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Archive for 2010|Yearly archive page

journalism … ‘mutualised’

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Finally had time today to read Guardian Editor in Chief Alan Rusbridger’s excellent piece from a few days ago, “The splintering of the fourth estate,” in which he discusses in depth the ways collaborative — or “mutualised” — journalism will continue to evolve and flourish. If you’re at all involved in journalism, this is a must-read. Actually, if you just care even the slightest about how news and information is distributed globally, it’s a must-read. Just read it. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

[On a related note: Rusbridger writes at length about the power of Twitter, and I first saw a link to his post in a tweet by Dan Gillmor, who certainly wasn’t the only one to tweet or retweet the piece. Just think about that for a second.]

Not since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press have so many had such a great opportunity to say so much. This isn’t news, at least not to anyone who follows what goes on in the Vast Everchanging Mediascape, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

In an essay loaded with salient points, perhaps the loudest of Rusbridger’s was about how we all must pay more careful attention to who ends up owning what’s left of the large media companies:

Indeed, it is a sign of the current turmoil that one should have to argue a case that, at any other time in history, would have seemed too obvious to make. Too great a concentration of ownership in the media has always been considered a bad idea, whether you were on the right or the left.

But the revolution we’re talking about is changing all that. It seems self-evident to some that a combination of fierce economic pressures and an ever greater convergence of text, data and moving pictures leads to one obvious solution: consolidation. Consolidation also brings economies of scale. If regulatory regimes can’t handle that, well, get rid of the regulators, goes the argument.

The economic and technological arguments are serious ones, but if they prevail we will – soon – see more and more power and influence concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

Frankly, that scares the hell out of me. But what gives me hope is that combating the oversized, one-viewpoint-fits-all media behemoths will be nimble, creative new organizations that grower stronger and more popular because they’re able to harness the viewpoints and ideas of thousands, if not millions.

Many journalists are just now beginning to realize this. Hopefully, so, too, will the masses. Because going forward, while roles and responsibilities will change — and keep changing — most of us will be on the same team. So let’s share playbooks. Let’s keep figuring this out together.

And let’s tweet about it.

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‘wired’ [hearts] boobies

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Poynter.org hosted a lively discussion Friday over varying reactions to the recent cover of “Wired” magazine that featured a close-up shot of a woman’s breasts to promo a story on regenerative medicine. Certainly, the cover was provocative. Others, such as Cindy Royal, found it sexist.

“Wired” editor Chris Anderson actually responded to Royal’s remarks in the comment section of her blog. Here’s an excerpt:

This is an issue we wrestle with all the time, and it reflects a combination of things, ranging from not enough high-profile women in the tech industry who are recognizable to sell a cover (every month we cover test a list of names to see which ones people know well enough to want to read about them), to your sense that if we go outside the tech industry for women that this somehow doesn’t count.

First, I have to correct one point: this cover story was not about tissue engineering, it was about *breast* tissue engineering. Of all the covers with cleavage out there, it’s hard to find one more editorially justified than that.

Second, this problem goes beyond women: we have trouble putting *people* on the cover. It’s the same reason: they have to sell, and what sells for us is either big ideas (sans people) or well-known, likable people with interesting things to say. The problem is that there aren’t enough geek celebrities, so we often end up going with celebrity geeks instead. Our Gates and Zuckerberg cover didn’t sell as well as our Will Ferrell cover. I’m glad we did both, but at the end of the day, we have to work on the newsstand to be a profitable business.

I agree with both points, especially the former: It’s a story about breast tissue. A photo of breasts makes sense. Accompanying the story also are diagrams of the surgical process that … wait for it … feature drawings of breasts.

Breasts, breasts, breasts. There. Are we all OK now?

journalism inc.?

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2010 at 7:58 am

Dan Mitchell, a friend and my editor at 944 magazine, guest lectured in my JMC 313 (intro to editing) class yesterday, and the thing he said that perhaps most caught my attention was about the future of funding journalism.

Specifically, he mentioned Incword, a London-based co-op of dozens of journalists who think of remarkably creative ways to earn money while writing fantastic stories, such as how Jeremy Hart participated in the Ford Fiesta World tour, which was featured in 944 and a number of internationally recognized media outlets, such as Wired. The gist of the proposal was this: A few Incword journalists contacted Ford and said, “If you donate a few of your new Fiestas on each continent, we’ll drive them literally all over the world, and they’ll be featured in the background of photos and casually mentioned in stories that actually have nothing to do with Ford.” It’s not exactly like Snapple’s being pimped on “30 Rock,” but it’s close. Ford agreed.

From a return-on-investment standpoint, Ford couldn’t lose, considering the cost of full-page print ads (often as much as $200,000 per page, per month in a national magazine) compared with financing the Tour, during which the journalists would take breaks from driving to file reports for media outlets that paid them for their copy and photos and video. (Additionally, much of that media will remain online for a very long time, while, say, a print ad for the Fiesta probably ends up in your recycling bin after a few days.)

“If you really don’t care who signs the check, and it doesn’t actually affect telling a great story, well, some people are OK with that,” Mitchell told my students, later adding, “Pretend you’re an editor, and your publisher comes to you and says, ‘Hey, we just got this huge Ford account, including a big ad that cost $250,000, so let’s consider giving them some editorial space.’ Maybe you tell the publisher you’re not OK with that. That, ethically, it bothers you. That’s perfectly fine. But what if your publisher then says, ‘OK, well, if we don’t do this, you have to go lay off three people.’ It’s a real-life situation.'”

And more and more media outlets and corporations, in an effort to save money and reach more potential customers, are going to start teaming up and cutting out advertising firms and p.r. agencies, Mitchell added. Young magazine writers and editors will adapt or perish.

This all begs the questions: At what point is it OK? Or, perhaps a better question, at what point are you, as a journalist, OK with it?

#cablenewsFTL

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Here’s the thing: Keith Olbermann is right: MSNBC is not as awful as Fox News. But 24-hour cable “news” … still … is … awful.

Let’s back up a bit. Olbermann, in response to Jon Stewart’s railing against cable TV news during the Rally to Restore Sanity/March to Keep Fear Alive last weekend in D.C., and Newsweek/MSNBC contributor Jonathan Alter, whose wife works for The Colbert Report, said on Monday that comparing the two networks is unfair. MSNBC, both men argued—here’s the clip—is more sane. MSNBC doesn’t make things up. MSNBC isn’t ideologically driven so much as it’s accompanied by an ideology. MSNBC hosts who get angry are doing so because they’re angry with actual facts, not fake or exaggerated “facts.” Olbermann basically said the “MSNBC is on the left, and Fox News is on the right” argument is too simplistic, “a false equivalence,” adding:

“What are the odds of two cable channels on opposite sides of the political spectrum being exactly the same in every other respect—exactly as bad in dividing the country, exactly as bad in twisting facts, exactly as bad in demonizing religious minorities, exactly as bad in defending the corporatization of the country?”

He’s correct. But here’s my question: Does that matter? Is it not the fault of those at MSNBC for allowing the network to be perceived in such a way? If the only people demonstrably saying, “Hey, MSNBC isn’t as crazy as Fox News!” also work for MSNBC, who’s going to pay attention?

For the record, I’m an enormous fan of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Keith Olbermann. I actually sat next to Olbermann in the press box at a Major League Baseball game three years ago, and he was genuinely polite and congenial. We talked sports—particularly the first Brett Favre comeback—we double-checked our scorecards against each others’ and he seemed, frankly, like a really good dude. Per his show, I usually agree with what he says. Same with Stewart and Colbert, who despite constant denials—especially from Stewart—should be considered journalists and not only satirists or comedians.

But here’s the thing: No matter how fact-based and interesting and important and non-Fox-Newsy Olbermann’s—or Rachel Maddow’s or whoever else’s show on MSNBC—is, and no matter how much lower Fox News sinks, erasing that “Left vs. Right” stigma is vital if MSNBC wants an audience where it’s preaching less to the converted.

Olbermann just announced that he’s putting on hiatus and possibly retiring his “Worst Person in the World” segment because “its satire and whimsy have gradually gotten lost in some anger.” Maybe that’s a good start. But most of the rest of the crap filling MSNBC’s 24-void isn’t news. Same for Fox News. Same for CNN, which may eventually change its motto to “All the news fit to reprint from viewers’ Twitter feeds.” And until this changes and until these networks’ mostly-all-opinion-show lineups are replaced with actual news broadcasts, the overwhelming majority of viewers will continue to perceive, correctly or incorrectly, that cable TV hosts are biased and want little more than to shout into an echo chamber.

journalists turn to 7-part mathematical formula to gauge online readership [no, seriously]

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Finally, news of an “engagement index” devoid of ludicrously overpriced gowns, ludicrously overpriced food and cake, and ludicrously scratchy and uncomfortable rent-a-tuxes: Philly.com has a whole new way of measuring online readers’ interest. Well, maybe “a whole new way” is a slight exaggeration, so let’s instead call it “a way using scary-looking math that at first glance may send scads of arithmophobic reporters scrambling for cover.”

As reported by The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard, Philly.com, the website of both the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, has (correctly) gone beyond the established wisdom of Page Views Above All Else with a seven-part formula — Σ(Ci + Di + Ri + Li + Bi + Ii + Pi) — that breaks down into the following elements (coding via The Nieman Lab’s site):

C — Click Index: visits must have at least 6 pageviews, not counting photo galleries

D — Duration Index: visits must have spend a minimum of 5 minutes on the site

R — Recency Index: visits that return daily

L — Loyalty Index: visits that either are registered at the site or visit it at least three times a week

B — Brand Index: visits that come directly to the site by either bookmark or directly typing http://www.philly.com or come through search engines with keywords like “philly.com” or “inquirer”

I — Interaction Index: visits that interact with the site via commenting, forums, etc.

P — Participation Index: visits that participate on the site via sharing, uploading pics, stories, videos, etc.

With less of an emphasis placed merely on acquiring clicks—hopefully resulting in fewer inane and news-less slideshows cobbled together simply to satisfy Click Lust—complex equations such as this one could lead to a greater value being placed on producing actual journalism and not simply “content.”

Pro: This will help media companies—the ones smart enough to care—better understand their readership.

Con: Not every newspaper or TV station can afford a full-time Web analyst.

More from The Nieman Lab piece:

Tracking site visits with this level of specificity is time-consuming — [Senior Data Analyst Chris] Meares says he devotes about a third of his full-time job to analysis of the engagement equation — but it has produced some interesting information. For instance: “We’re definitely seeing the impact of social media and how it provides engaged visitors.” While Google and Yahoo provide a lot of traffic, the visits that they send to Philly.com don’t tend to be engaged. Only 20.34 percent of visits that come through Google are engaged visits. In comparison, 33.64 percent of visits that come via Facebook are engaged.

Getting journalists to embrace math? Not impossible. Getting those who employ journalists to see the value in paying people to do more math? Well …

‘… our newsroom didn’t even have e-mail yet …”

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2010 at 1:05 am

Robert Boos, aka @earthtobobby, has been an Arizona journalist for 18 years, with the bulk of his experience coming via the Web. Currently, he’s the editor of JournalismGIS.com, a non-profit startup where he hopes to educate journalists in the use of map-based data analysis and visualization in the pursuit of reporting. He’s worked for The Tribune and The Arizona Republic, and he’s an adjunct professor at The Cronkite School.  He also like soccer.

How has journalism changed during your time in the business?
When I first started at newspapers, our newsroom didn’t even have e-mail yet. Sure, we had electronic messaging that we’d use to contact each other, but it wasn’t instant. You had to sign into the system, and it would load all your messages you received since your last login.

But we didn’t have POP or SMTP access to email. Sure, a lot of businesses were beginning to use it at the time, but our newspaper did not. In fact, I remember our IT department was very reluctant to implement e-mail access to the outside, as they said it would open our network to hackers.

I guess that says a lot about the sophistication and tech savvy of the business when I started. The Web was just barely existent, so there was no way to research a story using that means. The newspaper library of clips and LexisNexis were the only means of getting background info. That, and, of course, actually talking to people.

I took a year off from the biz and came back at another paper—one that had just recently jumped in with a website with the intention of delivering news and earning readership. That was cutting edge, and I wanted to be on it. And we actually had email. I did that for the next 13 years.

Journalism has certainly changed since the time I got my start. Obviously, the Web has changed the way daily business gets done, but I really think it brings the business back to its origins of getting the story out as quickly as possible. Now every newspaper, once a daily operation, is a wire service with the purpose of moving copy through the journalistic process and to its audience. I realized that very early on, and that was what really excited me about working for a Web news operation.

There was an interesting Slate.com post this week comparing “news articles” to “blog posts.” What did you think of it?
I tend to think of a blog as a running commentary on a topic or series of topics. The entries may range from quips or a “Here, look at this” to a print-destined column. One could write a blog that runs as commentary alongside their thesis, or as they write their book.

I also still believe that newspapers do and should hold themselves to high standards. Reporters can and do write blogs, and, in my opinion, they’re a little more interesting when it is commentary on the craft of the job. On the one hand is the story or the column the reporter wrote, and in the other is the insider tale of what it took to get that story, or an anecdote about the interview that adds color and background for the reader and offers insight and transparency to the reporting process.

What should newspapers and magazines be doing to adapt digitally? And what are some currently doing really well or really poorly?
The need for reporters to be doing more to drive stories to the Web is pretty well established, but I think newspapers are not doing enough to equip them. A reporter who whips out their smartphone to cover a breaking news event with live video always seems to bring congratulatory pats on the back, but it doesn’t seem like the lesson is learned. These need to be every day and more equipment and training is needed to help reporters along.

Now, if reporters are to be expected to expand their function and skills, so should the production and editing staff. There needs to be better integration between the print and online production teams. The online producer as I knew it is thinning out. Real integration needs to happen between the copy desk and online production. Copy editors need to learn online production and online producers need to be cross-trained to the skill level of the copy editor. Page designers and especially graphic artists and visual journalists need to be integrated into online production. As it stands, stories are passed from the reporter to their editor and then to the copy desk and somewhere in that process it is forked for print and online. Online production needs to happen as part of the function of the copy desk and page- and graphic-design teams. I think as online production tools and content management systems improve, the online team distinction will disappear as their role is merged with other teams

Will actual hard-cover/soft-cover books and newspapers disappear in 10 years, 20 years … or some other timeframe? What do you see happening with that?
I know that I can’t read a book on a laptop—it’s just not suited for the kind of comfort I get from a book. I’ve never used a Kindle, but I have used an iPad and I can see that becoming a greater experience.

In the next 10 years, I think the economics of running a newspaper will continue to force many to scale back their daily printing—maybe Web-only all week for daily and breaking news, and then on weekends and Sunday a publication that offers special projects and in-depth reporting and analysis.

In 20 years, I really hope to see e-paper that updates itself wirelessly and offers a reading experience similar to the broadsheet—like the newspaper we saw in “Minority Report” and the “Harry Potter” films.

I hope I never see books go away.

If an angel investor said, “Hey, here’s $10 million, form a news site/product/app/combination thereof from scratch,” what would you build and why?
I’m working on it! I think JournalismGIS.com is a good start, but I’d really like to build a research group or non-profit center for geographic information science, data visualization and statistical analysis in a journalism pursuit. We’d pursue public data, conduct our own research for publication or take commission for research, and train reporters and visual journalists on how to use those tools. Who says journalists have to be bad at numbers?

Now, can I have that $10 million?

british journalism students who don’t read newspapers … want to … work at newspapers? wait, what?

In Uncategorized on October 12, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Roy Greenslade blogged today on The Guardian’s website about how the overwhelming majority of the 250 students in the journalism class he teaches do not read newspapers but want to work for newspapers. Huh? An excerpt:

I asked for a show of hands on a simple question: what is your primary news source?

Newspapers? No more than 20 hands went up. Radio? About the same. Television? Maybe 30. Internet? A forest of hands.

Interestingly, many of the people taking the newspaper course – people hoping to get jobs on papers – admitted to not reading printed editions.

Given that part of the lecture was devoted to entrepreneurial journalism, I also asked: how many of you are hoping to get jobs in traditional “big media” outlets?

Virtually the whole room put up their hands. They may be digital natives, but their ambition is to work for others rather than themselves.

So, what gives? Why? With the number of legacy-media jobs dwindling and with more and more talented, experienced reporters looking for work, at what point should such a view be discouraged? Or, well, should it? Certainly, as David Carr wrote this week in The New York Times, there’s certainly still an allure about actually seeing your name in print, particularly on a significant story:

Yes, you can make news working in your pajamas and running stuff past your cat and no one else. But even in 2010, when a print product is viewed as a quaint artifact of a bygone age, there is something about that process, about all those many hands, about the permanence of print, that makes a story resonate in a way that can’t be measured in digital metrics. I love a hot newsbreak on the Web as much as the next guy, but on some days, for some stories, there is still no school like the old school.

“Mainstream media,” Greenslade wrote, “remains a lure.”

How come? And, perhaps a better question, for how much longer?

And: Do journalism students across the pond feel the same way?

are superstar journalists still worth the investment?

In Uncategorized on October 6, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Saw a piece in The Wrap a few days ago that was simultaneously bewildering and infuriating. The topic? How a number of “superstar” journalists still command six- or seven-figure salaries despite working for companies struggling to get by. Look: If someone offered me that much money, I can’t say I’d immediately turn it down, but when 95 percent of the media landscape is crumbling, doesn’t the value of big-name talent diminish? When you can barely afford to maintain a marquee, why spend even more money to upgrade its lights?

Karen Danzinger, a managing partner at the Howard-Sloan-Koller-Group, a media/publishing search firm, disagrees, telling The Wrap:

“Talent is always at a premium — a star’s a star. If you are in the upper echelon of talent, especially now, there is a lot of opportunity.”

Perhaps that’s why ESPN splurged $10 million to steal Rick Reilly away form Sports Illustrated in 2007. Also: Historically, one of the few sections of a newspaper where readers paid attention to bylines—think Jim Murray, Red Smith, Grantland Rice—was the sports section.

But it’s 2010. Do most readers still care? With so many people getting their news via Twitter and RSS feeds these days, and with so much of it being wire copy or re-purposed wire copy, at what point are superstars not worth the investment?

And it’s not just legacy media organizations investing in star power. The Daily Beast just lured away Howard Kurtz, a 29-year veteran of The Washington Post. (Terms were not disclosed.)

Here’s a bit more from The Wrap piece:

“When some employers think it’s optimistic, that the revenue will return, they might go out on a limb for a star,” Danzinger said, “whereas they might not have before. But in general, those people have always been valuable.”

According to Folio, the average salaries for consumer magazine editors in 2010 was $90,000 – a 10 percent decrease from 2009 – and most of those surveyed by the trade expected the recessionary salary cuts to reverse this year.

But Min and co. aren’t your average ink-stained editors.

“We’re talking about 1 percent of the talent pool,” Danziger said, adding: “Janice Min, she’s always gotten big salaries. She’s always been a star.”

Well, what do you think, fellow journos? Is one superstar worth a sum you could spend on 10 actual reporters?

from ‘born in a newspaper office’ to … birthing babies?

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2010 at 5:48 pm

In a recent e-mail interview, Beth Ott, 32, a former colleague, told me, “It feels like I was born in a newspaper office.” She’s not far off, but she also recently chose to to pursue another career. Ott got her first taste of journalism at 10 years old with Bear Essential News for Kids. “I was hooked,” she said. Ott was the editor of her high school newspaper and interned at a community paper. After earning a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of New Mexico, she worked at the West Valley View, a community bi-weekly in Phoenix’s West Valley, for just shy of 10 years. She left her position as an assistant editor in August. She has three children and has been married nine years.

You recently left newspapers to pursue a career in nursing. Why?
I tell people I did it because I would have some day regretted not doing it. I have always been interested in health, my mother is a nurse and I became most interested when I was hospitalized with preterm labor for six weeks in 2003. As my kids all got to school age, I decided it was time to make my move. I love journalism. I will always be a writer. But it’s time to make a hands-on difference with the other area I am passionate about.

Your husband, Rich, still is an assistant editor at your former paper. What was your working relationship like and did it affect your non-work relationship that included juggling kids, their activities, family stuff, etc.?
To be honest, it didn’t make much of a difference either way. We work well together. We met at the [Peoria] Prospector newspaper years ago. If anything, he’d probably tell you I played wife/editor a little too much, asking him if stories were done yet, what he was working on, etc.

Newspapers everywhere are struggling to survive. Is it different at a smaller-circulation, community newspaper? If so, how?
No, the community paper is struggling for ad dollars just like all other media outlets. The last two years have been tough. We were on 32-hour, work-week “furloughs” for more than a year when I left. They still are on that mandated reduced pay. It’s unfortunate. The paper has more possibilities than it can explore on a small staff with reduced hours. I felt it was very unstable for my husband and I to be there at this point. I had made my decision to change careers, but felt even more validated knowing healthcare is far more stable.

How do you feel The West Valley View incorporates technologywebsites, social media, etc.into its coverage? Does it do a good job? What would you change?
The View is behind in technology and social media usage. The website is not as user-friendly as it should be, and it’s not updated as much as would be ideal. Again, the limited staffing hinders this further. Social media networking is not being used at all.

What was your favorite story you wrote or edited during your newspaper career, and what’s a story that perhaps you didn’t get to tell that you’d still like to?
Wow. There were many stories that touched me. I suppose not surprisingly, many involved health matters and centered on the lives of families in the community. Breaking news is an adrenaline rush, but I lived for the features. I did several stories on families with autistic children and one on a teacher who works solely with autistic children. Those were fascinating to me. I am rather birth-obsessed and perhaps someday as a nurse will have a way to capture peoples’ birth stories in words for them.

If you could have a byline in any publication in the world, which would it be and why?
That’s tough for me. I never really aspired to work at one certain place or have my name in a particular publication. It seems cliché to say I’d like to have my name in The New York Times. I think writing the best story and having an impact on whatever community you are in is what’s important, whether it’s Avondale, Ariz., or New York City.

piecoro: ‘i have trouble imagining doing anything else’

In Uncategorized on September 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Nick Piecoro, 30, is about to complete his fourth season covering the D-backs full time for The Arizona Republic, making him the longest-tenured baseball beat writer in the paper’s history. I’ve known him for 15 years. I predicted in our high school yearbook he’d be the next Peter Gammons, but so far he’s only partway there: Gammons also plays the guitar.

Here are a few highlights from a recent conversation:

Given what’s happened to newspapers the last 10 years, where does The Arizona Republic still fit among the Valley’s media landscape?
Well, I can answer that as it applies to sports: I think The Republic still manages to set the agenda for sports conversations locally. Whereas in the past it was talk radio guys picking up the morning paper and basing entire shows on what was in the sports sections, it’s now constantly changing. Azcentral is still the first place most people go to for local sports news.

When the East Valley Tribune stopped covering pro sports, how did that lack of competition affect The Republic’s sports department?
From my perspective, it was a big loss. While I still try to remain as dogged and aggressive as ever in pursuing stories, not having that other beat writer breathing down my neck does make a difference. As hard I might try, I can’t think of everything to write about all by myself. Plus, there are times when having another reporter around would help to better advance a story, give it depth and expose more details.

In addition to covering the team and writing a game story and notebook every day, how do you incorporate blogs and Twitter and other social media into your coverage, and do you find them useful?
I have a Twitter account that I use sort of sporadically at the moment. I probably should tweet more than I do. I actually don’t think it’s incredibly useful—yet. I think in theory it’s great and all—news and ideas can spread at lightning speed—but there just aren’t enough people on Twitter at the moment. For example, the number of people who will see one of my tweets is a tiny fraction of the hits I’ll get on a story at azcentral. As an aside: I think Twitter can sometimes be dangerous for journalists in that writers will throw unconfirmed things out there with abandon and people will recklessly re-tweet.

How does Republic staff handle furloughs?
As best we can. We’re already pretty barebones as it is, and this doesn’t help, but I think we all realize that furloughs are better than layoffs and sort of just do what we have to do.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
No idea. I like what I’m doing now, and, to be honest, have some trouble imagining doing anything else. If I’m not writing baseball, I bet I’d do something completely different and off the journalistic map.