We lost Jimmy Breslin yesterday

Breslin received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1986 so yeah, he was that good.

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Jimmy Breslin at the 2008 Brooklyn Book Festival. (Wikipedia)

Today is a day of mourning for journalists everywhere. We lost Jimmy Breslin yesterday.

Newspaper reports say Breslin died while recovering from pneumonia. He was 88 and until recently was still writing in his iconic style.

Breslin was the type of newsman that may not exist any longer. He started as a copy boy in the 1940s and he made his mark as a columnist for various New York City publications, reporting on the city’s politics and crime from “street level,” using the lives of average people to frame stories.

As a young teen, I stumbled across his novel, “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” and laughed myself silly. That was my first introduction to Breslin and he has been a favorite of mine ever since.

Continue reading “We lost Jimmy Breslin yesterday”

RIP Steve Buttry

Steve Buttry was an influence on a generation of journalists.

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Steve Buttry

Steve Buttry helped make me the journalist I became and was an influence, at least in part, on the creation of Henderson County Now.

He died Sunday, Feb. 19, of pancreatic cancer at the age of 62. The world of journalism is a poorer place today.

I only met Steve once face-to-face. It was at a long-ago journalism conference where he conducted a workshop on breaking the inverted pyramid, the reporter’s well-worn and boring story form. I remember talking to him afterward and him digging in his bag to give me a homemade CD with an assortment of his articles.

I held on to that CD for more than 10 years, accessing it frequently.

Steve called for innovation and a return to storytelling. Unfortunately, I turned out to be a terrible storyteller. The idea for innovation stuck, however, and as an editor, I was able to use Steve’s ideas and techniques to mold my newsrooms.

For a time I even did some reporter training for CNHI, the company that owns the Athens Daily Review. I based the training on Steve’s ideas.

Steve was an advocate for a digital first approach to journalism and worked on the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next project. He wrote about his thoughts often on his blog, “The Buttry Diary.”

Posts from that blog influenced the digital media approach I developed while at The Malakoff News in 2010-2012 and in time saw come to fruition at Henderson County Now.

I wish I could tell Steve what a big impact he’s been in my career. I wish I could thank him for letting me know it was OK to go in a different direction. But Steve is gone now and there is only one I can think to do even though he might say it was obvious and cliche …

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I Got Retweeted by Evernote

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I was skimming through Twitter last night when I came across a tweet by @natziieebeyb mentioning my favorite app, Evernote, and I had to kibitz.

In the coolness that is social media, the folks from Evernote joined the conversation.

 

I started to tweet back, but quickly realized there was no way I could answer the question properly on Twitter, because as a community journalist Evernote is basically the foundation for everything I do.

For nearly five years now, the first thing I do when I sit down at my computer is open Evernote. I have a hard time calling it an “app” because it is my most important piece of software.

Here are a few of the ways I use Evernote on a regular basis:

1. The obvious – I use Evernote to write all my stories. I love the fact that I can access my work across devices. For instance, I started this blog post on my phone and finished it on my laptop at home … and while that is pretty normal now, it wasn’t when I started using Evernote.

2. I keep all of my research and interviews together in a notebook for enterprise stories.

3. I store file photos.

4. I keep a notebook with all my Open Records Request letters.

5. I use the web clipper to gather background information.

6. I use If This Then That to capture my social media posts in a notebook.

7. I use tags and notebooks to organize my work according to beats.

8. I file government documents as PDFs. (This is invaluable because of the way Evernote searches within the PDFs.)

9. For events I know will generate breaking news — elections, for instance — I set up pre-written social media posts and blog updates so I can get out information fast.

10. I use a notebook named “Scratchpad” to write longer social media posts so that I don’t make a mistake before pushing the send button.

There are more and the beauty of Evernote is that I can adapt it to just about any of my needs. This is vital for me, because as a community journalist working in small towns throughout Texas I don’t have access to the expensive content management systems available at larger media outlets.

But I think I have better, because Evernote is my CMS and morgue. With my smartphone, I am always connected to years of information and data which often gives me an edge when competing against other news organizations in the field.

I have been using Evernote since 2011 and I believe in its usefulness so much that I have been a premium member for most of that time even though I almost never need the extra storage space. I consider it $5 well spent.

Thanks, Evernote.

3 characteristics of leaders and innovators

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The following quote by Wayne Gretzky is one of my favorites when it comes to my job.

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

It is a simple philosophy that made Gretzky arguably the best hockey player of all time. Everyone else followed the puck, while he got in front of it.Gretzky’s quote is also a great definition for innovation in the marketplace. Those who look ahead and spend at least part of their time projecting the future become leaders in their field. Everyone else is a follower.But it isn’t always easy. Here are three characteristics of leaders and innovators.

1. Work Hard

Being a trend setter isn’t easy — if it was, everyone would be doing it. Leading takes hard work.Consider it this way: Just doing your job takes a full work week. If you want to also become a leader, you are going to have to put in extra hours.It is the simplest, and yet the hardest factor for innovation.In his autobiography, Wayne Gretzky wrote:

“All I wanted to do in the winters was be on the ice. I’d get up in the morning, skate from 7:00 to 8:30, go to school, come home at 3:30, stay on the ice until my mom insisted I come in for dinner, eat in my skates, then go back out until 9:00. On Saturdays and Sundays we’d have huge games, but nighttime became my time. It was a sort of unwritten rule around the neighbourhood that I was to be out there myself or with my dad.”

From the ages of 3 to 12, he was spending as many as 10 hours a day on the ice … the results speak for themselves.There is no substitute for hard work.

2. Keep Learning

Another one of my favorite phrases is “continuing education.” Innovators never stop learning; never stop researching their vocation.Some industries push continuing education, but not many and certainly not enough. Most of the time the drive to learn has to come from inside.Make sure you know and read the leading blogs for your industry. Learn the new trends and technologies. Study and practice new techniques.This goes back to working hard … you have to carve out time to gather the information you need for No. 3.

3. Experiment and Don’t Fear Failure

The greatest roadblock to innovation and progress is the phrase: “this is the way we’ve always done it.”It is the motto of the follower.Innovators, on the other hand, experiment with new techniques to try and improve their own efforts. There is always something you can do better.Sometimes the experiments work; sometimes they don’t. But you can’t be afraid to try!Last year, I started three new blogs on three different platforms. None of the blogs survived to the end of the year … but I learned invaluable information about new technology. It is how I learned to build news websites while the rest of my colleagues were trying to hold on to disappearing newsroom jobs.It is how Thomas Edison figured out how to make the light bulb practical — by thousands of unsuccessful experiments.“I haven’t failed,” he said. “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

It isn’t complicated

The funny thing about being an innovator is that it is actually pretty simple. Just continue to work hard at improving through the application of new ideas and techniques to the problems in your industry.Solve one of those problems and bingo, you’re an innovator.But remember, simple isn’t the same as easy. As Edison said: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Don’t miss your opportunity to be an industry leader this year.