By Laura Snyder
Nationally Syndicated Columnist
It was everywhere. Each speaker had some very innovative ideas for getting us through the paper-to-digital transition, but the underlined advice in nearly every speech was “You must go digital, young Jedi… and Twitter.”
I Twitter regularly, which sounds obscene, but I have a total of four followers, which only makes me wonder if I’m doing something wrong, other than using Twitter as a verb, that is. Apparently, “tweet” is the verb and it was suggested by a number of conference attendees that those who tweet on Twitter are called twits. Although this has not yet been confirmed.
So what else happened at the conference? Well, let’s see. Steve Lopez talked about some ideas for the newspaper industry in general. One that I thought was the evolutionary “missing link” between print papers and strictly online news is the idea that a tri-fold Kindle that opens up to an 8 1/2″ X 11″ screen could be distributed to a newspaper’s readership for free with a paid year or two-year subscription. Readers would then get used to reading their local news on the Kindle because they are tied to a subscription. Techno-giveaways are big-time incentives, especially for young people. Kindle could turn out to be a real boon for newspapers and, consequently, columnists, who are, as Dave Astor quipped, “Between a rock and a hard drive.”
Rick Newcombe from Creators Syndicate revealed several times that he doesn’t know where the newspaper industry is going, he doesn’t know how media content will be distributed or paid for, and he doesn’t know why someone who already had over 100 papers printing their column would want to be syndicated. He does, however, have an impressive pipe collection.
We learned that Creators syndicate carries 200 columnists and a collection of client newspapers that total about 2,400 worldwide. They receive 700 submissions a year and only contract a handful of them with no guarantees.
Bruce Cameron said that he was picked up by his syndicate because someone “borrowed” his work. This someone wanted to make it up to him and happened to know someone at a syndicate and he submitted Bruce’s work. So, I guess the moral here is that we must all develop a large network of friends and be kind when someone “borrows” your piece.
NSNC’S own wunderkind, Suzette Standring and Dave Lieber, presented a truly inspiring panel discussion and included the audience in sharing ideas about Keeping Your Columnist Voice Alive. Suzette talked about different ways she has marketed herself, her columns and her books including recording video columns and running writers’ workshops. She suggested writing a book for a family gift and then speak to groups to show people how to do it. Suzette advises us to “have a plan for your time and energy.” Don’t squander it on useless activity.Dave Lieber says to “awaken the entrepreneur in you.” The man carries a MobileScape 3000 with him wherever he goes. For non-attendees, this is a wireless credit card machine. Dave says we’re all professional writers. We shouldn’t be afraid to charge for our services, whether it’s for a column, a book, or a speaking engagement. If we are writers, we are also small business owners and we should get good at selling, marketing and promoting ourselves and our work. Good advice!
Jeff Zaslow, co-author of “The Last Lecture”, based on an extraordinary man, was very inspirational in both where to find ideas for columns, and giving us the example of a man who was dying but never let death define him. If Randy Pausch can do what he did with the last months of his life without self-pity, then we can certainly write one more column, submit one more, write another chapter, speak at another fundraiser. What do we have to lose?
Jon Carroll tells us, “Try anything! Don’t Censor Yourself.” He also says newspapers have become a niche. Older people like newspapers. Younger people are into digital media. Jon says that if you write for a newspaper, don’t pretend to appeal to younger audiences. Write to the ones who read the newspaper. Makes sense.
Marcia Meier makes a good point as well. The Santa Barbara Writers Conference director says newspaper columnists need to do analysis on their stories – not simply tell the news. Because, by the time it goes to print, it’s no longer news. Digital is faster.
The panel on student censorship was eye-opening. It made me mad! Student censorship should make every card-carrying, red-blooded American furious. The First Amendment is supposed to apply to every American, but apparently school administrators believe otherwise. Involve yourself, people! We owe it to our youngsters to pave the way for their most basic of American rights.
These are just a few sound bites from the Ventura conference. I shamelessly “borrowed” many of them from Twitter at #NSNC. I guess that makes me a twit.
It occurred to me many times during the conference that those of you who couldn’t afford to be there were, in fact, the very ones who couldn’t afford to miss it. I hope to see you all next year on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.