Posted in Entrepreneur, Innovation, journalism

Finding Your Entrepreneurial Inspiration

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

I am a journalist who has never been interested in following the entrepreneur path.  I just don’t have the desire or the mindset to do it.  But I know plenty of journalists who are thinking of or actually following their entrepreneurial dreams as a way to stay in the game as newsrooms continue with job cuts.  And I feel the Digital Journalism Task Force has a responsibility to help those follow those dreams.

Last week’s layoffs by Gannett and Media General brought up the entrepreneurial discussion once again.  My good friend — and partner in crime — Doug Mitchell is about to start year two of the New U: News Entrepreneurs Working Through UNITY competitive program.  Thanks to a grant from the Ford Foundation, New U helps journalists of color who want to become entrepreneurs by having them    participate in a national “boot camp”.  It offers training and one-on-one mentoring and a competition for start-up funding to assist news entrepreneurs in realizing their ideas.

This year’s National Association of Black Journalists’ annual convention and career fair includes four workshops — including year two of Sheila Brooks’ day long “Creating Wealth in an Innovation Economy” session — on entrepreneurship at this year’s convention.  And NABJ has the first Ray Taliaferro NABJ Entrepreneurial Spirit Award winner.

But beyond the convention, what is our organization’s commitment to helping members fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams?  I’m inspired by the efforts of members including NABJ Secretary Roland Martin, Mike Green, co-founder of the Black Innovation and Competitiveness Initiative, Meta Mereday, Editor in Chief of Savoy Magazine, Retha Hill, Executive Director of the Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at Arizona State University, Dr. Sybril Bennett, Associate Professor of the New Century Journalism Program at Belmont University, and Doug Mitchell, co-chair of NABJ’s Media Institute, co-director of the New U program and an adjunct professor instructor at the City College of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. among others.

I thank Dr. Syb for sending me a great example of bible scripture Isaiah 11:6: The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

NABJ historian Wayne Sutton writes at Black Web 2.0 about the entrepreneurial dreams of two 11-year-olds — Marci Lawson and Ben Brown — who pitched their ideas at the recent Triangle Startup Weekend in Durham, N.C.  Clips of their presentations are below.  They can be an inspiration to us all!

Posted in Innovation, journalism, multimedia journalist, News

Will We Soon Work Among Robot Reporters?

By Malik Singleton, Developer,

Nowadays cars park themselves, remote SWAT bots snatch perps, and there are even robo-bartenders. So, inevitably, journalists are also having to share the stage with robots — case in point: here is a 1705-word story with no byline. Why? It could very well be because a robot wrote it.

Recently, I attended a Meetup and learned about a technology called Narrative Science, a service that “turns data into stories.” This service, already being used by a few newsrooms, processes statistics then associates those numbers with pre-programmed rules of grammar and phrasing to ultimately spit out a “story” that is readable and natural-sounding to humans.

The best examples of its results are with number-driven stories such as baseball recaps, financial earnings reports and real estate analyses. The Narrative Science engine actually tries to figure out what the numbers mean. It interprets highs and lows, compares current performance with historical averages, intelligently evaluates trends or anomalies, and produces prose that easily amounts to a kind of reporting, but the question for real people is: is that really journalism?

Larry Adams, a real person at Narrative Science, says, “it absolutely is journalism.” The VP Product Management defends the authenticity of the service’s reporting because he says there are living and breathing writers behind everything, though in less traditional roles.

“We have editorial staff from Medill and Columbia training the system. The content has the voice of the writers and gets produced via automation.” So in the case of earnings reports, Adams says they read “tons” of reports to deconstruct the angles that journalists use.

“There are only so many hundreds of combinations of angles, so we establish rules.” They call these rules representative language and they assign what they call “interestingness” to certain types of information to teach the system qualitative news judgment. We still ask the question whether this is all we human news people do or if we do something more.

Can a computer really connect the dots like a thinking person can? Don’t computers lack the sensibilities to find the emotional elements of a story? Rich Gordon of MediaShift’s Idea Lab says, “human journalists will do — and should do — the kind of reporting and storytelling that computers can’t.”

Adams says human journalists should, in fact, focus more on interviews and less on tasks like research. “Narrative Science is not going to be able to interpret body language, but it employs a vast history of information with a breadth of coverage that an entire human staff can’t do.”

This thinking is what has led some newsrooms, including the Big Ten Network, to adopt Narrative Science. The startup company is betting that news organizations will consider that it is too expensive and logistically impossible to have reporters cover every newsworthy story. Not to mention the chore of certain types of coverage, some real reporters actually get bored with writing mundane reports — so why not switch their focus to things like one-on-one interviews, enterprise stories, human interest pieces, in-depth investigations, etc.?

Although Narrative Science is still being fine tuned and only works for a few types of stories, the big impact it’s having so far is that it’s forcing us to have a very critical debate.

Posted in journalism

Journalists and Branding: Good Idea Or Bad?

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

I found an interesting conversation on Facebook started by NABJ Student Rep candidate Marissa Evans on this interesting column from Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten on why he thinks journalists branding themselves is a bad idea.  I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Weingarten.  He seems to be living back in another time — and I say this as a journalist who began her career using a typewriter.

NABJ Presidential candidate Charles Robinson made an interesting point during a candidates’ forum sponsored by the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the NABJ Baltimore’s Association of Black Media Workers.  Robinson noted that while all the tools and technology is good, sometimes the “J” in journalism is missing in the discussion.

And I agree 100% with Robinson.  But in this day and age of terms including search engine optimization, content and eyeballs, to name a few, journalists now more than ever need to stand out.  We are competing with bloggers, citizen journalists, aggregators, curators and any other number of platforms that are battling for readers’ attention.

The fact is that along with strong journalism skills, you do need the brand to bring the eyeballs to the website that writes our checks. I am one of a half a handful of journalists covering the aviation industry.  My brand — Aviation Queen — was created for me by the industry I write about.  I stand out anyway, and this brand helps me stand out even more.  I love where I work and have no plans to leave.  But I know if something were to happen, I would be able to leverage my skills — and my brand — to get that next job.

At the beginning of my career, the focus was on the writing and reporting.  You chased that story, you wrote it, you got your byline and moved onto the next one.  Those days are gone.  Now writing and reporting is only part of the job.  You also have to do podcast, shoot photos and video, do social media, find creative ways to illustrate data, to name a few.  If you’re doing it the right way, your brand develops.

These days, Mr. Weingarten, your brand plays a big role in getting that next job or even starting your own thing, whether we like it or not.  Thanks to Mindy McAdams of Teaching Journalism Online for pointing me to how Steve Buttry of used Storify to show the reaction to Weingarten’s column.  And Buttry also links to Leslie Trew McGraw’s paper on journalists and branding.  She’s the Leslie identified in Weingarten’s column. I say don’t hate the player-hate the game!

Posted in Conferences & Conventions, Education, journalism

Calendar of Multimedia Training, Events & Fellowships

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

Webbmedia Group has a great calendar of events that catches things not covered below.  If you want to subscribe to the calendar, click hereYou can also subscribe to this calendar so the information appears on your personal Google Calendar. Just go to the Webbmedia Google calendar, click the “+Google Calendar” icon at the bottom right, and then click “Yes, add this calendar” in the dialog box.)

The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at Arizona State University has updated its calendar of free workshops and webinars through November.  And Media Bistro has its current course list available through December.



  • The Blogging While Brown conference will be held July 8-10 in Los Angeles.  The conference provides continuing technology education and networking opportunities to an audience primarily comprised of African American digital media content creators.
  • Media Bistro is holding an online Entrepreneurial Journalism Boot Camp July 12-Aug. 30.  The camp features online entrepreneurs Rafat Ali (paidContent), Michelle Madhok (SheFinds Media), Laurel Touby (, and many more. Learn what to consider when launching your start-up. Draft your business plan over eight weeks with the help of your peers. Participants will vote on the most viable business plans in the group and the winner will have the chance to hear feedback from entrepreneur and venture capitalist Larry Kramer (Polaris Ventures), who will also answer questions from the group. The cost is $399 if you register by June 14; after that, it’s $499.
  • The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism is partnering with the NABJ Digital Journalism Task Force on a free Webinar, “Unlocking Financial Statements,” July 18-22.  The weeklong online seminar covers income statements, balance sheets, cash flows and writing about numbers.



  • The National Association of Black Journalists is holding its annual convention and career fair Aug. 3-7, 2011, in Philadelphia.  Professional journalists, students and educators will take part in full- and half-day seminars designed to strengthen and enhance their skills. Workshops throughout the five-day convention will highlight journalism ethics, entrepreneurship, specialized journalism and transitioning journalism skills to book publishing, screen writing and media relations.
  • The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism will hold a free week-long webinar, “Sales Strategies for Freelance Business Journalists,” Aug. 16-19.  Taught by Maya Paine Smart, participants will learn simple things they can immediately incorporate into their daily work to help them identify great writing clients, win more assignments and earn a healthy living. You can attend a daily, hourlong, interactive session at either noon or 4 p.m. EDT on Aug. 16-18 and noon EDT on Aug. 19.
  • The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) will hold its annual LGBT Media Summit & Convention Aug. 25 to 28 in Philadelphia.



  • The Online News Association will hold its annual Conference and Online Journalism Awards Banquet Sept. 22-24, 2011 in Boston.
  • The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism will hold a morning workshop Sept. 25 during the SPJ/RTDNA Excellence in Journalism Conference Sept. 25-27 in New Orleans. In the session, you’ll learn where to find key company financial information and how to dissect essential financial statements and Securities and Exchange Commission documents. Gain the skills that will enable you to follow the money and stay on top of the biggest story around – the economy.



  • The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism will hold a free, one-day Business Journalism Boot Camp in Minneapolis, Oct. 4. In this free, daylong workshop, you’ll learn the basics of business for public companies, private companies and nonprofits. Award-winning professors and journalists will have you analyzing financial statements to find stories about public companies, as well as tracking public information on private companies and nonprofits. Learn how to dissect the new IRS Form 990 line-by-line to find stories about local nonprofits. Examples will be tailored to the Minnesota market.
  • The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism will hold a free one-day workshop, “Digital Efficiency for Business Journalists — 36 Tips to Tame Info Overload,” in New York City Oct. 13.  It will include 36+ specific sites, tools and techniques for those who face a growing mass of digital information. The half-day session is not about theory or about how big the problem is, but instead about how to make each working day more efficient by using specific tools, techniques and best practices.
  • Blogalicious will he held Oct. 21-23 in Washington, D.C.  Founded in 2009, the Blogalicious Weekend conferences are aimed at celebrating the diversity of women of all ethnicities in social media.



  • BlogWorld & New Media will be held Nov. 3-5 in Los Angeles.  The conference is the first and only industry-wide conference, tradeshow and media event dedicated to blogging, podcasting, social media, social networking, online video, music, Internet TV and radio. The New Media Expo provides the only industry-wide new media marketplace for networking, online business and marketing resources, while the Social Media Business Summit is the world’s largest social media business conference where business owners, marketing executives and global brands learn strategies, tools and technologies to grow their businesses with social media. Register at with the promo code MASH20 to save 20% off the ticket price!


If you have any items that I’ve missed, please drop me an email via the DJTF Yahoo! Listserv or at benet AT aviationqueen DOT com.  Thanks!

Posted in Education, Equipment, multimedia journalist, Social Media

Friday Fast Five + Five

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

As usual, I have an overloaded bookmark folder with stuff I want to pass along.  So until I find the time to whittle down the pile, you’ll be getting five plus five until further notice.  For newer readers, I do this column every Friday of interesting tools, technology, websites and tips that can help you do your job as a journalist better.  Enjoy!

  1. 10000 WordsFive ways to visualize your personal data. I found the Tweet stats website to be particularly insightful, since I oversee five different accounts.
  2. Adam Westbrook10 free and totally legal programs every multimedia journalist should have. I’m one of those people who likes to try all the latest programs. Some I use suggested here include GIMP, Audacity and Instapaper.
  3. NetworkedStreamlining your social media posting: How to update more than one site at a time. Between my work and personal life, I’m juggling several social media sites, so you need to control that. The suggestions here are good, but I’m a BIG fan of TweetDeck, which lets me manage my Twitter accounts and my various Facebook pages.
  4. Journalists’ Toolkit — 7 Do’s and Don’ts for Video on Point-and-Shoot Cameras.  For those who are still using these types of cameras for shooting video, these are some good tips.
  5. Mashable46 New Digital Media Resources You May Have Missed.  I love it when Mashable does this list, because I always manage to find something I haven’t used before.  This time I discovered the following: HOW TO: Avoid and Prevent Facebook Spam; 7 Superb Short Films Shot With Cellphones; and HOW TO: Launch Any Product Using Social Media.
  6. MakeUseOf — 5 Cool Ways To Make Use Of National Geographic Maps.  Here’s an alternative to the usual map suspects.
  7. Teaching Online JournalismIdeas for using Encyclo in journalism classes. While this post is targeted to teachers, aren’t we all trying to keep up with the latest tools in journalism? Encyclo can help.
  8. Innovative Interactivity IIHosting options for multimedia websites.  Thinking about finally getting that new website off the ground?  This post tells you the best places to host said website.
  9. Vadim LavrusikNew to Twitter? Here Are 12 Tips From the Community. As I watch more and more friends jumping onto Twitter, this is a handy guide from the guy who is now running Facebook’s project to attract more journalists.
  10. PC World12 Must-Have Android Apps for Road Warriors.  I’m an iPhone user, but plenty of my peeps out there (hi @brandonvivo!) are addicted to their Android phones, so I’m showing them the love.
Posted in journalism, multimedia journalist

NABJDigital Reviews The “New” Ebony Magazine

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

I grew up the daughter of an Air Force officer.  My dad joined the Air Force in the mid-1960s, just around the time the military began bringing on more officers.  I grew up all over the world, and with that there were two constants in my life — the Sears catalog and Ebony magazine.

My parents felt it was important that we saw our heritage in a magazine that highlighted what they felt was the best of black America.  We got to read about our culture and see — in print — achievers (besides my dad) profiled.

But when we moved back to the states, somehow, the subscription lapsed and other magazines filled the void.   Then a funny thing happened. I received an offer from the Urban League for a free, one-year subscription to Ebony.  And I signed up.

My timing was great — it happened to be the March issue, which was the first under a major redesign spearheaded by CEO Desireé Rogers and Editor-in-Chief Amy DuBois Barnett. It was Comedians issue, “edited” by Kevin Hart.  I loved the new design, from the open layout to the great stories that I felt were relevant in my life.

Senior Editor Adrienne Samuels Gibbs took a look at how generations are changing their views on faith and church attendance. Touré handled the covers story on comedians Steve Harvey, Monique and Chris Rock. And Keith Reed had an insightful interview with Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

It only got better in the April issue, which featured the cast of “Jumping The Broom” on its cover, written by my favorite entertainment writer Kelley L. Carter.  Living in Baltimore, I was glad to read the story “Without a Trace,” by Francie Latour, which featured the story of the disappearance (and subsequent death) of Phylicia Barnes.

And the quality of the publication continued in May, the Music issue, which featured a cover story on Jill Scott by Kelley Carter, with fantastic photos by Steven Gomillion and Dennis Leupold.  The story was informative and entertaining without getting too much into Scott’s personal business.   I was mesmerized by Lyah Beth LeFlore‘s story “The First King of Bling,” a fascinating story on the rise and fall of Andre Harrell and his Uptown Records.

No publication these days is worth its salt without a strong website and a vibrant iPad app, and Ebony is in the mix.  There’s a nice platform of photos and multimedia (I loved the video on the Jill Scott photo shoot and the photo gallery from this year’s Oscars). There’s also a good mix of stories that aren’t included in the magazine, keeping content fresh.

While I’m glad that Ebony is blogging, I’d like to see more from staff and contributors, although I do like that they linked up with Clutch magazine. The magazine is active on social media, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

I’m a bit spoiled by my other magazines, which offer iPad access as part of my subscription.  Ebony charges everyone $3.99 an issue for its iPad version, and I’m reluctant to pay for something I feel should be a part of my subscription.  But I absolutely love that the magazine’s entire 65-year archive is available via a partnership with Google.

I recommend reading a blog post on Huffington Post by Zondra Hughes, deputy editor of Rolling Out, on the future of black publications. But the work that Ebony has done so far has made it much more likely to be one of the long-term survivors in an industry that continues to watch publications fold.

Posted in Conferences & Conventions, Education, Innovation, journalism

Dear Mom & Dad: Had A Great Time At SparkCamp! Weather Was Fine. Love, Benet

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

So I’m minding my own business, and I get an email back in March inviting me to this thing called SparkCamp June 10-12 at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.  According to the email, this inaugural SparkCamp was  described as “a focused but free-spirited conversation about journalism and media pivoting on a broad theme: `real-time.'”

The event brought together a wide range of participants covering what the organizers called a diverse range of disciplines to explore new ideas and new possibilities in this thing we call journalism.  The organizers, led by Amy Webb of Webbmedia, built SparkCamp along the lines of News Foo Camp, held in December 2010 at Arizona State University.

The event used the unconference format, bringing together people “inside and outside of the news universe” so we could all learn from each other.  We had representatives from traditional and new media, along with representatives from different companies that offer the tools and technology that help us do our jobs better. We even had a few folks from the advertising side of the house to offer their perspective.

I love the unconference format. For the uninitiated, unconference attendees create the panels before and during the event, and attendees also choose which ones they like best.  Instead of being lectured from upon high by a moderator and panelists, sessions have a leader, but everyone in the room is involved in the discussion.

I was thrilled that my session on helping a traditional newsroom adapt more quickly to the new digital world order made the cut.  Other sessions dealt with topics including mastering timelines, next-gen tools, focusing on mobile websites, not apps and how to use crowdsourcing.  There were things that I knew, but there was a lot I didn’t know — and that was OK.  Everyone was on different levels, but no one was made to feel like they were dumb because they didn’t understand some program or a string of acronyms.  We all had something to bring to the table.

There were many great things I loved about SparkCamp, but one that I thought was a stroke of genius was that each invitee had to bring a plus one (mine was Melanie Eversley, DJTF treasurer and an editor at USA Today.)  I felt having us bring a plus one brought a great diversity (in the broadest sense of the word) to the group.  Another great thing was I got to meet folks I’ve followed — and admired — on Twitter, along with meeting others I didn’t know, but was also glad to meet.  And who knew there were so many other aviation geeks among my SparkCamp compatriots (I’m talking to you, BMc and JO’K)??

I came away from SparkCamp energized and still hopeful about the direction of journalism.  If you’re on Twitter, you can follow our conversation via the hashtag #SparkCamp.  And allow me to create a SparkCamp edition of my Friday fast Five and share a tiny amount of the things I learned at SparkCamp:

  1. Arab spring: an interactive timeline of Middle East protests — the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper created this cool, 3D interactive timeline to illustrate key events during this seminal — and ongoing — event.
  2. Japan: After the Wave — used Storify to curate stories in the aftermath (still ongoing) of the tsunami that hit Japan on March 11.
  3. KING5-TV: Stories from February 2001 to March 2011 — this Seattle television station uses the timeline program Intersect to create a storyline.
  4. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Toolbox — SPJ updates this website regularly with all kinds of sites and tools that make our jobs easier and make us more efficient.
  5. The Brain — this is, as the creators say, “designed to help you organize information the way you think. ” You actually have to see it in action to believe it.