Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Miserable Life of a Job-Seeking Professor

“Applying for an academic job is not just sending in a cover letter and résumé. Here’s what the single most sought-after job in my own discipline, German studies, is currently asking: ‘Letter of application, updated curriculum vitae, three letters of recommendation, teaching statement, research statement, and one writing sample (maximum of 25 pages).’ That ‘letter of application,’ by the way, is no one-paragraph me want job now email. It’s a two- to three-page essay, specifically tailored to that position and worried over for days.

“Sure, OK, that’s a lot of work, but this would be manageable—if every job required the same dossier. But they don’t. Every search committee wants something different (and often special), whether it’s made-up course syllabi, or lesson plans, or a DVD of your teaching, or an official undergraduate transcript. (Oh, and everyone’s deadline is different, too.) Going on the market, especially for the first time, can easily suck up weeks—effectively a second unpaid job your cousin is doing while teaching a full course load or finishing a dissertation.

“So after your cousin has assembled his dossiers, and submitted them, and followed up with his overtaxed recommenders, he waits until December, when interview requests start trickling in—or don’t. Because of the sheer number of candidates applying for precious tenure-track jobs, a common reaction to the receipt of one of these meticulously crafted (and expensively mailed) 40-page dossiers is a deafening silence; most candidates learn they will not be interviewed by checking crowdsourced discipline wikis, aka the corner of the Internet where dreams go to die ...

“But even this would be fine, if these angst-producing interviews (often conducted at conferences attended at the candidate’s own expense) meant you had a real shot at that job—but they’re actually the first round; your cousin’s still up against 24 other candidates. He won’t know if he’s a finalist until late winter, when he is (or, more likely, isn’t) flown out for a merciless three-day gauntlet of on-campus meetings. If he beats all the odds and gets that precious offer at Southwestern Prairie Technical College, his cycle ends, mercifully, in March. If he doesn’t, then he’s off to the ‘secondary market,’ a rolling collection of ads for one- and two-year “visiting” positions. Visiting from where? you might ask. From nowhere.

“So, even though your cousin has been actively seeking employ for almost a year, he often won’t secure something until a week or two before fall classes start—a “visiting” gig if he’s lucky (although this might mean moving away from his spouse), or adjuncting penuriously in the town where he already lives. He’s got about three weeks to be relieved he won’t starve, until the next year’s meager job list comes out.

Rebecca Schuman

Monday, September 29, 2014

So This Is What CRM Software Does

“Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur who wants to sell into General Electric. Well, a host of A.H. relationship managers can type ‘General Electric’ into the system and presto: You see dozens of contacts within the A.H. ecosystem working at G.E., including Beth Comstock, senior vice president and chief marketing officer. The software also specifies who from A.H. is the primary relationship owner, and when the last contact was made. All interactions get tracked, even emails, so that anyone at A.H. can review the relationship history. And, the large and growing team only increases the power of the ecosystem as they contribute to it.”

How Andreessen Horowitz Is Disrupting Silicon Valley

Saturday, September 27, 2014

What Does an Editor Do Exactly?

“Editors constantly save writers from mistakes or misjudgments. Writers can’t always take the long view or judge adequately whether their tone or rhetorical devices are working as they think they are. I can’t count the number of times an editor has done me that great service.”

Margaret Sullivan

Corporate Blogs Get Personal

Several years ago, I argued that blog posts were eclipsing press releases as the way to break news. I ran through examples from four companies that issued a standard release aimed at reporters and investors, then translated that message into a post for the public.

Here’s another game-changing example of businesses using blogs—not to break news, but to push an agenda. Earlier this year, the CEO of Netflix blogged about the case for net neutrality. The next day, AT&T’s top flack fired back: “Mr. Hastings’s arrogant proposition is that everyone else should pay but Netflix.”

Let the blog battles begin!

Friday, September 26, 2014

How Bloomberg Businessweek A/B Tests Its Covers

Power Tim
Too formal

Sporty Tim
This would be great if we were a running magazine

Shady Tim
Too shady

Friendly Tim

Cover Trail: Tim Cook's Apple

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is Your Surgeon Swindling You on the Operating Table?

Talk about a captive audience:

“His worries escalated as he lay prepped for the operating room on the morning of his surgery. A technician from a company called Intraoperative Monitoring Service asked him to sign a financial consent form, noting that the company did not accept Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, so he would be required to pay the bill himself. The monitoring had been ordered by his surgeon and is considered essential for the type of neurosurgery he was having, to make sure delicate nerves are not damaged as they are manipulated.

“‘I demanded to know the price, and when he said he didn’t know, I made him call,’ Mr. Drier recalled. When the technician said it would be $500 plus an hourly rate, Mr. Drier negotiated it down to $300.

After Surgery, Surprise $117,000 Medical Bill From Doctor He Didn’t Know

BuzzFeed’s Data Whiz Understands the Limitations of Big Data

According to a recent profile, Dao Nguyen, BuzzFeed’s data scientist in chief, “firmly believes that data should not determine one’s editorial strategy.” Really? The head of data and growth (her job title) doesn’t think data are important?

As contraire. Nguyen believes data should inform one’s decisions. As the article puts it, “As adept as she is at analyzing numbers ... she is also adept at understanding the limitations of data ... Data only tells its observer what is happening, not why it’s happening” (my emphasis).

Says Nguyen, “I think people would be surprised to know my relationship with data, which is actually one of great skepticism as well as great admiration.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

China Is an Evil Genius Censor

Because censors permit a trickle of traffic to reach Google’s servers in Hong Kong, many Chinese users keep reloading their Google pages again and again in the hope of getting through. This creates an impression among many Chinese users, which state-controlled media have done little to dispel, that the problem must lie in shoddy Google service and not in the government’s blocking of most Google activity. “We’ve checked extensively, and there’s nothing technically wrong on our end,” a Google spokesman told the Washington Post.

Which Headline Would You Click On?

It’s the exact same article; Quartz just titled it differently.

The Biggest Mistakes I See on Resumes, and How to Correct Them


5 Errors That Immediately Get Your Resume Rejected at Google

Monday, September 22, 2014

The New Bylines at the New Yorker and Washington Post

I’m a big fan of bylines. So it was energizing to see that the New Yorker and the Washington Post have recently incorporated these marketing tactics into their website templates. In a sentence or two, articles by staffers now give the reader a glimpse of who the author is, thus humanzing the publication.

To be sure, Slate has always bylined each article; Vanity Fair, in its print magazine, runs a blurb about each author; and most publications acknowledge guest contributors. To my knowledge, however, the below two outlets are blazing the bylined way in the mainstream media.

A few examples:

The New Yorker

● Lauren Collins began working at The New Yorker in 2003 and became a staff writer in 2008.

● John McPhee began contributing to The New Yorker in 1963.

● Anthony Lane has been a film critic for The New Yorker since 1993.

● Steve Coll, a staff writer, is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, and reports on issues of intelligence and national security in the United States and abroad.

● Roger Angell, a senior editor and a staff writer, has contributed to The New Yorker since 1944, and became a fiction editor in 1956.

The Washington Post

● Karen Tumulty is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where she received the 2013 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.

● Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.

● Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cellphone.

● Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.

● Manuel Roig-Franzia is a writer in The Washington Post’s Style section. His long-form articles span a broad range of subjects, including politics, power and the culture of Washington, as well as profiling major political figures and authors.

● Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Secret to a Superb User Experience

“The point of the navigation bar is not to reflect the structure of your newsroom—it’s to ... engage with people ... [Ask yourself which you care about more:] serving readers ... [or] trying to map [y]our internal structure onto [y]our website?”

Ben Smith

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nothing in This World Can Take the Place of Persistence

More than 40 VC firms turned Thumbtack down until Javelin Venture Partners led a $4.5 million round in early 2012. “We were about to let everyone go,” recalls co-founder Jonathan Swanson.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why BuzzFeed Doesn’t Care if You Never Click on Its Ads

“Its massive traffic numbers notwithstanding, BuzzFeed is not actually in the traffic business, and describing it as a ‘web traffic sensation’ rather misses the whole point of the company. While a company like Business Insider makes money by selling inventory to advertisers, BuzzFeed doesn’t: you won’t see any ads on a BuzzFeed story page. If you feel a little bit disappointed after clicking through to a Business Insider story, at least the company has sold your visit to a client. But if you feel a little bit disappointed after clicking through to a BuzzFeed story, BuzzFeed gets no benefit at all. The people at BuzzFeed want their stories and quizzes and videos to ideally reach everybody who will love them — and no one else.

“Similarly, while BuzzFeed did feature a lot of lists early on, what it’s really good at is not making lists so much as it is placing its finger on the pulse of what people really like to consume on the Internet right now — and creating the products they’re going to love to consume on the Internet tomorrow. Once upon a time, BuzzFeed realized that if you took a slideshow and turned it into a single page with numbered pictures, that would be an improvement. But the perfection of the listicle was just a symptom of what BuzzFeed does—as was, a few years later, the perfection of the quiz format.


Related: How BuzzFeed Generates $20 Million a Year Without a Single Banner Ad

Which Headline Do You Like Best?

1. The Twitter Bio Halls of Fame and Shame
2. How to Write Your Twitter Bio
3. The Art of Writing Your Bio for Twitter
4. Why You Need a Better Bio on Twitter
5. Make Every Character Count: How to Write a Better Twitter Bio
6. The Dos and Don’ts of Writing Your Twitter Bio
7. 11 Easy Tips to Perfect Your Twitter Bio
8. Is Your Twitter Bio Doing More Harm Than Good?
9. Why Your Twitter Account Needs a Masthead, and Other Tips to Perfect Your Twitter Bio
10. What Your Twitter Bio Says About You
11. What Your Twitter Bio Says—and Doesn’t Say—About You
12. Your Bio on Twitter Matters More Than You Think
13. Your Twitter Bio Deserves Better Than That
14. The Media’s Best and Worst Twitter Bios
15. Hey, Big Media: Your Twitter Bios Are Lousy
16. News Outlets Should Be Mortified by the Way They Describe Themselves on Twitter
17. 11 Things You Can Do Right Now to Enrich Your Twitter Profile

Addendum (/9/26/2014): And the winner is...

Monday, September 8, 2014

The 6 Principles of Media Training


How do we find the essential core of our ideas? A successful defense lawyer says, “If you argue 10 points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.” To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize. Saying something short is not the mission—sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound. The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.


How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the ideas across? We need to violate people’s expectations. We need to be counterintuitive. We can use surprise—an emotion whose function is to increase alertness and cause focus—to grab people’s attention. But surprise doesn’t last. For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity. How do you keep students engaged during the 48th history class of the year? We can engage people’s curiosity over a long period of time by systematically “opening gaps” in their knowledge—and then filling those gaps.


How do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. This is where so much business communication goes awry. Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions—they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images, because our brains are wired to remember concrete data. In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.


How do we make people believe our ideas? When the former surgeon general C. Everett Koop talks about a public-health issue, most people accept his ideas without skepticism. But in most day-to-day situations we don’t enjoy this authority. Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves—a “try before you buy” philosophy for the world of ideas. When we’re trying to build a case for something, most of us instinctively grasp for hard numbers. But in many cases this is exactly the wrong approach. In the sole presidential debate in 1980 between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan could have cited innumerable statistics demonstrating the sluggishness of the economy. Instead, he asked a simple question that allowed voters to test for themselves: “Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago.”


How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something. Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions. Sometimes the hard part is finding the right emotion to harness. For instance, it’s difficult to get teenagers to quit smoking by instilling in them a fear of the consequences, but it’s easier to get them to quit by tapping into their resentment of the duplicity of Big Tobacco.


How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete mental catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate responses to those situations. Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

—Adapted from Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

BuzzFeed, Off BuzzFeed

Your dream job?

BuzzFeed “will launch a new distributed division creating ‘BuzzFeed, Off BuzzFeed’ led by Summer Anne Burton that will scale BuzzFeed’s deep understanding of the social web and why people share across other platforms. Burton will build a team of 20 staffers who will make original content solely for platforms like Tumblr, Imgur, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, and messaging apps.”

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why Today’s Politicians Make Tomorrow’s Perfect Lobbyists

“Let’s look at Cantor’s résumé. Let’s look at all his investment-banking experience. Let’s look at his capital-markets experience. He has none. He has no experience or skills that would qualify him to be even an intern at a fifth-tier firm in the financial industry. I mean, come on! I love the spin. They’re pushing back this morning. They’re saying, 'This is really different! This isn’t like everybody else' ...

“They’re guaranteeing him $3.8 million. You don’t guarantee someone $3.8 million because you’re training him to be an investment banker.

“Wall Street is after what it’s always buying in Washington: access, influence, and unfair advantage. And Cantor is a big catch for anybody who wants access. Look, if you’re in congressional leadership for X number of years, you know plenty that’s worth a lot of money. If you’re the majority leader, who’s in charge of the agenda and vote counting? One of your jobs is to make sure you’re doling out favors to people. There are dozens and dozens of House members indebted to Eric Cantor for the things he’s done for them. You’re worth a lot.

“In addition, Eric Cantor knows why some things got done and other things didn’t get done. He knows why someone voted for or against a bill or amendment. He knows how to strategically target everybody in the House on the issues that anybody cares about in a way that’s close to unique. He’s not going to crudely do it in a way that puts the scarlet-L lobbyist on his lapel. He and the rest of the influence peddlers at the highest level of government work the shadows and do indirectly what the law prohibits them from doing directly.

Dennis Kelleher

Friday, September 5, 2014

Every Longtime Blogger Will Empathize With This Sentiment

“I can write something that took me six hours to craft and put my heart and soul into, and hardly anybody will read it. And then I can put a picture of George Clooney with a quote on it that’s kind of badass, and the thing will go through the roof.”

Chez Pazienza

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why You Shouldn’t Put All Your Eggs in Google’s Basket

“Over its entire history Google has repeatedly demonstrated that nothing it creates is sacred or immortal. The list of Google products and services that were introduced only to be unceremoniously discontinued later would fill a small phone book.

“The primary reason behind this shuffle of products is Google’s unswerving commitment to testing. Every product, and every change or innovation within each product, is constantly tested and evaluated. Anything that the data show as not meeting Google’s goals, not having sufficient user adoption, or not providing significant user value, will get the axe.

Eric Enge