It’s official – news reporters are the pits

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Writers who want to parlay their literary skills into a print journalism career might want to take a look at the CareerCast “worst jobs of the year” list before they commit to their new profession.

As Poynter’s Caitlin Johnson reports, “newspaper reporter” finished at the absolute bottom of a ranking of 200 jobs in the list of 2013’s worst. Working journalists have probably suspected as much for years, but now it’s out there for the rest of the world to see.

The profession has been officially labelled as the worst possible career choice for young job seekers.

There are the usual reasons for the abysmal ranking – low pay, high stress, long hours and so forth. The downsides of journalism are well documented, and were once considered part of the “glamour” of the profession.

But the normal newsroom despair has been amplified in recent years by the slow death of print news outlets. The industry is shrinking. And it is shedding jobs as fast as it can in a scramble to survive — throwing reporters off the sleigh, so to speak, to keep the wolves of insolvency at bay.

As a result, today’s news reporter faces fewer job openings, limited prospects for advancement, higher work demands and an extraordinary level of job uncertainty as publishers sell off, downsize, outsource, close down and migrate to the Internet.

In other words, print journalism would be a very poor career choice for a well-educated, articulate, hard-working writer.

But all is not lost. Writers could try churning out books instead of labouring fruitlessly in the newsroom graveyards of broken dreams. Fiction or non-fiction seems to make no never-mind.

“Author” managed to crack the CareerCast’s 200 best jobs of 2013 list, coming in at #156, just ahead of bus driver, welder, hotel manager and garbage collector. Of course, almost every other job you can think of came out ahead of anything to do with writing (auditor, financial planner, computer-related jobs, a bunch of stuff to do with health care).

But if you insist on trying to write for a living….

Journalism group looks at media innovation

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What will the next generation of journalism look like?

The Canadian Journalism Foundation will take a crack at the question of media innovation when it hosts a talk in Toronto on Thursday, January 31. Titled Journalism, Disrupted: How to Create Media Innovation, the discussion will focus on what traditional media companies can learn from tech start-ups and how a spirit of innovation can be fostered within newsrooms.

Marissa Nelson, acting director of digital media for CBC News and Centres, will moderate a panel featuring Zach Seward, senior editor at Atlantic Media’s device-centric business news venture Quartz; Michael De Monte, CEO of ScribbleLive; and David Skok, director of digital for Global News.

Tickets to the event at the TMX Broadcast Centre are $25 or $15 for students. You can register on the foundation’s website at http://cjfinnovation.eventbrite.com.

The Canadian Journalism Foundation promotes excellence in journalism by celebrating outstanding journalistic achievement through an annual awards program; by operating journalism websites, J-Source.ca (English) and ProjetJ.ca (French), in cooperation with the country’s leading journalism schools; by organizing events that facilitate dialogue among journalists, business people, government officials, academics and students about the role of the media in Canadian society; and by fostering opportunities for journalism education, training and research.

It is currently soliciting nominees for its annual Canadian Newsperson of the Year Award, for journalists who report or produce the news, or run or own newsgathering organizations. Deadline for nominations is January 21.

E-sun shines on short-form writers

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The rise of ebooks is injecting new life into a couple of story-telling formats that have been languishing on the fringes of literature for decades.

Amazon reported last month that it has sold more than two million Kindle Singles since it launched the service in January 2011.

These mini-ebooks, which typically run between 5,000 and 30,000 words, have breathed life into the kind of works that are virtually unsaleable in contemporary print markets – those that are too short to be real books and too long for a standard magazine article.

The cover prices are low – from $1 to $5 – but several writers have already managed to parlay the platform into substantial returns, a task made much easier by Amazon’s generous royalty rate.

Even established writers are being encouraged to dip their toes in the short-form waters. Right now, for instance, Ontario author Margaret Atwood is sitting at number 2 position on the Kindle Singles list with her 42-page story, I’m Starved for You.

The good news for writers is that publishers are, for the first time in years, offering these shorter works to the general public. They are putting them in their digital shop windows. People are looking. People are buying. Readers are reading.

The even better news is that Amazon is not alone in embracing the shorter form. Other publishers are starting to break into the market with their own short-form offerings.

There is Byliner, for instance, which specializes in “single sitting” stories (and also features Atwood’s I’m Starved for You). It offers curated archives for its members, in addition to a slate of original commissioned work.

And for non-fiction fans, The Atavist publishes nonfiction stories for digital devices like the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, and Nook. The Atavist’s specialty is long-form journalism, a kind of reportage that had, only recently, seemed destined for extinction.

It’s still early days, of course, but there is definitely a sense of excitement around the shorter-form digital format. The potential is there for shorter-form works to break into mainstream reading.

The day may come when short-story writers can climb out of their basements, dusty manuscripts in hand, and emerge into a sunlit landscape where they can actually sell their “cracking good yarns” to members of the general public. For real money. At last.

iBooks Author seen as boon for journalists

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Rabble.ca writer Wayne MacPhail is enthusiastic about the new Apple iBooks Author as a tool for journalists and publishers of long-form content.

Apple introduced the iBooks Author last month as part of its plunge into the educational/textbook market, but MacPhail thinks the publishing software could serve as a platform for a new form of media-rich journalism.

And not just journalists. Magazine and newspaper publishers should also find the new platform useful.

“Here’s a free tool that’s a better alternative than an ad hoc paperback, or special section, as a way to package a multipart series,” he says in a January 25 column. “Here’s a platform that encourages readers to touch, listen to, watch, engage with and learn from your story. Here’s software that gives anyone the opportunity to tell great stories, in new ways.”

MacPhail says he found the software quick and easy to use. You’ll need a Macintosh computer running the latest version of OSX (Lion) and an iPad to preview and test your book on, however.

A veteran print and online journalist, MacPhail writes regularly for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.