Journalists: Urge Your Favorite Sources to Offer RSS

Journalists stand to benefit from the advent of RSS feeds possibly more than any other profession – provided, of course, that enough of the best sources start offering RSS feeds.

I’ve just created a form letter for journalists and other media professionals to use in order to urge their favorite Web sites and e-mail publications to start publishing RSS feeds.

I firmly believe that if enough journalists start urging sources to offer RSS feeds, then more and more source organizations and publications will do so. Ultimately, the shift to RSS publishing will make following beats and researching specific stories easier and more efficient.

So feel free to copy and paste my form letter and send it out to all your best online sources. And let me know what kind of response you get!

Here’s the form letter…
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Sacred Cows and Good Writing Don’t Mix

Assumptions are useful tools for navigating the world and for making decisions – but they are most useful when you are consciously aware of them. Unconscious assumptions tend to lead to polarized thinking, which in turn often yields stiff, ineffective writing that is more about posturing than communication.

In my personal experience, I’ve found that rocking my own world on a regular basis by spotting and questioning my most deeply ingrained assumptions has vastly improved my ability to empathize and communicate, especially through writing. The point of this often-jarring process is to gain awareness of my assumptions – what they really are, how I came by them, and why I stick to them – not to dismantle all my assumptions to the point that everything seems doubtful and speculative.

Recently, I stumbled upon one of my most deeply held unconscious assumptions: I have always assumed that the ability to read and write is and always has been a 100% unmitigated benefit to society and individuals. Since I am an utter reading junkie by nature, few things seem more frightening and disempowering to me than illiteracy. It didn’t occur to me that the overall goodness of literacy could be questioned.

Then I started reading an intriguing book, Leonard Shlain’s The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image….
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A Tutorial Weblog: Great Approach!

Never underestimate the value of a good tutorial.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve started getting much more comment spam on this weblog than ever before. When it was only one or two comment spams per day, that was no big deal for me to delete manually. But lately it’s been more like 20-40 comment spams daily. I finally had to implement some prevention measures.

One reason I’ve held off on this task is that I use Movable Type weblog software. While I like its functionality, from the beginning I’ve disliked the extreme geekiness (from my perspective) of Movable Type. Its documentation is minimal, hunting for answers in the support forum is confusing and time-consuming, and fixing anything requires messing with arcane code. A non-programmer like me can easily do a lot of damage trying to make a simple tweak to my weblog. (Which is why the design of CONTENTIOUS is so basic.)

Fortunately, I’ve just discovered a fabulous and well-written tutorial resource for people like me, which I’d like to recommend.

If you use Movable Type and you’re not a programmer, check out the Learning Movable Type blog at This is the most coherent, practical, and readable basic resource on Movable Type I’ve seen yet….
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Emotions Belong in Business Writing

Here’s a common writing difficulty that I’ve encountered with many of my writing coaching clients, that I believe is worth addressing for all my readers:

People are not logical automatons. Each of us reacts emotionally to just about everything we read &#150 even the most routine business reports. One easy way to make your writing far more compelling and effective is to consider and leverage your target audience’s emotional reactions.

I realize this may sound weird to people who write as part of their work. In the professional world, feelings are generally a taboo subject. It’s considered unprofessional to have feelings or to acknowledge them in others. That neat little myth of the working world enables us to believe more firmly in the soundness of our decisions, actions, and opinions. It gives us a certain measure of power and solidity in professional interactions.

Fortunately, you can address your audience’s feelings in your work-related writing without sounding the least bit unprofessional. The result: Your writing will seem more relevant, engaging, and informed. Your audience will feel more compelled to read your work because it will resonate with them – even if you’re presenting information that contradicts their existing beliefs.

Consider this example…
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Did You Spot the Fake Medicare News Spots?

UPDATE MARCH 15, 2005: More than 20 federal agencies have been caught producing and distributing VNRs…)

“News” stories about Medicare aired recently on several US TV newscasts – but they weren’t news, they were video news releases (VNRs) paid for by the Bush Administration, masquerading as newscast segments.

These VNRs were part of a federal public relations campaign to consolidate public support for recently passed controversial Medicare legislation. They featured “reporters” (actually actors) named “Karen Ryan” in the English version and “Alberto Garcia” in the Spanish version.

According to the Poynter Institute’s Jim Romanesko, as of March 16, 2004, these spots had aired 53 times on 40 stations. Reportedly they were not identified as video news releases – they were presented as news, and the source of the segments was not mentioned. (This is common practice for airing VNRs in many US TV newsrooms.) The New York Times broke this story on Monday.

Did you happen to see one of these broadcasts? If so, what was your impression – could you tell this segment was not actually part of the newscast? How do you feel about this practice? Comment below on this.

VNRs are nothing new. They have been around since the 1980s – I remember learning about them in journalism school in the late 1980s. Their production and use has always been controversial in the journalism community. However, many journalists are outraged over this particular VNR…
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Hurray! E-Media Tidbits Has an RSS Feed!

For a few years now, my friend and colleague Steve Outing has managed the Poynter Institute’s group weblog E-Media Tidbits, to which I am a contributor. Tidbits often covers RSS feed issues related to online journalism, but so far it hasn’t been able to offer that service.

Well today, Steve announced that Tidbits finally has its own RSS feed – thanks to the efforts of Internet developer and professional journalist Adrian Holovaty. (Adrian runs a great weblog about Web development and online journalism, by the way.)

Steve notes about this new feed: “Please note that this is experimental. We’ll likely add more feeds to features later. And it’s only fair to warn you that down the road we may need to change the feed address as we incorporate RSS into our content management system (though we’ll try to make the switch seamless).”

To subscribe to the Tidbits feed, here’s the URL: Enter that into your feed reader and you’ll be set. (More about RSS feeds.)

Way to go, Poynter! I hope we see lots more feeds about the other first-clas content offerings from

The “World Live Web”

Today, Doc Searls posted an excellent weblog entry, Publishing 2.0, that nicely sums up how the appeal of RSS differs from that of the Web. While your Web browser can show you what is on the Web, your RSS feed reader shows you what’s changed on the Web.

I think this is a crucial distinction, because it gets to the heart of the two main ways people tend to use the Web…
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Online Journalism: The Larger View

A few times a week, students or others interested in online media send me questions. I like to answer these questions, when I have time. However, since I often get very similar questions over and over, I’m now going to start responding to these questions via CONTENTIOUS. This way, more people can read, discuss, and even dispute my answers. I think this is more in keeping with the interactive spirit of online media.

A couple of days ago I received these good questions from Paul Duke, a student in Media at the University of Huddersfield (UK) who is working on his dissertation. Duke asks:

  1. Do you think the practice of journalism and the values of journalistic writing have changed since the arrival of Web-based news sources like, Slate, BBCi, etc.?
  2. There is clearly a digital divide between two groups of the world’s population: those who can access Web services and those who cannot. Are there any ways to fill this gap or will there be a divide as long as technology keeps progressing?
  3. In your personal opinion, is online journalistic writing style more efficient than other forms of journalism, or is it just a concise version of an established art?

Here are my answers… and bear in mind that these are only my opinion, I welcome the expression of other views, so comment if you like…
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Comment Spam: The Backlash

Earlier I’ve written on the increasing problem of comment spam – when when spammers use automated systems to create bogus comments in Weblogs in order to spread their links. The problem of comment spam is getting so bad that some webloggers are getting in trouble with their Web hosts because of it.

This annoys me greatly. I think comments are an incredibly valuable part of the online discourse, and I hate seeing them abused to the extent that this function has to be disabled.

Here’s one example…
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