Journalists are worried about trust… and 4 other big takeaways from ONA 17

Just got back from the Online News Association 2017 conference in Washington, DC!

From fake news possibly influencing the election to elected leaders referring to real journalism as fake news, trust in news could be at an all-time low in the United States. As someone who cares about reporting truth with fairness and balance, I’m deeply worried about the future of journalism. Based on what I heard at this year’s ONA, I’m not the only one.

Here are some of my takeaways from the conference about how to restore trust in this critical institution:

  1. Journalists should spend quality time in local communities.

    Asma Khalid (WBUR) made a strong argument against “parachuting” into towns and neighborhoods to get the story. It’s important to be present and listen, she said. Not only will sources appreciate it, but it just might change their opinion about reporters.

  2. Newsrooms should be as diverse as America.

    Journalists are supposed to ask questions on behalf of the nation, but according to Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times Magazine, an industry dominated by white men can’t represent all of the people. News companies must consider this as they make hiring decisions, she said.

  3. Be open about where you’re coming from.

    That’s from Rob Wijnberg, editor in chief of De Correspondent. Transparency about the writer behind the story makes for more honest journalism, he said. PBS Public Editor Madhulika Sikka said it’s impossible for reporters to be completely objective because they have to live their lives outside of work: “The point is to be fair.”

  4. Fact check with public data and citations.

    Government data and other trusted information makes it difficult for critics and politicians to dispute a story, said one panel. NPR combated one senator’s Twitter criticisms of a story by coolly tweeting the facts used in its reporting, said Mark Memmott. The senator backed down.

  5. Don’t cover everything.

    There’s something to be said for “strategic silence,” said CUNY’s Molly de Aguiar. Reporters should ask if they’re giving oxygen to a fraudulent claim, inadvertently reinforcing the disinformation, she said.

ONA Reception
Journalists let off some steam at the Newseum.

Democratization Can Be Dark… And Other Lessons from WordCamp US

WordCamp Badge

Among other things, I am a blogger. This thing that you’re reading right now is in fact a blog post…on a real-life blog! Mind blown, right?

To create this mind-blowing blog, I use WordPress, free and easy-to-use software that powers about a quarter of the websites online. WordPress has a great community that gets together all over the world. Last year, I attended and wrote about their first annual U.S. conference, WordCamp US, in my hometown of Philadelphia. WordCamp US was back in Philly this year, attracting about 1,800 attendees and a gang of dinosaurs to the party.

#WCUS Party Crasher Rex
#WCUS Party Crasher Rex at the wordcamp after party

WordCamp was a blast, obviously. I only got to attend the second day (Day 1 was Friday and would have interfered with my day job), but I listened to a few great talks.

Dennis Hong did a hilarious and yet scary (hil-scare-ious?) talk on the dark side of democratization. The idea is that while the internet has enabled anyone to publish, this may not always be a good thing. The sheer amount of content now produced promotes skimming over thoughtful reading, he said. Also, thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis often loses out to cat pictures and emotion-based pieces that get us all riled up — and may not even be true.

While there are no easy answers, Dennis had some advice to make the internet a more friendly place. When something online angers you, take a deep breath before you share it to your friends. Be stoic like Yoda, he said, and decide if it’s worth sharing — because all you’re doing is helping the video go viral. If someone is being ridiculous online, don’t engage in a shouting match. It’s better to be patient, empathetic and take the conversation offline. If you’re creating content, it’s okay to grab a reader’s attention with a flashy headline, but make sure the content that follows is thoughtful and accurate. You can read more about all this on Dennis’s website.

I also learned a bunch of interesting facts from Maile Ohye from Google. Did you know that 65% of India — or about 864 million people — are not yet online? That’s a lot of people still to join the internet! Not only that, but 60% of the world’s traffic is still 2G. It’s important to keep these facts in mind when building a website, Maile said. Also, here’s something to look forward to next year — she said Google will be demoting mobile website that display pop-up ads blocking your view of the content! Woo! Those sites are way annoying!

Which brings me to another fun fact from Maile — 53% of visitors abandon mobile sites that take more than three seconds to load. Sounds a little impatient, but thinking about my own behavior I probably do this as well. I guess with all that democratization of content, we just don’t have time to wait around.

For more possible dark directions for society, read my novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall.

Video: What does the 2016 election mean for telecom?

That was some election, huh? Last week at the NARUC annual meeting in La Quinta, California, I attempted to break down what President-elect Donald Trump means for telecom and broadband issues, at least from my perspective as as a reporter for Communications Daily. Spoiler alert: there’s still a lot of uncertainty!

Special thanks to my Comm Daily colleagues, who put together an excellent election issue… from which I stole liberally for the purposes of this panel! Also, thanks to Montana PSC Commissioner Travis Kavulla for skillful moderating and to my fellow panelists Ray Gifford, Bill Ritter and Devin Hartman for the great insights about what Trump means for energy issues.

A journey through India with Project Fi (and other recent clips)

I’ve been blogging a lot about my creative writing lately, so I thought it was time to highlight a few recent news and feature articles I’ve had published since moving to Philadelphia. I’ve been contributing to Technical.ly Philly, Generocity.org, ASTM Standardization News, among other freelance projects.


Full bars but 2G speeds in an auto-rickshaw in Bangalore.
Full bars but 2G speeds in an auto-rickshaw in Bangalore.

Here’s a neat story I wrote for Technical.ly about staying connected during a recent trip to India. I was looking for a way to use my cellphone while abroad — without breaking the bank — so I signed up for the new Google wireless service, Project Fi.

While I had to contend with India’s 2G networks, the service worked well and saved me a lot of cash. The article also includes my impressions after testing Project Fi back home in Philadelphia.


Credit: ASTM

The science of weights and measurements might sound like a dry topic at first, but I actually learned quite a lot speaking with Canada Chief Metrologist Alan Steele for this article in ASTM Standardization News.

For example, did you know that the kilogram is about to be redefined so that it will no longer be based on a small cylinder of platinum iridium metal? Did you even know it was based on a small cylinder of platinum iridium metal? These and other exciting facts inside!


WordCamp 2015 in Philly
WordCamp 2015 in Philly

Well, this is a WordPress blog, so I should probably include this one. In December, I attended the first national WordCamp US conference at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Not only did I enjoy the sessions, but I got to interview the organizers for this article in Technical.ly.

The conference was such a hit that City Council declared December 5 as WordPress Day!


Well, that was fun, but it’s just a sampling. For more, check out a selection of recent journalism clips on Evernote!

Readers seek great books, not big publishers: Bibliocrunch CEO Miral Sattar

Indie authors can’t do it alone. Believe me, I’ve tried. What I’ve learned over the course of writing, self-publishing and marketing three novels is that it pays to get help.

Over the last year, I’ve featured several tech companies and indie book promotion websites that aim to put indie authors on a level playing field with the traditionally published. These include Reedsy, The Fussy Librarian, NoiseTrade and Story Cartel.

miral-sattar_headshot
Miral Sattar, Bibliocrunch CEO

Today I’d like to feature Bibliocrunch, a company that’s actually been in the indie publishing game since 2011. The service connects authors to freelancers for editing, marketing, graphic design and much more. The site also hosts book giveaways and provides useful advice about indie publishing. Check out my profile on Bibliocrunch as an example.

I spoke with founder and CEO Miral Sattar about what Bibliocrunch hopes to accomplish and where she sees the publishing industry headed. Miral leads a team of seven based in New York City.


Adam: What problem is Bibliocrunch trying to solve?

Miral: Giving authors access to tools resources to publish the best book possible. We have a vetted marketplace that connects authors and publishers with vetted publishing professionals. But we also have our LearnSelfPublishingFast.com series which is growing very popular.

Adam: Today’s authors can self-publish a book all by themselves if they want to. Why is it important that authors pay for freelance help, and how big of an investment does that need to be?

Miral: If someone is paying for your book, then you need to make sure that it is in the best state possible. You need an eye-catching cover, a well-edited book that’s error-free, and readable on all devices and formats.

The investment varies. You can publish a quality book on a budget or pay what a typical publisher would pay for one of their authors. I have written articles on both. It’s different for each book.

Read Miral's articles on this subject!
How to Self-Publish Your Book on a Budget
The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book

Adam: The publishing industry is in a state of flux right now. Where do you think it’s going, and how well will self-published authors fare against industry published authors?

Miral: I don’t think this is a relevant question. I think it’s more important that traditional publishers start offering more to their authors. Right now, 40% of the books on Amazon’s best-seller list are self-published. People usually don’t care whether a book is self-published. They want a great read. If they love the book, they will recommend it to their friends.

Adam: What was your background before starting this company, and what led you from there to here?

Miral: I’m an engineer and writer by background. I went to both graduate (NYU) and undergrad (Columbia) in the city. I had been working at TIME Magazine for several years, leading a lot of the editorial product development. I was also finishing up my Masters at NYU at the same time.

In 2011, I noticed that people were publishing books based on breaking news events and selling tons of books. The people who were publishing were not professionals, and they were doing it through Amazon. So I went back to the higher-ups at TIME and pitched my project: publish books based on breaking news events. We had the best writers from all over the world between TIME, Fortune, People, etc. But like any big corporation, they were slow to approve and execute.

I ended up leaving and starting my own company, Bibliocrunch, several months later. We launched as a tools platforms where authors and publishers could write and convert their books in the cloud. However, we kept getting requests from authors asking if our platform could convert PDF files into eBooks, or design covers. We referred so many people that we made a marketplace out of it.

Adam: How many customers do you have?

Miral: We have about 20,000 authors and 1,500 vetted freelancers who provide services to authors and publishers.

Adam: What is the most popular service authors seek freelance help with?

Miral: I’d say editing and then cover design.

Bibliocrunch offers a variety of paid VIP services to authors.
Bibliocrunch offers a variety of paid VIP services to authors.

Adam:  Do you typically get authors who are looking to self-publish, or are they polishing things up with the intention of querying a big publisher?

Miral: We get all types of authors, though the majority of our authors are self-published. We also have publishers who have hired freelancers because they don’t have the budgets to keep qualified folks in-house. Each author is different, so we tell them the first thing they should do is define their goals.

Adam: Do you have minimum qualifications for the freelancers? Must they have professional experience in the publishing industry?

Miral: Absolutely. We check to see if they already are a member of a pre-existing organization, their LinkedIn profiles, their testimonials,  works samples, and website.

Adam: Have you had any major success stories so far?

Miral: We’ve had a few authors hit the top 10 on Amazon. Most recently, Howard Kaplan, author of The Damascus Cover, bumped James Paterson and Patricia Cornwell one week.

publishingboxset
Bibliocrunch offers a free 4-book box set of books to help indie authors. Click the image for more details.

Adam: What do you believe is your competitive advantage to other companies offering similar services?

Miral: I think we’ll see the rise of marketplaces in 2016. Almost everyone has one now which is great! Blurb, Publishers Weekly, Publishers Lunch, just to name a few.

We have a VIP Service that guides authors through the self-publishing process with a real person on the phone. We also have our LearnSelfPublishingFast.com author training courses, which come with tools, templates, blog posts and guides. Our most popular course is our marketing intensive.

Adam: What’s coming next for Bibliocrunch? What can you tell me about any plans to further expand or enhance your services?

Miral: We’re expanding our LearnSelfPublishingFast.com series to include children’s books and also launching a few children’s book initiatives later this year.

Adam: Besides Bibliocrunch, what other innovative companies helping indie authors do you like?

Miral: I love Wattpad and BookBub and recommend both to all our authors. Wattpad is great if you’re good at social media and have a fantasy type novel. BookBub is a great way to kickstart sales if you get accepted.


Thanks so much to Miral Sattar for the Interview! Miral also contributed a new year’s prediction for my article on indie publishing in 2016! For more on innovative indie publishing companies, check out my interviews with ReedsyStory Cartel, NoiseTrade and The Fussy Librarian.

Want to be featured or suggest an innovative indie publishing company? Contact me.