State of the craft

Subscribe to State of the craft

State of the craft

You might think that the media's declining fortunes would be driving away recruits. But journalism professor Héctor Tobar writes that his students remain committed to their craft: "Young journalists operate on a strange mix of adrenaline and idealism. They savor the rush that comes with making a deadline, or conquering the stage fright of a live broadcast. And they believe that if they master those skills, they’ll contribute something important to their communities."

Michelle Levine, Anna Hiatt, and Michael Shapiro report on a Tow Center-funded study of what longform readers want from websites: "Among our most remarkable findings is that readers finished 94% of the longform pieces they started. To understand why that completion rate is a big deal, we have to step back in time to the early days of the internet, when conventional wisdom held that readers would not be interested in stories longer than the height of a computer screen."

There's more bad news from the Author Guild's latest member survey. Incomes of full-time authors have dropped 30% in the past seven years as traditional publishers merge and self-publishing claims a bigger share of the market: "These phenomena, along with the meteoric rise of Amazon as an industry behemoth and the shuttering of thousands of brick and mortar bookstores, have made the business of authorship both more diverse and less profitable than it was six years ago."

There's finally good news in the online journalism world, as well-funded websites like Vice, BuzzFeed, and Vox Media compete for writers and drive rates up, Noah Davis writes: "The question is, how long will the relative good times of getting paid to write on the web last? Even venture dollars are exhaustible. While a few sites will probably survive, the existing (and future) business models can’t support all the ones that are currently vying for writers and eyeballs."

Get out of the office and be out standing in the field, Laura Dattaro writes in her list of tips for better environmental writing: "As with all beats, reporting from the field makes for the best stories, and not only because you can describe what the elephant smelled like. It can also help provide important cultural context that can be lost amid persistent messages to save a species at any cost." Also, doing peer review in environmental writing.

Felix Salmon joins the chorus saying that journalists should take a more scientific approach to their work but won't do so for reasons of culture and habit: "The problem is that there’s no Ben Goldacre of journalism, no one urging cooperation and replication in the service of a greater good." Akshat Rathi begs to differ and says journalism has never been better: "Salmon confuses the true role of journalism and ignores the deficits of science."

Bad reporting on health science isn't a problem just in America, writes Kathlyn Stone, who interviews Bad Science blogger and physician Ben Goldacre on the flaws of British coverage: "As in the United States, the level of trust the British public has in its media is a mixed bag. 'I think it varies very widely from person to person, and story to story,' says Goldacre. Of specific media he says, 'It’s a broad church, with some very good and some very bad coverage.'"

Jack Murtha discusses web sites that pay writers based on the traffic their posts attract, and writes: "Revenue-sharing sites offer young journalists with full-time gigs a chance to supplement their incomes, which are notoriously shaky, while writing what they want." But he adds that there is a downside risk: "The bigger question is whether the ad-revenue-sharing model can result in investigative journalism." Also, life inside a content mill.

Sam Leith bemoans the current state of non-fiction publishing, with its fondness for sweeping "big ideas" books: "We have a flock of books arguing that the internet is either the answer to all our problems or the cause of them; we have scads of books telling us about the importance of mindfulness, or forgetfulness, or distraction, or stress." But he identifies a silver lining in "what looks like a golden age of publishing for, of all people, the university presses."

Long an established practice in magazine publishing, fact-checking has never really taken hold in the book industry, Boris Kachka writes. Now, that may be changing, as one new Crown imprint plans to pay for fact-checking services on its books, which Kachka calls: "a pretty radical departure. Until now, authors have not just cut the check but decided whether to hire a checker, found one themselves, and directed the process. That’s probably not the most effective system."