New Year, New Priorities

FINRA sets the tone for 2016 with a focus on firm culture

 

It’s that time of year again. The decorations are put away, resolutions are in full swing and the U.S. Financial Industry Regulatory Association (FINRA) has released the 2016 Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter. While the regulatory body continues the theme from 2015 with a continued focus on cybersecurity and senior investors, the letter emphasizes firm culture, conflicts of interest and ethics.

In the letter released on January 5, FINRA cites a few overarching themes – supervision, risk management and controls, and liquidity. Exams will focus on anti-money laundering, cybersecurity and technology management. Liquidity planning and controls as they relate to business model will also come into focus.

Other priority areas return to some of the items from the 2015 letter, such as firm monitoring of excessive concentrations and recommendations, especially in the realm of complex products (FINRA considers a variable annuity a complex product), seniors and vulnerable investors, private placements, fixed-income securities and operational controls.

The 2016 letter paints a much broader picture, however. Policies and procedures are still at the forefront, but a firm’s attitude toward compliance seems to be the centerpiece of the regulatory body’s emphasis. The focus on firm culture delves into what FINRA Chairman and CEO Richard Ketchum calls “systemic breakdowns through significant violations due to poor cultures of compliance.”

Concentrating further on how a firm’s culture impacts compliance and risk management practices, “FINRA will be looking for firms to focus on their culture and whether it is putting customers first and promoting risk management adaptable to a changing business environment,” says Ketchum. “Firms with a strong ethical culture and senior leaders who set the right tone, lead by example and impose consequences on anyone who violates the firm’s cultural norms are essential to restoring investor confidence and trust in the securities industry.”

In the letter, FINRA defines firm culture as “the set of explicit and implicit norms, practices and expected behaviors that influence how firm executives supervisors and employees make and implement decisions in the course of conducting a firm’s business.” The formalized assessment will encompass five indicators:

  • Whether control functions are valued within the organization;
  • Whether policy or control breaches are tolerated;
  • Whether the organization seeks to identify risk and compliance events;
  • Whether immediate managers are effective role models of firm culture; and
  • Whether sub-cultures that may not conform to the overall corporate culture are identified and addressed.

FINRA believes that a firm’s culture both impacts and is derived from it’s supervisory system, and states that “firms should take visible actions that help mitigate conflicts of interest, and promote the fair and ethical treatment of customers.” Supervision is at the heart of this, and carries over from the 2015 areas of focus.

In 2016, FINRA will continue the sweep begun the previous year with regard to conflicts of interest, including sales based on incentives, aggressively cross-selling products. They will also look at firm disciplinary actions as they relate to “high” and “low” producing representatives. According to Ketchum, an appropriate culture means “ensuring an environment where there isn’t a separate standard for high-producing” individuals.

Suitability and concentration also take center stage yet again, with a recurring focus on complex products (including variable annuities). FINRA draws attention to shortcomings in training, product review committees, and due diligence responsibilities on the part of the registered representative. One of the major focuses for 2016 will be in excessive concentration, and the regulator will focus more heavily on firm policies surrounding concentration and suitability determinations. As an example, FINRA “will assess whether registered representatives adequately consider, for example, such factors as credit risk, duration and leverage as relevant to specific fixed-income, complex and alternative products.”

Seniors and vulnerable investors also return to the spotlight in 2016, as FINRA reiterates the need for diligence in protecting these investors from abusive sales practices, exploitation and fraud. FINRA’s senior investor helpline, which launched in April of 2015 has received more than 2,500 calls, and has worked with firms to voluntarily reimburse nearly $750,000. In 2016, FINRA compels firms to aggressively monitor investor accounts for potential red flags and urges registered representatives to maintain a vigilance concerning their elderly clients.

Outside activities still has a priority place in the new year, as well. Firms are encouraged to monitor outside activities with an eye toward conflicts of interest, including influence and financial gain. FINRA’s focus will be on firms’ review and assessment of outside activities and whether customers have been harmed due to failures to follow Rules 3270 or 3280.

Altogether, FINRA’s priority letter for 2016 looks quite a bit like the one for 2015, but the differences take the spotlight. Firm culture – how it impacts the functioning of the firm’s business units, and how it translates to the field – will be paramount this year, and probably for years to come. The best way to prepare is to know the rules, follow them and ask questions when necessary. Here’s to a happy, prosperous and uneventful 2016!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Does Privacy Still Exist?

With Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and all other social media sites so prolific in the world today, and everything from baby’s first tooth to break ups to suicide attempts being documented on individual pages, the question of privacy is ever prevalent. Does sharing the intimate details of one’s vacation, wedding, first date, or breakup constitute giving up the right to privacy? Some argue that these things are shared within a group of friends and as long as privacy settings are in place, these things stay solidly in the private domain.

Putting aside the obvious fact that things placed on the Internet are inherently not private given all sorts of government surveillance issues, hackers and simple breakdowns, do people really have the expectation of privacy on Facebook, Twitter and the like? After all, is every single one of your 784 “friends” in your intimate circle? Do you personally know all 1,416 of your Twitter “followers?” Would you call them up on the phone and tell them all about the hangover you have from New Year’s Eve? The real answers to these questions are more telling about expectation of privacy and rights to information than ever, and the issue has yet to truly be addressed. Case after case appears on newsfeeds regarding lawsuits over private information being made public, whether by journalists or bloggers, or simply other users of these sites. But where is the line? Even further, is it a different line for journalists than the public Tweeter on the street?

To determine if something is truly private, it helps to discern what privacy “is.” It certainly means something different to everyone, but for these purposes, a general idea is a starting point. The chapter on privacy in Doing Ethics in Media, by journalism ethics professors Jay Black and Chris Roberts, provides several different attempts by philosophers to describe privacy. While each of these presents its own issues when dealing with social media, they are still worth considering. Ancient Greek life was divided into public and private domains. What one did in one’s home was completely separated from how life was conducted in public. While this worked then, can it really apply when the details of life at home are plastered all over the Internet with every Facebook status or Foursquare check in? As Morton Levine described in “Privacy in the Tradition of the Western World,” privacy is “the maintenance of a personal life space” where one is free to “exercise and experience his own uniqueness.” A good definition, but what if the exercise of this uniqueness places that information in the public domain? Returning to Sissela Bok, we find her definition of privacy even more confusing in the social media realm. Bok says privacy is the “condition of being protected from unwanted access by others… .” Would posting something to a social media site, where privacy limitations are communicated to users, still be unwanted access? After all, it would seem the “unwanted” part would dictate prudence in posting.

Perhaps most succinctly, Thomas Cooley described privacy as “the right to be left alone.” While certainly true, and probably something we all dream of from time to time, does this take into account actions within a public or near public sphere? Cooley’s concept was expounded upon by Warren and Brandeis in their Harvard Law review article, “The Right To Privacy,” which helped push evaluation of the constitutional right to privacy most Americans enjoy today. Interestingly, Warren and Brandeis were actually lamenting the overzealous press and the deteriorating integrity of what passed as “news.” Specifically, they took aim at the gossip and tabloid-style stories that were emerging from distasteful investigation practices and yellow journalism. It is interesting to consider what Warren and Brandeis would think of our “information on demand” world, and the intricate details we can find in the tabloids on what celebrity’s daughter had a temper tantrum at daycare. The duo held firm that gossip had no place in news, and that it could “only be procured by intrusion into the domestic circle.” What would they think about that domestic circle encompassing 800 “close” friends? They also believed that increasing technology and the ease with which reporters could get information caused people to become “more sensitive to publicity.” This may still be the case, but with more conversations being held on cell phones in public and more and more details of private lives being tweeted to the masses, would Warren and Brandeis still believe that “solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual?”

The Washington Post once published an opinion column by Michael Chertoff, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where Chertoff discusses instances where private individuals tweeted or otherwise posted about the activities of others. Chertoff’s opinion is that we could be heading toward an “informant” state, bringing to mind thoughts of Stalinist Russia. While this may be extreme, it does raise the question of whether these particular activities were a breach of privacy. The short answer may be that they had no expectation of privacy, since the subjects were in public. However, did they need to consider that their words or actions may be sent worldwide by an “innocent bystander,” or could they at least expect a smaller sphere of publicity? Would things have been different if they thought there were journalists in their immediate vicinity?

While Chertoff’s opinion is addressed at individuals infringing on individuals, it certainly poses a difficult question for journalists. Does the expectation of privacy change when a journalist is present? And if it does, in our technology age, should it? If journalists see or hear something while not acting in a professional capacity, what responsibilities do they have with regard to privacy? The question does not only arise in overheard phone conversations and inadvertent Instagrams. What about the possibility of running across a particularly newsworthy bit while looking at Facebook? If you happen to be able to see the posts of a “friend of a friend,” and they could lead to a story, what do you do? Does this person have the expectation of privacy?

The “rules” for this dilemma are somewhat determined by the U.S. Constitution and have been upheld in numerous court cases over the years. People are entitled to an expectation of privacy in certain circumstances and not in others. Generally, anything that is done in the public domain is not considered private, and thus is fair game for the press. But again, the rules can fail the journalist here, because what is and is not private cannot be defined in traditional ways any longer. Are setting your social media privacy settings the equivalent of “drawing the blinds” to protect the view of your living room from the street?

Courts in New York have ruled that Twitter does not have an expectation of privacy, so presumably anything found on Twitter is fair game. There has been very little to do with Facebook, but it is a matter of time. So as a journalist, can you use this information? The SPJ Code of Ethics insists that, as journalists, we “seek the truth and report it” while trying to “minimize harm.” If the information is accurate, and newsworthy, should you use it? What if is harmful? That is the balancing act that we try to sort through when we consider who wins and who loses. Of course there is always the possibility that the information will get leaked by someone else, without the objectivity a journalist can bring. Would this cause more harm? If others in the world are not as concerned with the ethics of the “use or not use” dilemma, should journalists reconsider what they will or will not do? If journalists continue to hold fast to the old definitions of privacy, and are more careful than ever in the current environment, then they themselves could end up the losers. Even more so, the public could lose, because the information ends up as gossip rather than well-rounded news coverage. If we begin to draw the privacy line at Facebook and Twitter, then the actual grant of true privacy loses as well, since there is no limit to expectation.

For the journalist, the question of what it is worth comes down to the story, the right to publish, and the right to do so ethically. Until we come to a decision on those expectations within the social media sphere, the decision to use this information will always be pitted against the possible backlash, including public scorn, lawsuits and the fear of being fired, rather than the goal of objective story telling.

The answer may lie in a less literal exploration. From a journalist’s point of view, the true gauge of whether to use this information should come from within. Turning again to the utilitarian point of view, which drives certain parts of the SPJ Code, the worthiness of an action should be determined by the amount of good it would bring when weighed against the harm it may inflict. True invasion of privacy, in its true sense will almost always cause some sort of harm. This is a “bad” act producing a “bad” outcome. Reporting the truth may also eventually cause harm, but this is a “good” act producing a “bad” outcome. Which is better? In the context of Facebook, Twitter and the like, while we wait to see what the courts will eventually decide, or where society will draw its own line, the good must outweigh the bad. If the information is “out there” for anyone to see, and therefore for anyone to share, it may be our responsibility to find it, corroborate it, prove it and report it. At least then there is a potential for some objectivity. There is a possibility to “minimize harm.” There is the hope that the information can escape from the realm of gossip into legitimacy, if it belongs there.

Wrong to Right? That is the Question.

It is an age-old adage most of us probably heard first when we were very young. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” my mother would often say. She used it in all kinds of situations, but the message was clear even as a child. As an adult, however, and as a journalist, the message is much less clear. Are there times when two wrongs can actually make a “right?”

There is much discussion surrounding undercover journalistic investigations, both from the proponent’s side and from the critics. Some of it stems from methods journalists use to reveal the “wrongs” that are the subject of the stories, as was the case with ABC’s investigation into the Food Lion grocery chain. Two reporters obtained jobs with the chain and worked to expose health code and employment practice violations. But they obtained these jobs by lying on their employment applications and ultimately ended up in litigation.

The criticism of the operation was centered on the methods, and even though Food Lion certainly felt the brunt of having its practices exposed, that story was overshadowed by the resulting lawsuit against ABC and criticism of the reporters’ actions. In this case, the “two wrongs” theory did not quite play out the way it could have.

On the other hand, undercover journalism can be a very effective way to find the information needed when traditional methods simply will not work. Consider “Clothes on Your Back” by the Toronto Star. As part of a series stemming from the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, Star reporter Raveena Alukh went undercover into a sweatshop to expose child labor practices and poor working conditions faced by the poorest of Bangladesh’s workforce. A noble cause, probably by all accounts, but ethical journalism?

From a purely journalistic point of view, one could simply turn to the Society of Professional Journalism Code of Ethics to begin evaluating the rights and wrongs of this story. The code says journalists are to “seek the truth and report it.” Alukh certainly did this. She was “fair and courageous in gathering,” and she did not distort what she saw, at least there is no reason to believe she did. The SPJ also discourages “surreptitious” information gathering except as a last resort when “traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public.” There was very little reason to assume the sweatshop owners would allow the press, especially a foreign reporter, access to their facilities. After the Rana Plaza collapse, there was even less. To get to the real story about the real conditions these people work in, undercover was really the only way to go. So at first glance, this is a reporter doing her job. Further consideration, however, brings up some interesting questions. Is this the whole truth? No one is suggesting Alukh did not tell the truth in her report. But what about appeared bias? There is no opportunity in Alukh’s story for the factory owner to “defend” what he does or the conditions within the factory. The only perspective in the story is Alukh’s and that of her boss, Meem, plus a few other workers. Does that live up to the SPJ’s Code of Ethics? What about the part that requires journalists to “Diligently seek out subjects” and give them the opportunity to respond?

Bias is a very difficult concept. We all hope to be impartial and objective, and we set out to cover all sides of a story in just this vein. But what of Alukh’s story? Is there a bias? The fact that the other side does not have the ability, at least from what we see, to refute anything said, lends itself to think of a perceived bias. But does the very nature of the story portray a bias as well? If you feel undercover is necessary, does that not beg the question that something is wrong, and that someone (in this case the factory owner) is responsible. Is the writer not, by deciding on an undercover operation, making an assumption of the wrongdoing or the one she is trying to deceive?

And what of that deception? Is it yet another wrong to be reconciled to try to find a right? In an evaluation of this, I turn to Sisela Bok’s determination of deception. Her justification model for deception offers up a few considerations regarding the “deceit” of undercover journalism. Bok, as referenced in our text on page 219, defines a lie as “any intentionally deceptive message…” She goes on to describe them as issues that evolve “through disguise.”  Does an undercover journalistic investigation fall into the lie category based on Bok’s definition?

From a utilitarian standpoint, there are plenty of defenses for Alukh’s story. The very small harm of her deception to the shop owners certainly contributes to the larger good of exposing the problem of child labor and horrendous conditions these children and others work in. The question at the end of that consideration is, how do you know what good it actually effected? One can hope that there will eventually be an end to these dismal conditions, but these are not immediate.

Bok proposes a justification model for those considering a lie. When applied to this situation, it seems to trend toward justification of this particular deception.  First, she maintains that we must consider alternative actions that could accomplish the same end. In this case, and especially given the Rana Plaza tragedy, it is acceptable to assume that there would not be other avenues available to journalists trying to discuss the deplorable conditions. We do not know this unequivocally, because it is not mentioned, but even if one assumes those other avenues were pursued, one can make the same assumption that these things were not available.

Bok’s second consideration is to consider the moral reasons to excuse the lie, and then to consider the counter arguments to this. It is hardly a stretch to espouse the moral reasons for the deception involved in going undercover into the sweatshops. Again, these are deplorable conditions, in which a nine-year-old girl works and will possibly never escape from, which give other people the ability to buy cheap garments and which pay her a despicable monthly wage. However, the counter-arguments are worth exploring, and Bok, in fact, encourages them. So at this point, one must consider the problems with the deceit. Let us consider the point of the story, Meem. She doesn’t know she is the subject of this story. She doesn’t know her likeness and words will be used. Alukh actually says she did not interview Meem, and that the story is simply her recount of what she saw. Did Meem know she would be quoted, portrayed in print, or in images? What of the other people in the story? Did they know they would be quoted? In a typical story, sources are able to go on the record, and the reporter is required to confirm the accuracy of what they say. Was that opportunity presented here?

The other consideration goes back to the utilitarian model. It is certainly acceptable for utilitarians to do a little harm for a greater good. We have already considered that we cannot tell exactly what the good is for this story, because we don’t know what the outcome from the fallout may be. Then we consider the harm. What about Meem? Does she miss Alukh? Did she think she was a friend who disappeared? Did she have to pick up the slack when her coworker left? Does she know about the story and has she seen her words in print? Does she feel betrayed by her hopes and dreams being splayed across the Internet? Going even further, has the factory owner seen the story and does he hold Meem responsible? If one applies Bok’s Principle of Veracity, what is the negative weight attached to this particular deception?

Finally, Bok’s model looks at what a public of reasonable people would say about such lies. In this situation, public perception could very well be outrage over the conditions, and gratefulness for the reporter who went in to reveal such things. However, the follow up to that could end up as apathy, because it is so far apart from where they live and what they do on a daily basis. So is this truly the final determination of justifying a lie?

Outside of Bok’s model, the ultimate consideration for a journalist is the story. We all want a story that reveals, and one that causes people to think. But is it possible to push too far? Greg Marx considers this in his article The Ethics of Undercover Journalism for Columbia Journalism Review. Marx postulates that an “over-reliance on sting operations and subterfuge can weaken the public’s trust in the media and compromise journalist’s claim to be truth tellers.” Journalists are supposed to be objective and impartial. A journalist’s job is to present the information to the public and allow them to draw their own conclusions. Does an undercover story allow this? By the nature of undercover necessity, secrecy is necessary. This implies that someone does not know the reporter is there. By the nature of the story, some of the subjects do not have the opportunity to defend their position. Is this the truth? Is this the whole story?

Undercover journalism may remain as an effective weapon to uncover the “wrongs” in the world. What remains to be determined is how many of these will simply be right.

Who (or what) is a professional journalist?

There has long been, and will most likely continue to be, a lively debate regarding the status of bloggers as journalists. From the New York Times to the very blogs themselves, in small newsrooms and even on the floor of Congress, the definition of journalist and journalism seem to be the roadblocks to finding a definitive answer.  Perhaps the problem comes from the profession itself. I say profession because, in its truest form, the practice of journalism tries very hard to be a profession. And in many ways, it almost gets there. But with the advent of blogs and the debate about bloggers’ identities unsettled, the struggle of journalism’s own identity may continue to move it further from professionalism.

We have been studying the “Paradox of Professionalism” with regard to journalism, and while there are several good arguments for journalism as a profession, there are just as many that will prove it is not. Social media, for all of its necessity and usefulness, does very little to assist journalists in this quest, and often hampers it the most.

As our text discusses, occupational sociologists have set criteria for defining a profession. While taken in the strictest context journalism can fall short on many, there are certainly ways these characteristics can be applied to the field, at least in the purest sense. As our text puts it, media practitioners are not “strictly speaking” professionals. Some of this can be attributed to the way our media has evolved with the advent of social media.

The first characteristic stated involves a “body of systematic theory, with esoteric but useful knowledge skills gained from education or training…culminating with certification based upon passing a professional examination or test.” No one can argue that any journalist has to pass a certification exam, but there was a point where journalists were certainly trained systematically and certainly obtained “useful knowledge skills” that set them apart from others. There was a time, not too long ago, when it was necessary to have formal training as a journalist, from a reputable school that granted a degree, to obtain a position with a newspaper or television station. In fact, that is still true in many cases. The advent of blogs and community Web sites makes that untrue of the practice as a whole. Anyone can call himself a journalist without any training at all. So even before it can begin on this point, a journalism including all bloggers fails here even more so than it does without them.

Another criterion listed is that the services provided be for the “public good” and that they be offered “impartially.” This impartial ideal is precisely what journalism strives for, as is well documented in many of the industry’s codes of ethics and employee manuals. While there may be situations where this is not the case, as there are in any other profession, the very basis of what a journalist does is grounded in impartiality. The “public good” has been a cornerstone of journalism from the very beginning of our country. John Stuart Mill’s arguments for freedom of expression encompass pursuing the highest public good possible while inflicting the least amount of harm. These arguments regarding freedom of expression find their way into many arguments surrounding freedom of the press, which is seen as a harbinger of that expression. In fact, the founding fathers recognized the public good of free expression, and the potential of a free press to serve such, so clearly that they ensured it for posterity within the Bill of Rights.

This is one area where blogs and other social media can land on either side of the fence. It is hard to imagine how Perez Hilton is contributing to the public good, or how extremist blogs are inflicting the least amount of harm. However, Mill’s arguments for free expression support these as well. After all, even wrong opinion help the public in the search for the right ones, and the search for truth is sometimes encouraged by falsity. On this particular point, all those who seek to disseminate information to the public through media could be considered on track toward professionalism.

The sociologists indicate that the professional should be the “authority in the relationship.” The list does not give a definition for authority, but typically an authority knows more about what they are talking about than the particular audience to whom they are speaking. The journalist, in the truest sense, has the authority. A trained journalist’s capacity for investigation, impartiality and access to information, when exercised responsibly can give the journalist authority over the general public. If a journalist lives up ethically to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and the training he receives, he can be just as much of an authority as a stockbroker or lawyer in those respective fields. After all, these professionals are only considered professionals because they do this also. The problem for this particular characteristic, when it comes to blogging and other forms of social media “journalism,” is that, unless you want to meet this ideal of professionalism, there is no compelling interest to assume this authority correctly.

Another criterion for professionals is a “set of enduring norms …generally reinforced by membership in a professional culture.” True, traditional journalism probably gets the closest to this. Journalistic norms of impartiality, telling the truth, minimizing harm, getting the whole story, respecting each other and the story, and many more have long been embraced by those who call themselves professional journalists. To be a journalist is to be part of a culture that holds these things near and dear. That is not to say there are not those who do not, even in the venerable old cathedrals of journalistic excellence – case in point, Jayson Blair – but the general school of thought is that anyone who wants to succeed in this business will do so within those norms. In fact, these are really the basis of the SPJ Code of Ethics. Where blogs and community Web sites fit into this is hard to say, since so many are not trained within the same culture, and the more these develop the greater the gap will become.

By the occupational sociologist’s definition of a professional, journalists fall short on some of the criteria, but can be close to others. While the industry may never reach all of them, and each of them must be met to be considered a professional, the ongoing debate over whether bloggers are journalists cannot do much to push journalism toward this ideal of professional, and in some of the ways mentioned above, may make the divide even wider. It may come to pass that the definition of a journalist changes as we continue to look at shield laws and what is really news. If so, journalism may need to address the question from a completely different perspective.

Round and round we go: where does the online media wheel stop?

I just finished a class in cross-platform media. The idea of this class is that the world of journalism has become more than just television or print. Online media is a growing concern for any journalist working in the field. One has to know more about more to try to make a name in this industry, and even the scope of that knowledge is changing constantly. The thing is, even the media giants aren’t sure what that scope should be.

Gannett has closed seven of it broadcasting Metromix sites, including Denver and St. Louis. While Metromix.com is still operating, and the affected locations will operate under the “Express” format, the broadcast focus in these markets will cease. The operations affected had full-time staff devoted to the functionality of the site within the market. A few unconfirmed reports indicate that other locations may be shifting responsibility for the Metromix sites to other newsroom staffers.

The decision is part of a reorganization of focus on digital media by Gannett.  In October, Gannett also ceased operations on its Moms Like Me site. In the statement referred to on the blog, one of the most telling statements with regard to the world we will now have to function in is the following:

“We have to prioritize our efforts and focus on the digital products and services where we can be truly best in class. As a result, Gannett Digital has realigned its organization around product development and is focusing its resources on three key areas: (1) investing in our core news products and capabilities — building new web, mobile, and tablet products with deeply-enhanced social, video, advertising, and personalization feature sets; (2) local marketing services like DealChicken and GannettLocal to support our advertiser clients; and (3) new product development.”

Indeed, the focus on web, mobile and tablet formats is important…almost every news and entertainment outlet in the world is trying to do the same thing. One fact no one can escape is that if a company isn’t mobile, it is close to irrelevant these days. NBC has a news app, as does the New York Times. Hearst has made each of its 14 titles available in digital form on the iPad. Conde Nast is being more selective, but has even introduced a Vogue iPad app. (As someone who relishes every issue that arrives in my mailbox – from the glossy pages to the perfume ads to the ability to dog ear page after page for another visit, I may balk at this. The reality, however, is that it is necessary.) Gannett recognizes this and embraces it.

The interesting part of this statement is the focus on advertisers. Media, in whatever form, has always depended on advertisers. Subscription prices at traditional newspapers and magazines are laughable when it comes to the salaries required to operate effectively. Television can’t charge viewers to watch (I’m going with traditional news stations here.) Advertisers buy airtime and print space. The better the outlet does, the more valuable their draw to advertisers. The catch 22 in this is…without advertisers, the outlet cannot function at its peak (if you can’t pay people to work there, it is hard to get anything done.) I have worked for magazines that have lost advertisers, for whatever reason . The ones that didn’t go under had to consolidate so much that a staff of three was doing the work of a staff of 10. The result? An inferior product. The result of that? Lost market share. That result? More lost advertising. It isn’t too difficult to figure the end of that line…

To find the interesting angle of this statement, one must go back to the many discussions about how online media distribution will help the media industry. Remember those? We have all heard it: online distribution is cheaper, and given that nearly one-third of the operating cost of publications involves printing and distribution, online should take some of the financial burden off the outlet’s shoulders. Right? Not really, or so it seems. As Gannett’s statement indicates, advertisers are still the necessity, no matter what the format. Without dollars, one simply cannot pay people to do the job. Without writers, editors, designers…and even advertising salespeople (yes, they must get paid as well), there simply isn’t a product, online or otherwise. However, to be competitive for advertisers a company has to be at the top of the online game. And to do this, a company needs the best and brightest helping it emerge as a leader. Those best and brightest will come with a price tag. Where does it end?

The Gannett statement represents the real discussion in this industry right now. We are all working to put the information out there, in the best format possible. That format must provide maximum results with minimal cost. Those costs must be covered by someone. Advertisers are that someone. But, to what degree does one balance the products delivered? And how does one find a way to be valuable and relevant at minimal expense? If someone can answer that, there is infinite possibility…

It isn’t about what you know or don’t know, but what you are willing to know.

It is December, and the semester is almost over. Everyone is gearing up for finals, and a long holiday break. You can feel the tension in the air, along with a sense of impending relief. Or perhaps that is just me. This week I present the online portfolio represented here to my multimedia journalism class. These pages are supposed to represent my journey into a new area of journalism – the future, even.

The Past must give way

If you have read the previous posts here, you probably understand my uneasiness. The world of journalism I know revolves around paper. You do an interview, takes some notes, and write a story. Or – and this is the part I have most experience in – you receive a written story, edit it, and send it to design to be placed. The end result is a hard copy of a page containing that story and maybe some artwork. Over the course of the last four months, I have come to realize that, while print is certainly still viable (I happen to love a glossy magazine or the Sunday morning newspaper, and I don’t believe I am the only one), it is no longer enough. I want to actually work as a journalist, and to do so, I must embrace the changing environment. This revelation is not new, which is one of the reasons I am here, but I am certainly more aware of the reality.

Me, a movie maker?

During this semester, I have had to embrace tasks I never dreamed I would. First, I have actually put myself on camera. Again, if you read the other posts here, you know that this is not something I ever wanted to do, and it is not something I am comfortable doing. But I did three standups for stories in this class, and by the third one, I actually started to think of it as part of my story. I know the quality of my videos is nowhere near the caliber of an evening news cast (that is an entirely different school), but I did learn to start thinking about video as a component of what I was trying to craft. What back drop will best drive home my point? What B-roll will best illustrate what I am trying to say? What clip will represent the subject most succinctly? I came to realize that the video itself can be its own story, and it should be. Can you watch just the video, without my written words, and get a sense of the story? I am not there yet. There is still so much to learn, and for me especially, so much practice still required. But the fact that I am even thinking about how to make myself better in that area is a testament to the fact that I have learned how important it is. So I will practice. I will improve.

The Blogosphere

Blogging and microblogging are not things I have really delved into before. I love the idea that we have a platform for our voices, and that I can have a place to write about all of the things that interest me (and that, I hope, interest others) and share them with the world. It just wasn’t something I devoted much time to. I constantly read other people’s blogs, and sometimes I would think that I should do something like it, but I didn’t – until this semester. Being required to blog as part of your coursework is certainly a motivation, and it enabled me to sit down and learn the ins and outs of blogging and Twitter necessary to promote myself and my stories online. I posted a couple of news assignments, learned how to curate information into a blog, began to think about tags and SEO, and dove into tweeting as a way to tell everyone what I was watching, reading and doing. The pages here are representative of the fact that I have a beginner’s grasp on how this works, but they are a long way from where I want them to be. It is still difficult to make myself sit down and write. I know that sounds silly, because I am a writer, but you might be surprised. It is one thing entirely to pitch a story that is accepted, or to receive an assignment with a deadline, and write about that. It is an entirely different thing to try to maintain a constant dialogue with the world around us, and to feed that dialogue regularly. Most of the assignments for this class were news stories, and we were tasked with incorporating multimedia into the story. Trying to think of all the pieces you need for a grade and develop a story while keeping those in mind certainly taxes the “creative” process. I’m a feature writer, for the most part. These were not assignments I would seek out. But I learned, through doing, that the multimedia environment has many facets. I can develop news stories about the things I am watching and listening to, but a blog doesn’t have to be all about hard news. You can blog about anything that interests you. The important thing is that you do it. It is still a challenge to carve out a bit of a week here and there to develop a story, but I am getting there. I have developed a style blog that allows a bit more creative license than a news blog, and while it is definitely a work in progress, I believe there is a voice there. The music magazine I work for will have a blog within the month, as a part of the multimedia plan I have put forward to the publisher (we will also have a Twitter account), because we can no longer deny the importance of developing our online presence. That I learned from this class, and it has never been more true. I will continue to develop my own voice and to promote that voice through the media available, but it is an ongoing learning process. I have only scratched the surface; further work will help me go deeper.

Technology Shift

Technology has never scared me. I think it is fascinating that in 20 years time, we have gone from desktop computers to iPads. I think it a definite blessing that technology has allowed print publications to share and manipulate documents, layout and design pages, and produce and distribute content in ways they never could before. I embrace technology – but I have been reluctant to learn some of it. One of the areas of this class that challenged me most (outside of the camera “thing” discussed earlier) was the video and audio editing technology we used. iMovie captured our videos and allowed us to make them better. GarageBand helped me take a voiceover, an interview and other sounds and piece them together to make a track for a slideshow. These are not things I have done before, and while I know I can get better, I think I was able to produce something that is at least watchable (if you don’t count my camera presence!) I am most proud of the combination of these two software products, which allowed me to capture songwriter Ryan Chrys and show a bit of his personality. It isn’t a news story, but there is a story there nonetheless. And all of the pieces were brought together using this technology I learned in class. The audio slideshow was my favorite project, the one I am most proud of, and where I began to see the possibilities of combining my love for photography with my love for telling a story, while using the amazing technology available to fuse the two and create something worth watching. I still have development in this area; my knowledge is elementary at best. And I will certainly strive to improve on this quickly. However, I know more now than I did in September.

To be Continued…

In fact, that statement sums up this class in general. I know more now than I did in September – about video editing, audio editing, blogging, Twitter, SEO and all of the other tools that will help me tell a story. I also know that the world of journalism is, and will continue to be, about more than pages and pictures. I have begun a process of learning that cannot stop. I want to be a journalist, and make my living doing what I have always loved to do. I have learned that the environment I am entering is vastly different from the one I knew before. I look forward to continuing the learning process and developing the necessary skills. I want to be very good at this. I will take you all along for the ride. And I am willing to know…

Who I am

I am a believer.

 I am a romantic.

 I am a music lover.

I am an editor.

I believe in compassion.

 I am a friend.

 I believe in equality.

 I believe in the truth.

 I am a storyteller.

 I believe in people.

 I am creative.

I believe in the individual.

 I believe in excellence.

 I am an entrepreneur.

 I believe in the power of the image.

 I am a journalist.