The journey continues: journalism, writing, and the cultural landscape

Stop with the handwringing: One more example of why these are not the worst of times for journalism

Posted by Holly Edgell on September 15, 2013

Sign of the times.

“I’d never seen a story that had such a high degree of importance and such a low degree of understanding.” — Lara Setrakian, News Deeply

When people wring their hands about the future of journalism, I like to point to real examples about why these are not the worst of times for our industry. This morning I came across a great story about a woman whose digital news initiative is cause for celebration and optimism.

Not only is Lara Setrakian making us smarter and better informed about Syria (among other things), her own career journey shows how a journalist can and must evolve to survive and thrive in the 21st Century.

She’s the founder of News Deeply, described as “a new media startup and social enterprise based in New York. We are registered as a B Corp, or Benefit Corporation, with the stated mission of advancing foreign policy literacy through public service journalism.” Out of News Deeply came Syria Deeply.

From FastCoExist.com (Fast Company):

In December 2012, Setrakian launched Syria Deeply, a single-topic news site that’s changing both the way journalists cover a global crisis and the way the global news audience receives information. It’s also just the first in what Setrakian hopes is a series of “Deeply” sites to come, tackling everything from Congo to the war on drugs.”

The FastCoExist.com article traces Setrakian’s career trajectory from TV news correspondent to niche topic journalist. Of the smaller audience she reaches today Setrakian says:  “I’m very satisfied serving the niche,” she says. “I love the niche. Let me live in the long tail the rest of my days. I felt only abundance, not scarcity.”


Here’s what Arianna Huffington had to say as everyone was wondering what the purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos might mean for journalism. I like it.

“After all, despite all the dire news about the state of the newspaper industry, we are in something of a golden age of journalism for news consumers. There’s no shortage of great journalism being done, and there’s no shortage of people hungering for it.”

Amen, sister. Amen.

Read more (if you want)

Extra, extra

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POLL: Where do you find humor?

Posted by Holly Edgell on September 7, 2013

#ROFL: Vine and Twitter are making me laugh so hard I can’t even stand it.

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#ROFL: Vine and Twitter are making me laugh so hard I can’t even stand it

Posted by Holly Edgell on September 7, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 11.52.00 AMJudging by the number of social media posts about how to maximize, leverage, and optimize social media it’s fair to say that we take social media very seriously.

That’s why I am thankful to the people who find time to create parody accounts on Twitter and produce exquisitely funny six-second videos on Vine.

Here are my favorite Twitter parody handles, in no particular order:

@PrinceTweets2U - Samples: “excuse me but purple is the new black” and “i am the royal baby i am prince”

@ShakespeareSong – Sample: “Halt, the hammer of time is upon us” and “Frozen water, frozen water, infant”

@SeinfeldToday – Samples: “Jerry’s vacation’s ruined by the stress of avoiding Breaking Bad spoilers. Elaine’s never seen the show, ruins a viewing party w/questions” and “Jerry & George discover Kramer’s the subject of an insane number of Craigslist missed connections. Elaine gets a pixie cut. It’s disastrous.”

@DangItObama – Samples: “I don’t get Labor Day off.. THANKS OBAMA. ” and “Miley Cyrus. Thanks Obama.”

@PRISM_NSA – Samples “Our intelligence indicates that Obama is late for his Syria speech because Candy Crush Saga.” and “30 years ago today this was the #1 song in America. It’s still #1 at the NSA Every Breath You Take”

And over on Vine…

The thing that’s great about comedy on Vine is that creating it requires a lot more than six seconds to think out before you actually start rolling.

And, Vine is making stars out of every day people who have a knack for tapping into the hilarity of the things we do every day. Many of them have an insane number of followers, and advertisers are taking notice.

For example, a young Frenchman named Jerome Jarre has 2.1 million followers on Vine. He specializes in hugging strangers in New York City and other antics that perhaps only a foreigner could get away with in the Big Apple. Recently, I saw that General Electric featured Jarre and his buddy Marcus Johns (2.5 million followers) in a Vine to advertise something called the Apple Drop.

Rudy Mancuso (1.7 million followers) was recently featured in a Trident Gum Vine post, along with Nicholas Megalis (2.6 million followers). One of the best Rudy posts is a collaboration with King Bach (2.2 million followers). It’s a rap that goes like this:

Bach: “I’m lovin’ New York City…”

Mancuso: “But you know I love it bigger…”

Bach: “I’m chillin’ with my Cuban…”

Mancuso: “And I’m chillin’ with my…. African-American”

One of my favorite Vine celebs is Alphacat (1.1 million followers), who does a spot on impression of President Obama (dancing, tapping our phones). Another good person to follow is QPark (about 625,000 followers), whose schtick includes “Sudden Rachet Syndrome.”

Among the relatively few truly hilarious female Vine celebs is Simone Shepherd (959,000 followers) whose “How to handle those friends who…” skits are classics! She has a real flair for nailing the above referenced quotidian elements of life.

Silly? Perhaps. But you’ll thank me on those days when instead of shaking your head over a post that would have been best left unposted, you instead find yourself #ROFL. You’re welcome.

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Cincinnati, so far

Posted by Holly Edgell on June 22, 2013

So I’ve been in Cincinnati since November. It seemed like a very long winter, with spring rather hesitant to get going. Still, it was worth the wait. The Queen City feels friendly and fun in the warm weather. And I already kind of liked it when it was cold.
















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Every dog has its day and now so can you: 10 steps to your own special celebration

Posted by Holly Edgell on April 21, 2013

This post is for entertainment purposes only. Does not imply an endorsement of setting up your own day.

It seems like every cause, organization, food, drink, hobby, etc. now has a its very own day. There are many that most people can agree are worthy of a special place on our calendar: Earth Day on April 22, for example. Here are a few you may not have heard of:

So, what’s to stop you or me from establishing our very own day? There is an official procedure for doing so, which involves an act of Congress. But, why bother? You can declare your very own special day.

Aug. 6, may birthday, is Wiggle Your Toes Day.

Aug. 6, may birthday, is Wiggle Your Toes Day.

Here’s how:

  1. Pick a day. It’s a good idea to find a day that’s not already taken. See the website NationalWhateverDay.com to find a good one. Cost: Free. (I was sorry to learn that Aug. 6, my birthday, is already taken. It’s Wiggle Your Toes Day, origins unknown).
  2. Start a blog about your day. Do this a few months ahead of time so you can build up some buzz. Cost: Free
  3. Begin your social media campaign. Create a Facebook Page and Twitter account to get the word out and spark some engagement. Consider Instagram if your day involves something visual. For example: Your Instagram account for Nail Polish Day (there isn’t such a day yet, as far as I can tell) might feature photos of different colors of nail polish. Cost: Whatever you’d like to spend on supplies for your nails.
  4. Consider setting up a YouTube channel and posting videos. For example, you painting your nails or interviews with experts (like your favorite nail salon owner). Cost: Free, if you at least have a smart phone. Otherwise, borrow gear from a friend or consider investing in some basic equipment.
  5. Create a Wikepedia entry for your day. Cost: Free
  6. Consider hosting a launch party to which your nearest and dearest are invited. Since they presumably love–or at least like–you, they are potential evangelists for your special day. Cost: You might want to buy snacks and refreshments.
  7. Host a meetup. This is a great chance to assemble random people who share your obsession (nail polish, for example). They may also become evangelists. Cost: Again, food and beverages are great incentives. In our nail polish example, you could also promise a free bottle to the first 10 people who show up.
  8. Write and send out press releases to the media. Your list should include specialty and trade outlets that might get excited about your obsession (say, nail polish). Cost: free
  9. Take the week leading up to your day off from work. This will free you up for interviews with the media and allow you devote as much time as you need to ramping up your social media efforts. Cost: If you get paid by the hour, it’s a big sacrifice. If you are salaried, you’ll use up paid time off. Probably worth it, though.
  10. Enjoy your day! And, start ramping up for next year.

Related reading:

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Black History Month: The Loving story is a story about love

Posted by Holly Edgell on February 24, 2013

Mildred and Richard Loving

Mildred and Richard Loving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Black History Month is important for many reasons. For me one of the best things about it is that it reminds purveyors of pop culture to dust off archival footage and photographs that tell the African-American story, which is actually the American story.

I was flipping through the channels late Saturday morning (an often dispiriting exercise) when I stumbled upon a History Channel documentary about the civil rights movement. The segment focused on Mildred and Richard Loving, the Virginia couple who took their right to be married and live where they wanted seriously.

THIS IS GREAT: New York Times Slideshow “The Case of Loving v. Bigotry”

Mildred was black an Native American. Richard was white. They married in 1958, traveling to Washington, D.C. to do so since it was illegal for them to wed in Virginia.

In the footage shown by the History Channel the Lovings appear soft spoken and humble as their eldest son, smiling and laughing, capers around them. By all accounts they hadn’t sought a fight with Virginia, not to mention a Supreme Court ruling. Living in a county where racial blending had been common, they likely did not expect to be outed. They hoped to live quietly and raise a family together.

I couldn’t find much online about the three Loving children and how they lived as adults. Donald and Sidney died before middle age. Peggy is still alive and seems to have served as a sort of family spokesperson. The archival film shows them as happy, frolicking kids.

Ten years after the Lovings got married, and one year after they won their Supreme Court case, my black (Belizean) mother and white (American) father got married in Belize (then British Honduras) where, of course, interracial relationships were at the very foundation of an entire population. Granted, most of these relationships–like those that existed in most slave societies–were not “official.” There were few marriage certificates and plenty of unspoken rules.

So, I do think of my parents as pioneers in their own way. Like the Lovings, they did not consider themselves in these terms. The reasons for marrying had nothing to do with making a statement and everything to do with making a life.

Happy Black History Month.

Zelma Inez Tucker married Alvin George Edgell on Sept. 14, 1968. Belize City, British Honduras

Zelma Inez Tucker married Alvin George Edgell on Sept. 14, 1968. Belize City, British Honduras

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Hyperlocal journalism: Too important to fail

Posted by Holly Edgell on February 10, 2013

Journalism types on Twitter were abuzz with the news last week: Everyblock is no more. The hyperlocal site had a short life: 2007-2013.


Launched in 2007 with a $1.1 million grant in the inaugural Knight News Challenge, Everyblock’s promise of data-driven coverage of neighborhood news was at the vanguard of hyperlocal. I can only imagine the optimism and sense of renewed journalistic purpose that founder Adrian Holovaty must have felt! And when MSNBC acquired Everyblock in 2009, Holovaty may have had the sense that he’d started something big, something that would shape the way consumers get news about their communities. MSNBC relaunched Everyblock in March 2011.

Holovaty’s words upon joining MSNBC:

“Over the past three years (EveryBlock’s post-acquisition period), msnbc.com has been a fantastic company to work for. With EveryBlock, it’s managed to do something very rare: not only keeping it alive post-acquisition (which the acquired company cannot take for granted), but achieving the delicate balance of providing guidance/resources and keeping their hands off. Most acquisitions fail, and Charlie Tillinghast and the msnbc.com folks have bent over backwards to avoid that with us. I can’t think of a better place for us to have ended up than msnbc.com.”

Here’s a snippet from Poynter.org’s Feb. 8 article on the demise of Everyblock:

“Adrian Holovaty left the company last August. At the time, he reflected upon major points of impact, including jumpstarting movements toward open data and custom maps, strengthening neighborhoods in the 16 cities it served and releasing source code that inspired other projects.”

Schiller: “A tough call”

Holovaty’s feel-good MSNBC interlude was short, as interludes are wont to be. Remember when NBC assumed full control on MSNBC in 2012? Turns out, Everyblock was not part of NBC’s strategy. Here’s what Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and chief digital officer of NBC News, said in a memo to staffers:

“As we continue to grow and evolve the NBC News Digital portfolio, we are focused on investing in content, products and platforms that play to our core strengths. The decision to shut down the site was difficult, but in the end, we didn’t see a strategic fit for EveryBlock within the portfolio.”

Schiller told Poynter.org (and Tweeted) the decision was “a tough call.”

Remember TBD?

It seemed revolutionary at the time. Even audacious! Newsonomics provided “10 Reasons to Watch TBD Launch” in August. 2010. Here’s point number two:

2) It’s multimedia out of the box. Newschannel 8 [cablecast] and WJLA (Channel 7) broadcast, both also owned by Allbritton, will abandon their current websites and all the station-produced content will be found on TBD — one website. “Hard news on TV, hard news on the web,” is the intention.

The marriage of WJLA-TV & the web was over in the blink of an eye. Its life span? About two years. In hindsight, perhaps TBD (“to be decided”) was an unfortunate moniker for the endeavor.

Our friends at Poynter.org came up with “Six Business Lessons from TBD’s early demise.”

All eyes on Patch & AOL

As the handful of readers of this blog know, I used to work for Patch. Joining the AOL hyperlocal startup in July 2010 for the St. Louis region, I was part of the nationwide team that scaled from about 80 sites that summer to more than 750 by year’s end.

Talk about audacious!

Patch employs more than 1,000 people in editorial, sales, programming and administrative positions around the country. Begun as a glimmer in the eye of AOL CEO Tim Armstrong in 2009, Patch now boasts more than 1,000 news and community websites around the country. Patch has been through so many changes, I’ve lost count.

By now, Patchers have gotten pretty used to scrutiny from fellow journalists, not to mention the rumors and misinformation about the company that continue to circulate. It’s still hard for me to get used to the sense that many observers and pundits are expecting Patch to fail, and have already written obituaries.

Too important to fail

Hyperlocal journalism provides news coverage from the front lines of our lives; down to the very streets, schools, local businesses, yard sales, police blotters, and city council meetings. The is the bread and butter of life!

You won’t find the latest zoning board meeting agenda in The New York Times or even your major metro daily, or see a profile of your town’s leading Girl Scout Cookie seller on CNN. The Huffington Post may not take much interest in the blogger on your block who organizes the local book club or a heated debate over new lights at a local golf course.

And when it comes the big stories? Hyperlocal news can be vital, often with reporters who live in or near the communities they cover.

I am not a business person. But I do get that the key to a thriving journalism product is money: advertising for most media outlets, underwriting and donations for public and community media. Crowd funding could be a viable option for some startups, at least as part of an overall financial picture.

I feel strongly that it takes time to grow anything; journalism is no different. People develop media consumption habits over time. Granted, adoption happens faster than ever, but we still need time to discover and decide we like something; more time to fold that something into our daily lives; and still more time to recommend it to others. And, while all this is happening, a startup has to be able to fail and recover, regroup and retool, and keep going. And, not for nothing: all the while keeping everyone in the loop, being as open as possible about why people are seeing the changes they’re seeing.

How much time?

As I learned while with Patch, our friends and neighbors are hungry for news and information where they live. They want to interact. They appreciate a hub for sharing and engaging around issues, events, and stories that mean something.

Financial backers, consumers, pundits, journalists: We all need to give hyperlocal time to succeed. I am not sure what the ideal amount of time is: Certainly not two years, and probably not six years.

The first company to make hyperlocal news make a profit with be richly rewarded, on many levels.

Me at the NABJ convention, San Diego (2010), just days after joining Patch.com

Me at the NABJ convention, San Diego (2010), just days after joining Patch.com

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Use your words (and photos): One journalist’s month in social media and grammar

Posted by Holly Edgell on January 26, 2013

The Poynter Institute is the leading go-to training and ideas hub for journalism. So, I was pretty pleased and proud when Joe Grimm, the “Ask the Recruiter” guru for Poynter, asked me to take part in a live chat about social media and communities.


Like many journalists and others who spend a great deal of time in and around social media, I’ve been a participant in live online chats. This was my first time actually playing the role of question-answerer. Along with Mallary Tenore, managing editor of Poynter.org, Joe and I got started at 3 p.m. on Jan. 15. It was fun!

(Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

(Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

In other news…

Here are a few interesting, quirky and useful items I’ve come across this month:

  1. Poloroid’s Fotobar Stores Will Let You Print Photos from Your Phone (Mashable.com) Interesting to see Poloroid making a play for a slice of the digital pie in this way. The Fotobars will let people come in and print digital photos stored on their phones–and not just on paper. I predict a great many “selfies” coming to life as questionable art via materials like metal, acrylic, wood, bamboo and canvas.
  2. How the World Consumes Social Media (Mashable.com) Who knew that Bangkok has more Facebook users than any other city in the world? Also, the United Kingdom is the only country where men outnumber women on Pinterest. 
  3. 100 Amazing Social Media Statistics, Facts and Figures (MediaBistro.com) For anyone seeking a primer on just how our most popular social media platforms stack up, this is a great one-stop shop.
  4. Have your say: The best and worst words and phrases of 2012 (WCPO.com) Speaking of the word “selfie” (see #1 above), it’s a term I learned just this month, as various organizations put out the call for Americans to nominate the best and worst words phrases of 2012. I love these lists, because the vocabulary of any given 12 months is often emblematic with our culture, obsessions, and outrages. Also to love, The American Dialect Association encouraged us to submit nominations via social media.

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Here’s to a new year… and the arc of the moral universe

Posted by Holly Edgell on December 27, 2012

Maya Relief of Royal Blood Letting

Maya Relief of Royal Blood Letting (Photo credit: vintagedept)

The world did not come to an end. In fact, the countries that make up the mundo Maya are still with us—albeit it perhaps a little worse for wear after the hordes of apocalypse hopefuls came and went.

60 Minutes and SNL are still on the air. The New York Times, New Yorker and New York Review of Books—but not Newsweek—are still in print.

We still don’t know whether the U.S. will plummet over the fiscal cliff. And if we do, may the whole thing be a lesson to us in this era of political partisanship.

So, after some of the terrible and nail-biting moments of 2012, how do we do it: remain optimistic for 2013? I take a good measure of comfort from this quote:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but It bends toward justice” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Happy New Year, everyone! As the ancient Maya might say: “It’s a new day, folks.”

And be sure to check these out before 2012 runs out!

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My very own list: Most fascinating people of 2012

Posted by Holly Edgell on December 13, 2012

Barbara Walters may be onto something. Every year the goddess of the newsmaker interview gets people excited about the headliners she finds most fascinating. So what about us mere mortals? We have our favorites, too.

Please note: Although some picks may seem a bit goofy, I am genuinely interested in the activities and antics of these people. I wonder what drives them and ponder their inner lives.

These folks may not have done anything particularly fascinating in 2012, but I found them fascinating anyway.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite, so I am listing my picks in alphabetical order.

The cover for Adele's single Make You Feel My Love

The cover for Adele’s single Make You Feel My Love (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adele. The zaftig and beautifully groomed English singer has an amazing voice and songwriting chops. One expects her accent to be plummy and upper class, speaking of a proper British boarding school followed by  classical training. But, no: Adele’s accent is all north London. You hear the street, the commoner, the young woman raised by a single mum.

English: Cory Booker at the 2011 Time 100 gala.

English: Cory Booker at the 2011 Time 100 gala. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cory Booker. I have a crush on the Newark mayor. He saves people from burning buildings and goes on food stamps to prove a point. He Tweets the quotidian and the profound.

Flo, from the Progressive commercials. Who is this lady and why is she so mesmerizing? My favorite Flo ad is probably the one in which she sabotages the “Flobot,” but they’re all good.

Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson of the Los Angeles Police Department. Granted, she’s a fictional character–perfectly played by Kyra Sedgwick on The Closer–but, still. The Southern accent twanging, chocolate treat sneaking Johnson was a real television treat. Her flaws and foibles, travails in the workplace, and vulnerability resonated with me. I was missing her even before the TNT show wrapped this year.

John McAfee. In the category of “you can’t make this stuff up.” McAfee made big money by being smart, creating an anti-virus software that’s a household word. Now he’s, well… Where to begin?

English: President Barack Obama runs down the ...

President Barack Obama runs down the East Colonnade with family dog, Bo, on the dog’s initial visit to the White House on March 15, 2009. Bo came back to live at the White House in April. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bo Obama. Okay, he’s not a person. Nevertheless he fascinates me, and I’m not even a dog person. You may remember the 2009 photo of Bo the puppy running alongside President Obama in the White House. Did the presidential pooch have any idea what he was getting into? Probably not, but I believe that today, the more mature Bo knows his family is kind of a big deal, and–more importantly–so is he.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle...

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are joined by their daughters, Sasha and Malia, and Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, Monday, April 13, 2009, as they wave from the South Portico of the White House to guests attending the White House Easter Egg Roll. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mrs. Marian Robinson, President Obama’s mother-in-law. That quiet smile. That look that says, “Yes, I hang out at the White House. No, it’s not all that.” I like to think she allows herself a few private moments each day of deep satisfaction and pride in her family, although she would never show it.

Yoani Sánchez, Cuban blogger and dissident, Tweets in Spanish and English.

Yoani Sánchez, Cuban blogger and dissident, Tweets in Spanish and English.

Yoani Sanchez. This Cuban dissident and blogger may go down in history as one of the new Cuban revolutionaries. Blocked from leaving her country to speak about the true state of things there; dogged by police; and arrested, she Tweets truth to power–in English and Spanish. She loves her homeland.

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