Amtrak Offers ‘Writer’s Residencies’ With Free Rides

It was a couple of months ago that the idea for a writing residency through Amtrak was first introduced by a couple of writers who openly pondered the idea on Twitter.

Jessica Gross, A New York City-based freelancer and Zach Seward, editor at Quartz, posted about their desire that a program existed which allowed writers to focus on their craft while enjoying the long-distance train commutes through picturesque rural America.

Unexpectedly, Amtrak responded with an invitation for the two writers to act as literary guinea pigs for the concept.

Gross accepted the offer and within days she was westbound on her way to Chicago.  Gross first considered the idea after reading an interview with novelist Alexander Chee, where he stated that trains were his favorite place to write.

After Gross had completed her trip, she was asked why she felt trains were a good place to write during a follow-up interview with Amtrak.

“I think it’s a combination of the set deadline—the end of the train ride—the calming movement, and the company of strangers,” she said.

And with that the program was launched.  Earlier this month Amtrak started accepting applications for the program with the application deadline being the last of this month. Up to 24 lucky writers will have the chance to take long-distance trips to work on their literary masterpieces.  Like Gross, the guests will be staying in individual sleeper cabins equipped with a bed, desk, outlet and all of the visual inspiration that inevitably comes with cross-country travel.

Each residency will last between two and five days with writers taking routes all over the country.

But some writers aren’t convinced that the trip is as wonderful as it seems.  A clause in the agreement gives Amtrak the right to use your work, which has turned off some potential applicants.

‘Grant of Rights: In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. In addition, Applicant hereby represents that he/she has obtained the necessary rights from any persons identified in the Application (if any persons are minors, then the written consent of and grant from the minor’s parent or legal guardian); and, Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing. For the avoidance of doubt, one’s Application will NOT be kept confidential (and, for this reason, it is recommended that the writing sample and answers to questions not contain any personally identifiable information – e.g., name or e-mail address – of Applicant.) Upon Sponsor’s request and without compensation, Applicant agrees to sign any additional documentation that Sponsor may require so as to effect, perfect or record the preceding grant of rights and/or to furnish Sponsor with written proof that he/she has secured any and all necessary third party consents relative to the Application.’

Amtrak has responded to those on Twitter who have expressed concern, saying that they would consult with the writer before their work is used in any promotional material.

From the press that has been generated after Gross completed her trip, you can assume that Amtrak will use your work for the same PR content similarly to Gross’s.  The company interviewed her and posted links to her published story, which doesn’t seem as intimidating at the written clause makes it to be.

Gross wrote about her experience for The Paris Review, aptly titled Writing the Lake Shore Limited.  In her written piece, Gross stated that she enjoyed her 44-hour-long journey across New York, Pennsylvania, and the Midwest on her way to Chicago.

Gross finished her interview with Amtrak with some advice for those considering the literary journey.

“Try it! Don’t be too ambitious with what you plan to get done,” she said.  “Allow for time spent gazing out the window, letting ideas work themselves out in your mind. It’s that kind of deep thinking that the train is particularly good for, and that can be more difficult to achieve in the interstices of busy day-to-day life.”

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Piers Morgan’s Show Dropped by CNN

In another round of changes for the media giant, CNN has confirmed plans to drop “Piers Morgan Live” from its prime time 9 p.m. slot.  Three years after taking over for Larry King, Morgan has seen ratings drop to a fraction of viewers compared with other news channels.

CNN’s president, Jeffrey Zucker, has changed the face of the cable news channel since being appointed to his position a little more than a year ago.  In January it was announced that CNN would be letting go nearly 40 senior journalists in an attempt to restructure the organization.  A spokesman for the company told Politico that the move would allow them to continue “investing in journalism.”

“We’re expanding the definition of news,” the spokesperson told Politico. “We’re not abandoning news by any stretch of the imagination . . . there will be more people working at CNN today than last year.”

The spokeman also explained that CNN would be bringing on 100 staff members to help refocus the interest of the station.  Zucker’s plans are to devote more time to unscripted reality series and documentaries similar to Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.”

Morgan told The New York Times that after speaking with Zucker over the past few weeks about the shows failure to connect with an audience, that they have mutually decided to “pull the plug” sometime in March.

“It’s been a painful period and lately we have taken a bath in the ratings,” Morgan told the Times.  He continued to say that although there were times when his show saw spikes in ratings that overall slow news days were an issue.

Morgan is well aware that his show struggled to attract a devoted following because he was a relative newcomer to the States and he was debating heavily controversial American issues.  People had trouble relating to a host who they couldn’t connect with so ratings continued to fall.

“Look, I am a British guy debating American cultural issues, including guns, which has been very polarizing, and there is no doubt that there are many in the audience who are tired of me banging on about it,” Morgan told the Times.  “That’s run its course and Jeff and I have been talking for some time about different ways of using me.”

Even in King’s last few years as host he struggled to bring in the same ratings that he once had, but his numbers were still greater than that of Morgans.  Just last week, one of Morgan’s shows brought in only 300,000 viewers, according to Nielson.

Morgan took over for King after working as a judge on the popular NBC show “America’s Got Talent.”  Before that he was a well-known editor in Britain.

No replacement for Morgan has been named and a spokesman for CNN declined to comment to the Los Angeles Times about when exactly his last show would air.

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Baltimore Newspaper Buys a Rival, Reportedly Gives Staffers The Boot

We all know that the life of a journalist isn’t an easy one.  The pay is low, the hours can fluctuate, and the competition is ruthless.  But who would have thought that a publication would undermine another to such a callous extent.

Last week it was reported that a Baltimore area newspaper bought up a local weekly publication, then reportedly told everyone on staff that they were being let go.  However it wasn’t all bad news, those being let go would have the chance to get their jobs back.  The only catch, they had to reapply for their old position.

The Baltimore Sun Media Group announced that they had acquired the Baltimore City Paper last week.  Baltimore Sun CEO Tim Ryan released a statement saying, “this acquisition will allow us to build upon the existing success of the City Paper.”  The press release continued to state, “we want the paper to remain a valued alternative, independent voice of Baltimore.”

But that explanation didn’t sit well with everyone.  Tom Scocca of Gawker, who started out as an editorial assistant for the City Paper a few years back, wrote a scathing piece about the acquisition, questioning the real intent of the Sun.  Scocca points out that Ryan’s explanation that the City Paper would continue to operate as an independent voice was misleading since it will now be a subsidiary of the larger publication, thus not an independent voice at all.

“On a basic-meanings-of-words basis, this is either a lie or a wholesale delusion,” Scocca wrote.  “Once the Sun owns City Paper, City Paper will not be independent; it will be owned by the Sun.  It will not be an alternative; it will be a subsidiary of the dominant voice, such as it is, which is dominant only in market share.  The biggest ruin in a ghost city.”

Scocca continued to explain that this latest acquisition now leaves Baltimore with only one freestanding paper, ultimately creating a monopoly on local news.  He also questions the financial ability of the Sun to carry what has been a financially successful paper, when he says that they have struggled financially for a while.

“When the Sun says it’s going to maintain and build on the value of City Paper, it’s babbling,” Scocca wrote.  “It’s not simply that it’s buying out its most dedicated adversary. The Sun doesn’t do things like building value, and it hasn’t had the power to do those things for years. The paper has been on the sales block itself for months now, as Tribune tries to unload its doomed newspaper business onto somebody else.”

For the 25 City Paper employees who now find themselves fighting to get their jobs back, a source told Jim Romenesko that about 50 percent of the staff will be rehired.  But the optimism for future success is waning as Scocca put it, Baltimore is “one step closer to being a zero-paper town.”

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New Rules in Place To Limit Access to Journalists’ Records

After a slew of highly reported cases in which the first amendment rights of journalists have been overlooked, new measures have been put in place to limit the government’s access to reporters’ records.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. signed the new guidelines that uphold the rights of journalists under freedom of the press, with new rules that limit the access of law enforcement officials to journalists’ records, as reported by The New York Times earlier this week.

Holder has been under scrutiny since last spring due to the Justice Department’s aggressive tactics for taking reporters phone records without advance notice.  His new measures would limit law enforcements access to such records.

In the past year alone there have been a handful of cases in which the first amendment rights of journalists have been challenged under the Obama administration.  Jana Winter, a reporter for Fox News was arrested last year due to her reporting of the movie shooting in Aurora, Colorado.  Winter was prosecuted in an attempt to get her to reveal her sources, but in December, New York State’s top court ruled that she is protected under her state’s shield law that protects her from having to testify and reveal her confidential sources.

And in May of last year, federal investigators seized months worth of phone records from reporters and editors at The Associated Press.  The A.P. released a statement at the time that said the secret seizure of phone records was a “serious interference with A.P.’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”

The A.P. was notified after the records for more than 20 employees were taken without notice sometime throughout the past year.

After the uproar from the A.P. seizure and the attempted prosecution of Winter, President Obama directed Holder to review the guidelines for investigations into leaks to reporters.

The rules are expected to be published next week in the Federal Register, and detail changes that Holder announced last July and described in a six-page report.  A preamble illustrates the intentions of the rules, stating that they are being put in place which “strikes the proper balance among several vital interests,” with national security being among those interests, and “safeguarding the essential role of the free press in fostering government accountability and an open society,” according to The Times.

The rules will cover grand jury subpoenas used in criminal investigations, but they exempt wiretap and search warrants obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and “national security letters,” a sort of subpoena that allows the seizure of records related to terrorism and counterespionage, according to The Times.

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CNN Lays Off 40 Plus Journalists, But Is It All Bad News?

Tough news for any aspiring journalists as CNN announced that they have layed off more than 40 senior journalists as part of a recent reorganization of the company.  The plans were organized by the company chief executive, Jeff Zucker, in an attempt to restructure the business of the company, but it isn’t all bad news.

A CNN spokesperson told Politico that the recent layoffs allowed for the media outlet to bring on an additional 100 staff members, and that the company was “investing in journalism.”

“We’re expanding the definition of news,” the spokesperson told Politico. “We’re not abandoning news by any stretch of the imagination . . . there will be more people working at CNN today than last year.”

The senior staff members who worked for both CNN and HLN were terminated at the end of 2013, with the layoffs split between the two companies as reported by Capital New York.  According to the Financial Times, many of the senior staff members who were layed off were close to retirement.

The most recent rounds of layoffs allow CNN to devote more airtime to Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” and similar documentaries and unscripted reality series, according to Politico.

Zucker teamed up with general manager of HLN, Albie Hecht to shake things up at the sibling channel of CNN.  When Hecht took control of HLN last September, major plans were expected from the beginning.  Many are seeing this round of layoffs as the first round of changes for the company.

Hecht cancelled a number of daytime shows including “Raising America,” “Now in America” and “Evening Express” to make room for “News Now” which will air from 1 to 5 p.m. and a live addition of “Showbiz Tonight” at 6 p.m.

Zucker is said to have teamed up with Hecht to make HLN less reliant on “ratings bursts delivered by the courtroom-centric programming” it has gained a reputation for in recent years according to Capital New York.  For now, the courtroom programs remain a key fixture in the company’s lineup, most notably in prime time.

At CNN, Zuckers restructuring model is all a part of a larger plan to help regain the company’s 24-hour cable news leadership from Fox News channel.  Over the past few months he has made a number of changes to the network’s programming, including adding new presenters.

The media powerhouse recently hit a 20-year low in prime time ratings in the United States with an average viewership of 78,000 during the day and 98,000 in prime time, according to The Guardian.

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The New York Time’s Most Popular Article of 2013 Wasn’t Even a Story

The New York Times released its list of the most visited articles of 2013 a few days ago, and to everyone’s surprise the most visited story was actually not a story at all.  The most visited story last year was a news interactive application that beat out stories about poverty, science, and three articles about the Boston Marathon bombing.

The interactive survey went live on December 21 and instantly became a viral sensation.  Within hours it dominated social media sites and was shared by thousands, quickly making it to all of your friend’s Facebook page news feeds.

But what surprised many wasn’t just that the fact that the most popular story wasn’t a story at all, but an app, or that it garnered more traffic in less than two weeks than any other story produced by the publication.  What shocked everyone was the fact that the most popular New York Times online article was created by an intern.

Derek Thompson, business editor for The Atlantic quickly picked up on this shocking detail and wrote up a quick blurb that in itself became a viral sensation.  Other news outlets including The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Mediaite, were some of the many news sites that focused on the surprising fact that an intern wrote the single most visited article for a publication that is considered the frontrunner in international news.

Josh Katz, a graduate student from North Carolina State University was offered a fall internship opportunity at the Times after a project he was working on caught the eye of a higher-up at the publication.  While working with the paper’s graphics department, Katz wrote the app and finished it just as his internship was ending.

The fact that an intern could put together such traffic driving content shows how valuable interns can be for a publication.  Robinson Meyer from The Atlantic couldn’t shake the shock that an intern was responsible for writing the most visited piece for one of the greatest publications in the world.

“It took a news app only 11 days to ‘beat’ every other story the Times published in 2013. It’s staggering,” wrote Meyer.

Additionally, what this story shows is that the landscape for journalism is drastically changing.  More and more readers are interested in engaging with their news, now more than ever before.  When the audience makes a decision as to what they want to read and how they are going to process their news, even respected and traditional publications like the Times has to take note.

So to those who say that internships don’t pay off, you’re wrong.  Only a month after his internship ended, Katz is now working as a staff editor at the Times.

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Deadliest Nations for Journalists 2013

International conflict is nothing new and over the years countless journalists have followed turmoil in an attempt to document the heinous crimes going on around the world.  In their attempt to capture the reality and strife of war and danger, many journalists find themselves in terrifying situations, some of which they don’t end up making it home from.

The Committee to Protect Journalists keeps a database of journalists who have been killed, kidnapped, or who have gone missing for over 20 years.  These journalists come from almost every country around the world and cover a variety of topics including business, crime, human interests, politics and culture.  No matter what their beat, journalists in a handful of countries face imprisonment and death for simply carrying out the duties of their job.

Jamal Abdul-Nasser Sami was the latest fatality this year on December 26 having been killed when armed militants attacked his news channel headquarters in Tikrit, Iraq.  Sami, the video editor for the local Salaheddin TV station, died along with four other staff members in the attack.  But Sami is not alone.

The latest information reported by CPJ in their annual statistics released on Monday show that 99 journalists have been killed around the world this year, with Syria, Iraq and Egypt being the most dangerous countries to report from.   Of those nearly 100 deaths, 70 have been confirmed and 44 have occurred in these three countries alone.  Of those 70 confirmed deaths, two-thirds occurred in the Middle East.

The number of journalists killed began to slowly increase in the early 2000’s and has remained relatively consistent since 2006, with roughly between 70 to 100 deaths annually.

The annual report released by CPJ shows that 44% of those killed were murdered, 36% were hit by crossfire, and 20% died while on dangerous assignments.  They are also currently investigating the deaths of 25 journalists who died this year.

Kidnappings are also widespread in war torn nations such as Syria where 28 journalists were killed this year alone.  CPJ reports that 60 journalists have been kidnapped in Syria this year with 30 still in captivity. 

In addition to killings and kidnappings, many journalists have simply disappeared.  Due to the intensity of war in Syria however, information regarding missing journalists is difficult to come by.

“Cases of journalists missing in Syria are extremely difficult to track,” CPJ wrote on their website.  “Information is scarce, the situation is constantly changing, and some cases go unreported.”

Of those missing in Syria, American law student and journalist Austin Tice, has been missing for over 500 days.

The CPJ has released their annual report every year since it started recording deaths in 1992.  Their database includes detailed information on each journalist killed, imprisoned, exiled, or missing, and aims to create awareness and “defend journalists worldwide,” according to their website.

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Five Best Free Apps for Journalists in 2013

For the journalist on the go, a handy app can be just the saving grace that ensures meeting a timely deadline.  With smartphones becoming ever more impressive with their capabilities, journalists can rely on particular apps while reporting in the field all while maintaining a high level of professional quality work.

While there are an abundance of apps that can be purchased for only a few dollars that can help get the job done, you don’t have to spend a dime to get the story.  There are plenty of reliable apps that make fact checking and verification a breeze while others allow for clear recordings and photos that can stand up to some DSLRs.

I’ve organized a list of my top five apps (in no particular order) that have always proven to be reliable when I’m in the field reporting.  Some may argue that a traditional pencil and a pad of paper are the best set of tools, but smartphones have so much to offer.  Although it’s always a good idea to have something to write with on hand in case of technical difficulties, smartphone apps can be used as a time saving measure that can help you organize all of your info while commuting from place to place.

Check out my list of the best smartphone apps of 2013 to see if any of these tools could help you out.

  1. OneNote is just the app to help you collect all of your thoughts in one place.  This Microsoft Office app can be used to take notes, write your to-dos, or even to start writing out your story.  There are many similar note-taking apps, but I’ve found OneNote to be my personal favorite.
  2. Hootsuite is a great social media tool that allows anyone to schedule out their social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.  In addition, it gives you the opportunity to consolidate all of your social media accounts to see what is going on with the people that you follow.  This tool allows users to maintain a social media presence throughout the day and only takes a few minutes to schedule out your posts each day.
  3. Finding an app that allows for respectable audio recordings can be difficult, especially if you don’t want to spend any money.  Personally, I’ve had a lot of success with iTalk, which allows you to record interviews and ambient sound that is pretty impressive.  When I’m in a pinch and need to gather sound for a radio story, iTalk is a great substitute for a Zoom or Marantz recorder.
  4. Google maps is probably my favorite app of all time.  I’m notoriously bad with directions and have relied on this tool on almost all of my assignments.  It’s a pretty straight forward but has saved my butt on more than one occasion.  If you decide to use any application on this list, Google maps would be the one that I recommend most to help you get to your interviews on time.
  5. Snapseed is a great photo editing tool that doesn’t over complicate the process.  It allows users to easily enhance photos, add effects, and share them with friends.  I’ve used this tool on many occasions and have always been impressed with the high quality of the edits.

While there are plenty of applications that can be handy in a pinch, these five have proven themselves to be consistently reliable, and free to boot.  Check them out on your next assignment to see how they can help you.

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Lara Logan Asked to Take Leave From CBS

It may seem obvious, but every journalist knows that the most important detail about reporting is to ensure that your facts are correct, but issues still pop up even in National news.

Even the most seasoned journalists can run into issues when reporting, sometimes missing a beat when vetting a source about their reliability or credentials.  One such journalist has made headlines in the past few days after reporting false information while covering a story for one of the most well respected news organizations in the world.  This slip up, although avoidable, is a reminder to all other practicing journalists to remain vigilant while reporting a story and to fact check as much as possible to ensure that you are reporting nothing but the truth.

Lara Logan, a seasoned war correspondent for CBS News and 60 Minutes, was asked to take a leave of absence earlier this week after details emerged about the falsity of a story she reported on Benghazi for 60 Minutes.  Logan’s producer, Max McClellan who also worked on the story as asked to take leave as well.

Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes, announced the move this past Tuesday.

“There is a lot to learn from this mistake for the entire organization.  We have rebuilt CBS News in a way that has dramatically improved our reporting abilities,” Fager wrote in a memo.  “Ironically 60 Minutes, which has been a model for those changes, fell short by broadcasting a now discredited account of an important story, and did not take full advantage of the reporting abilities of CBS News that might have prevented it from happening.”

The report, which aired on Oct. 27, was supposed to be the first Western eyewitness account of the attack on the U.S. compound that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.  Logan interviewed an ex-security officer named Dylan Davies who gave differing stories to both the FBI and 60 Minutes.

The Washington Post and The New York Times both reported the inaccuracies of the story in early November, leading CBS News to announce that they would be issuing a correction.  The following day, Logan appeared on “CBS This Morning” to apologize for the mistake.

The internal investigation conducted by CBS News found that the production team did not properly vet Davies.  Due to this mistake, he was used as an integral part of the story even though his own accounts of his actions and whereabouts during that night were false.

We still wait to see whether Logan and McClellan will lose their jobs as they take their leave of absence, but it’s clear that CBS News is taking this issue very seriously.  With Logan’s long list of reporting accomplishments over the years, having reported from war torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Tanzania and Kosovo, you would expect that she vet her sources more carefully, but every once and a while someone will fall through the cracks.  This should be a cautionary warning to all other journalists to fact check their sources carefully.

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Visual Journalists Feel Brunt of Job Cuts Since 2000

Earlier this month the Times Herald-Record, a small publication from Middletown, N.Y. announced that they were cutting seven newsroom jobs, four of which were the last remaining positions of their photo department.  Citing “new technologies” and “economic realities” as the reason for the cut, the Times Herald-Record is only one amongst a growing number of newspapers who are moving away from visual journalism.

The Chicago Sun Times made international news over the summer when they announced that they were letting go of their entire photo department.  Management announced in a statement that the reason for cutting 28 full-time photographers was due to increasing demand for online video.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution followed suit this past October when they announced plans to lay off a “significant number of its staff photographers,” according to the Pew Research Center.

While the print industry has been hit hard by the development of online publications over the past decade, many publications are successfully maintaining readership.  Billionaire Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway shocked many when he announced that he had purchased 28 daily newspapers for $344 million back in March of this year. 

In his annual shareholder’s letter, Buffet wrote that “papers delivering comprehensive and reliable information to tightly-bound communities…will remain viable for a long time,” he continued to explain that as long as they have a “sensible internet strategy.”  His reason for the purchase was an investment for the future as he has faith in the financial stability of the industry.

While many publications seem to be embracing new technologies to grab the attention of a younger audience, they are left to make difficult decisions within the newsroom.  Papers like the Times Herald-Tribune, the Chicago Sun Times and The Atlanta Journal Constitution, are letting go of photographers because they don’t see the financial gain of keeping them on staff.

The annual newsroom census from the American Society of News Editors indicates that photographers, among other visual journalists including artists and videographers, were the hardest hit over the past decade from newsroom cuts.  Nearly 3,000 positions disappeared between 2000 and 2012; a 43 percent decrease in visual journalism jobs in the U.S.

Although this segment of journalists weren’t the only ones affected by jobs cuts, they saw the highest percentage of cuts amongst journalism jobs.  Copy editors, layout editors, and online producers saw a 27 percent decrease in positions, equaling a total of nearly 3,000 positions and there was a 32 percent decreasing in reporting and writing jobs since 2000 as well.

The past three years have been the most difficult for full time visual journalists as ASNE reported an 18 percent reduction in positions.  The Pew Research Center credits shrinking newsroom budgets and increased use of mobile technology as the cause for layoffs.  Social media allows almost anyone to capture images, which is the reason CNN let go of several photographers in 2011, citing the “impact of user-generated content and social media…in breaking news,” as a main reason.

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