To do good writing, read good writing. Here’s the good writing I’ve been reading this week:
George Saunders’ advice to graduates (New York Times) – Above all, be kind, writer George Saunders shared in a recent Syracuse University graduation commencement address. Saunders spoke earlier this summer, but the text of his speech only started making the online rounds this week after the Times published it. “Kindness, it turns out, is hard,” Saunders says. “It starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything.” Here’s more graduation inspiration from Neil Gaiman and Steve Jobs.
Does BuzzFeed know the secret? (New York) – There’s a reason your Facebook friends are constantly sharing BuzzFeed’s lists of top towns for hippies, trendiest names, and best dog GIFs evah – they’re engineered to be irresistible. If you blame sites like BuzzFeed for making you feel like you have ADHD anytime you’re online, thank BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti, the subject of this New York profile. But there’s method to his goofy madness, writes Andrew Rice: “He didn’t do it for the news, or the movie gossip, or the cute pictures of pandas. Beneath BuzzFeed’s cheery gloss lies a data-driven apparatus designed to figure out what makes you click. Peretti is aware that if he really has divined that secret — if he can reliably manufacture, at mass scale, content you will want to share—he will have developed an asset of immense value.” That’s no joke.
Riot round-up: The best books of July (Book Riot) – How did I not know about this website? Book Riot is “dedicated to the idea that writing about books and reading should be just as diverse as books and readers are.” Reviews, blog post and other content comes from contributors, some of whom are pros, many of whom are not, according to the site. This post, a list of contributors’ recommended reading for July, is a good example of the kind of things you’ll see on the site. Another is this fab list of famous novels summed up in 1 sentence: And the Moral of the Story Is….
Good Jill, bad Jill (The Daily Beast) – This profile of New York Times Editor Jill Abrahamson is chock full of inside baseball details and quotes I love reading in stories about media personalities and companies — any company really. Take this bit, which writer Lloyd Groves puts near the top of the story, about a story Politico did blasting Abrahamson for being “condescending,” “difficult to work with,” and “on the verge of losing the support of the newsroom.” It’s a perfect set-up to the last quote:
“I cried,” Abramson tells me. “I should say it went right off me, but I’m just being honest. I did cry. But by the next morning, I wasn’t completely preoccupied by it anymore. I had my cry and that was that. And [Times Co. chairman] Arthur Sulzberger came down and was very supportive. He basically said, ‘It goes with the territory. Don’t let it get to you.’ ” The publisher also invoked what he calls the Second Law of Journalism: “It’s not your fault. It’s just your turn.”
Barack Obama: ‘Those old times aren’t coming back (Mediabistro) – Does the president feel sorry for journalists and freelancers? He mentioned them in Kindle Singles Editor David Blum’s free e-book, President Barack Obama: The Kindle Singles Interview. Back in the day, journalists could “really make a good living” working for the hometown paper, but no more, Obama says in the interview. Today, journalists have to piece together a living “in some cases as freelancers and without the same benefits thay they had in a regular job for a paper.” Thanks for the sentiment, Mr. President. But I’m here to tell you, not all ex-staff journalists who’ve taken the freelance path are scrambling. Some are actually better off than they were as employees. Just saying.
Writer who called Irish president an ‘acknowledged homosexual’ resigns from Forbes (Poynter) – Beware contributor networks. Forbes.com has famously touted the success of its network of 900+ contributors, many of whom are paid based on page views. But here’s what can happen when you set up a system where writers can post articles or other content with minimal oversight – or factchecking – from an editorial staff. You publish mistakes. This one was a whopper, with Irish writer David Monagan mistakenly calling Irish president Michael D. Higgins gay (he’s not) instead of onetime political opponent David Norris (he is), Poynter writes. In an apology published in the Irish Independent, Monagan blamed the mistake on the pressure on Forbes’ contributors to keep hits to the site coming despite paultry compensation. He writes:
…I spent ridiculous amounts of time on most everything I did for Forbes – articles about the banking crisis, ghost hunters, offshore oil . . . the big with the little. The pay: .005 cent per hit now gone, or $10 (€7.50) additional if 2,000 people read one of my postings. But there was a supplement – ten cents per repeat viewer, of which I averaged 220 a month.
Do the math. My top pay from Forbes over the last nine months was about $270 (€203) for four articles on which I typically spent 10 hours-plus each – $2.70 (€2.03) an hour. However, if I file only, say, three articles in a month, I receive no money, even if the Letter from Ireland has had 6,000 hits. Further, my contract warned that mistakes were my problem alone legally, and when the journalistic equivalent of a firestorm hit, Forbes could not even find my phone number.