Last night I attended a panel discussion hosted by 90.3 WBHM, Birmingham’s NPR station, that explored the future of journalism in North Central Alabama. Despite the gloom and doom attitude that most people in the audience seemed to have as they proclaimed the death of journalism and the evils of the media, I left that event motivated. I even went home and wrote a love letter to journalism. During the discussion one attendee said journalism shouldn’t even be called journalism anymore. He said reporters aren’t keeping a “journal” so why do we call it “journalism.”
But Andre Natta, editor of the community news website The Terminal and one of the panelists, stepped in and said, “The journal we are keeping is the journal of the communities that we serve.”
This got me to thinking. This got me to thinking about you, ladies of See Jane Write.
You are the community I serve and I started wondering if there was a way for me to better serve you through this blog.
Currently, I only use this blog to post information about See Jane Write and recaps of our events. I use my personal blog to offer musings and words of wisdom on the writing life. But why can’t I do that here, too, with a hyper-local focus?
So tell me what you want. Tell me what you need. What kind of coverage of Birmingham’s literary and media communities would you like to see? What kind of information would you like me to gather and share?
Please let me know in the comments of this post or by sending me an email.
So many people in the room kept lamenting about how the Internet is changing you and changing you for the worse. I can appreciate their position.The Birmingham News, the city’s paper of record, is, as of this week, no longer a daily paper. While it produces and posts online content every day, it now only publishes a print product three times a week.
One person in the room even suggested that you change your name. He said that you aren’t about keeping a “journal” so why do we call you “journalism.”
But Andre Natta, editor of community news website The Terminal and one of the special guest speakers at this shindig, stepped in and said, “The journal we are keeping is the journal of the communities that we serve.”
And I believe this journal isn’t any less important just because it’s moving in a more digital-focused direction.
Journalism, I still believe you can save the world.
WBHM General Manager Scott Hanley (far left) with the panelists. From left: Vickii Howell, Andre Natta, Kyle Whitmire, and Bob Sims.
Another attendee questioned whether or not you will still be able to preserve our history, as you once did, in your new form.
Vickii Howell, another special guest and editor of BirminghamView.com suggested that because of the Internet that recorded history can be even richer. The Internet democratizes information so that we can now see history through multiple lenses, she said.
I must admit there were moments when everyone in the room disappeared and I began to think about us, about our rocky relationship.
I’m not even sure how you feel about me these days. You’re probably mad at me. You probably feel like you’ve become my #2, that I’m a part-time lover, that I treat you like the “side chick” as the kids say.
It’s true. In July 2009 I left you to become a full-time educator.
But I missed you like crazy. So I started freelancing for every newspaper, magazine and website that I could write for because I needed you.
I know this isn’t how we imagined our life together would be when I was 15 and dreaming of starting a magazine. But I hope you’ll stick with me, nonetheless.
And I hope the people of Birmingham, and every city, will stick with you.
Someone in the crowd wanted to know how the local paper will be able to retain high quality content amid all the changes. Bob Sims, content director for AL.com, an online hub for news from around Alabama and another panelist at this event, said he was confident that the passion of the people who work for the news organization would ensure this.
“People work in journalism because they have a passion for good storytelling,” he said.
Good storytelling – that’s what you are, journalism, and that’s why I yearn to be called one of your own. I miss being called a journalist.
These stories may be told in different ways nowadays, but that doesn’t change who you are. You are still the field I fell in love with so many years ago.
And so I write — even if it means juggling three regular freelance gigs with a full-time teaching job and, getting an arrive of 5 hours of sleep a night. No matter what, I will write.
Kyle Whitmire (far right)
Kyle Whitmire, another guest speaker and local politics and news reporter for The Birmingham News, shared that he was in high school when he decided he wanted to be “a newspaper man.” While he still obviously cherishes the newspaper, he is not naïve about the realities of the industry. Yet, he’s optimistic still.
“I may not end my career as a newspaper man,” he said, “but I hope I will end my career as a journalist.”
What I’m trying to say, journalism, is I hope we can be together forever.
The Women’s Fund asked for a photograph, so I sent this one. Don’t I look smart surrounded by all these books?
Did you like that serious, hard news headline? I figured it was in order considering this post is about the fact that the ladies over at the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham actually think I’m smart. Next month the organization is honoring 12 Birmingham-area women for their “innovative” work and ideas and I can’t believe I’ll be in the mix. To be in a group that includes the director of the Birmingham Public Library, a successful lawyer, and a space archaeologist — just to name a few — is both humbling and shocking. I am being recognized for the work I do with See Jane Write, which I founded in March 2011. We will be honored at the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham’s inaugural “SMART Party.” The Birmingham Business Journal describes the “SMART Party” as an event that will include “tweets, tags, pins and check-ins from attendees and video ‘virtual’ messages from guests from around the world.” The SMART Party is a fundraiser for the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. Lin Carleen founded the organization in 1996 with a mission to “encourage the full participation of women and girls in the community by creating opportunities for education, physical, emotional, social, artistic, and personal growth and empowerment.” The group’s major focus for the past five years has been on domestic violence. The SMART Party will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 11 at WorkPlay and I hope you’ll join us. I’d love to see you there! For tickets and more information, click here.
Last weekend I rededicated myself to a promise I made years ago. No, I didn’t renew my wedding vows. I decided to renew my efforts to fall in love with the city of Birmingham. I spent last Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the Sidewalk Film Festival, an annual independent film festival held in various venues of downtown Birmingham. (I wrote stories on the film Our Mockingbird and the short documentaries produced by University of Alabama at Birmingham students for Magic City Post.) I had a blast and the weekend made me realize that Birmingham really can make me happy if I give her a chance.
So, this fall I plan to attend as many events as I can. Just around the corner is the Birmingham Public Library’s second Eat Drink Read Write Festival, which is set for Sept. 8 – 15, 2012. The Birmingham Public Library has joined forces with several Birmingham food organizations to present this year’s event. Presentations will include good food and good conversation from national and local food and beer experts. All events are free and will feature food tastings, a cooking class, a food documentary and more. Events will be held at the downtown public library, Pepper Place and the Desert Island Supply Co. in Woodlawn.
I would love for some of the ladies of See Jane Write to join me at some of the Eat Drink Read Write Festival events such as Food Stories, set for Wednesday, Sept. 12 at the Desert Island Supply Co., 5500 First Ave. North. For this event participants will have five minutes to tell a true, personal story about food. No notes allowed. This presentation is modeled after National Public Radio’s “The Moth: True Stories Told Live.” Birmingham Originals member restaurants will provide refreshments. Reservations are required so visit http://foodstories2012.eventbrite.com/ to register today. Then RSVP at the See Jane Write Facebook group page to let me know you’re coming. And please join me Friday, Sept. 14 at Bards & Brews. It’s really a shame that I have yet to attend the library’s popular poetry performance and beer-tasting event. On this night, Chef Corey Hinkel of MIX Bakery and Cafe will discuss beer and cheese pairings. Chef Chris Dupont of MIX Bakery and Cafe and Cafe Dupont will prepare appetizers, using ingredients donated by Whole Foods Market. There will also be a poetry slam and prizes to the top three winners. Avondale Brewing Co., Back Forty Beer Co., Bell’s Brewery and Good People Brewing Co. will furnish the beer. The Reflections, a band made up of library employees, is also set to perform. Reservations are not required for this event, but please RSVP at the See Jane Write Facebook group page to let me know you’re coming so I’ll keep an eye out for you.
When Texas socialite Joanne King Herring, the woman portrayed by Julia Roberts in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, wanted help writing her memoir she didn’t choose a big shot author from the New York Times best seller list. No, it was Birmingham’s own Nancy Dorman-Hickson who was selected for the job, thanks to her Southern roots and her ability to find common ground with people.
The importance of being able to relate well to others was just one of the many tips Dorman-Hickson offered Tuesday evening during her presentation “A Ghost Story: My Life as a Co-Writer and Print/Web Writer.”
At this event, hosted by See Jane Write Birmingham, Dorman-Hickson discussed ghostwriting and collaborative writing, freelance writing, and personal branding to a crowd of 30 local writers.
Is co-writing for you?
The primary difference between ghostwriting and co-writing is with ghostwriting you won’t receive any credit for helping with the book. Your name won’t appear on the cover and you’ll even have to sign a contract stating that you won’t reveal your connection to the project. With co-writing, you will receive credit, but it’s still important to check your ego at the door. As Dorman-Hickson explained when recounting her experience with Herring, the person you’re working with gets the final word when making creative decisions.
With co-writing, you may be paid a flat or hourly rate. Dorman-Hickson said that on average the hourly rate is about $73 per hour. Flat rates run the gamut and can range from $6,000 to $150,000, but typically average at about $22,000.
To be a successful co-writer you need much more than good writing skills. This is a job that will call for you to be an editor and to manage people.
If you think co-writing is for you, one of the best ways to land co-writing gigs is by networking with other co-writers. You should also place a profile on PublishersMarketplace.com, Dorman-Hickson recommended. And don’t be afraid to approach prominent people and offer to help them tell their story.
The Truth About Freelancing
During her talk, Dorman-Hickson was very honest about the realities of freelancing. It is nearly impossible to survive as a full-time freelancer these days because most publications pay writers such meager fees. But don’t be discouraged. Learn to maximize each assignment you get and also think outside the box. Market your writing services to companies that haven’t been hit as hard by the economic downturn.
Buidling Your Brand
Dorman-Hickson also discussed personal branding because whether you want to admit it or not, to be a successful writer, you have to build a successful brand for yourself. This may sound like a daunting task, but it can be easier than you think. A few things you’ll need: business cards, a website and/or blog, and an e-newsletter.
You can even use your email signature and your voicemail greeting as promotion tools.
Give presentations to writing groups and book clubs.
And work on your elevator speech. Be sure that you can give a short, yet captivating description of what you do at a moment’s notice.
One of the things from Dorman-Hickson’s talk that stood out to me most is the idea that one of the best ways to help your writing career is to help other writers with their careers. That’s exactly what I strive to do with See Jane Write. It’s nice to know I’m on the right track.