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I am now a total fan girl for Kiese Laymon

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I’ve had guns pulled on me by four people under Central Mississippi skies — once by a white undercover cop, once by a young brother trying to rob me for the leftovers of a weak work-study check, once by my mother and twice by myself. Not sure how or if I’ve helped many folks say yes to life but I’ve definitely aided in few folks dying slowly in America, all without the aid of a gun…

I have never met Kiese Laymon nor seen a picture of him, but none of that matters because I’ve read his words. I know that he’s a professor at Vassar College and that he penned an essay entitled How To Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance, which was recently picked up and published by Gawker.  (Sidenote: I now have a new respect for Gawker too.)

His essay is quite simply one of the best, most beautifully written pieces of journalism I have come across in years. It opens with the quote above and goes on to describe what it’s like growing up black and male in America; growing up black in America period. Laymon calls it being “born a black boy on parole in Central Mississippi,” but it could easily be said for just about any place in America really.

Laymon, quite frankly, may be one of the most profound writers of our time.

If you have about 20 minutes, this is a must read. If you don’t have the time, make the time. Then try to find anything and everything else Kiese Laymon has written.

– Tracie Powell

New Media Looks A Lot Like Old Media: Not Very Diverse

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Print publications and television news outlets have long come under fire for the limited way in which they report on people of color. But a study published this week by The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard shows that online media isn’t doing much better.

With exceptions for the occasional celebrity, person of influence or athlete, there was little to no coverage of the everyday lives of blacks, Hispanics or Asians, according to the report titled, Familiar Patterns of Minority Exclusion Follow Mainstream Media Online.

“Legacy news organizations have struggled for decades to widen their coverage to include people of color in all aspects of their lives. There are the ubiquitous A-list celebrities, of course, and the crossover musicians and the athletes, and those stories with an emotional punch that transcend the usual norms, but neither print nor broadcast media have consistently portrayed minorities in all facets of American life and culture,” states Jean Marie Brown, a former managing editor with The Forth Worth Star-Telegram, who penned the report.

“But the Web is supposed to be different, right? Space is unlimited. The ability to aggregate copy gets around staffing concerns. The institutionalized habits (and excuses) that hamstrung the legacy newsrooms aren’t part of online culture,” Brown said. “Couple this with the notion that we’re said to be living in a post-racial society and the result should be rich, vibrant reporting that represents the life experiences of all Americans. It should not be coverage that is stratified by class, race, geography, generation and gender.”

What Brown found instead is that the so-called mainstream websites are just as limited in including people of color in daily coverage as their legacy counterparts. She also found that the minority online media not only did a better job of reflecting people of color, but were also more inclusive in their coverage.

Brown compared the home pages of eight websites, once a day for a year: Four mainstream websites that include The Huffington Post, The Daily Best, Slate, and Salon as well as four websites that target minorities. They include TheRoot, theGriot, Loop21 and MarioWire.

Same Story, Different Take

For example, Brown pointed to coverage of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick who, in April, joined with the Humane Society in speaking out against dog fighting. By all accounts a good deed for Vick who had served jail time for abusing dogs. The Huffington Post used an Associated Press wire story pairing it with a menacing photograph of Vick, Brown said, while thegriot posted the same wire story with an image showing Vick smiling.

Instead of better, more inclusive coverage of people of color, Brown said mainstream online media are caught in the same loop that ensnared legacy outlets.

“Their view of minorities is limited, and that in turn hinders their ability to broaden their coverage,” she said. “The parallels between the legacies and online media are as stark as they are disheartening. Rather than fostering understanding that might help us find common ground, mainstream online media maintain the divisive “us vs. them” mentality that is evident in many of our contemporary conversations about race.”

Diversity in news coverage, or a lack thereof, seems to be receiving quite a bit of attention this week. On Thursday the National Association of Black Journalists will release a report that shows when it comes to diversity inside television stations, news executives have a lot of work to do. Also, organizers of the Online News Association’s annual conference dedicated a special session on the topic that is scheduled to take place on Saturday, just days after news executives met in New York earlier in the week to discuss diversity in newsroom leadership at a meeting convened by the American Society of News Editors.

Media bias and a failure to adequately cover the lives and issues of people of color has been widely discussed and documented in research studies, books and articles over the past 60 years. Most recently a Chicago TV station aired an interview with a four-year-old boy, and deliberately took his quote out of context to completely distort its meaning. The TV station made it seem as though the African American child idolized guns and criminals when, in fact, the child said he wanted to be a police officer. The station edited out that part of the interview.

Diversity Inside Newsrooms

The ethical breach was roundly condemned by journalism organizations, including NABJ. The Chicago station had no people of color in management roles. If they had, things might have gone differently, according to Bob Butler, a reporter at KCBS Radio in San Francisco and NABJ’s Vice President of Broadcast.

“If you have people of color in there, people in decision-making roles who can say ‘wait, we shouldn’t do this,’ then you have a better chance of getting it right,” Butler added.

In Washington, D.C. this week to present NABJ’s findings on newsroom diversity to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Butler said it is important to know who is calling the shots because that affects news coverage and because these are the people who can hire and set the news agenda.

“New media looks a lot like old media when it comes to diversity in terms of who’s running the websites. They have the same issue,” said Butler, echoing other NABJ leaders. “We would like to think that a station, newspaper or website reflects the diversity of the community it serves. In the case of TV stations, the faces on air might be diverse but that doesn’t reflect the shot-callers. That’s what we’re trying to address.”

Speaking at the American Society of News Editors conference on leadership in diversity, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The New York Times, this week challenged the news industry “to embrace diversity and take action to transform your organizations” in the face of tremendous changes in technology, demographics and the economy.

ASNE has been hashing over this topic for years and had even set benchmarks for newsrooms to reflect the diverse communities they were trying to serve. After consistently missing the benchmarks year-after-year, ASNE issued a report in April showing the ranks of people of color employed by U.S. newspapers actually declined three years in a row.

The report found that people of color accounted for 12.79 percent of full-time newspaper employees last year, down .47 percent from 2009. Of the 1,389 newspapers surveyed, 441 employed no people of color at all in the newsroom.

“The U.S. Census numbers clearly tell us that people of color populations are growing while our newsrooms aren’t reflecting that growth. This should be a concern to all who see diversity as an accurate way of telling the story of a new America,” said Ronnie Agnew, co-chair of ASNE’s Diversity Committee, in the organization’s press release.

In Harvard’s report Brown found that the four minority news sites, particularly theGrio and The Root, tend to provide more bi-cultural coverage in how they treat leading news stories of the day as well as in enterprise stories that the sites tell from an African American perspective.

For example, Brown documented the difference in how the mainstream and minority-focused websites handled the news of the acquittal of Casey Anthony, a mother accused of killing her toddler daughter. “The Root didn’t bemoan the jury’s verdict in Casey Anthony’s acquittal; instead its post suggested that those wanting to reform the justice system should focus on matters such as racial profiling and incompetent counsel,” Brown writes. “Meanwhile, on the mainstream sites, debate raged on about whose acquittal was the bigger travesty— O.J. Simpson’s or Anthony’s.”

While both The Root and thegriot are owned by mainstream news organizations — The Washington Post and NBCUniversal respectively — those running the websites are people of color.

“The Web has provided a welcomed platform for minority viewpoints and opinions that had all but fallen silent after the civil rights movement prompted newsrooms to seek journalists of color,” Brown said. “The Root, theGrio, MarioWire, and Loop21 give voice to stories and feature issues that might otherwise be ignored by the other news organizations or given not much more than the occasional glance. With their microphone aimed at amplifying minority points of view, these sites—well suited to the Web’s fragmented niche environment—add valuable discourse on national issues.”

At the same time, Brown notes that these minority-run websites might also be letting mainstream media organizations off the hook in terms of being more diverse and reaching a broader audience.

Media Wars: Who Won This Round?

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Howard Kurtz described the drama at TechCrunch as ‘a clash of cultures‘ on Sunday’s ‘Reliable Sources.’

The truth is these two cultures — between what is now commonly labeled as ‘new media’ and ‘old media’ — have been clashing for a while now.

A media war has been quietly brewing for much of the past decade. The battle lines are largely being drawn by those who know a lot about technology and business, but virtually nothing about producing and gathering news. Those constitutionally charged with keeping the American public informed—journalists—are scrambling to figure out ways to change its revenue-generating model so that it can better compete in a changing media landscape.

That all came to a boiling point earlier this month when Michael Arrington, the founder of tech news site, TechCrunch, announced he would launch a venture capital fund with AOL, which purchased TechCrunch a year ago. It was initially reported that Arrington would remain editor-in-chief of TechCrunch at the same time he would be investing in tech companies that were either covered by his website or competed against his investments. Regardless, such a deal flew in the face of traditional journalistic ethics and legacy publications, like The New York Times, cried foul.

In the end, Arrington wound up reluctantly parting company with AOL — and leaving the company he founded — at his boss’ insistence.

My question: Who won this battle? Or did we all lose?

Was it Arrington, who represents the new face of those who traffic in information, as Jeff Jarvis, director of the interactive journalism program at the City University’s Graduate School of Journalism of New York, puts it. While Arrington was forced out by Arianna Huffington, who runs AOL/HuffingtonPost, he walks away with $10 million from AOL to help start his new venture, CrunchFund and can start another blog.

Was it so-called legacy publications that have journalistic standards it adheres to that apparently prevailed with Arrington’s departure?

Or did both sides lose? The public already has a perception that objective journalism is a myth. Arrington’s defense is that he has always been upfront about his potential conflicts of interest and that is what separates him from so-called journalists who pretend otherwise.

I call it a draw considering that the same weekend there seemed to finally be an end to the AOL TechCrunch drama, hackers took over NBC’s Twitter account, undermining traditional media’s efforts to distribute reliable news using new media tools. And the war wages on….

For those who missed it, here are parts 1 and 2 of the ‘Reliable Sources’ War at TechCrunch report:

Part 1:
http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/.element/apps/cvp/3.0/swf/cnn_416x234_embed.swf?context=embed&videoId=tech/2011/09/18/rs-tech-columnist-quits-aol.cnn
Part 2:
http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/.element/apps/cvp/3.0/swf/cnn_416x234_embed.swf?context=embed&videoId=tech/2011/09/18/rs-swisher-techcrunch.cnn

NAACP Turns To Social Media To Help Stop Georgia Execution

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This may be Troy Davis’ last chance to live.

Davis was convicted and sentenced to death in 1991 for the 1989 murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. Davis’s conviction was based largely on eyewitness testimony and, in the intervening years, the case against him has fallen apart. Seven of the nine witnesses against Davis have recanted or contradicted their testimony and three of those witnesses now claim their testimony was coerced. In addition, two other witnesses have stated they never saw the murder and that their testimony was false. No physical evidence links Davis to the crime. Still, the Georgia Department of Corrections plans to execute him later this month.

Now 42, Davis has been in prison for more than 19 years.

In addition to organizing marches, a hallmark of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization is fighting Davis’ pending execution by using Twitter, blogs and even Youtube. The organization has also created a mobile petition. The NAACP is encouraging the community to text “TROY” to 62227 to add names to a petition to save his life.

“With the execution set for Sept. 21, there is very little that can be done but the NAACP is not letting this man go down without a fight. Thankfully, technology is at our disposal and could potentially be what helps saves a life,” states BlackWeb2.0, a website helping to get the word out about Davis.

On Monday, Sept. 19, two days before the scheduled execution, Davis will have a clemency hearing in front of the five-member Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole. At the end of the hearing, the Board will decide, via majority vote, whether to grant Davis clemency.

Though he was denied clemency in the past, the board’s membership has changed since Davis’ last hearing and, in the interim, new witnesses have come forward.

With the clemency hearing and the execution date fast approaching, the NAACP realizes the best, and fastest, way to get out its message and to mobilize is the internet.

This is Davis’ last chance, states a page dedicated to Davis on the NAACP’s website.

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  • Text “TROY” to 62227 to add your name to a petition to save Troy Davis’ life. Or
  • Take action by signing this online Amnesty International petition opposing the death penalty for Troy Davis.

Of 50 Wealthiest Lawmakers, 11 Have Tech/Media Ties

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Eleven of the 50 richest members of the U.S. Congress have ties to the growing technology and new media sector, including the top two spots on the list, according to a report published today by Roll Call.

The majority of those who comprise the exclusive list derive their income from real estate holdings and trust funds or their spouse is the one with the money. Another commonality on the list is that there is little to no diversity in terms of race or ethnicity (gender either when looking at the shortened tech/media list). And while many average Americans feel they are financially worse off than they were a year ago, most of the members on Roll Call’s list — not just the tech media types — have actually seen their wealth grow (substantially) over the past year.

More to the point, the fact that 11 members on the list have technology and media ties is worth noting considering the reliance President Barack Obama is placing on this sector to produce new jobs. Technology media companies are also currently under several congressional and regulatory reviews as well, so it only makes sense to know which lawmakers may have some general — or more compelling — interest in the field.

One of the newspapers covering Washington D.C. politics and policy, Roll Call states it determines the richest lawmakers by adding up the minimum value of total assets reported by each Member on their annual financial disclosures and subtracts the minimum liabilities. The publication also calculates the percent change in wealth based on disclosure forms from the previous year. An asset valued at $5 million to $25 million is counted at the lesser amount, as is a liability valued at $1 million to $5 million.

The wealthiest members with connections to the tech media industry are:

#1     Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, $294.21 million, +298.9% change: Currently serving his fourth term in Congress, Mr. McCaul has the distinction of being the richest lawmaker in Washington, at least on paper. Most of McCaul’s wealth is held by his wife, Linda McCaul, the daughter of Clear Channel Communications CEO and founder, Lowry Mays. The McCauls also benefit from the ever popular ‘generational wealth transfer,’ according to Roll Call. On his financial disclosure, McCaul listed a new asset — the Linda McCaul Descendant Trusts — owned by his wife that was valued at more than $50 million.

#2     Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., $220.40 million, +37.7% change: Before his election to Congress in 2001, Mr. Issa made his fortune founding Directed Electronics. Based in Vista, Calif., it manufactured car alarms. Now his wealth is concentrated in two companies that own and operate industrial properties in California: DEI LLC and Greene Properties, Inc.

#5     Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., $76.30 million, +8.7% change: Mr. Warner earned his millions as a telecom mogul. He co-founded Nextel Communications, a nationwide push to talk mobile communications system that is now part of Sprint. This year Mr. Warner saw his wealth grow by more than $6 million, thanks in part to his stake in Columbia Capital Equity Partners. The Alexandria, Va.-based venture capital firm invests in wireless, broadband, media and enterprise information technology. Formed in 1989, the franchise has invested and funded more than 130 global companies in core markets, according to its website.

#6     Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., $65.91 million, +16.7% change: A self-described Internet Executive, Mr. Polis co-founded his first company, American Information Systems, while still a student at Princeton. An internet access, web hosting and application service provider, the company predated his two other successful ventures: bluemountain.com, an online greeting card website that he sold to Excite@Home in a deal worth $780 million and an online florist company, ProFlowers, that has since expanded to become Provide Commerce, Inc., acquired in 2006 by Liberty Media Corporation. Polis also founded the Jared Polis Foundation, with a mission of creating opportunities for success through education and technology. The foundation refurbishes and donates computers to schools and nonprofits among other initiatives.

#7     Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., $55.07 million, 10.8% change: Mr. Lautenberg founded the data-processing company, ADP, but he also maintains two blind trusts that accounts for the lion’s share of his wealth: one valued at $5 million to $25 million and another at $1 million to $5 million. The other sizable portion of his riches comes from his wife, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, and her expansive stake in New York real estate.

#22   Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., $11.60 million, +182.9% change: Mr. Franks founded an oil and gas exploration firm where the bulk of his money comes from, but he also owns the U.S. patents for the LP1000 Life Pager, a decoy pager that contains pepper spray for self-defense. Franks reported no income from these assets, but valued them at #100,000 to $250,000.

#26   Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., $10.60 million, +16.4 change: Mr. Petri’s largest asset is his stake in Walgreen Co., valued at a minimum of $5 million. His other investments include at least $1 million each in U.S. Bank, Berkshire Hathaway and Lloyd’s of London. He is being included in this list because of what he sold off this year: Petri discarded his shares of the Washington Post Company in a transaction valued at $100,000 to $250,000.

#29   Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, $10.28 million, -1.6% change: Mr. Harkin is one of the few members of Congress who appears to be worse off than he was a year ago, albeit not bad enough to keep his name from appearing on the wealthiest members list. Despite the fact that nearly all of Mr. Harkin’s wealth is contributed by his wife, Ruth Harkin, nearly all of it also comes from holdings of more than $1 million in United Technologies Corp. stock., where Ruth Harkin previously served as senior vice president for international affairs and government relations, according to Roll Call. United Technologies specializes in providing high technology products and support services to the aerospace and building industries worldwide. Ruth Harkin recently accepted a seat on the advisory board of NTR PLC, a Dublin-based company that focuses on renewable energy.

#39   Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, $8.51 million, n/a change: Before he assumed office this year, Mr. Farenthold, an attorney, also worked as a conservative radio talk show host and founded a computer consulting and web design firm. His largest asset, however, is a trust valued at $5 million to $25 million. He also reported another family trust, the Morgan Trust in the Benefit of R. Blake Farenthold, valued at $1 million to $5 million. Farenthold’s grandmother is the late Annie Blake Morgan Head, the daughter of oilman/farmer Rand Morgan.

#40   Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., $8.44 million, -13.3% change: Mr. Campbell derives most of his income from real estate holdings but is being included on this list because he is a managing member of Fast Cars and Freedom Publications LLC with an investment of $15,000 to $50,000. Based in San Diego, Calif., this asset did not produce any income in 2010, according to Mr. Campbell’s disclosure report.

#46   Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., $7.41 million, +7.4% change: Mr. Bingaman’s largest asset declined by more than $1 million in 2010, but thanks to several new investments to his portfolio, he remains one of the wealthiest lawmakers in Washington, D.C. One of the additions is his wife’s $1 million purchase of Cerca Acquisition, a New York-based private equity fund that owns a New Mexico-based software company.

Google Advances Fight Against Piracy

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Google Toughens Copyright Infringement Protections

Google just announced that it has made significant progress in tackling copyright infringement online.

In April, Google settled copyright infringement claims brought by music publishers over the unauthorized use of music videos on the company’s YouTube website. The settlement allows music publishers to form licensing agreements with YouTube and to receive royalties. Music publishers and songwriters had complained that they have seen incomes decline because music fans download songs for free on the internet instead of buying compact discs.

As a result of the music publishers suit, and others, Google promised last December that it would attack the problem in four key areas. “We’ve made considerable progress on each front, and we will continue to evolve our efforts in all four areas in the months to come,” according to a post the company made to its public policy blog Friday evening.

Starting with Blogger and Web Search, Google says it has built tools to make it easier and faster for rights-holders to submit Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests. Federal law requires web sites, like Google’s YouTube, to remove items suspected of containing copyrighted material in a timely manner if they do not want to be held responsible for distributing pirated content. “We built tools earlier this year, and they are now being successfully used by more than a dozen content industry partners who together account for more than 75 percent of all URLs submitted in DMCA takedowns for Web Search,” the blog states. Google says its responds to requests from these content partners in less than 24 hours.

While Google states that it has always prohibited the use of its AdSense program on web pages that provide infringing materials, and terminated publishers who violated the policy, the company is now working to improve internal enforcement procedures. Google touts that it became one of the first companies to complete the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Quality Assurance Certification program, through which participating advertising companies take steps to enhance buyer control over the placement and context of advertising and build brand safety. “In addition, we have invited rights-holder associations to identify their top priority sites for immediate review, and have acted on those tips when we have received them.”

Google also launched “Music Rich Snippets,” a program that allows legitimate music sites, including Rhapsody and MySpace, to highlight content in snippets that appear in Google’s Web Search results. The company says it hopes other authorized music sites and search engines take advantage of ‘Music Rich Snippets’ to make their preview content stand out in search results.

Finally, Google has taken steps to improve the prevention of terms that are closely associated with piracy from appearing in Autocomplete, a feature that predicts queries based on popular searches from users.

The four initiatives are central to Google’s work in combating piracy, but the company strives to make improvements in other areas, it says. For example, the internet giant has expanded its movie rental services on YouTube and launched the Google eBookstore, featuring a wide array of books from authors and publishers. Google is also working to continue improving YouTube’s Content ID system, which helps copyright owners (including song writers and music publishers) to monetize their works. Google is also working with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on a rights registry that will help African musicians license their works.

“We continue to believe that making high-value content available in authorized forms is a crucial part of the battle against online infringement,” Google’s blog post states.

NABJ On Writing Well

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Whether writing for an established magazine or a scrappy, new blog, it is imperative to write well in order to engage readers.

Whether writing for an established magazine or a little-known blog, if writers want to engage readers or get more ‘hits,’ it is imperative to write well.

Writing is an ongoing process that gets better with practice; even those who have been at it for years strive to improve their craft, often rewriting the rewrites without ever achieving perfection.

There are a few tricks of the trade that can help develop writing skills. With assistance from fellow members of the National Association of Black Journalists, I have compiled a list of books, and words of advice, to help the novice and the veteran alike.

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  • “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” by Anne Lamott

Shauna Rhone advises that “Bird by Bird,” is good for learning “how to write expressively and descriptively…”

  • “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within,” by Natalie Goldberg
  • “The Gang That Couldn’t Write Straight,” by Marc Weingarten
  • “And It Don’t Stop,” by Raquel Cepeda

Critics should read other great critics, suggests Jamila Bey. For example, music critics should read Nat Hentoff, John Murph and Nelson George. “Then there’s that annual ‘Best Music Writing of X Year series…,” she says.

R. L. Nave echoes Bey. He adds pop music critic Randall Roberts and Sasha Frere-Jones who writes for The New Yorker to the list of names. Nave also suggests anything by James Baldwin or Ralph Ellison, “to get a sense for style,” he says

  • “The Word,” by René J. Cappon

Sonya Ross of the Associated Press describes “The Word,” as the best guide to news writing ever. “It basically teaches you how to tell it straight, make it plain, and give beauty to your words,” she says. “If you follow the advice in this book, you will write everybody else up out of the room. The Word is pretty much out of print now, but some ancient used copies can be found on Amazon.”

  • “Words Worth: A Handbook on Writing and Selling Nonfiction,” by Terri Brooks

Kim Pearson, a journalism and interactive multimedia professor at The College of New Jersey, believes that copies of “Words Worth,” may be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Words-Worth-Handbook-Writing-Nonfiction/dp/1577660951

  • “Strictly Speaking,” by the late NBC writing guru, Edwin Newman
  • “The Writer’s Art,” by the late James J. Kilpatrick
  • “On Writing Well,” by William Zinsser
  • “The Elements of Style,” by Strunk & White

Journalism Professor Wayne Dawkins, ‘2011 Teacher of the Year’ at Hampton University, calls ‘”On Writing Well” and “Elements of Style,” gold-standard books.

  • ”America’s Best Newspaper Writing: A Collection of ASNE Prizewinners,” by Roy Peter Clark and Christopher Scanlan

NABJ Student Representative Wesley Lowery suggests:

  •  “The Art and Craft of Feature Writing,” by William Blundell
  • “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer,” by Roy Peter Clark

Some common sense advice:

Reading to mothers can help ensure writing makes sense, according to Denise Clay of Philadelphia.  “… I know this sounds funny, but one of my journalism school professors gave me this advice,” says Clay. She adds that  this technique does not require a relative, but at least someone who is not in the journalism business. “Since this is who we’re trying to reach as writers, we should see if we’re being effective.”

Kimberly Hayes Taylor suggests following amazing writers. “For me, two favorites were Isabel Wilkerson when she was The New York Times‘ Chicago Bureau Chief and Patricia Smith, former Boston Globe columnist,” recounts. “I drank their words, and when I understood what they did and learned how to do it, I began winning award after award for feature writing, but I was a Metro reporter.” Hayes Taylor says writers should study their favorite writers’ articles. “Try to figure out what makes their words sing,” she adds. “For inspiration, read some good writing just before sitting down to write. Whenever I felt insecure, that always helped me. It makes a big difference.”

Can Social Media Help Revive Oprah’s Brand?

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Facebook is about to get the 'Oprah' Effect, or will it be the other way around?

Once upon a time, the mere mention of Oprah Winfrey’s name conjured up eyeballs and dollar signs.

My how times have changed.

Winfrey ruled daytime television for decades before she decided to move her successful formula of chatty self-help and infotainment to cable earlier this year. After only two months in existence, Oprah’s heavily hyped network, OWN, attracted even fewer viewers than the programming it replaced. Some six months later, Winfrey has disposed of the network’s CEO, putting herself in charge; traffic on her flagship website, Oprah.com, plummeted after her daytime talk show ended in May; and soap opera fans — who helped turn ‘Oprah’ into a household word — now view her as a traitor because Winfrey refused to consider airing daytime dramas on her new network. Social media sites, especially Facebook, exploded with negative comments after Winfrey made that last decision.

Trying to make a turn-around, Winfrey will participate in a live-streamed video interview with Facebook next week.

No doubt this is an opportunity for the media mogul — an active Facebook user with nearly 6.3 million fans who have “liked” her official page — to learn ways to better leverage her brand with the power of new media.

In addition to the interview, the media mogul will meet with tech savvy individuals to discuss social media and her network, including her website. She will also sit down with tech media executives, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg  and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, to learn as much as she can about the future of the web and how best to harness social media, according to a Fox News report.

It is nice that Winfrey will meet with the tech media elite, but perhaps she ought to start with daytime fans who lobbied the former daytime diva earlier this year to diversify program offerings on her network. Fans like a commenter who goes by the name, BethRestless Beth, who wanted Winfrey to air soaps on OWN: “Perhaps [the Facebook interview] is an opportunity to let her know how offended I was by her speech to us that she would not even consider daytime dramas. I have never felt the same about her.”

Perhaps being more responsive to your audience the old-fashioned way — and giving them some of what they want along with some of what you think they need — still works these days.

Oprah will appear on Facebook Sept. 8, 2011 from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

WaPo’s New ‘Black News’ Section: Good or Bad Idea?

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The Root DC is a new addition to The Washington Post.com's web site that will focus on African Americans and African American issues.

Just in time for the unveiling of the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C., The Washington Post had its own unveiling this week. The staid newspaper quietly added a ‘black news section’ to its website.

Except for a few paragraphs in Richard Prince’s Journalisms — a media watchdog column about issues facing minority journalists — the Post’s new ‘black section’ received scant attention.

In 2008, The Washington Post introduced TheRoot.com, an online magazine targeting African American readers. Last year, MSNBC introduced thegriot.com, which it touted as the ”first video-centric news community site devoted to providing African Americans with stories and perspectives that appeal to them but are underrepresented in existing national news outlets.” More recently, AOL’s The Huffington Post relaunched Black Voices, a message board/chat forum-turned-online news and entertainment publication. Now The Washington Post is upping the ante again with its online black news section, aptly called ‘The Root DC.’

“The Root DC will serve as a must-read source of content from a black perspective with features including daily updated event listings, profiles of people around the region, video stories and reader essays about things or people that bind, uplift and annoy the community,” states a press release.

Sounds like it will pretty much be like the other black news sites mentioned above. Except it will be a separate section within the Post’s main website.

More than three and a half million African-American adults were online at the beginning of the decade. Between 2000 and 2010 the proportion of internet users who are black or Latino nearly doubled—from 11 percent to 21 percent, according to a report issued by the Pew Research Center last year. It’s no wonder that cash-strapped newspapers and other traditional media companies want to capitalize on this growth.

I am just unsure whether this is a good or bad thing.

Minority groups, led by African Americans, have long criticized mainstream news organizations for doing a poor job of properly covering their communities, so many may welcome the Post’s new emphasis of covering African Americans in the nation’s capital. But I have to wonder if creating a separate ”black section” will actually address the root (pardon the pun) of the problem.

Content under the headings 'Negro News' and 'Colored News' were common place during and before the 1960s.

It also makes me wince as I cannot help but recall days long gone by when mainstream news publications dedicated separate but equal column inches for ‘black’ content under such headings as ‘Colored’ and/or ‘Negro’ news. Content under the headings ‘Negro News’ and ‘Colored News’ were common place in print publications during and before the 1960s. Could we be witnessing a resurgence online?

During this weekend in which we reflect upon the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C., the decision by the town’s paper of record to section off  ‘black news’ may also make some ponder as to whether we’re moving forward… or backward.

Four of the Most Powerful ‘Female’ Players In New Media Have Google Connections

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Four of the five most powerful women in new media have Google connections.

This week Forbes released its annual report on the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. Five of the women highlighted in the report are defying the status quo in the male-dominated technology sector.

#5 Most Powerful Woman in the WorldSheryl Sandberg is Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, where she oversees the company’s business operations, including sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy and communications. Before joining Facebook in 2008, Sandberg was Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, where she built and managed the online sales channels for advertising and publishing and operations for consumer products worldwide. Forbes named Sandberg this year’s fifth most powerful woman in the world.

The second Googler, Susan Wojcicki, debuted as the 16th most powerful woman in the world. Google’s ad wizard, Wojcicki is responsible for 96 percent of the tech media giant’s revenues– $28 billion last year alone.

Google’s first female engineer, Marissa Mayer, also made the cut, debuting as the 42nd most powerful woman on Forbes’ list. Mayer first oversaw search for Google; she is now responsible for the company’s next key growth driver, local products.

Twitter Vice President of International Strategy, Katie Jacobs Stanton, a former Googler and White House staffer, debuted as the 56th most powerful woman in the world, according to Forbes. Jacobs Stanton joined Twitter last year and is charged with getting the world to tweet. Jacobs Stanton now has 70% of all Tweets coming from outside the U.S., and a fifth of world leaders are now on the service, including Russian President Medvedev (@MedvedevRussiaE) and President Obama (@barackobama). Before Twitter, Jacobs Stanton was the product manager of Google Finance; she also worked at the U.S. State Department.

The final tech spot on the exclusive list is occupied by Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. Bartz is no newcomer when it comes to female power on the world stage. The 62-year-0ld has made the Forbe’s list before, so it is no surprise that even now, amid increasing investor scrutiny, Bartz continues to defend her turnaround progress at the Internet giant. “Last year, she doubled operating income, operating margins and earnings per share, but revenues remained flat at $6.3 billion. With an audience of nearly 700 million, Bartz has built Yahoo into a leading digital media company with 12 first-ranked properties in the US and eight globally,” Forbes reports.

Forbes states that: ”In the fast-paced world of Silicon Valley, the number of women at the top has been slow to change.” That goes double when it comes to women of color: Not a single woman of color — Asian, African American, or Latino — made Forbes’ list of the most powerful women in the world of technology.

High tech companies in Silicon Valley have come under fire for the lack of diversity in its employment ranks. More than two dozen protested Google in February, demanding the company hire more women and people of color.

Ory Okolloh is Google's Policy Manager for Africa

In the interest of fairness, Forbes published a separate piece recognizing women who wield power and influence in Africa. Among them, Ory Okolloh of Kenya made the list. Okolloh is one of the 20 youngest, most powerful African women under age 45. A Harvard-trained lawyer, activist and blogger, Okolloh founded Ushahidi, a revolutionary crowd sourcing utility that enables citizen journalists and eyewitnesses all over the world to report incidences of violence through the web, mobile Email, SMS and Twitter. She is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential women in global technology. And she also works for…. Google. Earlier this year Okolloh became Google’s policy manager for Africa.