Writer’s Lifeguard: Let’s Learn to Fly

Posted on | January 2, 2015 | No Comments

By Jules Older
Writer’s Life­guard
Jan­u­ary 1, 2015

Guess who’s talk­ing, and who put the words in their mouths:

Jules Older

Jules Older

They thought about how good that ice cream tasted.

They thought about how much more fun it was to eat ice cream than to mop floors or mash up beef livers.

They thought about how, if the Fairy God­mother granted them three wishes, the first two would involve ice cream.

Then Ben said, “Yeah, but whad­daya’ wanna’ do, Jer’?”

And Jerry shouted, “BREAKTHROUGH!”

Ben looked at his pal the way you look at some­body when you’ve said, “Nice day, isn’t it?” and they’ve screamed “EASTER BUNNY!”

Uh, whad­daya’ mean, ‘Break­through,’ Jer’?”

I mean… I mean… Ben, look at me.  What are we doing?”

Sit­ting here try­ing to fig­ure out how to make a lit­tle money.”

And what else are we doing?

Eat­ing ice cream.”

Exactly.”

Yeah, but what does—”

Don’t you see?  That’s how we’ll make money!”

Eat­ing ice cream?  Jerry, nobody will pay us to eat— ”

No, man— we’re not just gonna’ eat ice cream.  Man, we’re gonna’ make ice cream!  Can you dig it?”

Ben sat and thought.  He licked his ice cream cone.  The straw­berry tasted good.  He licked some more.  He thought some more.

Slowly, slowly, ever-so-slowly, a lit­tle smile crept onto Ben’s face.

The smile grew into a grin.

The grin grew into a laugh.

The laugh grew into a great big, ear-to-ear, shoulder-shaking, thigh slap­ping, nose snort­ing, tears-in-your-eyes, choke-on-your-sugar-cone, hee-haw hee-haw, wide­belly laugh.

Ben clapped Jerry on the back and yelled,

I CAN DIG IT!”

 

Right. Ben & Jerry said it. Who wrote it?

I did. Years ago in a kid’s book called BEN & JERRY: THE REAL SCOOP.

And their words sprang to mind on Sun­day, on a walk down by the San Fran­cisco Bay. Effin and I were hav­ing The Seri­ous Writer Talk.

You know the talk. Don’t like the way things are look­ing… the writing’s on the wall, the base­ment wall… gotta find a new path… maybe improve the web­site… any money in blogs? Ebooks, then? Twit­ter? Mon­e­tize. SEO. Ads. Kin­dle. Book­Baby. ROI. Plat­form­Brand­So­cial­me­di­aP­in­ter­estVine. We have to find a new way ‘cause the old one ain’t workin’ any more.

Now, we’re really depressed. We kinda’ slump toward home until, halfway up Polk Street, I stop and shout, “BREAKTHROUGH!”

WHAT?” says Effin, sound­ing star­tled and maybe a wee bit concerned.

We’ve been think­ing about this all wrong.”

Ye—esss?”

The ship is sink­ing, and we’re apply­ing sun­screen. The car’s on fire, and we’re clean­ing the ash­tray. The plane—”

Jules!”

Right. No more analo­gies. As writ­ers, we’re in the midst of an epic change, fac­ing an ever-growing cri­sis, and we’re think­ing small. We’re think­ing that a new web­site or a bet­ter ebook for­mat will improve our lot. The engine room’s flooded, and… no more analo­gies. We have to think big­ger. Much, way big­ger. We can’t keep paint­ing the deck when the ship is going dow… or the writer’s equivalent.”

Ri-ight. So what do you think we should do?”

I … I don’t know. I have some ideas, but I don’t know. Here’s what I do know. We are on the sink­ing ship of dis­ap­pear­ing mar­kets, ter­ri­ble con­tracts, plum­met­ing incomes, hol­low promises – CONTENT IS KING! — and we’re sur­rounded by cir­cling sharks. This isn’t the time to repaint the rail­ings. This is the time to learn to fly.”

Got a flight plan, Jules?”

No, but I have those ideas. And I know who has more. I’m putting out the call.”

Writer’s Life­guards! SOS! MAYDAY! We need a BREAKTHROUGHAnd in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the dig­i­tal sea… we need to THINK BIG! And learn to fly.

My own thoughts are below, but before you read them, I urge you — think big, your­self. You may come up with way bigger/bolder/better ideas than mine. After you….

OK, here goes Jules:

Emu­late. Through fat times and lean, there’s one group of writ­ers that does spec­tac­u­larly well. Its mem­bers have, believe it or not, great con­tracts, high pay, even real med­ical and retire­ment plans. No, I’m not mak­ing this up. I’m talk­ing about the screen­writ­ing mem­bers of the Writ­ers Guild of Amer­ica. When a union movie makes money, the writer shares in the bounty. When a script is bought, but the movie’s not made, the writer still gets paid – well paid. When resid­u­als are owed, the WGA col­lects them for you. When the union says, “They’re try­ing to screw us — down tools!” no work gets done. These are writ­ers liv­ing well off their writ­ing. Feed­ing their fam­i­lies, send­ing their kids to col­lege. Maybe we should emu­late them. And, as they did, orga­nize.

Own it. This is far riskier — some­thing like 80% of star­tups fail. But 20% suc­ceed, and in times when the fail­ure rate feels closer to 95%, those odds look con­sid­er­ably bet­ter. So, own it. Start your own Dig­i­tal Age pub­lish­ing com­pany, video pro­duc­tion out­fit, niche mag­a­zine, [fill in the blank here]. DIY.

Help me help you. Teach oth­ers to become writ­ers. I don’t mean soak new­bies by pre­tend­ing that you know the road to riches; I mean show them what writ­ing is all about. Between uni­ver­sity, school and library teach­ing (usu­ally, through my course, Writ­ing For Real) and run­ning our own day­long work­shops (travel writ­ing, children’s writ­ing, gen­eral writ­ing) and Effin’s tutor­ing, we’ve prob­a­bly made more money show­ing than doing.

Go Con­trar­ian. This came to me when I was growl­ing at my once-favorite air­line. They’re fol­low­ing other car­ri­ers in offer­ing less for more, sell­ing lunches at inflated prices, nickel and dim­ing at every oppor­tu­nity. I think they — and we — should go the oppo­site route. Give more, be nicer, make folks want to fly with us. One way — if you decide to Own it (see above) — treat your writ­ers well. If they sur­vive the shock, they’ll move moun­tains for you.

Stop writ­ing for table scraps. Just say no. Like I did last month:

Thank you for the invitation.

Until I got to the line that read, we’re not bud­geted to pay writ­ers, I was excited that you’re open­ing a new out­let on skiing.

I want to sug­gest that not pay­ing writ­ers is a bad way to begin. Offer­ing “expo­sure” only makes it worse. Peo­ple die of exposure.

Like ski instruc­tors, wait­ers, plumbers and pub­lish­ers, writ­ers must be paid. It’s the pay that allows us to keep writing.

So thank you for the invi­ta­tion. I invite you to recon­sider your posi­tion on not pay­ing writers.

And last week:

How does that grab you, Jules?

Badly. I’m a pro­fes­sional, not a hob­by­ist. Would love to, but not if it means sell­ing out my fam­ily and my fel­low writ­ers. And it does.

So, that’s my BREAKTHROUGH.

What’s yours, pussycat?

— jules

Writer’s Lifeguard: Sports Reporter, Age 12

Posted on | January 1, 2015 | No Comments

Writer’s Life­guard
By Jules Older

I had no plans to send you any­thing today. We have fam­ily here; you prob­a­bly have fam­ily there. But when I opened today’s San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle, I saw a piece by Life­guard Al Sarace­vic that I couldn’t resist. 

Happy hols and here tis …

— jules

 

By Al Sarace­vic
Dec. 28, 2014

The tagline made me leery. We get a lot of queries from peo­ple who want into the sports­writ­ing business.

Jack Kelley Sports Reporter

Jack Kel­ley
Sports Reporter

I’ve always loved the Giants and thought I’d be a great colum­nist for you.” Or, “You peo­ple are idiots. I could do a bet­ter job than any of you.” That sort of thing is pretty common.

But I clicked on the mes­sage any­way, against my bet­ter judg­ment. What came up on my screen that day in May turned out to be my favorite e-mail of the year. I thought I’d share it here, with The Sport­ing Green faith­ful, as a hol­i­day gesture.

Here’s what the note said:

Hello! My name is Jack Kelley,

I am 12 years old, I love sports, and I love to write. I was won­der­ing if it was pos­si­ble for me to write for the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle. I am a big fan, (both of the Chron­i­cle and about San Fran­cisco sports teams) and I want to take my sports writ­ing to the next level. (My blog is jackstake.weebly.com .) I wouldn’t need to be paid. I think I have an inter­est­ing point of view because I am younger than most blog­gers and can con­nect to a younger reader.

Thanks, Jack Kelley

A smile crossed my lips and I thought back to sixth grade, the year I started in this busi­ness of ink-stained wretched­ness. Way back then, at Glen­brook Ele­men­tary in the sub­urbs of Cleve­land, this sports edi­tor launched into his first pub­lish­ing endeavor. I called it the “President’s Jour­nal,” and I chron­i­cled the hap­pen­ings of my fel­low sixth-graders — on the sports field, on the stage, in the class­room and beyond.

Yes, I was that geek. My father had got­ten me hooked on read­ing Mike Royko’s syn­di­cated columns from Chicago, in the old Cleve­land Press, and that’s what I wanted to do. Write for a liv­ing. Tell peo­ple how it is. Thirty-some odd years later, that’s kind of where I ended up. I’m no Royko, but I’m in the game. And it all started when I was 12. Just like Jack Kelley.

I printed out the kid’s let­ter, think­ing my fel­low crusty edi­tors in the morn­ing meet­ing would get a kick out of it. Sure enough, there were chuck­les all around.

You should get him to pick games on Sun­day, Al.”

Get that kid a blog!”

I thought that might be the end of it, but I couldn’t leave young Jack hang­ing. I owed him a note. So I clicked on his blog first, and was pleas­antly sur­prised. Some gram­mar issues needed to be resolved, but the kid had a voice. And an opinion.

In his “Draft Ass­es­ment: 49ers,” Kel­ley had this to say: “With the 30th pick in the NFL Draft the 49ers selected safety Jimmy Ward from North­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­sity. I think this pick will be good for the Nin­ers, who are in need of a good DB, after los­ing Donte Whit­ner last year. Ward is a big­ger hit­ter and a play­maker that will fit in per­fectly with the 49ers defense. Coach Har­baugh has already talked about play­ing Ward in the nickel, and on Social Media, Ward is being com­pared to Seat­tle Sea­hawk safety Earl Thomas.”

Pretty good analy­sis for a grade schooler. I would know. And let’s just say, my sixth-grade insight didn’t include what they were say­ing on social media. (Ward had a spotty first sea­son, in hind­sight, but Jack will learn that all sports­writ­ers spe­cial­ize in being wrong in public.)

I sent Jack a note thank­ing him for his inter­est, ask­ing him to con­nect me with his par­ents at some point. Maybe he could come by the paper some­time and take a tour. As I put it back in May: “Thanks for mak­ing my day, Jack. I started a news­pa­per when I was 12. You remind me of me.”

The young­ster responded quickly, inform­ing me that he actu­ally lives in Ore­gon, but that he reads all our stuff online. His dad trav­eled down to the Bay Area every once in awhile, so maybe he’d tag along on one of his father’s busi­ness trips. I thanked him again for the inter­est, and fig­ured that would be it.

Until young Jack showed up at my office. True to his word, the young writer talked his dad into tak­ing him on a trip to San Fran­cisco in Novem­ber. Tom Kel­ley e-mailed me and asked if it would be OK to drop Jack off for a cou­ple of hours while he attended a meet­ing downtown.

Sure. Why not?

And that’s how Jack and I ended up sit­ting in that very same meet­ing room, with those very same crusty old edi­tors, talk­ing the days news with a 12-year-old kid who dreams of some­day writ­ing for a living.

After­ward, I gave Jack some advice. (“Don’t write for free, kid.…”) Then we went out for some pizza. (“Don’t eat too much pizza, kid…”) And then we sat down for an inter­view. Him inter­view­ing me.

After about 20 min­utes of grilling, rang­ing in top­ics from my favorite authors to my least-favorite sports, Jack folded up his note­book and announced he was done.

I asked him why he liked to write. “I started writ­ing in third grade, because my third-grade teacher, Miss Lois, encour­aged us to write.” (Huz­zah, Miss Lois!)

I asked him what he thought of the 49ers leav­ing town. “I’m actu­ally a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed in that. I thought it was cool being in the city. That’s where all the real fans are. I think it’ll be more busi­ness­peo­ple down there.” (Exactly.)

The War­riors? “I was really sur­prised they fired Mark Jack­son. That was one of the best sea­sons they had. But the new guy will do a good job.” (Steve Kerr seems to be doing just fine.)

And what about Colin Kaeper­nick? “I don’t know if he’s a fran­chise quar­ter­back. He’s got to run less and get more accu­rate with his passes.” (Spot on, Jack.)

Four-for-four in my book. Maybe this busi­ness isn’t so hard.

Jack’s dad came by to pick him up and off they went, back to Ore­gon. Dad to his job. Jack to his blog.

If you’re won­der­ing where this is all head­ing, I’m guess­ing you’ll be a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed. I didn’t hire Jack to be The Chronicle’s Huck Finn colum­nist. Jack didn’t go on to pick 20 straight NFL games. There is no book deal or TV real­ity show.

What we have here is a young kid, gin­ger hair and great smile, who loves sports and loves to write. Here’s hop­ing he main­tains that pas­sion, whether as a jour­nal­ist or not. Writ­ing is becom­ing a lost art in a world dom­i­nated by 140 char­ac­ters and dis­ap­pear­ing photos.

Happy hol­i­days, Jack Kel­ley. Keep on writ­ing. You never know where it might lead you.

Newsosaur: How newspapers lost the millennials

Posted on | December 12, 2014 | 1 Comment

By Alan D. Mut­ter
Reflec­tions of a New­sosaur
Dec. 11, 2014

Amer­i­can pub­lish­ers and edi­tors have only them­selves to blame for fail­ing to con­nect with the Mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion that they – and most of their adver­tis­ers – covet the most.Editor & Publisher

The inabil­ity of news­pa­pers to res­onate with dig­i­tal natives has left them with a daunt­ing demo­graphic chal­lenge. Two-thirds of the audi­ence at the typ­i­cal news­pa­per is com­posed of peo­ple over the age of 55, accord­ing to Greg Har­mon of Bor­rell Asso­ciates. “The news­pa­per audi­ence ages another year every year,” he adds. “Everyone’s hair ought to be on fire.”

As the news­pa­per audi­ence grays, the read­ers that news­pa­pers – and most of their adver­tis­ers – would like to have are, instead, busily rack­ing up page views at places like Buz­zFeed, Circa, Mic, Upwor­thy, Vice, Voca­tive and Vox.

To delve into the demo­graphic dis­par­ity, I pulled the audi­ence data on Mic.Com, which com­Score calls the favorite news des­ti­na­tion for indi­vid­u­als from the ages of 18 to 34. Although many pub­lish­ers and edi­tors never may have heard of Mic, com­Score says it is vis­ited by a thump­ing 60% of Millenials.

To make things inter­est­ing, I com­pared Mic’s audi­ence with the aggre­gate data for the 28 geo­graph­i­cally dis­persed mar­kets served by McClatchy Co., the largest news­pa­per com­pany fur­nish­ing user data to Quantcast.Com, which requires pub­lish­ers to opt in to its data service.

Quant­cast indexes audi­ences against the national pop­u­la­tion to make it pos­si­ble to com­pare the demo­graph­ics of one web­site against another. This means a site whose audi­ence per­fectly mir­rors the national age dis­tri­b­u­tion would index at 100. Now, here’s how Mic com­pares with McClatchy, accord­ing to Quantcast’s data:

At Mic, users from 18 to 24 index at 156, mean­ing that the site has 1½ times more read­ers in this age group than the national aver­age.  The index climbs to 171 for the 25–34 crowd.

The story is quite the oppo­site at McClatchy, where the under-34 age groups come in at less than 100 but where the inci­dence of older read­ers is above the norm, index­ing at 108 for 35–44, 117 for 45–54, 126 for 55–64 and 125 for 65-plus.

Assum­ing McClatchy is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the indus­try  – and I see no rea­son why it wouldn’t be – the big ques­tion is how so many highly intel­li­gent and highly moti­vated news­pa­per exec­u­tives failed to con­nect with this mas­sive and influ­en­tial mar­ket.  Here’s a not-so-subtle clue:

In a recent study, researchers at the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri reported that only 29% of news­pa­per pub­lish­ers con­ducted focus groups prior to putting pay­walls around the dig­i­tal prod­ucts that most pro­fess to be the future of their franchises.

Instead of talk­ing with their intended con­sumers, fully 85% of respon­dents to the sur­vey said they asked other pub­lish­ers what they thought about erect­ing bar­ri­ers around the con­tent that they had been freely pro­vid­ing for the bet­ter part of two decades.

While pay­walls boosted rev­enues at most news­pa­pers because they were accom­pa­nied by stiff increases in print sub­scrip­tion rates, the tac­tic gave the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of dig­i­tal natives – and non-readers of every other age – the best rea­son yet for not engag­ing with newspapers.

Of course, news­pa­pers were los­ing Mil­lenials well before they started fever­ishly erect­ing pay­walls in the last few years. But what if pub­lish­ers and edi­tors had begun study­ing the needs and atti­tudes of the emerg­ing gen­er­a­tion from the early days of the Mil­le­nium? Could the out­comes have been more positive?

In the inter­ests of tun­ing into the think­ing of those elu­sive twenty– and thirty-somethings, a news­pa­per client recently brought a panel of them to a strat­egy ses­sion. Here is what we learned:

  • The Mil­lenials said the only media that mat­ter to them are the social media, where they get cur­rent news about their friends, as well as cues to other inter­est­ing or rel­e­vant content.
  • They put a great deal of trust in rec­om­men­da­tions from their friends but are not moti­vated by loy­alty to media brands.
  • They will click on what­ever con­tent inter­ests or amuses them, and they make no dis­tinc­tion among news, enter­tain­ment and advertising

Read more here.

__________

lan D. Mut­ter is per­haps the only CEO in Sil­i­con Val­ley who knows how to set type one let­ter at a time. Mut­ter began his career as a news­pa­per colum­nist and edi­tor at the Chicago Daily News and later rose to City Edi­tor of the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1984, he became No. 2 edi­tor of the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle. He left the news­pa­per busi­ness in 1988 to join Inter­Me­dia Part­ners, a start-up that became one of the largest cable-TV com­pa­nies in the U.S. Mut­ter was the COO of Inter­Me­dia when he moved to Sil­i­con Val­ley in 1996 to join the first of the three start-up com­pa­nies he led as CEO. The com­pa­nies he headed were a pio­neer­ing Inter­net ser­vice provider and two enterprise-software com­pa­nies. Mut­ter now is a con­sul­tant spe­cial­iz­ing in cor­po­rate ini­tia­tives and new media ven­tures involv­ing jour­nal­ism and tech­nol­ogy. He ordi­nar­ily does not write about clients or sub­jects that will affect their inter­ests. In the rare event he does, this will be fully dis­closed. Mut­ter also is on the adjunct fac­ulty of the Grad­u­ate School of Jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berkeley.

USA Weekend shuts as costs spike and ads tumble

Posted on | December 12, 2014 | No Comments

By Alan D. Mut­ter
Reflec­tions of a New­sosaur
Fri­day, Novem­ber 5, 2014

USA Week­end, the second-largest Sun­day news­pa­per mag­a­zine in the United States, will print its final edi­tion on Dec. 28, suc­cumb­ing to soar­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion costs and plung­ing advertising.  USA Weekend

The cir­cu­la­tion of the Sun­day sup­ple­ment, which was stuffed into news­pa­pers deliv­ered to as many as 70 mil­lion homes a few years back, has fallen today to about 18 mil­lion, accord­ing to a knowl­edge­able source at Gan­nett Inc., the par­ent of the publication.

With adver­tis­ing sales col­laps­ing by nearly half in the last few years, USA Week­end was expected to pro­duce about $40 mil­lion in rev­enue in 2014, yield­ing losses in excess of $10 mil­lion in each of the last two years, accord­ing to the source, who declined to be iden­ti­fied because s/he is not autho­rized to speak with the press.

Some 30 adver­tis­ing and edi­to­r­ial staffers will lose their jobs in the shutdown.

The demise of USA Week­end will leave the con­tract­ing Sun­day sup­ple­ment mar­ket to Parade Mag­a­zine, whose dis­tri­b­u­tion is about 32 mil­lion copies.  A few years back, its cir­cu­la­tion was dou­ble that size, accord­ing to indus­try sources.

Finan­cial infor­ma­tion is not avail­able for Parade because it is pri­vately held.  How­ever, indus­try sources say rev­enues today are in the neigh­bor­hood of $60 mil­lion, as com­pared with $100 mil­lion in the last two or three years.

Parade was sold in the fall to Athlon Media by Advance Pub­li­ca­tions, which had owned the title since 1976.

The once-robust Sun­day sup­ple­ment busi­ness unrav­eled as the result of the declin­ing eco­nom­ics of news­pa­per pub­lish­ing and the chang­ing demands of advertisers.

In the hey­day of news­pa­pers – when industry-wide rev­enues and prof­its were approx­i­mately twice as large as they are today – the pub­lish­ers of USA Week­end and Parade were able to charge local pub­lish­ers for the right to dis­trib­ute the mag­a­zines in their Sun­day papers.

When news­pa­per adver­tis­ing began the slide that has taken it today to less than half of the record $49 bil­lion achieved in 2005, the Sun­day sup­ple­ment pub­lish­ers found them­selves first absorb­ing the costs of ship­ping the prod­uct to local news­pa­pers and even­tu­ally pay­ing local pub­lish­ers to dis­trib­ute their magazines.

The flip in the dis­tri­b­u­tion model not only elim­i­nated tens of mil­lions of dol­lars of annual rev­enues for the Sun­day sup­ple­ments but also bur­dened them with tens of mil­lions in new costs.

The cost struc­ture got crazy,” said an exec­u­tive who tried to turn around the decline at USA Week­end. “You could afford to pay peo­ple to take the mag­a­zine if you had enough adver­tis­ing but this doesn’t work if you don’t.” Read more here.

__________

Alan D. Mut­ter is per­haps the only CEO in Sil­i­con Val­ley who knows how to set type one let­ter at a time. Mut­ter began his career as a news­pa­per colum­nist and edi­tor at the Chicago Daily News and later rose to City Edi­tor of the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1984, he became No. 2 edi­tor of the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle. He left the news­pa­per busi­ness in 1988 to join Inter­Me­dia Part­ners, a start-up that became one of the largest cable-TV com­pa­nies in the U.S. Mut­ter was the COO of Inter­Me­dia when he moved to Sil­i­con Val­ley in 1996 to join the first of the three start-up com­pa­nies he led as CEO. The com­pa­nies he headed were a pio­neer­ing Inter­net ser­vice provider and two enterprise-software com­pa­nies. Mut­ter now is a con­sul­tant spe­cial­iz­ing in cor­po­rate ini­tia­tives and new media ven­tures involv­ing jour­nal­ism and tech­nol­ogy. He ordi­nar­ily does not write about clients or sub­jects that will affect their inter­ests. In the rare event he does, this will be fully dis­closed. Mut­ter also is on the adjunct fac­ulty of the Grad­u­ate School of Jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berkeley.

Writer’s Lifeguard: Better Than Money

Posted on | November 29, 2014 | 1 Comment

Writer’s Life­guard
Novem­ber 29, 2014
By Jules Older

Yes, I have some­thing bet­ter than money.

And so do you.

Jules Older

Jules Older

When do-good orga­ni­za­tions come a kn-kn-knockin’ as they do at this time of year, we writ­ers can offer them some­thing bet­ter — much bet­ter — than cash.

We can amplify their voice. No mat­ter whom we write for — papers and mags, blogs and zines, radio and TV — we can mag­nify their mes­sage, swell their audience.

I have found a voice to amplify. It’s my favorite kind of do-good out­fit; it goes right to a basic human need.

Basic human need’ starts with safe drink­ing water. Amaz­ingly, that’s still miss­ing in many, many parts of the world. And that’s where I want to put my time and skills.

Now, thanks to my friend Dawnet Bev­er­ley, I have the place to put them. Dawnet intro­duced me to Jon Kauf­man, who founded H2OpenDoors.

Not only does H2OpenDoors bring pure water to some of the poor­est places on the planet, it does so in a way rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent from almost every­one else.

Instead of drilling wells, a process that all too often lit­ters the land­scape with the rust­ing remains of bro­ken dreams, Jon asked him­self, “What if we used exist­ing ground water and puri­fied the hell out of it?”

EF0E66D5-9E19-4919-9FBC-E741471A327FHe found a hi-tech process that turned fecal ponds and putrid swamps and poi­son rivers into sparkling pure drink­ing water. And entirely pow­ered by wind and sun.

I put Jon’s idea and his out­fit before experts, and they said, they’re sound. After meet­ing him and pep­per­ing him with rude ques­tions, I reached the same conclusion.

So H2OpenDoors is where I’m ampli­fy­ing. I’m doing it now, and I’ll do it soon again in an arti­cle on hol­i­day gifts.  Here’s how it will read:

The anti-Rolex

Few expenses in this world pro­vide a worse STP, satisfaction-to-price ratio, than an expen­sive watch. It doesn’t tell time as well as a Timex or your smart­phone, and despite those beau­ti­fully lit ads in haute mag­a­zines, it doesn’t look bet­ter, either.

Few expenses in this world pro­vide a bet­ter STP than a con­tri­bu­tion to a wor­thy cause. One of my faves is rel­a­tively new. H2OpenDoors takes a dif­fer­ent approach to bring­ing pure water to impov­er­ished parts of the planet. Instead of drilling to find water (an endeavor lit­tered with the detri­tus of fail­ure), H2OpenDoors uses exist­ing water — lakes, rivers, bogs —removes the filth and tox­ins, then lets vil­lagers drink clean and free. All pow­ered by sun and wind. You can see how it works here.

So. H2OpenDoors is where I’m putting my time, my writerly skills, and, yeah, my money. If it’s for you, spread the word, and wel­come to our small Mer­rie Band.

You can reach Jon and H2OpenDoors at jon@H2OpenDoors.org

(If he doesn’t answer right away, that’s because he’s in Panama doing the work we can share with our cor­ners of the world.)

— jules

 

 

Mobile news consumption hits the tipping point

Posted on | October 10, 2014 | No Comments

By Alan D. Mut­ter
Reflec­tions of a Newsosaur
Oct. 9, 2014

The pro­por­tion of mobile vis­its at dig­i­tal news­pa­per sites has dou­bledEditor & Publisher in the last two years to the point that half the vis­i­tors at some pub­li­ca­tions today are arriv­ing via smart­phone or tablet.

The rapid uptake in mobile news con­sump­tion rep­re­sents a tip­ping point that could be as dis­rup­tive a par­a­digm shift for news­pa­pers as the move from print to pix­els. Here’s why the shift has his­tor­i­cal resonance:

Even though the Inter­net burst into the pub­lic con­scious­ness in the mid-1990s, it wasn’t until the mid-200os that half of U.S. homes sub­scribed to rel­a­tively cheap and reli­able broad­band ser­vice, which encour­aged folks to take an active role in get­ting and giv­ing the news. In the 10 years since broad­band became com­mon­place, week­day print cir­cu­la­tion has tum­bled by 47% and news­pa­per ad sales dropped by 55% (details).

Now that mobile traf­fic is at or near 50% at many news­pa­pers, edi­tors and pub­lish­ers need to put ever more of their think­ing – and resources – into opti­miz­ing prod­ucts, con­tent and adver­tis­ing for not only smart­phones and tablets but also for such emerg­ing devices as smart watches, smart tele­vi­sions and what­ever smart stuff comes next. As dis­cussed below, mobile pub­lish­ing is as dis­tinct from web pub­lish­ing as web pub­lish­ing is from web printing.

Here’s how fast things are happening:

Read more here.

______________

Alan D. Mut­ter is per­haps the only CEO in Sil­i­con Val­ley who knows how to set type one let­ter at a time. Mut­ter began his career as a news­pa­per colum­nist and edi­tor at the Chicago Daily News and later rose to City Edi­tor of the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1984, he became No. 2 edi­tor of the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle. He left the news­pa­per busi­ness in 1988 to join Inter­Me­dia Part­ners, a start-up that became one of the largest cable-TV com­pa­nies in the U.S. Mut­ter was the COO of Inter­Me­dia when he moved to Sil­i­con Val­ley in 1996 to join the first of the three start-up com­pa­nies he led as CEO. The com­pa­nies he headed were a pio­neer­ing Inter­net ser­vice provider and two enterprise-software com­pa­nies. Mut­ter now is a con­sul­tant spe­cial­iz­ing in cor­po­rate ini­tia­tives and new media ven­tures involv­ing jour­nal­ism and tech­nol­ogy. He ordi­nar­ily does not write about clients or sub­jects that will affect their inter­ests. In the rare event he does, this will be fully dis­closed. Mut­ter also is on the adjunct fac­ulty of the Grad­u­ate School of Jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berkeley.

Mutter: Get Ready for Mobile Payments

Posted on | September 8, 2014 | No Comments

By Alan D. Mut­ter
Reflec­tions of a Newsosaur
Sept. 8, 2014
Although wide-screen iPhones and curvy iWatches have gained the most atten­tion as the buzz builds around Apple’s prod­uct announce­ment on Tues­day, the biggest game changer of all may be the company’s effort to launch a mobile pay­ments system.Assuming the chat­ter is cor­rect, Apple will seek to sup­plant credit cards with a wire­less pay­ment sys­tem embed­ded in its next-gen giz­mos, thus rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the way con­sumers pay for things – and mer­chants track their cus­tomers. It is widely reported in the press that Amer­i­can Express, Mas­ter­Card and Visa have agreed to join the Apple initiative.

If mobile pay­ments take off as Apple and its puta­tive part­ners hope, this fric­tion­less new way of trans­act­ing busi­ness will dis­in­ter­me­di­ate the media as never before, as dis­cussed in the fol­low­ing New­sosaur post from Aug. 9, 2011.

There are a cou­ple of updates to the archived post.

  • The Isis pay­ment net­work men­tioned in the orig­i­nal arti­cle, which was devel­oped by AT&T, Ver­i­zon and T-Mobile, announced last week that it is chang­ing its name to Soft­card to avoid being con­fused with the group behead­ing jour­nal­ists and ter­ror­iz­ing the Mid­dle East. Also, the planned AT&T and T-Mobile merger was aban­doned after it was blocked by fed­eral antitrust regulators.
  • The Blippy.Com ser­vice men­tioned in the orig­i­nal arti­cle has gone on to other pur­suits, but a num­ber of other social shop­ping sites are only too happy to learn about who you are and what you like.  Fur­ther, as pre­vi­ously dis­cussed here, all of the major retail­ers have apps that track you, your pur­chases and even your loca­tion in their stores.

Now, here’s the orig­i­nal post:

It’s not a mat­ter of if, but when, your ever-smarter smart phone replaces cur­rency and credit cards as the way you pay for every­thing from a latte to a load of lum­ber for the deck you have been mean­ing to build.

The arrival of mobile pay­ments will restruc­ture the way mar­keters inter­act with con­sumers, lead­ing poten­tially to epic shifts in the bal­ance of power and dol­lars from finan­cial ser­vices like Visa and Amer­i­can Express to tech­nol­ogy providers like Google and Verizon.

It also is almost cer­tain to lead to fur­ther dis­rup­tion for media com­pa­nies, unless they can fig­ure out a way to nose into the action – which already is well under way.

The mobile pay­ments rev­o­lu­tion will be enabled by a tech­nol­ogy called Near Field Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (or NFC), which adds a micro-range radio to the cel­lu­lar, wifi and Blue­tooth arrays already packed into every smart phone. (More on NFC here.)

While only a smat­ter­ing of Android devices today are equipped with NFC, there are hope­ful rumors in the ever-breathless Apple press that the next-generation iPhone will have the fea­ture when it debuts later this year.

Whether Apple takes the plunge now or later – thus lever­ag­ing the 125 mil­lion credit cards already on file at its suc­cess­ful iTunes ser­vice – the com­pany will join a fren­zied land grab includ­ing the fol­low­ing players:

  • Google Wal­let, which will be seam­lessly inte­grated with the Android oper­at­ing sys­tem that Com­Score says pow­ers more smart phones (40% of the mar­ket) than its clos­est com­peti­tor, the iPhone (27% of smart phones).
  • Isis, a col­lab­o­ra­tion among Ver­i­zon, AT&T and T-Mobile (the lat­ter of which AT&T is seek­ing reg­u­la­tory approval to acquire). These mobile providers, who utterly dom­i­nate the U.S. mar­ket, are part­nered with Dis­cover, Mas­ter­Card and Visa.
  • Visa Wal­let, a par­al­lel effort by Visa to part­ner with its net­work of mem­ber banks to cre­ate a branded pay­ments app.
  • Serve, the Amer­i­can Express equiv­a­lent of the Visa Wal­let effort, which has entered not only into part­ner­ships with Ver­i­zon and Sprint but also the fast-growing Foursquare mobile check-in platform.
  • Verisign and the other point-of-purchase equip­ment com­pa­nies who make the giz­mos used to swipe cards. Verisign has a mobile bank­ing suite that it mar­kets with a vari­ety of tech and bank­ing partners.

In a way, mobile pay­ments already have arrived.

You can flash a bar­code on a mobile phone to com­plete a pur­chase at most Starbuck’s, but it’s a far more com­pli­cated process today than it will be in the future. Now, you have to estab­lish a Starbuck’s account by hand­ing your credit card to a clerk, who loads the funds on a Starbuck’s card. Then, you have to down­load a Starbuck’s app and link it to your Starbuck’s account. Finally, you have to fuss with the phone when you make a pur­chase to gen­er­ate a bar­code that can be read at the reg­is­ter. If you run out of money, you have to slap some plas­tic on the counter to recharge your Starbuck’s card.

In the future, this rig­ma­role will be unnec­es­sary. Sit­ting on a bus or walk­ing through the park, you will be able to vir­tu­ally cre­ate and man­age accounts with indi­vid­ual mer­chants, sim­ply wav­ing your phone and con­firm­ing a trans­ac­tion when­ever you hap­pen to be in a store. More likely, you will have a generic buy­ing account that works with all mer­chants. Once estab­lished, you will be able to top it up from time to time for use at a gas pump, vend­ing machine or fur­ni­ture store. You might even be able to wire­lessly lend a friend $100.

Paper­less bank­ing almost is upon us. Chase has an app that allows you to deposit a check by merely tak­ing a pic­ture of it with your Android or iPhone.

Once the mobile pay­ments ecosys­tem fully evolves, cur­rency and plas­tic may well become relics of the past.

For con­sumers, this will pro­vide greater con­ve­nience and arguably more secu­rity than ever.

For the win­ners in the land grab, it will unlock vast new mar­kets, poten­tially shift­ing rev­enues from banks and credit card com­pa­nies to com­pa­nies like Google, Apple and the mobile carriers.

For mar­keters, the sys­tems will cap­ture a wealth of infor­ma­tion about pur­chas­ing pat­terns, includ­ing who, what, when and where peo­ple bought some­thing. Even when this data is col­lected with­out iden­ti­fy­ing indi­vid­u­als by name, the vol­ume and speci­ficity of the infor­ma­tion will enable mar­keters to sharpen their mes­sag­ing and tactics.

Going to the next level, sites like Blippy.Com encour­age con­sumers to dis­close and write reviews about their pur­chases. If such plat­forms take off, they will pro­vide mer­chants with the abil­ity to link spe­cific indi­vid­u­als with par­tic­u­lar pur­chas­ing pat­terns, enabling brands to reach con­sumers with unprece­dented precision.

At the level beyond that, it seems entirely pos­si­ble that a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of con­sumers would be will­ing to have all their pur­chases tracked in return for such incen­tives as dis­counts or frequent-shopping points that can be redeemed for cash or prod­ucts in the future. This, of course, would enable the Holy Grail of tar­get mar­ket­ing: Putting the right offer in front of the right per­son at the right time.

Although the out­look is unclear, there can be no ques­tion that mobile pay­ments will rev­o­lu­tion­ize mar­ket­ing by cre­at­ing an ocean of real-time, gran­u­lar and pre­cise con­sumer data.

This mat­ters to pub­lish­ers and broad­cast­ers, because it means that mar­keters in the future prob­a­bly will vec­tor ever more of their adver­tis­ing dol­lars into direct con­nec­tions with con­sumers, instead of mass media.

As mobile pay­ments com­bine with the power of dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing, masses of eye­balls – which hap­pens to be what tra­di­tional pub­lish­ers and broad­cast­ers sell – will dimin­ish in impor­tance in the typ­i­cal advertiser’s media mix.

Where does this leave the tra­di­tional media companies?

Because rich data – not mass audi­ences – will be the name of the game in the future, every local media com­pany should be gath­er­ing as much data as pos­si­ble about every house­hold and indi­vid­ual in the com­mu­nity it serves.

The most imme­di­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties to do this are through newslet­ter pro­grams, con­tests, site reg­is­tra­tion and smart mobile apps. Obvi­ously, all of these tac­tics require close atten­tion to gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate pri­vacy policies.

The other thing media com­pa­nies need to do is pay close atten­tion to the evo­lu­tion of the mobile pay­ments ecosys­tem. Then, when the time is right, they need to buddy up with the likely winners.

___________
Alan D. Mut­ter is per­haps the only CEO in Sil­i­con Val­ley who knows how to set type one let­ter at a time. Mut­ter began his career as a news­pa­per colum­nist and edi­tor at the Chicago Daily News and later rose to City Edi­tor of the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1984, he became No. 2 edi­tor of the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle. He left the news­pa­per busi­ness in 1988 to join Inter­Me­dia Part­ners, a start-up that became one of the largest cable-TV com­pa­nies in the U.S. Mut­ter was the COO of Inter­Me­dia when he moved to Sil­i­con Val­ley in 1996 to join the first of the three start-up com­pa­nies he led as CEO. The com­pa­nies he headed were a pio­neer­ing Inter­net ser­vice provider and two enterprise-software com­pa­nies. Mut­ter now is a con­sul­tant spe­cial­iz­ing in cor­po­rate ini­tia­tives and new media ven­tures involv­ing jour­nal­ism and tech­nol­ogy. He ordi­nar­ily does not write about clients or sub­jects that will affect their inter­ests. In the rare event he does, this will be fully dis­closed. Mut­ter also is on the adjunct fac­ulty of the Grad­u­ate School of Jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley. To see his entire pro­file, click here.

Help Kickstart the NYC Pizza Project

Posted on | April 16, 2014 | No Comments

Check out The New York Pizza Project on Kick­starter, and become a backer. It’s near and dear to my heart. My son Nick John­son is among the cre­ators. But it’s also a phe­nom­e­nal print doc­u­men­tary of one of New York’s most emblem­atic enter­prises: the pizza shop. The pho­tos, inter­views, even video for future projects, are all done. They just need funds now for print­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion of a cof­fee table book. The project takes an anthro­po­log­i­cal view of the cul­ture that sur­rounds and infuses NYC pizza shops. After all, what would the city be with­out them?

Writer’s Lifeguard: Good News Bears

Posted on | April 14, 2014 | No Comments

By Jules Older, April 14, 2014

Here’s what’s going right for Life­guards today…

Shot Boom Score , a kid’s book by New Zealand broadcaster/author/publisher/cricketer Justin Brown, has made the Sto­ry­lines 2014 Notable Books List.

Jules Older

Jules Older

In Marin County, Cal­i­for­nia, Dick Jor­dan has a piece on south­east Alaska on Mar­inTV. You can see it here.

In Vermont’s fabled North­east King­dom, Jerry Johnson’s Up the Creek With­out a Sad­dle is now in eBook and iBook versions.

You call her Loser; she spells it Win­ner. From Lon­don, Gill Mar­tin reports on the ski tri­umphs of Mother England’s journalists.

Cindy Hirschfeld is now editor-in-chief of Aspen Mag­a­zine and group edi­tor for Vail Resorts’ Epic Life mag­a­zine. [This gives me par­tic­u­lar plea­sure since, back in 2010, she was feel­ing down so long, it felt like up to her. I’ve attached Writ­ers Life­guard 33 in case you missed Cindy’s story.

San Fran­cis­can Kelly Carter writes, “I’m skit­ing from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where last night I gave a pet travel talk at National Geographic’s head­quar­ters to pro­mote my new book, The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel, Nat Geo’s first pet travel guide­book. Good Morn­ing Amer­ica recently spent two days in San Fran­cisco with me and my pooch Lucy to shoot a dog-friendly travel seg­ment that airs soon. Keep your eye out for it!”

Here’s another kind of tri­umph. From Ver­mont, Mary Kerr writes, “I depart this Sun­day for Kabul. My friends in Kabul tell me their ela­tion over the num­bers of young and old, men and women, defy­ing the Tal­iban by vot­ing in this pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is beyond descrip­tion. Their future is bright­en­ing! I am so excited to think I will be there for a five-week period. I will be teach­ing at SOLA — School of Leadership-Afghanistan. I sus­pect I will learn more from these young Afghan women than they from me, inshallah.”

Leslie Anthony left snowy British Colum­bia for sunny San Fran­cisco to receive Canada’a pres­ti­gious North­ern Lights Award for his fea­ture writing.

Then, there’s this from new Life­guard, Sharon Spence Lieb. Bet­ter sit down before you read it…

I was thrilled when North Amer­i­can Travel Jour­nal­ists awarded me as a Final­ist in their 2014 Travel Writ­ing Com­pe­ti­tion. But it’s the story behind the award that I want to share.

After 28 bliss­ful years trav­el­ling the world with my photographer/filmmaker hus­band War­ren Lieb, he became ter­mi­nally ill. My Indi­ana Jones, who hiked to 17,000 feet in Peru, filmed wars out of fighter jets, kayaked with killer whales and dove to 100 feet with giant manta rays… became a home­bound invalid who could barely walk.

I stopped trav­el­ling, stopped writ­ing and devoted myself to his care. Then, a strange invi­ta­tion came from Can­cun Vis­i­tors Bureau; please come write about The Day of the Dead ceremony.

’No thanks,’ I said. ‘I hate death. My hus­band is dying.’

’You must come,’ they said. ‘There is some­one you must meet.

I got 24/7 nurses for War­ren and went to Can­cun. At an evening can­dlelit cer­e­mony, in an under­ground cave, I encoun­tered a shaman. Hun­dreds gath­ered for his incan­ta­tions, his bless­ings. I crawled on my knees along the wet jun­gle floor, stooped at his feet like a cry­ing child, and asked him to help me over­come my fear of death and loss.

His mes­sage gave me great com­fort. I wrote a story, about what I learned, Life And Death In Can­cun. After Warren’s death, the story was pub­lished in many outlets.

And won best story of the year from Can­cun Vis­i­tor Bureau, 2013 and then the Final­ist award from NATJA, 2014.”

And finally, from Dublin, Patrick Kin­sella pro­vides an ety­mo­log­i­cal foot­note on the New Zealand word for brag­ging. “In Ire­land, ‘skite’ is a noun, not a verb, and you go on a skite (or ‘a bit of a skite’) with friends to visit many pubs and drink much beer. A skite is the series of events at which much craic is gen­er­ally had. Though there may be later regrets.”

Good work, Life­guards. Write on.

— jules

 

 

 

Independent Book Publishing: Is It the Viable Future for Books?

Posted on | April 13, 2014 | 1 Comment

By Lee Foster

The steady advance in the prac­tice of “inde­pen­dent book pub­lish­ing,” also called self-publishing in some cir­cles, has been a remark­able and inno­v­a­tive phe­nom­e­non to watch in the last decade.Lee Foster book

Those of us who knew the via­bil­ity of “tra­di­tional book pub­lish­ing” have also observed that decline with some sad­ness. In my own case, I pub­lished a dozen books with tra­di­tional pub­lish­ers and found the expe­ri­ence gen­er­ally sat­is­fac­tory in the ear­lier, golden years.

Tra­di­tional vs inde­pen­dent pub­lish­ing is a chal­leng­ing dilemma with which many mod­ern authors now wres­tle. (I talked recently on this before the Bay Area Inde­pen­dent Pub­lish­ers Asso­ci­a­tion, and video­g­ra­pher Joel Black­well cap­tured a video record. I also talked on this sub­ject before the Bay Area Travel Writ­ers and at the San Fran­cisco Writer’s Conference.)

In 2013, I pub­lished one book inde­pen­dently and one book tra­di­tion­ally. Prob­a­bly all my future books will be inde­pen­dent. What has changed?

Under­stand­ing Tra­di­tional Book Publishing

Before tra­di­tional book pub­lish­ing is dis­missed as an option, it is impor­tant to under­stand what it was, how it func­tioned, and why it once worked well.

Read more here.

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