Sunday, March 17, 2013

Reflections of the Blog

I moved to Eugene back in April of 2007 for the sole purpose of attending the University of Oregon to get a degree in Journalism. It's not 6 years later and not only am I getting one degree in Journalism, I'm getting two, plus an additional one in English to boot. Of all the things I recall from my first years in the program, the one that sticks out the most was the first time I heard about blogging in my Writing for the Media course taught by Tom Wheeler. For some reason the concept of writing whatever you wanted to, but receiving the moniker of a journalist seemed far fetched. "Who were these people to think that they were doing any kind of service to the community?" I always thought. But here I am, six years later, an avid participant of a tool I originally despised. How did I get there you might ask? Well...

I have always been a stubborn writer. For years I tried to make a daily habit out of writing. It didn't really matter what the subject was. I just needed to put something down on paper, but for years I struggled. I made up excuses for not doing it.

Around 2010 I finally broke through the barrier and started up a blog. I mostly used it as a platform to show off the stories I had written for all of my classes, but nothing about it felt write. It seemed more like an online portfolio, as opposed to a habit. After about six months I stopped using that blog. I tried writing a few personal stories, but none of them felt good enough for what I was trying to accomplish. And when I say that, what I'm actually saying is that at the time I still didn't know what the hell I was doing.

It took several years of reading dozens of blogs to truly get an understanding of what its purpose is. I had always believed that everything posted needed to be some profound, poiniant piece of literature, but the reality is that a blog can be anything as long as it has a point. And in all honestly, that point doesn't even need to be really understood by the reader, as long as the author knows the reason why they're doing it.

In January of 2012 I started my first baseball blog. I had a lot of friends who doing some, as well as a few newspaper and magazine writers; however, the one common theme I saw in their work was that they were all trying to inject their "insight" into the minds of whoever would read it. Some of it was interesting, but the majority of it was incredibly useless to me. A lot of the writing was fantastic, but the content had no real voice to it. By that I mean it felt like the same recycled words I had been reading in newspapers and magazines all my life. Blogs are supposed to have a lot more personality to it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Words of Inspiration

"Kill the author," says WBEZ Chicago Digital Content Editor Tim Akimoff.

As an avid fan of Hunter S. Thompson, and self-proclaimed gonzo journalist, I never knew how to put in into words the proper way to admire, but not copy another writer's style. Years ago I transitioned from a strict news writer to the the more detail oriented, scene setting writer that I've become today. The biggest hurdles I had to climb in this process were the stern looks and comments I received from the professors in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. To them, keeping to a strict news only format was the proper way to relay a story. I did my best to stick to it as their opinions and judgements, as I needed their approval and good grades to be able to complete their classes. As begrudging as that experience was, the reality, at least in my eyes, is that writing in a strict news style was boring. Every time I stepped up to a computer to compose a story I felt that being able to tell the story the way I would talk to a person face-to-face was the most appropriate route. While I understand news writing's value, in the ever-evolving world of journalism, the traditions of its founders have grown stale, and the consumers are losing interest more and more each day. So what's the solution?

In 2005 Akimoff graduated from the UOSOJC, much in the same way as I'm about to do this next week. He and I both dealt with the drudgery of the old style of journalism and tackled the all mighty challenge that was Info Hell. But at the end of the day, what did we really learn? That's not to say we didn't. What I'm getting at is aside from perfecting our style and proper use of the AP guidelines, what else was there? I bring this up because I started the program two years after Akimoff left it. I had a few of the same professors, and sure enough I went through the same routines as he. Today the program is completely different. No longer do the students focus heavily upon the writing and printing aspects of journalism. Now they're all learning more about the tech side of things, and how to get your product out to a larger audience since the days of the newspaper being the most viable source are fading into the days of the dinosaurs.

Much like the trade itself, Akimoff adapted. He started out focusing primarily within the print format at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon and The Oregonian in Portland; however, he didn't limit himself to just that. He learned the new formats on the fly and branched out his services in Alaska, Montana, Ukraine and a slew of other countries. In a short time Akimoff has mastered and taken charge of the new generation of journalism, relying heavily upon digital and social media-based content.

Contrary to what we were both taught in our early years if the program, clearly a change has come. Now, it's all a matter of whether or not the program, as well as those learning it are capable of understanding the new practices in which to reach their audience. For me, it's certainly taken time; however, having worked on a much larger platform in New York City, I am at the forefront of this change. Now, it's just a matter of staying relevant and gaining a large group of followers who understand and can relate to what we produce. That is what will keep journalism thriving.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Social Media and Journalism- A Justifiable Outlet

Back in Spring term of 2009 I was required to start up a Twitter account. At the time I didn't really understand what Twitter was or its purpose within the journalism community. When it came to social media I had always relied heavily upon a newspaper/magazine's Web site for content, or to a lesser extent, Facebook. Instagram hadn't really come onto the scene quite yet, and I honestly had no concept of what Tumblr, Reddit and Four Square were, let alone their purpose as well. Here we are almost four years later and I can honestly say that I'm an avid user of about 50% of those tools. What happened? I had always relied heavily upon first hand sources, and yet I've completely dismissed most of my old school journalism philosophies and evolved into the new age of journalism.

I can pretty much pinpoint my heavy use of social media back to February of 2012, the point in time when I was in the application for the MLB Fan Cave. Since what they were trying to accomplish, in regard to branching out into new demographics of fanhood and marketing, it was greatly encouraged that I get with the times and use social media tools on the regular. For the first month or so I struggled. I had only used my Twitter account off and on since 2009 to the tune of less than 200 tweets. Today, I'm well over 30,000 tweets. On any given day I crank out between 25-100 tweets, most of which consist of me shooting off my opinion on something baseball related; however, there are a few times when I interject upon real world political issues and help relay breaking news to the masses. On top of that, two to three times a day I remind people to read my extracurricular blog posts and be sure to tag the link within the tweets. As a result of this quick, useful tool I generate anywhere between 125-300 pageviews a day. While I fully understand that my time in the Fan Cave helped out with my viewership, I also know that even without that I would still be able to generate a decent amount of views amongst the Twitter community as people with similar interests as I will always come across it.

I didn't start using Instagram until the end of June in 2012, as I found that to be a somewhat useless tool for me at the time; however, once I understood that I could take 1 photo and publish it on multiple Web sites at one time I couldn't believe I hadn't been using it all along. In less than a year I've gained 800 followers, as I am always posting photos of my travels and making sure to tag them with proper search words in order to gain more viewers/followers. Due to the heavy amount of traffic on this tool, like Twitter, I am able to reach out to larger markets.

While I still need to investigate Reddit, Tumblr, etc. I've heard nothing but good things when it comes to getting ones work out to the public, and I'm more than positive that major media organizations are fully aware of this as they have been relying heavily upon it for quotes and trending newsworthy information. That unto itself is quite fascinating. Not even 10 years ago media outlets were responsible for letting people know what and wasn't newsworthy, while today it's truly the audience that decides it. If any media outlet wished to stay in business or relevant, they need to focus a lot of their attention on the social media market. I'm not saying they need to rely all of their focus on it, just enough to understand who their viewers are and how they can shift their approach and bring in a new audience.