Getting a start in journalism

February 26th, 2014

At the recent UCC Journalism conference (where RTÉ told us with great pride how they’re gatekeepers and won’t allow us to see silly celeb stories on the news), a student asked for advice on starting out in journalism. This was the advice I gave.

1. Start.
Don’t wait for anything in particular. Just start writing now.

2. Pick something you think the media isn’t covering.
Something the media isn’t covering that you think they should? As per this post, you write it. Media has finite resources and the work journalists are doing is increasing while their pay is not. There are going to be gaps. Fill that gap.

3. Your writing is going to be shit to start with. So what, you’ve started.
10,000 hours is what makes a lot of people go from average to talented. It doesn’t occur naturally for most. Work work and work. Read and write then read and write some more. And stop with the excuses. The worst thing for your writing is to stop writing. Runners don’t wait for the “right” race to train.

All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it? – Philip Pullman

4. Become obsessed about a topic you have a genuine interest in.
Read everything about it. Oh God, you’re one of those people at a party. Did I know the Ecuadorian yellow parrot has …? Remember bands we idolised and how we knew everything about them? Even the stuff that would never appear in a pub quiz? Become that person for a topic. When you write about the topic your passion and knowledge should stand out because of that obsession. Read every angle about the topic. Pro, con, neutral, rumour. You are now the knowledge base for this topic. You should now be able to create timelines and linkages and more for that topic. Observe from outside, how you write and structure content about the topic. Maybe use this as a model for other topics then? Obsessions teach us a lot about how to research and get a feel for things.

5. Pick a fight.
In terms of getting attention, it works well. But be justified. If someone is misinformed then call them out with proof. Rebuttals, corrections and more can work well. Be level headed the whole time. No personal insults. See the next topic too.

6. Know your defamation laws.
Irish defamation law is a motherfucker. Designed to make rich people keep the masses down while making lawyers nice and rich. Know the limitations the law says your writing has to have. Do remember though that you will get bogus threats too that you should stand up to.

7. Look at available information sources.
FOI is great for this. The eTenders website is too. Data journalism is a nice new area of journalism. It’s a new name for what has always been there: Proper research and seeing a story where others don’t. Kildare Street. Even are good places to get information. Learn how to sift through data and tell a story

8. Write for people you know
Write for your mother, father, granparent, friend. Anyone can copy and paste from a press release or rob from the Irish Times and the Indo for their churnalism site. The value is not in who is fastest to repost a press release, it’s in crafting something that has a start, middle and end and that has added value to the life of someone by the time they’ve finished reading your piece. Having someone pictured in your mind as you write focuses you on how to communicate the information to them, how to write it in language they understand.

9. Know how to write killer headlines.
Use Twitter as a platform. Look at stuff in the Irish Times, Independent and give them better, catchier headlines and see what ones you create get the clicks on Twitter and Facebook. This headline guide from Upworthy is great.

10. Pitch and Collaborate
It’s never too early to pitch ideas to features editors. Start with local publications and see will they take your content for free. Again, look at topical issues and look at gaps and pitch for that gap. Yeah you work for free but now you’re published. The more places you are published, the more people will take you seriously.

Done your FOIs? Gotten juicy stuff? Pitch the story to a journalist and see will they write it with you. Get your name in the by-line in a paper then. This actually happens, not a lot but it does.

11. Read stuff on content and how to write
This list from me might also help in terms of new forms of content. Media changes, be there for the changes instead of catching up. Fail fast but fail cheap instead of failing slowly.

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Fluffy Links – Monday February 24th 2014

February 24th, 2014

Alan references a post I did years back, now his take years later. All things change, all things repeat. IBTS are still dicks about the gays.

Not evenly distributed. Newspaper club will not only print your newspaper on demand, they’ll be the paperboy too.

Maybe analysts could watch for takedowns to predict who is getting acquired. Handy signal from WhatsApp about their purchase by being shitty on Github.

Same thing with Testflight. Remove all support for Android and new users and oh yeah, they got acquired by Apple.

Clever prediction markets people could use this to place bets/buys on certain stocks.

On WhatsApp. Great talk on ideas that people thought were daft at the time and turned out to be highly lucrative

New user experiences, good and bad, from a variety of products

Roads do perfume, books and film. Interesting mix, would love to be a publisher if I had a tonne of money and not worried about making money from this area.

The 10 Stages of the Creative Process.

I love this website designed to sell a course on creativity.

Such an odd word. Pulchritudinous.

Best cover in a long long LONG time

Fluffy Links – Monday February 17th 2014

February 17th, 2014

Ivan has a nice site on data visualisation. Do check it out.

20 minute read. Gold in that read: Very very detailed piece on the revenue, sales numbers and dynamics of the e-book industryHugh Howey. Self publish seems to be the main takeaway.

David Hieatt on how to raise money for your idea.

I’m putting the band back together, no, I mean I’m putting together a list of Digital Marketing Trainers. Want to be on it?

Buzzfeed Style Guidelines. Handy doc, useful for writing on the web.

And in the same area, the Yelp Style Guide.

Great great detail on how the Crazy Egg website was optimised for conversions. Getting traffic to your site is one thing, getting commitments from that traffic is another.

Winged Victory for the Sullen have new music.

Make lollipops turn into superheroes with printed capes.

Fan generated Star Trek original series episodes. High production values. Above we see the self publishing revolution data, will self produced TV be on the way too and be profitable? Also what’s interesting is pirate websites are giving this content a push. If Netflix can do it…

Dear Fellow Employees of Paypal. Use our app or leave. Why aren’t Paypal staff using the Paypal app is a good question.

Whiteboards. Great for displaying your passwords to TV crews.

Fluffy Links – Monday February 10th 2013

February 10th, 2014

Make others successful. Love this very short slide deck from Ideo on their values. Print off every slide!

Writing was always that torturous, we all just think we’re so fucking special.

Interview with Choire Sicha, founder of The Awl and the author of “A Very Recent History”.

Some actual context for how big Facebook as a social network is. Compare it to Twitter and the others.

Allen curve. The more you see someone face to face, the more you’ll communicate with them via other channels like post, phone, email.

The rider for a professional public speaker.

Hidden data in everyday things. Decoding GPS coordinates from a youTube video.

The Gap by Ira Glass, done to a video.

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” –W.B. Yeats

via Richard Hearne. Great piece on landing page optimisation with links to a whole lot of resources.

It was good til the very end and it went all “Twitter, Facebook wah wah wah pay”. Two teens, an ocean apart and how their History in Pics Twitter account is a juggernaut.

Julia Kent is playing Cork on March 1st. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh is support. Yes and yes.

Fluffy Links – Monday February 3rd 2014

February 3rd, 2014

We can’t come off looking like we think technology is the answer to every question. Technology is part of the answer but people are obviously part of the answer, as well.

Steve Case (Remember him from AOL) on tech companies and responsibilities. The tech world he alludes to is also the one where people feel good that they teach homeless people to code. And insist if everyone learned to code the world would be so much better. I’m sure some kid in Asia can unstarve themselves by learning python in their slum that doesn’t have electricity. Is there an Uber for getting a clue?

Brian Eno on a strategy to being creative again.

Launching a startup is easy. The launch bit. The hard work has yet to start though.

via Glenn There’s a guy in West Cork making very professional drones and exporting them.

Mac user? Trouble sleeping? This will help. Flux.

Fake U2 single uploaded to YouTube, it’s actually some other band. Got played by Dave Fanning. If this was guerrilla marketing by that band, I’d be slightly praising it.

Dodgy “guest” blog posts are going to get a hammering by Google. If Matt Cutts blogs about it, that’s a confirmation.

Praise kids for their effort, praise them for being smart, the ones praised for effort work harder and do better.

I forgot I uploaded this, the Art of the Handshake, taken from Primary Colours. Oh Bill er John.

Be the artist, not the canvas

A conference on conferences about conferences

January 28th, 2014

Re: the title. If it’s not done, it probably will be soon.

I wrote a post over five years ago suggesting people put on their own conferences. As conferences and events get bigger, they end up putting off an awful lot of people who would have been the ones that went to the first ones. Once annual conferences hit four figures both in numbers and ticket prices, a new market for a conference in the same area opens up. Put on the right conference and it can be a new source of additional revenue or just something an audience was looking for.

Seriously, the cost of a single ticket to some conferences in Ireland is the seed money for putting on your own one. €1000 can go a long way in setting up a day long conference. €3000 would pretty much cover everything bar lunch for those going (tell em bring their own).

I then wrote this back in 2012 giving some advice on putting conferences together. The same holds true today.

Some other tips I’d like to add, please:

Be critical
Look at your potential lineup. Look at your ticket prices. If you only had €150 to spend at one conference this year, which one would it be? Would you go to your own? Would you really? That speaker has been at those other five conferences in the past two years, re-cycling that presentation again and again. They’re well known but would you pay some of your ticket to see that same talk for the sixth time? The venue is ok, it’s cheap but if you sat in that location for the whole day, would you dislike it? How are the acoustics? Is it a pain to actually get to or get parking at or get a taxi to? Is the food ok? Many people ignore the food in planning but a happy belly makes a happy conference goer. Is it to warm or too cold? Nothing worse for me than cold feet at a conference.

Tweets sell tickets.
Tweets about ticket sales drove more sales for the Measurement Conference as well as the Web Awards and Social Media Awards than any other source. However, I don’t use my mailing lists properly, so keep that in mind. Mailing lists can work extremely well for some demographics. Plan your tweets, plan them weeks ahead.


And now a huge chunk on speakers. You need good speakers to get a crowd but also wow the crowd so they’ll come back next year and tell their friends. Ways of sourcing speakers that work for me.

Speakers: Ask for recommendations.
The best way of finding speakers for a conference is to ask people you already know who they think is good. Ask in private as people sometimes find they publicly have to big up a buddy of theirs so in private people are more honest. If you’ve run previous conferences, ask your speakers who they know that would be good.

Speakers: Other conferences
I know Jack Murray in Media Contact goes to conferences to find new blood for his events. This is a good way of sourcing people. See them talk, know they can handle a crowd and then you can go up to them afterwards and ask them to come to yours. However, you don’t have to be at a conference to find good speakers. Look at various conferences (I look at UK mostly) and see their speaker list and their topics. Google their names and see if there is feedback online about their previous talks. There may even be video.

Speakers: LinkedIn
I use LinkedIn advanced search. Put in a job title of the type of speaker you want, choose current position, filter by second network connections, choose the country and there you go.


Speakers: Slide Share, Blogs
Good writing and presentation deck fu does mean good communications, now it might not mean verbal but the message and delivery is in their head, gets turned into slides or words. You want to see if untested speakers in particular are good at being on stage and keeping a crowd from getting distracted.

Run smaller events
The Measurement Monthly events I do (which aren’t really very monthly) are smaller events where someone can try out their presentation skills without feeling too intimidated or overwhelmed. Three speakers, 15 minutes max. (Holler if you want to talk at one, T&Cs apply)

Speakers: Go direct to companies
Companies are generally happy to send someone to represent them at a conference. It can be good for marketing and PR. A good business is well connected to speaking at conferences can make it even more connected. It should go without saying but don’t let it go without saying: No over-the-top pitches, giving good information is the best pitch of all. You could go and ask via the Comms team but I’ve found it better to ask someone you know in there and let them do the hunting. Comms people are paid to worry about impressions so might be slow or conservative in getting you a speaker.

Look the fuck after your speakers
They’re your temporary employees, they’re there to help you get bums on seats. They make presentations, travel and stress about their talk. Don’t ask them for their slides a week in advance, they’re finishing them about 20 minutes before their talk. That’s what I do. Your tech person or them can use a memory key and plug it in or for some speakers, use their own laptop. If they’re doing this gig for free then look after them with a good hotel and a good speakers meal the night before. Don’t sell tickets to people to attend the meal and turn it into feed the animals thing. Let them unwind and banter with each other. Bring some sponsors alright if you want.

Look the fuck after your sponsors
Keep them updated with progress and ticket sales. Send them analytics afterwards about the social media reach of the event. Get them to be there and meet and greet people. Having them at the check-in desk is good for them to meet lots of people and introduce themselves.

Fluffy Links – Monday January 27th 2014

January 27th, 2014

“We are depriving ourselves of every opportunity for disconnection.”. Get yourself some downtime and start deep thinking. Some tips.

Twinned with the above really. Some handy tips for getting better sleep. With more faces stuck in screens, a much busier work and home life, our sleep is being affected.

This from Google blew me away. The evolution of music over a long long time. Interactive. Pretty. This is how you present data. Paying attention media types?

“As someone that bought books from Malcolm Gladwell before and as someone that binge buys, we know you are going to buy this so we went ahead and shipped it already.” This almost seems like pre-cog or something. Amazon making educated guesses about what and where to ship before people buy.

Want to get rid of the location data embedded in your phone photos? Unsure do they have them? If you don’t know, then they do.

So how’s Jelly doing after week 1? My phone software is too old to run it. Boo. I won’t upgrade to ios7!

BBC trials doing video news headlines in Instagram.

Facebook is tweaking with your head! More text updates from friends = more of their friends will do updates. So they made that happen and it resulted in 9M more updates a day. Possibly helping the time on site and engagement metrics.

Somewhere. Show off your work.

Ad that doesn’t take the brand too seriously

I have no idea

Fluffy Links – Friday 24th of January 2014

January 24th, 2014

Saw a sign for this yesterday. Cork Literary and Science Society. Some great talks. First time hearing about them. Look at the talks! I know I’m getting old but what great talks!

And on the same area. Kinda. Old Photos of Cork blog. Super stuff.

Michael D speech on Ethical Memory. Wonderful stuff.

Beautiful examples of use of punctuation in classic novels. *Steals some ideas*

A list of misquotations. Many I have used had the wrong attribution it seems.

Where “Screw the Pooch” came from.

The story of the Cord Taco. Simple idea that came from a request from someone else. From zero to selling in the Apple Store in a year. From the writing though you can tell this guy has his strategy and managed this very well. The product is great, the execution is where the greatness is.

New book from Dave Hieatt. Crowd funded. Go on.

“Startup culture” demotivational posters.

Always keep a diamond in your mind

Cork is … Dublin is

January 23rd, 2014

According to Google Autocomplete:



I just call the numbers.

Just fDIY

January 20th, 2014

Of late I’ve seen a few people complain about lack of coverage of X or Y by “the media”. Complaints on Twitter. So that means those complaining have access to the Internet, have an email address and can type.

They may have or have not heard of Wordpress, Blogspot or Tumblr. All web services that allow you to create your own content. I KNOW RIGHT?

  • Someone done a ones to watch list in 2014 and left out some progressive startups? fDIY so.
  • Your city left out of great places to start a business? fDIY so.
  • Why didn’t the paper call out some some stupid racist prick? fDIY so.
  • You can do a better recipe than that food blogger? fDIY so.
  • That cool band isn’t getting any attention? fDIY so.

This is 2014, we have easy access to services that allow us to create content on any connected device. We have social media accounts where we can share the content that we can easily create. There is a crucial need for media, yes, but they’re being hammered left, right and centre by internal factors and market factors.

Yeah you could be an unknown blog with sfa visitors but Google will find your content. Even if you only ever write one blog post, you will be found. And maybe that’s all you need to do, just a single blog post. Your ideas of lack of coverage on your bugbear might not be unique so that means people are probably Googling about it so you’ll get traffic from interested parties.

And maybe if you fucking Do It Yourself, the media that forgot/ignored what you now highlight might decide this is worth some attention now. Whether they give you attribution or not, your topic is getting coverage. Job done.