Sunday Morning Meditation – The Inventory
Reporters should tell the truth, at least to the best of our ability, even when the truth isn’t all that pretty.
I felt pretty good about the results of my first year. Not everything panned out like I wanted it. That never happens in any case. As this year draws to a close, I’ve taken stock of my work, a sort of mental inventory, if you will. This is my own self assessment, the good, the bad and the just plain stupid. It’s inherently biased, of course, as most self-examinations are. But I’ve tried to be objective.
HIGHS AND LOWS
There were moments where I felt pretty good about doing this, and moments where I wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere. My recap goes something like…
High: Winning the Creative Loafing “Best Blog” and “Best Blogger” awards. I was pretty proud of this one, particularly since it was a reader’s choice award. Without readers, none of this matters. When I told my mom about it, she said, “What the heck is a ‘Creative Loafing?'”
Low: The Creative Content Alliance. This idea hasn’t quite died, but it never took off either. I wanted to get a group of local news websites to participate in a mutually-beneficial exchange of content. This idea isn’t unprecedented. Content sharing is common. But instead of working with one company, I wanted to work with several and place them under one license. The problem with all this, I realize in retrospect, is that it’s very hard to collaborate with one partner, much less three or four. Independently run websites are, by nature, independent. Our needs are different, too. There were some good lessons learned here, and I’m still refining the concept.
High: Bringing the issue of news copyright into the spotlight. My little feud with the Publisher of the Times Herald in Newnan, Ga., wasn’t just about that paper stealing my work, publishing it on its website then being a jerk to me when I complained about it. For me, it was about the industry-wide indifference to copyright theft and its implications for our future. There are plenty of people out there who see something posted on another website and automatically assume it’s OK to simply republish it. Unfortunately, some of those people happen to be other publishers.
This was one of my motivations behind the Creative Content Alliance idea. I wanted to work up a formal content sharing arrangement with other websites that would also promote sound, industry-wide practices with regard to link aggregation and republication of content. The Times Herald’s casual indifference to my concern, bolstered by the cowardly refusal of the Georgia Press Association to say anything thing about it, is symptomatic of a much larger problem.
Low: The stalemate with Avondale Estates. I’ve had some weird stuff happen to me during my career. But I’ve never had a sitting mayor of a city send a mass email, using a city-owned account, accusing me of “cyber-bullying” city employees and residents.
It seems that the stalemate has lifted now. City officials are returning calls and answering questions, even difficult ones. It’s a much easier for both of us. But still, that email was just nuts.
High: Annexation and cityhood coverage. The DeKalb County annexation and cityhood debate reminds me of why I do what I do. Journalism is about empowering people to make good decisions, and making complex issues easy to understand. I feel like I’ve done a lot of decent work on both fronts, and the map that one of our readers made showing the overlapping boundaries went over quite well.
Low: Podcast. Podcasting is one of those things that, like running a business, looks much easier to do than it actually is. The recording of the Podcasts wasn’t so bad. But the editing and publication of it sucked up hours out of my day. It’s just not something I’m able to do as a one man show.
High: Subscribers and advertisers. The subscriber idea is one that exceeded my own expectations. We now have 84 of them, paying $6 a month (though some are paying the older rate of $12.99, god bless them). That money has provided a stable revenue stream that allows me to hire more freelancers to cover more things. It’s a win-win-win.
Our advertisers are just as important. Their ranks have grown and I’m constantly thinking of ways to help them get the most bang for their buck. You can help us there by supporting them. Supporting the local economy is a good idea in general, unless you are conceding territory to big box retailers and chains.
Thanks again to our subscribers and advertisers who help us keep news free for everyone.
The other hard thing about being a one-man show is that in the process of producing anywhere between four to 10 articles a day, I screw a few things up. I always strive not to. Sometimes it isn’t my fault. I just get bad information. Most of the time it’s entirely my fault. I try to learn from my mistakes.
Here are the corrections I ran this year that were the most frustrating, embarrassing or just plain stupid.
Guns everywhere. The state Legislature passed House Bill 60 this year, a law that few people really understood. Some of our local restaurants weighed in, saying they wouldn’t allow guns under the provision of the law that allows guns in bars. It turns out that, technically, the bill never applied to Decatur because we don’t have bars, in the legal sense of that term. Most corrections are a short sentence or two at the end of a story. Very few of them require a full story explaining the screw up. This one did.
Running a story about a “Best of List” that’s three months old. It helps when you check the date on these things ….
Bungled burglary story. I took a simple story about commercial burglaries on West Ponce and somehow or another managed to get it wrong. In the race to be first and not simply republish a press release, I got really turned around on some key details.
Screwing up the dates of Jewish high holidays. A story I wrote about a scheduling snafu involving Jewish high holidays contained its own errors about the dates of those holidays. Sigh.
The case of the missing buildings. It’s hard to get away from my computer sometimes and actually visit the subjects of my articles. That would’ve been helpful before I published a story about the Fenner Dunlop property in Avondale stating that there were buildings on the site that had actually been demolished some time ago. Doh.
Screwing up a story my buddy told me. I interviewed a good friend of mine at length about his experiences fighting in the second Iraq War. I thought writing it would be a cinch. Appearances can be deceiving.
That’s my self-critique. It’s been an interesting ride this year. I’m looking forward to getting on the roller coaster again in 2015.