broadsideblog

Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

When blogging about illness, what’s TMI? The NYT wades in — and angers many

In behavior, blogging, culture, domestic life, Health, journalism, Media, Medicine, women on January 16, 2014 at 12:49 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Maybe you’ve been following this recent firestorm?

The one in which Salon, a popular American website, called The New York Times’  former executive editor Bill Keller, and his wife, Gilbey’s gin heiress Emma Gilbey, despicable?

canstock5148363

Both of them wrote about cancer patient Lisa Adams, who has advanced breast cancer.

From Salon:

Lisa Bonchek Adams is a mother of three living with Stage 4 breast cancer. She blogs and tweets about what she is undergoing and the decisions she is making about her health; she does so frequently and to a large audience that’s rooting for her. And to a prominent husband-wife pair of journalists, she’s somehow offensive.

Bill Keller, the former executive editor of the New York Times, published an Op-Ed in that paper today indicating that Adams, in spite of the image of positivity and strength she generally broadcasts on her social media platforms, is dying and doing so in a manner somehow undignified; Keller draws a comparison between Adams and his late father-in-law. “His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America.”

That “trench warfare” has, for Adams, included a variety of medical studies; Keller indicates that Adams’ personal decisions about her health, and her expressing herself online, somehow detracts from people who choose not to undergo experimental treatments or who choose to slip under with less of what is traditionally known as “fighting.” He even finds a Stanford associate dean who is willing to say that Adams “shouldn’t be unduly praised. Equal praise is due to those who accept an inevitable fate with grace and courage.”

Here’s an analysis piece from NPR’s blog:

the piece enraged a lot of Times readers, according to public editor Margaret Sullivan, that she heard a great deal of negative feedback, and who herself said “there are issues here of tone and sensitivity.”

Boy … you can say that again. By closing the piece with a piece about a dean who “cringes” at Adams’ alleged embrace of a “combat metaphor” (unsupported by any quotes from her own writing) and salutes those who show grace and courage, Keller implicitly suggests that to handle your disease as Adams has is one way to go. The other way to go is with grace and courage. And that’s very unfortunate.

Adams herself says that Keller, along with his wife Emma Gilbey Keller, who also wrote a controversial column critiquing Adams’ handling of her cancer (that was in The Guardian and has since ), have misrepresented the basic facts of her medical status, and Keller has already admitted he got the number of kids she has wrong. These disputes have been pretty thoroughly inventoried in a . And writers at outlets including and have been sharply critical of the need to explain to a cancer patient how to handle (and discuss) having cancer.

This is an issue I’ve thought a lot about — how much to write or blog about one’s illness or surgery or medical issues — and how much to never share beyond one’s circle of intimates. People, in my view, who are the ones who are most likely to have actually visited you and your family in the hospital or come with you to the chemo suite, perhaps.

One woman I know, barely, professionally, shared a lot of detail on Facebook about the effects of chemo as she was treated (so far, successfully) for breast cancer. But there was a lot I wish she had simply kept to herself.

She got a lot of emotional support, which I understand — why she craved it and why people offered it.

My mother had a radical mastectomy in 2003. She is alive. She has survived multiple cancers, including thyroid and a meningioma, a form of brain tumor.

In other words, I already live in daily fear of my genetic heritage and have little appetite to read anything about cancer.

That is not a judgment of people who do, but the effect of knowing too much firsthand already.

I get my medical tests and keep a careful eye on my own body and that of my husband.

I’ve already stared down plenty of doctors and Xrays and seen too much and heard too much. I saw my mothers’ very large brain tumor on the Xray and had to give informed consent for her; here’s the piece I wrote about it for Chatelaine, Canada’s largest women’s magazine.

Who am I to complain when I, too, have written these sorts of stories? They can, I know, be helpful to others and provide comfort to the ill and to their families.

A friend my age died of cancer in January 2006 and several men in my apartment building are currently fighting cancer.

It’s not that I don’t care about people who are ill. It’s the reverse. Instead, I find myself worrying about people I do not even know.

For me, that’s not the best choice.

I have really mixed feelings about this sort of thing — none of which suggests I’m right.

How do you feel about someone sharing a lot of very graphic detail on-line about their illness?

Are women being harassed off the Internet? It’s happened to me

In behavior, blogging, business, Crime, culture, journalism, Media, men, Technology, US, women, work on January 12, 2014 at 1:10 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you read this long and thoughtful piece from Pacific Standard, an American magazine, by Amanda Hess about women bloggers being harassed, threatened and vilified?

11-cover-large

An excerpt:

The examples are too numerous to recount, but like any good journalist, I keep a running file documenting the most deranged cases. There was the local cable viewer who hunted down my email address after a television appearance to tell me I was “the ugliest woman he had ever seen.” And the group of visitors to a “men’s rights” site who pored over photographs of me and a prominent feminist activist, then discussed how they’d “spend the night with” us. (“Put em both in a gimp mask and tied to each other 69 so the bitches can’t talk or move and go round the world, any old port in a storm, any old hole,” one decided.) And the anonymous commenter who weighed in on one of my articles: “Amanda, I’ll fucking rape you. How does that feel?”

None of this makes me exceptional. It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection. Here’s just a sampling of the noxious online commentary directed at other women in recent years. To Alyssa Royse, a sex and relationships blogger, for saying that she hated The Dark Knight: “you are clearly retarded, i hope someone shoots then rapes you.” To Kathy Sierra, a technology writer, for blogging about software, coding, and design: “i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob.” To Lindy West, a writer at the women’s website Jezebel, for critiquing a comedian’s rape joke: “I just want to rape her with a traffic cone.” To Rebecca Watson, an atheist commentator, for blogging about sexism in the skeptic community: “If I lived in Boston I’d put a bullet in your brain.” To Catherine Mayer, a journalist at Time magazine, for no particular reason: “A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47 PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING.”

Here’s a response from a female writer, in the progressive magazine Mother Jones:

She’s done exhaustive reporting on the failures of law enforcement at all levels to comprehend, let alone address, the emotional, professional, and financial toll of misogynistic online intimidation. She’s called local police, 911, and the FBI on a number of occasions when she feared for her safety IRL; law enforcement officials have recommended to her and other women that they stop wasting time on social media. One Palm Springs police officer responding to her call, she recounts, “anchored his hands on his belt, looked me in the eye, and said, ‘What is Twitter?’” “When authorities treat the Internet as a fantasyland,” she writes, “it has profound effects on the investigation and prosecution of online threats.”

It’s a painful read, but Hess’s piece should be required reading for anyone with an Internet connection. And check out this excellent response by Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic (a “6-foot-2, 195-pound man”), who recalls guest-blogging for a female colleague there who was on vacation. “I’d never been exposed to anything like it before,” he recalls.

I’ve fled a public space on the Internet — Open Salon — years ago after a really frightening experience there; my last post there is May 2012.

It’s a space — unlike some others on-line — that attracts some terrific writers but also some really weird, creepy people with a shitload of anger and animosity. I blogged there a lot for a few years, and usually cross-posted from this blog to that one. But what worked here just fine, there sometimes prompted some crazy-ass responses.

It got really ugly at one point, with dozens of commenters piling on to vilify me, mocking my resume (wtf?) and eventually escalating to the man who told me that he would physically hurt me if I continued there.

That was it for me.

I went to my local police station — I live in a small town north of New York City. The cop stood above me, barely listening, clearly dubious. Some woman whining about the Internet? Really?

Only when (too ironic) I started brandishing my legacy-media dead-tree credentials — 20+ years writing for The New York Times — did he start to pay closer attention. I also knew, (from a friend also posting at OS), that the man threatening me lived in Florida.

We thought.

I wanted to be sure he lived very very far away from me, so his threats were highly unlikely to come to fruition.

I also know a District Attorney and have some knowledge of the law. I pushed hard and the cops finally did determine that yes, my harasser lives in Florida but — so far — had no criminal record. I also pushed hard, repeatedly, to get the guy removed from OS and, finally, management there did so.

I haven’t been back since.

Having been, in 1998, the real-world victim of a con man, a convicted felon, I have no illusions that the world is filled with unicorns and rainbows, nor that law enforcement gives a shit about how absolutely terrifying it is for a woman to be threatened and/or pursued by a malefactor determined to do us physical, emotional and reputational harm.

They don’t.

So women have to figure this out for themselves.

Interestingly, very few trolls find their way to Broadside.

I have very strong opinions on volatile issues like gun use, abortion, women’s rights and more, but rarely express them — for the reasons stated above.

I have no time or energy to fight with trolls or to keep running to the cops for help.

And, yes, it’s very much self-censorship.

Ironic, in a medium designed for the maximum freedom of expression.

Have you or other women bloggers been harassed in this fashion?

Are books — and their readers — an endangered species?

In books, business, culture, journalism, Media, work on January 11, 2014 at 9:58 pm

20131219120434By Caitlin Kelly

This recent piece in The New York Times makes sadly clear why the notion of producing a book — a dream for many — is becoming more of a fool’s errand:

Overall book sales have been anemic in recent years, declining 6 percent in the first half of 2013 alone. But the profits of publishers have remained largely intact; in the same period only one of what were then still the “big six” trade houses reported a decline on its bottom line. This is partly because of the higher margins on e-books. But it has also been achieved by publishers cutting costs, especially for mid-list titles.

The “mid-list” in trade publishing parlance is a bit like the middle class in American politics: Anything below it is rarely mentioned in polite company. It comprises pretty much all new titles that are not potential blockbusters. But it’s the space where interesting things happen in the book world, where the obscure or the offbeat can spring to prominence, where new writers can make their mark.

Budgets have been trimmed in various ways: Author advances, except for the biggest names, have slumped sharply since the 2008 financial crash, declining by more than half, according to one recent survey. It’s hard to imagine that the quality of manuscripts from writers who have been forced either to eat less or write faster isn’t deteriorating. Meanwhile, spending on editing and promotion has also been pared away.

As the author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, both of which required national reporting, and as someone who would like to write more, I care a lot about whether new books get published, how much authors like me — yes, midlisters — get paid and when, and who, if anyone, will actually read our books.

malled cover HIGH

Without a book-seller to recommend my books or a reviewer to rave (one hopes!) about them, how will you — oh, elusive readers — find or choose us?

I gave up reading my “reviews” at amazon.com years ago as some ad hominem attacks were so nasty they left me shaking. I shudder to think how many potential readers I’ve lost thanks to the face-punches comments left there by people who take an unholy pleasure in savaging others.

Yes, be critical! Every ambitious writer needs to hear where we’ve failed to connect or persuade.

But don’t be vicious.

Professional reviewers know the difference between slicing with a scalpel and bludgeoning with a pick-axe. I’ve reviewed others’ books. I know the incredible trepidation with which any writer reads their reviews; one even wrote to me personally after I reviewed his book in The New York Times to take issue with my comments.

How do you decide which (if any!) books to read?

How many of you, as I still do, spend time in a favorite bookstore simply browsing covers and titles, old and new?

Do you briefly scan what’s on the front tables at your Barnes & Noble?

And did you know that the books there — some of them a decade old — arrive there not because B & N thinks they’re awesome but because publishers pay a fee to the bookstore for that placement?

With falling advances, writing is evermore dominated by people who don’t need it to earn a living: Tenured academics and celebrities spring to mind. For these groups, burnishing a résumé or marketing a brand is often as important as satisfying the reader.

This is a serious challenge for all but a tiny fraction of the truly fortunate — people whose combination of “platform” (i.e. millions of people eager to buy anything they write) and story attract a huge advance — like Allie Brosh, whose fantastic blog Hyperbole and a Half produced a book, published in October 2013, that is now a best-seller.

The rest of us will get an offer, after a few books, of anything from $15,000 to, (at best) $125 or $150,000, even that very rare, divided into four payments over two or three years; $12,000 or $8,000 or $5,000 a year is helpful, but no writer I know can live only on that income.

So we squeeze the important and reputation-building work of writing a book in between teaching others to write or bar-tending or cranking out copy on every other topic but that of our book, creating a competition between the work we hope will allow us to find new readers, terrific reviews, maybe an award or fellowship — and the work that puts gas in the car and food in the fridge.

We eke out excellence.

DON’T FORGET MY NEW SERIES OF 90-MINUTE SKYPE WEBINARS!

THEY START FEB. 1 WITH BETTER BLOGGING AND FEB. 2 WITH YOU, INC: THE BUSINESS OF FREELANCING.

DETAILS AND SIGN-UP HERE.

Come, learn! Six February webinars — freelancing, better blogging and more

In blogging, books, business, culture, education, journalism, Media, news, work on January 7, 2014 at 12:33 am

By Caitlin Kelly

FINGERS ON KEYBOARD

Students signed up for my fall webinar series, and individual coaching — thank you! — from Australia, New Zealand, London, Chicago, D.C., California and Connecticut.

I really love teaching and was delighted that students found my information immediately valuable; one student saw her blog’s page views and followers increase as soon as she made the simple change I suggested.

I’ve changed the webinars’ scheduled time, from 5pm EST to 2:00 pm (14:00), to make it easier for European and Mideast/South Asian students; they are held on Saturday and Sundays in February.

I also coach individually whenever it suits you — by phone, Skype and/or email.

(All photos on this post are courtesy of my husband, Jose R. Lopez.)

Here are the six 90-minute classes, each priced at $125:

BETTER BLOGGING

Better Blogging

February 1

This practical, lively seminar offers more than 30 practical, simple, affordable actions you can take – right away — to boost your blog’s engagement, views and followers. If you want to sell a book, your blog has to rock! If you want to get a writing job, freelance or full-time, your blog is your very best marketing tool. My blog has been Freshly Pressed six times, chosen as one of 22 in “culture” by WordPress worth reading and grows daily — today at 8,865 followers worldwide.

INTERVIEW TECHNIQUES
Conducting a Kick-Ass Interview — new webinar!

February 15

No ambitious non-fiction writer, blogger or journalist can succeed without knowing how to conduct probing and well-controlled interviews. I’ve interviewed thousands of sources, from an Admiral to convicted felons, Olympic athletes, cancer survivors, duck hunters and ballet dancers. How to best structure the interview? Should you tape or take notes? What’s the one question every interview should end with? My 30 years’ experience as an award-winning reporter and frequent New York Times writer will help you ace the toughest interviews.

BUSINESS OF FREELANCING

You, Inc: The Business of Freelancing

February 2

I’ve spent much of my professional life as a full-time freelancer, starting right out of college, writing for local, regional, national and international clients, from the Irish Times to French magazine VSD. You can do it! In this super-focused, tips-filled webinar, I’ll help you determine how much you need to earn, how to manage it, how to find (and keep!) clients and how to maximize your work time. My new recent clients include Cosmpolitan, Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping. My on-line clients include HGTV.com, Quartz.com, reuters.com and the Harvard Business Review blog.

PERSONAL ESSAY

Crafting the Personal Essay

February 16
From The New York Times to Elle and Marie Claire — to Thought Catalog, Salon, the Awl and Medium — the marketplace for personal essay continues to thrive. How to sell this challenging genre? How to blend the personal and universal? Every essay, no matter the topic, must answer one key question, which we’ll discuss in detail. Having published my own essays in the Times, Marie Claire, Chatelaine and others — and winner of a Canadian National Magazine award for one — I’ll help you determine what to say and in what voice.

THINK LIKE A REPORTER

Learn to Think Like a Reporter

February 8

If your mother says she loves you, check it out! Save the $50K you’d spend at J-school and learn the tips and tricks of a veteran of three major dailies, including the New York Daily News. What’s a stake-out? A nut graf? A lede and kicker? Every reporter knows these basics, and if you hope to compete with them — whether you’re blogging, or writing for on-line or print or broadcast or video — this is the stuff you need to know. Your location, (when major news breaks), can matter much more than your prior experience — let me prep you for your big break!

IDEAS

Finding and Developing Story Ideas

February 9

We’re surrounded every single day by dozens of salable story ideas. Recognizing them — and developing them for sale — is the art I’ll teach you in this webinar. Every non-fiction book (as with fiction) began with an idea. Developing it into a 30-page book proposal means “saving string”, collecting the data you’ll need to intelligently argue your points. Same for magazine and newspaper stories and on-line articles. This webinar will help you better perceive the many stories already swirling in your orbit and figure out who’s most likely to pay you (well) for them.

Feel free to email me with any questions at learntowritebetter@gmail.com or call me in New York at 914-332-6065.

Sign up and further details are here.

I look forward to working with you!

Letter to a young journalist

In behavior, blogging, books, culture, education, journalism, Media, work on December 10, 2013 at 12:07 am
This is what we do.

This is what we do.

By Caitlin Kelly

Inspired by a post on Small Dog Syndrome; a great anonymous letter from a nurse with 12 years’ experience to one studying for the exam to nursing school.

Here — H/T to Amber Hargroder — is a terrific 8:45 video of artist Marina Abramovic with her advice to young artists, much of which can equally apply to any ambitious writer.

The original is a series of letters between a young military student, Franz Kappus and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke between 1902 and 1908, when Kappus was deciding whether or not to become a poet.

I’ve been writing journalism and non-fiction books for a living since my third year of university, when I began selling stories to national newspapers and magazines in my native Canada. I’ve since written for dozens of publications in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, with staff reporting jobs at three major dailies. Freelance, I write frequently for The New York Times.

I’ve never studied journalism, but have taught it at several colleges; my class, “Legal and Ethical Issues in Journalism”, which I created in 1995, is still being offered by New York University to its adult students.

Here’s what I think every young/new journalist really needs to know as they enter this chaotic industry:

Dear YJ:

You’ve decided to enter a profession that actually isn’t one — we like to think of ourselves as professionals, but we have no licensing exams or board certifications or CEU credits.

Today, thanks to the Internet, anyone, anywhere, can call themselves a “journalist” and hit publish.

This is both a great equalizer and a dangerous challenge. It’s great that anyone with ideas and passion and access to the Internet can share them with the world, allowing people with minimal political or economic power to tell their stories directly. It’s a dangerous challenge because the fundamental essentials of journalism, however naive and idealistic they sound, are accuracy and trust. Trust that the information being shared is accurate, has been checked and vetted and is not just some sexy promo for a new product or service disguised as “news.”

Don’t work without getting paid for it. Just don’t — unless it’s your choice, done for strategic reasons and/or a cause you deeply believe in. People still value most what they have to pay for.

There’s no clear career path anymore. Be fun under stress, optimistic, well-groomed, 150 percent reliable, polite and super-helpful. Your emotional inteligence will go a lot further in creating and sustaining the essential professional contacts you’ll need for decades to come than the fanciest degree from the fanciest school(s.) Very few people you’ll work with care much where you went to school. We care what you can do (really well) for us today.

Ask so many questions you risk being annoying. Your job is not to be liked or admired or welcomed at the dinner parties of the powerful but to hold them to account. Your readers expect and deserve it. Journalists, however badly paid and professionally insecure, still hold tremendous power to shape public opinion, a responsibility to take seriously.

Don’t be seduced by your job title or that of your employer. You can lose both tomorrow — 24,000 journalists were canned in 2008. Never assume it makes you better than anyone without it, since you have no idea where they’ve been or what they’ve accomplished.

This is a team sport. You’ll be working with fellow journo’s and editors, some decades older, who bring tremendous knowledge of this game and how it’s played. Don’t dismiss those with gray hair, assuming we have no clue about technology or how to communicate stories effectively in the 21st century. It’s called experience.

Don’t be a diva. See above.

Don’t privilege one medium (OK, on-line/digital) over another (snoozy old print.) The point of what we all do is finding and telling compelling stories, regardless of the way they’re offered to readers. Freelancers who still focus primarily on print are focused on earning a living, something digital journalism has yet to offer anyone without a salary within its ranks.

Break social rules and ignore polite expectations. Women are often socialized to be nice, to get along, to make everyone feel happy and welcome. That’s not your job! Many of the questions you’ll need to ask are going to piss someone off. You’ll get yelled at, thrown out of meetings, receive angry phone calls and emails. People might call you names. None of this matters. It’s part of the territory. Your job is to tell a story well.

And yet, your job is not to be a robotic bulldozer. Interviewing well demands the kind of combined listening skills, empathy, sensitivity and compassion of the best nurse/minister/teacher/bartender. It’s one of our greatest challenges — knowing (and no one teaches you this; it’s an instinct) — when to be ruthlessly tough and when to be gentle and present as someone shares the brutal facts of their story, a rape or their child’s murder or their loss of employment.

You are not the story. Your subject is. Let them tell it in their words, at their speed. Whenever necessary, find a translator or interpreter to make sure you are able to get that story accurately.

The story isn’t only what the PR people tell you it is. Their job is to put their clients in the very best light, whether they’re a PIO for a government agency, head of corporate communications for a Fortune 500 multinational or the spokesman for an NGO. They’ll sit beside you and tape you and limit how much time you get. They might ask to see your story before it appears. Never allow their agenda to intimidate you.

Some assignments will make you cry.  Don’t let your emotions rule you on the job or during the interview, but never be ashamed of your feelings. Some assignments will provoke powerful emotions. If they don’t, take a vacation or get a different job. The day you fail to feel compassion for those who struggle is the day you’re headed for burnout.

It’s not “just a story” — often we are hearing and then publicly sharing the most intimate and unforgettable (to them) details of someone’s life. This is a privilege and an honor. Never forget that.

Pulitzer

Pulitzer

You may experience “secondary trauma” if you do a lot of this kind of work; listening to and witnessing traumatic material can cause a sort of PTSD that is very real. Check into the programs of the Dart Center for help and guidance.

Run away from the pack whenever possible. This is much easier if you’re freelance and not facing hourly or daily deadline pressure to match whatever’s on Twitter. But pack journalism will easily consume your days, and your life, until or unless you can carve out a beat or a way to work that allows you the freedom to (also) pursue deeper, more thoughtful stories.

You will probably burn out. The pace, the stress, the competition, the crummy pay, the job insecurity. It adds up. There are six major components to burnout: work overload; lack of control over the work; insufficient rewards; rude or unhelpful co-workers; unfair treatment and a conflict between your values and the job requirements.

Which is why veterans keep a f**k-you fund, enough savings to allow you to quit a position that’s toxic and unworkable, take a breath and take some time to find a better fit somewhere else.

Will these doors still lead you into a long or lucrative career?

Will these doors still lead you into a long or lucrative career?

You may choose instead to freelance, for a while or forever. If you’re in a position to assign them work, treat freelancers as the hard-working small business-owners (and colleagues) they are. Don’t abuse them with no/low pay or endless rewrites or delayed or “forgotten” invoices. It may well be your turn one day.

A few of the challenges you may face along the way, (from an earlier post of mine):

Missing a deadline, getting someone’s name wrong (or several), getting the name of the company you’re covering wrong, losing your press credential, “forgetting” to turn in your official credential(s) after you’re canned or quit because you can’t bear to lose it, missing the bus or train or plane that will get you to the place you need(ed) to be to cover the story, not having enough money to get the next one.

Misunderstanding a foreign-language word or phrase, translating it, and mis-quoting. Having 10 minutes to file. Doing a stakeout, being scared to pee for hours — and being scared to drink anything because then you”ll really have to pee — and possibly missing the exact moment you’ve been waiting 15 hours for.

Have fun!

Fight for the weak and challenge the powerful.

Eschew dogma, (and remember karma).

Find and tell the truth.

Make us proud.

THIS WEEK’S WEBINAR — THE LAST OF THE SUPER-SUCCESSFUL FALL SERIES — IS “YOU, INC: THE BUSINESS OF FREELANCING”; 4:00 p.m. EST DEC. 14. (THE 8-PART SERIES REPEATS IN FEBRUARY.)

I HOPE YOU’LL JOIN US!

DETAILS AND SIGN-UP HERE.

Helping writers in financial crisis: please donate to WEAF!

In blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, Money, US, work on December 6, 2013 at 3:11 am

By Caitlin Kelly

As some of you know, many journalists now work full-time freelance. Some do so by choice, while many have been shut out of an industry going through almost daily re-invention; 24,000 of us lost our jobs in 2008 and many of us did not find another.

Add to that a difficult economy in the U.S., and some writers — even the most talented and productive throughout a long career — can find themselves in a terrifying financial crisis, with no alternate source of income and few savings if your anchor client shuts down or a few reliable editors suddenly leave and/or you get a bad medical diagnosis and you’re too busy getting surgery and treatment to keep working.

Typically, it’s a medical emergency, theirs and/or that of a loved one, and its out-of-pocket costs that shove a writer into fiscal desperation — in the U.S. (a sad and ugly truth), most bankruptcies are the result of overwhelming medical bills.

Writer Wordart

Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

I serve on a volunteer board of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund. Since 1982, we’ve given out more than $400,000 to help qualified, deserving non-fiction writers through tough times. Our board is made up of veteran writers and editors, current and former, including Pulitzer Prize winning author Philip Caputo and novelist Betsy Carter.

Books behind the bed

Books behind the bed (Photo credit: zimpenfish)

Unlike most charities, there are no administrative costs, so every penny you give goes only to the writers who seek our help.

When a needy writer asks for a grant we quickly read their application and — within a week — send them what we agree is a fair amount, usually the maximum, up to $4,000.

The money you give us is also tax-deductible, as WEAF is a registered charity.

I’m proud to help others in my profession. I hope you’ll do so as well this year. Writers — whether we’re producing unpaid blog posts or paid books, articles, scripts or other media — enrich our shared culture, explain the world and help us all see things a little more clearly.

Here’s a New York Times story I wrote about funds like ours, including WEAF.

I hope you’ll consider giving even a small amount.

For every $50 donation to WEAF — and please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com to let me know you’ve made the donation, with your name and mailing address — I’ll snail mail you a signed copy of “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, my most recent book. USA Today called it “a bargain at any price” and Entertainment Weekly described it as “an excellent memoir.”

I’m happy to sign it to you, or to someone else for a holiday gift.

Thank you!

Please sign up for my final fall webinars: essays, A-list clients and freelancing

In behavior, blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Media, work on November 21, 2013 at 4:21 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

First, a huge thank you!! to the students who’ve signed up and found value in my new webinars and one-on-one coaching — from Australia, New Zealand and across the U.S. It’s been a lot of fun and a resounding success.

I also coach individually by phone, email or Skype, happy to read your material and work with you on specific pieces or projects you send to me in advance. Email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

Three more webinars are left in the fall series; I’ll offer them again in February, when I’ll add two more: defining and resolving ethical challenges in journalism/blogging and how to conduct a kick-ass interview.

The three remaining:

Crafting the Personal Essay, Sunday November 30, 4:00 p.m. EST, 90 minutes.

It looks dead easy to bang out a personal essay, but it’s not! Great personal essays combine the deeply specific with the universal, the unique-to-you with the immediately familiar to a wider audience. I’ve published mine in The New York Times, Marie Claire, Smithsonian and others. My essay about divorce won a National Magazine Award — for humor! I’ll share tips and tricks to help you craft your essay into a compelling, powerful, saleable piece.

Marie Claire

Marie Claire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing for A-List Clients, Saturday December 7, 4:00 p.m. EST, 90 minutes.

Ready to run with the big dogs? You’ll learn here what editors of the most demanding publications want and need; my work appears regularly in The New York Times, as well as reported stories and essays in Marie Claire, Glamour, More, Ladies Home Journal and Cosmopolitan. You’ll learn how and when to pitch, what every pitch must contain — and the one guaranteed way to get an editor to read your pitch.

The New York Times

The New York Times (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

You, inc: The Business of Freelancing, Saturday December 14, 4:00 p.m. EST, 90 minutes.

Do you fantasize about working at home in your PJs? But how to drum up the thousands of dollars you’ll need every month to pay your bills, buy health insurance and keep building your retirement funds? How much to charge? How and when to negotiate a higher rate? How many assignments can you juggle at once? This practical, tips-filled class shares my experience of working for decades as a successful and productive full-time freelancer.

I hope you’ll join us!

Ten ways to blog better — (but 20 more you missed!)

In behavior, blogging, education, Media, Technology on November 11, 2013 at 1:44 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Broadside now has more than 8,060 readers worldwide, adding new followers daily.

Here are are 10 of the 30 tips I shared yesterday with the students in my webinar, “Better Blogging.” I hope you’ll sign up for the next one. I also do individual coaching; if you’re interested in learning more, please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

photo(6)

Please use photos, videos, drawings — visuals!

I wish more bloggers consistently added quality visual content to their posts. Often, a well-chosen, quirky or beautiful image will pull in a curious reader more quickly than your very best words.

Every magazine or newspaper, and the best blogs and websites, uses illustrations, maps, graphs and photos — chosen carefully after much internal debate by skilled graphics and design and photo editors and art directors, each working hard every single day to lure us in. A sea of words is both daunting and dull. Seduce your readers, as they do.

Think like an editor

When you write for an editor, (as every journalist and author does), your ideas, and how you plan to express them, have to pass muster with someone else, often several. Their job is to ask you why you think this story is worth doing, and why now. (Just because you feel like hitting “publish” doesn’t mean you should.)

Who is this post — and your blog — written for? Have you made your points clearly?

Would your next post get past a smart editor or two?

Your readers are busy, easily bored and quickly distracted

All readers resemble very small tired children — they have short attention spans and wander off within seconds. Grab them fast! Keep them reading to the very end using “golden coins”. (Tip No. 30!)

Woo me with a fab headline

Magazine editors sweat over coverlines, the teasing short sentences they choose to put on their magazine covers, hoping to make you buy their edition over that of their competitors. Newspaper editors know they need powerful, succinct or amusing headlines to catch our eye and pull us into a story.

Have you ever studied some of the best heads? “Headless body found in topless bar” is a classic. This is an excellent headline as it immediately made me read the post — it’s bossy, very specific and focused on a place I know well. Sold!

Here’s a link to how to write great heads –  and another.

Break your posts into many paragraphs, and keep them short

Don’t force readers to confront a huge unbroken block of copy! It’s lazy and editorially rude. They’ll just click away, irritated. (I see this on too many blogs.)

Post more frequently

A blog that only pops up every few months is the sign of someone who just isn’t that into blogging. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it takes time. Once you’ve found an audience, your readers want to read more of what you have to say! Don’t disappoint them.

Or less

Some bloggers, giddy with the delicious freedom of being able to hit “publish” after every thought flitting through their head, post constantly. Do your readers really have that much time or interest?

We’re not writing for ourselves, but our readers’ pleasure.

Your readers probably don’t live nearby, and may not get your points of reference

While you assume we know the cafe/restaurant/politician/streets you’re referring to, we probably don’t. Remember that your readers — and potential new followers — are coming to you from all over the world. Which is incredibly cool! But consider  including links or a helpful brief explanation so we feel included, not shut out by our (natural) ignorance of what’s super-familiar to you.

English: Broadway show billboards at the corne...

English: Broadway show billboards at the corner of 7th Avenue and West 47th Street in Times Square in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Edit, copy-edit and proofread

Lightning — not lightening.

Palate — not pallet.

Spell-check will leave plenty of terrible errors in your posts. Read each one over carefully at least three times before hitting “publish.”

Introduce yourself

Is your “about” page still empty? Why?

In a world jammed with competing voices, why should readers choose to listen to yours?

Who are you? Where do you live? Have you any specific experience or credentials that add authority to your posts?

The best “about” pages include an attractive photo of you, some fun facts and a few paragraphs that give us a taste of your voice and point of view. It’s your very own editor’s page or movie trailer, and ideally makes us eager to dive into your archives.

I love the one here, at key and arrow, written by a young couple in Austin, Texas — it’s quirky, charming and informative. (Their logo and header are also terrific.)

PLEASE SIGN UP FOR THE NEXT WEBINAR — LEARN TO THINK LIKE A REPORTER — 4:00 p.m. SUNDAY NOV. 17 AT 4:00 P.M. EST.

DETAILS AND REGISTRATION HERE.

Want to start producing creatively? Lose the safety net

In art, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, design, journalism, life, Media, Money, work on November 6, 2013 at 12:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.”

– Johann Sebastian Bach (h/t Small Dog Syndrome)

English: Young Johann Sebastian Bach. 1715. Te...

English: Young Johann Sebastian Bach. 1715. Teri Noel Towe seems to demonstrate that the portrait is probably not of Bach http://www.npj.com/thefaceofbach/09w624.html. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How badly do you really want to be a writer/composer/dancer/artist?

How much are you willing to give up attain that goal?

Sometimes having the choice to not create — i.e. a regular, reliable, steady income — means endlessly postponing the frightening leap into the void, of actually producing work you try to bring to market, to finding an audience, discovering that people are eager for your work – or not.

I started writing for a living when I was at the end of my sophomore year in college, as a full-time undergraduate at the University of Toronto. My parents were off traveling the world, long before the Internet, cellphones or Skype made regular contact easy and affordable. Neither gave me a penny.

I was on my own, living in a small studio apartment in a not-great neighborhood, all I could afford on my monthly income of $350, money inherited from a grandmother.

That was all the money I had available. My rent was $160/month. Then there was food, phone, answering service, clothes…and oh, yeah, tuition and books; $4,200 a year isn’t much money to live on in a major city, even a few decades ago.

So I freelanced, a lot. I missed classes, (and my grades certainly showed it), to chase down paying assignments, both as a photographer and writer. I had a photograph published in Time at the age of 19.  I wrote for the country’s biggest magazines and, surprisingly perhaps, am still in touch with my very first editor who assigned me work when she was editor of Miss Chatelaine, now called Flare.

I had a weekly shopping column in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, in my junior year, paying me $125 a week, a fortune at the time.

But all this blazing ambition, fueled by real financial need, also carried costs, losses I will never be able to recoup.

I barely remember the people I attended college with as I spent much of my time in phone booths (remember those?) contacting editors to line up work or fight for (more) payment. I didn’t drink or party or pledge to a sorority or disappear on spring break to exotic locations. I was too busy working my ass off.

And so I went to the chair of the English department to suggest that, since I was already selling my writing to national publications, I receive class credit for it — given the choice between writing another paper on 16th century drama or paying my bills for another month or two, there was little choice for me.

The reaction was scathing and dismissive, one reason I’ve yet to darken the door of another university.

A highly effective way to make sure you’re actually producing — and not just talking about it all the time — is to actually rely on the income from your work.

I do realize this is impossible for many people — with children to support, and/or a partner; who, as Americans, simply cannot afford market-rate health insurance or have crushing amounts of student debt as well.

But if you never have to test the market, what will finally impel you?

DON’T FORGET TO SIGN UP FOR MY NEXT WEBINAR, BETTER BLOGGING, ON SUNDAY NOVEMBER 10 AT 4:00 P.M. EST.

DETAILS AND REGISTRATION HERE.

The unliked life: How long can you stay off of social media?

In behavior, children, culture, domestic life, entertainment, family, journalism, life, love, Media, parenting, Technology on November 4, 2013 at 1:13 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I recently took a week-long break from blogging here, the longest since I started this in July 2009.

I got a lot done in real life, mostly work-related, with a few meetings with new contacts and possible clients.

It was an interesting experience to turn away from the putative gaze, and potential approval, of Broadside’s readers. I know that some bloggers like to post every day. I just don’t have that much to say.

More to the point, I try hard to maintain a balance between my life online and my life…in real life.

Social media is ubiquitous, and for some wholly addictive. We all like a hug, even if it’s virtual. We all like an  ego-stroke, and getting dozens, or hundreds?

How can that be a bad thing?

I still prefer being liked in person — last week over half-price cocktails with my friend Pam, trading notes about high-end travel with a new client, wooing a local PR agency, hanging out with my husband.

English: Infographic on how Social Media are b...

English: Infographic on how Social Media are being used, and how everything is changed by them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a fascinating/sad story from Bloomberg Businessweek about a camp created for adults who need to digitally de-tox:

It’s Digital Detox, a three-day retreat at Shambhalah Ranch in Northern California for people who feel addicted to their gadgets. For 72 hours, the 11 participants, who’ve paid from $595 for a twin bed to $1,400 for a suite, eat vegan food, practice yoga, swim in a nearby creek, take long walks in the woods, and keep a journal about being offline. (Typewriters are available for anyone not used to longhand.)
The ranch is two-and-a-half hours north of San Francisco, so most guests come from the Bay Area, although a few have flown in from Seattle and New York. They’re here for a variety of reasons—bad breakups, career
troubles—but there’s one thing everyone has in common: They’re driven to distraction by the Internet.

Isn’t everyone? Checking e-mail in the bathroom and sleeping with your cell phone by your bed are now
considered normal. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2007 only 58 percent of people used their phones to text; last year it was 80 percent. More than half of all cell phone users have smartphones,
giving them Internet access all the time. As a result, the number of hours Americans spend collectively online has almost doubled since 2010, according to ComScore (SCOR), a digital analytics company. Teens and twentysomethings are the most wired. In 2011, Diana Rehling and Wendy Bjorklund, communications professors at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, surveyed their undergraduates and found that the average college student checks Facebook 20 times an hour.

Twenty times an hour?

This is just…sad.

There was a time when being with other people meant actually being in the same room — and that meant possibly having to walk, run, bike, fly, cab, drive or climb to access their companionship.

You know, make an effort.

We also used to live lives that we decided were intrinsically satisfying or they were not. We didn’t spend hours seeking the approval of thousands, possibly millions, of strangers — people who we’ll never meet or have coffee with or visit when they are in the hospital or attend their wedding or graduation.

There is genuine affection on-line, I know — but I wonder how many of us now do things now just to see how much they are “liked”.

Much as I enjoy social media, I’m old-fashioned enough to want to be in the same physical space as the people who “like” me and want to hear, first-hand, what I’m up to and how I really feel. There are many things I’ll never post here or on Facebook, where my “friends” include several high-level professional contacts for whom a brave, competent face remains key.

To me, face to face “liking” is truly intimate — like the seven-hour (!) meal at Spice Market that Niva and I shared when she came to New York and we finally put faces — and lots of laughter — to our names for the first time. (She writes the Riding Bitch blog.)

We had a blast.

It was much more fun than endlessly hitting a “like” button.

SPEAKING OF SOCIAL MEDIA — DON’T FORGET TO SIGN UP FOR MY NEXT WEBINAR, BETTER BLOGGING, ON SUNDAY NOVEMBER 10 AT 4:00 P.M. EST.

DETAILS AND REGISTRATION HERE.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,124 other followers