Day One: My Pescatarian Adventures

sushiIt’s no secret that I’m a big fan of sushi, but I’m also a fan of eating right. So I decided over the weekend to start on a 30-day excursion that I call “My Pescatarian Adventures.” Most vegetable-based (with the occasional sushi goodness) this is a shift for me from the chicken/carb/vegetable means I’ve been eating. I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned. For those of you who aren’t interested in these adventures, I’m going to start off each post with “Day + Number” so you can skip on by if you’re not up to reading these. I’ll still keep posting about writing; this is something “new.”

For everyone else? Here’s my summary of Day One.

Most Restaurants Suck

My restrictions are: no sugar (or corn syrup) and no meat, except for fish. Little caffeine and no “straight-up” dairy. Human-size portions preferred.

Going out to eat is an exercise in insanity, because it is virtually impossible to find edible menu items with those restrictions. For beverages, I pretty much have to stick to water. Few places offer alternate, caffeine-free and no sugar beverages (even the sushi places), so water it is.

We went to a local restaurant, and there were only two things on the menu that would be considered vegetarian. For fish options, there were only dinner items, so I was out-of-luck on that front.

I almost postponed the start of my adventures due to a lack of choices. (Thank heavens for friendly reminders.) While I wasn’t unhappy with my choice, it seems like eating out might be a chore.

Why do Grocery Stores Keep Veggies Wet?

Built a menu list from a bunch of recipes we had on hand and went grocery shopping to support my adventures. That part was pretty easy, but the veggie shopping was disturbing.

While my grocery bill was less than what we normally spend, there are a lot of “shower sprays” that continually wet down the vegetables making them “look” fresh. I have a few veggie storage containers I got from Tupperware that work really well to store veggies over the long-term, but I’ve had a hard time using up the veggies before they go bad. Is the constant watering the cause?

This might mean more frequent grocery shopping just for vegetables. We’ll see how that shakes out.

On to Day Two…

The Hazards of “Getting There First”

As I’m sure everyone knows, there’s a big shake-up happening in the world of traditional journalism. Print newspapers are shrinking — both their staff and their printed size — sending many journalists to the highly competitive world of online publishing.

speed-racingOnline publishing is fairly competitive, because in many writers’ minds — in order to get your article read, you need to be the first one to break the story and publish it online. In theory, the idea that you need to “get there first” sounds no different than if you worked for a brick-and-mortar newspaper. In practice, “getting there first” without having the time to vet your sources or discover whether or not a blog is credible may be questionable because of the way the internet functions.

When someone writes for an online news publisher, that content gets syndicated in hundreds of places and is also picked up by the search engines. With the online space, publishing a news piece is a lot like throwing a stone into a pond and then watching the ripple effect. You’ll not only “see” when others are reading your content through web analytics, you’ll also know when someone is “talking” about your article through the comments, other blogs and places like Twitter, Facebook, etc.

If a print newspaper makes a mistake, they can print a retraction. If you make a mistake online, you can edit your original article. Unfortunately, the timing of your edit may take place after others have already commented on and spread the wrong information. In my mind, this means that writers need to be extraordinarily careful when posting online “news” content especially since courts are considering libel cases for blogs. Here is a link to the EFF overview of the Online Defamation Law. Remember, internet law is very “young” and there are a lot of rulings still in development. Just recently, the FCC started cracking down on online testimonials. (FTC Concludes Case Against Marketers of Xenadrine EFX)

Besides legal issues, there’s another reason why getting your information correct is so important: your news article is archived on the web. With print, you have a situation where many newspapers get recycled or tossed. It’s difficult to find older articles unless you go to the “Morgue” or a library to look them up. With the web, natural search (e.g. typing in what someone wants to find in a search engine) is an instantaneous reference system that doesn’t necessarily order content by the date of publication. The result? When a reader wants to reference old content that’s easily accessible, sometimes rumors (like the Prop 8 Overturned Rumor on Twitter) can ensue.

    Update: Less than a day after I posted these thoughts the very same effect happened again, this time with the Iran elections. Whether it was due to the chaos or the speed at which information was flying around, in addition to “good” information, several old pictures of violence in Afghanistan were passed around on Twitter as if they happened that day in Iran. CNN and the major news networks did not “jump” on the reporting, which spurred comments of “CNNfail.” I didn’t (and won’t) pull examples of folk who spread bad information around. The info was flying so fast, there seemed to be thousands of micro-blogging posts an hour. I honestly believe this was another case where people didn’t read or visit the links they were sharing.

Another reason why sources are so important, is because I’m also seeing that citizen journalism is becoming more and more popular. “Citizen” journalism in my mind, is when a writer who is not affiliated with a news publication breaks a story through their personal websites. Savvy journalists need to keep this in mind, because some (not all) citizen journalists do not check their sources. This is why search — e.g. searching keywords in multiple different ways and word orders — is a journalist’s best friend. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the internet is full of self-titled experts who may (or may not) have a background in the subject matter they claim to have knowledge in. In this case, you are the expert in your field, so don’t be afraid to take a few extra minutes to offer relevant and accurate content.

Finally, the last reason why you want to be careful about “getting there first” is because your reputation is at stake. When a reporter makes a mistake online, the drama that ensues may blow over quickly. However, your online reputation may be affected in the long-term because when people look for your name, they’ll find that “typed” drama days, weeks and months after the fact. (For more information, read the NYT article about How to Manage Your Reputation Online.)

As a journalist, you are the expert in writing news, but there may be some simple ways you can “get there first” and ensure your reputation is protected:

  • Understand SEO – Whether you visit Google Webmaster Central for an SEO starter guide or follow Search Engine Land, read up on search engine optimization and learn how it affects your web copywriting. I recommend keeping up on the topic because search is constantly changing.
  • Specialize in a Few Topics – By embracing a limited amount of topics, you can structure your articles and make a name for yourself in that particular area. It is easier to “get there first” if you know your source material well and can pull from an established list of sources.
  • Be Clear About Rumors vs. Facts – If you’re still on deadline and can’t verify one of the sources, I’d still write the article but be very clear what you weren’t able to verify by citing rumors and facts. That way, if a reader misinterprets your article your bases are covered because you’ve written, “According to an unverified source…” etc.
  • Timestamp or Date your Edits When Appropriate – Many articles also “update” the original with an “edit” that offers clarification or fixes after the fact. I recommend dating these edits in your copy, to prevent confusion. This might apply to “breaking” news stories that are constantly evolving.
  • Write for Credible Publications – The other side to online journalism, is to find a publication that is reputable. Don’t be afraid to turn down assignments if you feel it might hurt your reputation.

If you’re writing online, don’t be afraid to monitor your online reputation, too. In my mind, Googling yourself is no longer an act of vanity because your employers, readers and friends and family are doing the exact, same thing. By applying simple edits and SEO tactics, you can still “get there first” without damaging your reputation and ensure you’re following journalism’s time-tested ethics.

Publishing’s Future may be a Paradigm Shift

One of the hot topics over the past, few weeks as been the “future of publishing.” At BookExpo America, the Future is Digital, according to the Washington Post. (You can also find a lot more information on the topic through Publishers Weekly.) While I’m offering my opinions related to the future of professional publishing and the digital market in this post, a word of caution — digital publishing is currently a tiny, tiny market. During a panel at WisCon, Tor Books relayed that of the entire book publishing industry, 98% of those are in “hard goods,” whereas that remaining 2% is digital. Perhaps due to the economy and/or the popularity of the Kindle, digital has exponentially grown over the past year even though book sales have declined slightly. (Remember, in a downturn economy people might be more likely to visit their local library and check out books for free as opposed to buying them.)

What is the Potential Market?

First, let’s look at some numbers that will help put internet usage into perspective and see if they reveal anything about the “potential” market for publishers online.

Take into consideration that the saturation of internet users in the U.S. is 75%(1). Even if the internet usage stats (after some digging, I found were pulled from Nielsen online) are accurate, they don’t show what people are using the internet for. Are they looking at all of the 109,734,433 active domains on the web? (2). Probably not, since Nielsen states that the average time a visitor spends reading a web page is less than a minute. Alexa’s top-ranked websites only show us part of the story, because you’ll notice that search engines, blogs and social media sites comprise most of that top 25.

The point that I’m trying to make here, is that even though internet usage is rampant, visitors use the medium for different reasons and there are a lot of websites trying to grab their attention. Unlike a physical bookstore where you have so many chances to make an impression on a potential buyer, the web is flooded with information — including ads — that are vying for that visitor’s attention. As every bookseller knows, positioning is key. The same may be true for the web, but the question remains “where” that positioning will be the most relevant to get the greatest effect.

Why a Paradigm Shift Might Be Necessary

Working for both online-and-offline companies in both the public (government) and private sector, I can tell you that there is a definite difference between a company that focuses their efforts online vs. offline. Online companies move faster, keep up on daily (if not hourly) trends, and have to make quick decisions that they can then track through virtually instantaneous data streams. As I’m sure you’re aware, offline companies might be structured around seasonality or production timelines, which may be supported by their web presence. The pace in an offline business can be much slower than an online one, depending upon which market you’re in.

Although publishing may not continue in the same vein as it has been, I hope that they don’t place all of their emphasis into an online presence. We’re still in the “Wild, Wild West” of the internet, where specific legal rulings could dramatically impact accessibility and deliverability of content. I’m seeing many businesses pour everything into online marketing because it’s “free” (e.g. have a website), but I think this may yield disastrous results over the long-term. There are a number of factors in flux that may affect publishing, some of which also relate to other businesses as well.

    a) Internet Law (copyright, piracy, social media rulings, net neutrality, etc.)
    b) Production Schedule (Time to Market)
    c) Offline “Support” (bookstores, schools, libraries)
    d) Technology (online and offline)
    e) Pricing (free vs. paid)
    f) Content Saturation and Distribution

Hopefully, publishers will continue experimenting while keeping an eye on the bigger picture. (Tor and Harper Collins are two examples of publishers who are dipping their toe into the space.) Book publishers have a unique challenge, because their product (e.g. “books”) can be offered in multiple mediums. This may be good news for the longer-term, because a product that can be adapted either physically or electronically is a product that has the potential for great accessibility.

What’s to come? The future is anyone’s guess, which is why I highly recommend that authors stay on top of these changes. Either way, it’s pretty exciting stuff!

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