started as an anonymous satire of then Chicago Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel and ended up as a book. Or it can be as elaborate as a traveling global round robin musical like Playing for Change, which made its name with Stand by Me. Take some time to stroll around and fire your imagination. Let us know what you find and most important what you and your colleagues dream up for yourselves. We’d love to hear about it.

Sally Duros loves to find out-of-the-way online adventures to write about. She is a social journalist and digital storyteller, whom you can connect with on  and twitter at saduros.
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