Storyology 2017

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I revisited my journalism roots recently by attending Storyology 2017, an annual talkfest put on by Australia’s Walkley Foundation.

I won’t give a blow-by-blow account (that’s what Twitter is for), but there were some very strong themes around building/reclaiming trust in journalism, combatting Fake News, battling troll armies, Big Data and how to best work with the tech giants that are reimagining the media landscape (Google and Facebook, which also sent emissaries in the form of Aine Kerr and Irene Jay Liu).DIb0n_WVAAAItyE

In the 10 years since I left full-time journalism, the industry is still trying to make up ground when it comes to landing a workable funding model, a conversation I didn’t think we’d still be having in 2017.

Some media companies are building subscriber walls, others are relying entirely on funding and wealthy benefactors, and some are now directly appealing to readers through donation models to support their journalism. Who’s right? Who knows? Everyone’s playing the long game.

One speaker worthy of mention is Filipino journalist and editor Maria Ressa’s amazing contribution to the Storyology 2017 program, both as a standalone presenter and panellist. Her editorial vision for Rappler.com epitomises the kind of reinvention and engagement media companies are aspiring to in a Web 3.0 world. Ressa’s Rappler.com is a reason to get excited about the future of journalism.

While the focus of the conference was very much on working journalism (and making journalism work), there were some great takeaways for creatives and freelancers looking to learn and leverage the knowledge of the experts in the room.

  • Don’t stop learning. There is an enviable suite of clever and free tools online – it’s time to get acquainted. For citizen journalists in particular, Google and Facebook now offer unrivalled free training and resources. Podcasting, coding, data mining – get in there!
  • Be organised. Flex your schedule muscles, establish and maintain contacts, and stay on top of your admin paperwork with a good accountant.
  • Innovate or die. Be like Inkl. Innovation is more than just a buzz word, it’s the fresh approach/method/idea/product behind ‘the news’. Reinvent or stagnate.
  • Swim against the tide. Sometimes the best ‘aha!’ moments (like this award-winning story by Dan Box) come from the outliers. Never follow the herd.
  • Machines can’t replace humans (yet). Machine-learning can’t compete when it comes to creativity (but machines are very helpful when it comes to crunching vast amounts of data and weeding out fake accounts). You/me/we are the human experience.

You can enjoy more of the Storyology 2017 program over at The Walkley Magazine’s Medium.com pages.

Revenge of the brain fag

 

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Brain fag gets a mention in the Clements Tonic-sponsored cookery book circa 1917, which I stumbled upon while visiting an antique shop in the Blue Mountains. Clements Tonic, good for what ails ye!

 

Brain fag is, or was, a thing way back when…a term used to describe brain fatigue or what we might describe today as anxiety or possibly even the onset of depression. Possibly it’s an extreme form of procrastination!

Clinically, it was named and the cognitive disruption traced back to excessive external pressure to be successful placed upon the young. Oh, this sounds familiar…like every looming school exam, work report or anthology deadline with which I have ever wrestled!

And my point (there is one) is that the brain fag has descended upon me at the tail-end of my holidays. I’m talking about the cognitive sort, the mental road block set up by the procrastination police to stop me from motoring on with various projects.

The hitherto ridiculously productive writing period I was expecting to enjoy was instead eaten up with the banalities of the end of year break: eating, drinking, socialising and lazing about while being ‘fed’ various forms of entertainment (this year’s poisons have included the excellent Dark Mirror, the somewhat dated Aussie indie flick Crackerjack, the not-so-great Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them *sorry JK, the characters and CGI creatures didn’t hold a candle to Harry Potter and the gang*, re-runs of Murder, She Wrote, and endless funny episodes of the UK Come Dine With Me program). God, I feel like I’ve just spent time in a confessional.

Reading, in case you were wondering, doesn’t count in the litany of sins. OK people, you know everything now…I have been slack!

Short of a Clements Tonic, I am setting in place some measures (maybe even a word count widget) to get me back on track.

From Monday, work life resumes and a new discipline will (hopefully) emerge.

Here’s to those three 2017 resolutions.

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C’mon down to Indie Recon 2015!

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If you’re a writer or editor involved with self-publishing, set aside April 15-17, 2015 to attend Indie Recon online.

Indie Recon is a global conference providing the best advice and education for independent-minded authors across the world, particularly those with an interest in self-publishing.

The conference will feature a mix of online educational seminars, workshops discussions and masterclasses; culminating in a reader-centred Indie Author Fringe Fest live from The London Book Fair’s Book and Screen Week, on Friday 17th April.

Held at Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross, the largest independent bookstore in London, the Fringe Fest will offer exciting ways for readers to meet indie authors and discover great reads.

This year the Alliance for Independent Authors (ALLi) has joined forces with the organisers of Indie Recon to present an even bigger and better conference experience, leveraging off its highly experienced membership.

In line with ALLi’s mission to be a global organisation for authors everywhere, the event will be live streamed, so authors and readers who can’t be in London can take part online.

That means you and I can tune in and take part.

See you there!

How authors are ruining Twitter

I’ve only recently jumped back on Twitter in the last week.

After a period of intensive use in early 2014, I stepped off the social media platform to focus on my writing. This is also why I haven’t blogged in a long time (actually, in the past five years I’ve started three different blogs. Why blog when I can write? I used to think).

And there’s that other thing – it’s a massive distraction. As many writers will attest, social media is a time sink of epic proportions, a 24/7 candy store of mental stimulation, a rabbit warren of information.

On the flipside, it can be a great way to meet like-minded souls, and share ideas and experiences, and so I find I’m friends with a lot of authors on Twitter.

I like to read. I love books. I love to write. I’m fascinated by the writing process – more so other people’s. I like to know what other authors are writing, reading, feeling, doing.

I’m amused by the memes and the cat pictures, enjoy the inspirational quotes (that Abraham Lincoln guy is prolific! 😉 ), and marvel at the connectivity and networking opportunities Twitter offers.

I personally love the curatorial aspect of Twitter – the sharing of interesting articles and industry trends, flagging upcoming events, and passing on the odd inspirational quote.

However, it is apparent to me that a lot of authors just don’t know how to use Twitter properly to engage on a social level with people (social – that word, look it up).

In the short time I’ve been active again, I’ve been constantly bombarded with links and pictures of authors marketing (selling) their books.

And it’s relentless.

I don’t mind knowing you have a new book out, but I don’t need to know every day, several times a day. No matter what those social media gurus are telling you.

Engage me in other ways – blog (and share the links via Twitter) about the writing process of your new book, the inspiration behind it, the research process, the design team you worked with to produce your amazing cover/layout. Talk about the genre you write in. But don’t post endless sales links to Amazon. It’s boring and crass and makes me want to stop following you.

Sure I can skip over the tweets, but when there are several of you it turns my Twitter feed into a giant colourful sales catalogue. Is this really the best way for you to use the platform?

At its worst, Twitter is like a crowd of marketers in garish stripey suits all shouting to be heard. At its best, Twitter is a savvy community of influencers and thought leaders. Most of us fall between those two extremes.

All I’m saying is, keep it classy, authors. Don’t bombard your audience.

Build and nourish your online communities. Engage with people. Get them interested (and invested) in your work.

Be in it for the long game.

Zoella, Girl Online and the reality of ghostwriting

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First up, an admission – I’d never heard of Zoella until today courtesy of an article published in Salon.com, and tweeted by Porter Anderson, about the furore that has erupted around the authenticity of her new book Girl Online.

I’ve immediately remedied this gaping hole in my general knowledge by watching 10 of her Youtube videos back-to-back, and browsing her website, www.zoella.co.uk. And can I say, sometimes research can be fun! I now know how to halo braid (in fact, I now also know how to do it milkmaid style – oohhh errr, missus! – and replicate the hairdo of Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games fame), make melted snowmen biscuits, and shop for the latest seasonal rags.

Zoella’s sweet and cute and, not surprisingly, crazily popular with her young female fanbase. Her Youtube channel focuses on beauty and fashion and she recently published her first book. Only, according to some fans, she didn’t.

Zoella aka Zoe Sugg used a ghostwriter, apparently, to co-create Girl Online.

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And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. It happens all the time in the non-fiction world, and when there is a great story to tell and the person at the centre of it is unable to put pen to paper – whether for reasons of time or skill – it’s the best option available.

This is not an unusual state of affairs in publishing, and it can be a lucrative path for good writers. I’ve ghostwritten extensive swathes of text for many clients, as have author colleagues of mine.

Zoella’s book Girl Online is a boy-meets-girl novel. A book she didn’t write – or at least didn’t write alone.

Let me tell you, Zoella fans, about my own shock and deep disappointment when I discovered Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon didn’t personally pen all those Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. Shattered, I was, even a teeny bit betrayed – possibly more shocked to learn Carolyn and Franklin didn’t even exist! They were just pen names invented by a publisher, and supported by a team of busy writers. I understand all about when you’re a fan betrayed – the fall to earth can be pretty jarring. (By the way, I’m still a fan.)

Apparently Zoella is copping it hard from her fans right now. From my newly educated viewpoint, I think unfairly so. Ghostwriters are part of the fabric of publishing – in fact, if you believe the great Shakespeare conspiracy, even the Bard had some help in the verbage dept.

Glamour model Katie Price certainly reaped big rewards with her ghostwriter, the late Rebecca Farnworth, and no one batted an eyelid – in fact, the writing partnership was something of an open secret. Farnworth authored 14 books in all under Katie Price’s name – no mean feat!

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It’s so easy for nastiness to go viral thanks to social media (thanks social media!), and obliterate all of the things you might have liked or found redeeming about a person or situation when they fall short of the sort of strict moral code you’d never enforce upon yourself.

In Australia we call it Tall Poppy Syndrome (and before the Internet – yes, I was alive then – I would have believed the cutting down of celebrities and anyone else who stuck their heads above the social ramparts was only an Australian past-time. Alas, it’s not.).

I say give Zoella a break. Cut her some slack. Leave off…

As an entertainer she’s just doing her job – baring every little piece of herself to satisfy her hungry audience of fans. By having her novel ghostwritten, she’s given a great job to someone else. That someone being Siobhan Curham, who has found herself in the rather unenviable position of defending her work on Girl Online. Give her a break too, she was just doing her job as a ghostwriter.

Zoella’s still the same charming self-made vlogger you all fell in love with.

Final words must go to Siobhan Curham via The Guardian, who puts the whole storm-in-a-teacup beautifully in perspective: Curham noted that she “did have some issues with how the project was managed”, and that it would be “really healthy to have a broader debate about transparency in celebrity publishing”. “But please don’t blame Zoe personally for a practice that has been going on for years,” she wrote, pointing out that the huge sales of the novel, which is 2014’s fastest-selling book and which is sitting on top of the UK Official Top 50 for the second straight week, meant that “bookstores such as Waterstones are ending the year on healthy profits”, and that “Penguin, and many other publishers around the world, are now able to afford to offer more unknown writers book deals”.

Postscript
Porter Anderson made this important observation about Zoella-gate that touches upon what may be a generational schism in how ghostwriting is viewed: “The public has a new, digitally closer relationship with its glam girls and boys. Community and networking mean interaction with one’s pop-video icons. That interaction is expected to be authentic.”

Fair point, however I don’t believe Zoe and Siobhan should be the scapegoats for an industry practise that is, clearly on this occasion at least, out of step with its youthful, social target audience.