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Traditional Media Debate

Making Quality Writing Count in New Media

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Paraphrasing a very wise SNL character: “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.”

A decade ago, a pair of twenty-somethings at a party asked what I thought about the future of traditional journalism with online media and communication gaining speed, strength and reach.

“The Internet,” I said, as if I had half a clue, “is a double-edged sword. On one side you have this world-shaking, powerful technology that allows anyone to have a voice, to publish what they have to say, a privilege once reserved for those with power and money.”

And the other side of the sword, they asked.

“Not everyone has something to say.”

These days, there’s still a double edge, but it’s on a different sword. There are plenty of people who, through the power of online self-publishing have discovered that, yes, they do actually have something to say.

And the other side of the sword?

Most are not very good at saying it.

It sounds like an uber-snooty remark but, truthfully, there really is an Everest-size difference between saying something and telling a story, between a compelling narrative and a rehash of a diary, between informing and regurgitating, between writing and, well, just typing. There’s a similarly sized difference between getting readers to open your blog and getting them to come back.

Responding to a LinkedIn question I posted about the importance of quality writing in blogs, nearly every poster said yes, they prefer sites that are well written. While the reasons varied, the one that jumped out at me was painfully simple:

“Readers want to feel like they’re having a discussion with somebody smarter than they are. Poor writing, no matter how well informed, won’t get that done.”

Are we talking about Steinbeck? No. Solid writing has less to do with prose and fancy phrasing than it has to do with 3 steps: Having a point, knowing what that point is, and writing to that point. Sounds simple, but a quick cruise through the blogosphere (and, frankly, a lot of legacy media outlets) shows that the importance of a point is, at best, underestimated.

That said, it’s not difficult to, with a few basic tips, make writing significantly better. Really.

Are there bloggers who are wildly successful without great writing skills? Of course. They have to work harder or rely more on their other tools – photography, videography, research, self-promotion, SEO – to not just gain new readers, but to keep them.

Can you rely entirely on great writing to be wildly successful? No. You still have to have something to say.

“If it ain’t one thing …”

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to learn how to turn your writing into powerful storytelling, be sure to check out Spud Hilton‘s session at NMX in January, entitled “Road map to storytelling: Writing that turns visitors into loyal readers.”

 

Social Media and Higher Education [Infographic]

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College and universities are embracing social media as a means to connect with the current student body, alumni, prospective students, and donors. According to BestCollegesOnline.com, one in three schools indicate that they achieve better results with social media than through traditional media.

According to recent data conducted by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth:

  • 98% of colleges and universities report having a Facebook page
  • 84% have a school Twitter account
  • 66% have a blog
  • 41% have a podcast

Check out the infographic below to learn more about how those in higher education are using social media:

Goals Behind Social Media Use

Compiled By: BestCollegesOnline.com

 

Social Media vs. Traditional News [Infographic]

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If you’re anything like me, chances are you’ve heard about some pretty big news stories on Twitter before they hit the traditional news sites. The most memorable for me was the death of Michael Jackson. I saw Harvey Levin from TMZ tweet about Michael’s death and I immediately went to Google and some news sites to verify that it was true. Nearly 20 minutes passed before any other news agency had Michael’s death up on the Web. Go, Harvey Levin!

Sure, sometimes what’s tweeted isn’t accurate. But, oftentimes the really big stories break on Twitter before the news sites publish their stories.  This infographic has some great stats about breaking news online and whether social media is replacing traditional media as the go-to news source.

 

Social Media: The New News Source
Courtesy of: Schools.com

What do you think? Where do you get your news? Do you take stories that break on social media with a grain of salt or is that the first place you go to see what’s happening?

Reporters can be gay?

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The news is out. Anderson Cooper is gay.  I guess I should get over
my crush now, huh?

Honestly, I’ve always thought of Anderson Cooper as asexual. I’ve watched him on CNN, and his less serious self when he guest hosted on “Regis & Kelly” or when he hosted the short-lived reality show, “The Mole.” I love how versatile he is and that he’s not afraid to be silly. And, I have a thing for that hair of his.

When I watch the news, read an article, or listen to talk radio, I never think about the gender of whom that person has sex with. Weird, right? I should be judging journalists based on how they use their sexual organs, shouldn’t I? Now that I know Anderson is gay, I should assume he wants to have sex with all the troops he’s embedded with, right? And, of course, when he takes off his suit after a long day of news reporting he drapes himself in a feather boa, yes?

My first job out of college was as a television reporter. I loved all the unique experiences I enjoyed and the access I had to people and situations. I once talked with Alex Trebek about a musk ox he sponsored in Alaska. It was fun. And, I interviewed Phil Donahue (for the youngsters in the group, he was “Oprah” before there was an Oprah). But, the thing I didn’t like about being a reporter was how I couldn’t be myself in my “real” life.

Sometimes, there was a political candidate I wanted to support. Other times I wanted to sign a petition or attend a rally. But, nope. That’s not something you can do as a reporter. You have to be unbiased; without opinion.

Reality check: One can hide their opinion and try to be objective in their reporting, but one can rarely be without an opinion.

When I did my reporting, I made sure to leave words out of my story that would support or reject the facts. Facts stand on their own. However, if someone who watched our newscast had seen me take an action that supported or rejected those facts, that would have affected how my reporting was perceived, wouldn’t it?

It’s more than reporters who can be labelled as biased, though. It’s entire news organizations. The Times is liberal. The Bulletin is conservative. You hear of biases all the time.

Neiman Journalism Lab wrote an interesting piece on this topic, “How do you tell when the news is biased? It depends on how you see yourself,” which explores how people perceive news. The post discusses how two groups of people can watch the exact same story and each group feels as though the story was bias against them. However, the twist is that each story appears to be from a different news source. So, the “bias” is actually against the news organization and has nothing to do with the reporter’s words at all.

The post goes on to discuss that if people actually knew a journalist’s opinions that, perhaps, the readers or viewers would be more apt to embrace that person as “one of them.” And, that maybe the long standing tradition of hiding one’s affiliations might not give the audience the transparency that they’re getting accustomed to these days.

So let’s explore that idea.

Now that we know Anderson Cooper is gay, is that going to affect how people perceive his reporting? What if he’s reporting on gays in the military? If I’m gay, am I more inclined to think Anderson has my back and will produce a pro-gay piece? If I’m not gay, will I assume Anderson’s reporting is biased and self-serving?

Let’s explore it further.

If a story is assigned to a female reporter and a black reporter, will the end product be the same? What about a story from a reporter who was bounced around in the foster care system as a kid versus someone who was brought up in a large Mormon family? Will the stories that are reported look and feel the same? Or should our own unique experiences in life affect our storytelling? Or, do bloggers tell stories and journalists report facts? (For more on the bloggers versus journalist debate, see “Are bloggers different than journalists?”)

Is it possible for a journalist to be completely unbiased? Do you believe that they can, and do, leave everything that makes them unique at the door when they go into work? In this day and age, when the media landscape is changing and we, as consumers, are getting used to greater transparency and authenticity, is it time to start learning more about the personal lives of the people who report the news? And, should I get over my crush on Anderson Cooper now that I know he plays for the other team?

Are Bloggers Different than Journalists?

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I’ve spent lots of time in newsrooms, for both print and broadcast news organizations. My first job was as a reporter; the ethics of journalism were pounded into me at an early age. Be objective, don’t do anything to tamper with the integrity of the story, and report the facts. As a blogger, however, I can’t say I follow those same rules.

Should a journalist be so removed from a story that they let someone die?

A photo journalist at the Washington Post recently wrote about watching someone endure the fatal consequences of a snake bite; all the while she took pictures, documenting the man’s death. The article, “Why I Watched a Snake-handling Pastor Die for his Faith” chronicles the photo journalist’s ethical dilemma: to help or to remain objective. In the end, she maintained her distance and shot the photos.

Would a blogger remain as objective?

In 2005, milblogger Michael Yon was embedded with an American troop in Iraq. When the soldiers found themselves under siege, one of whom was shot three times and another who was in hand to hand combat, Yon picked up a rifle to join the battle. You can read an overview of Yon’s story by checking out, “Michael Yon versus General Brooks.” In short, Yon inserted himself into the “story” to help save a soldier’s life.

What about citizen journalists?

In this day and age, every one of us can be a citizen journalist. With video and still cameras on nearly every cell phone, all of us can–and do–capture the world around us. But, as “regular people” do we just capture what we see or do we get involved?

Case in point, a video was captured this week during a road rage incident in Los Angeles, California. Four men got out of their cars after the altercation and two guys filmed the encounter from the safety of their car. One man was severely beaten and repeatedly kicked in the head, but the men behind the video camera did nothing to intervene. The video is below.

It used to be that the “media” were are all trained journalists. They represented formal news agencies and their reporting was held to an ethical and professional standard. But, with the rise of new media, anyone can start a blog, podcast, or Web TV series. Any of us can capture video with our phones and upload it to YouTube or Facebook in seconds. No editor, no news director. We’re all self publishers; we’re all media.

So, where’s the line? Do all of these groups play a different, but important, role? Is a journalist removed, a blogger engaged, and a citizen journalist a voyeur? Is one of these ways right and the others wrong? Or are the differences important, with each of these groups serving their own unique purpose?

Was May 1 a Traditional Publishing Fail?

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Here on the BlogWorld blog, I already wrote a bit about how social media is changing the face of historical moments. I know that a number of people found out about Osama bin Laden’s death via Twitter or Facebook, and even though I live in Washington, D.C., I opted to stay in and chat with friends online instead of partying on the streets, like so many chose to do in this and other cities across the United States. I think it’s really interesting to see how people all over the world are still talking about this historical event – and social media makes that possible.

I think there’s a deeper question here for those of us in the publishing industry – was the announcement of bin Laden’s death a fail for traditional media?

Yes. And no. At least, in my opinion.

How Traditional Publishing Failed

Before newspapers or magazines around the world even had time to yell “Stop the presses!” new media sources were deep in the analysis and reporting of this story. I’m a Twitter girl more than I am a Facebook girl, but both exploded with the news, with bloggers everywhere feverishly typing to post on the topic. Some of the interesting things I and other members of the BlogWorld team noticed:

  • Someone posted Osama bin Laden is DEAD as a page on Facebook a long time ago, asserting that the terrorist was never going to be found because he was dead. I’m not sure how popular that page was in the past, but as of right now, it has over 466,000 likes and TONS of comments, pictures, etc.
  • A man who lived in the neighborhood unknowing live tweeted the whole thing. At the time, he had no clue what was going on, but he happened to be awake and on Twitter, so now we have a first-person account of what was happening from someone who was really there.
  • Osama bin Laden’s Wikipedia page was updated before President Obama even spoke. Someone added a death date as May first, then someone else edited it to say that his death “was announced on May 1,” since there were rumors flying around that he had been dead for several days.

These are all things that aren’t possible with traditional print media. With a newspaper or magazine or even a static news website, there’s no feedback, no discussion, no life and movement to the story. Traditional media is not about conversation; it is about presenting the facts…and although those facts are important, without room for conversation, they’re not as attractive of an option to most people.

And then there’s the issue of speed.

This announcement was made on Sunday night, well after many people were actually in bed already. At the BlogWorld HQ, Rick picked up both the NY Times and the LA Times – NY made no mention of bin Laden’s death, while LA did. On the East Coast, it must have been just too late to reprint the morning paper.

Did your morning paper cover the story?

This is a problem that doesn’t effect new media. Blogs and social media accounts can be updated around the clock, and while some sites might not have had a story posted right away, they certainly didn’t publish for 24+ hours without addressing the news of his death. That’s essentially what happened with the NY Times though – it was over a day later until they printed a story.

How New Media Failed

As much as I love new media, the kinks aren’t completely worked out yet and perhaps never will be. There was a LOT of misinformation floating around – it would start as speculation or a joke and escalate until people thought it was the truth. Kinda like a massive game of telephone. That’s often a problem with new media – with thousands of people blogging about a topic or posting about a topic on their social media accounts, you’re bound to get one or two that don’t check their sources.

Not that you’d do that ever. You’re a good blogger, just like me. You and I never make mistakes.

Traditional print media? Well, they make mistakes too sometimes, but they have entire fact-checking departments. Plus, they have time to craft their stories, so they aren’t in a rush to spew out as much information, correct or otherwise, as quickly as possible so that they can be one of the first with breaking news.

Amber Naslund said something on Twitter that night that I thought was really interesting (and true, in my opinion):

@AmberCadabra: Dudes. Social media didn’t “win” to break the news. This isn’t a race. I’d rather have a prez that’s methodical and sure, thanks.

I agree, because while I can be as terribly impatient as the next person, I would hate for the president to get the facts wrong. Speed isn’t always the best.

So did new media win? Did traditional forms of publishing fail? Is this another nail in the coffin for newspapers and magazines? I’m not sure – but it certainly is interesting to see the evolution, isn’t it?

Newspapers Continue to Suffer in the Face of Online News Coverage

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Newspapers Continue to Suffer in the Face of Online News Coverage According to a report released by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the state of the American news media improved in 2010 after two years of downward movement. Among the major sectors, only newspapers continued to suffer – due to the advent of online news sources.

News organizations — old and new — still produce most of the content audiences consume. But each technological advance has added a new layer of complexity—and a new set of players—in connecting that content to consumers and advertisers.

News companies now find themselves having to tackle:

  • A continuing loss of advertising dollars as new platforms and programs take a share of the revenue split.

  • A constant shift of applications and platforms that require technology expertise, rather than journalism knowledge.
  • A huge increase of users looking to find news on a mobile device. Nearly half of all Americans (47%) search out local news on their mobile device.
  • People obtaining more news from the Internet than newspapers.

In some ways, new media and old, slowly and sometimes grudgingly, are coming to resemble each other.

While this may be a time of change, growth, and experimentation – there is also a shift in trends and many stories and news topics are being left behind. “Some vitally important stories are less likely to be covered,” said the leader of a local civic group in Seattle. “It’s very frightening to think of those gaps and all the more insidious because you don’t know what you don’t know.

Image Source: SXC

Authors Using Social Media to Generate Book Buzz

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In my “free time” outside of BlogWorld, I’m an author. I’ve written three young adult novels in the past two years and currently have one out on submission to publishers. As you can imagine, I spend a good amount of time networking with other authors, agents, editors, etc. Topics of interest include a variety of items – especially the use of social media to foster buzz for an author and their book.

I’ve seen several authors generate buzz using Twitter and their blogs – but the most successful ones are those that develop and foster their brand and voice with social media (in all age groups and genres). My favorite example is Kiersten White. For the weeks leading up to the launch of her debut novel, Paranormalcy, Kiersten used social media to showcase her humor, wit, and creativity – building an audience and buzz that took her to the New York Times Bestseller list the week that Paranormalcy hit store shelves!

So what are some examples of Kiersten’s social media efforts and writing style? For weeks prior to launch, Kiersten took to Twitter with tweets that centered on a hashtag she created (#everytimeyoupreorderparanormalcy). Here are just a couple (but there were hundreds of them!)

#everytimeyoupreorderparanormalcy a muggle-born kid gets accepted to Hogwarts.

#everytimeyoupreorderparanormalcy Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella grow a spine, save *themselves*, and head to college.

Kiersten also spent time on her blog – writing posts that featured her book, but also showcased her fun and self-deprecating humor (like this one and this one).

But did this voice translate over to Paranormalcy? Absolutely. And that’s why it worked. If Kiersten’s writing was dark and mysterious, her social media audience would’ve been rather stunned to expect humor and read twisted.

Lastly, Kiersten took time to respond to pretty much everyone who engaged in a conversation – whether it was on Twitter or comments on her blog. She was gracious and caring and never made a fan feel uncomfortable for contacting her.

So my tips for authors looking to use social media to generate buzz for their book: Be Honest, Be True to Your Voice, Be Original & Engage in Conversations

In last night’s #yalitchat (a weekly Twitter chat for the young adult writing industry) we also talked about social media and buzz. Some great tips and thoughts include:

  • @veela_valoom: Social media cannot just be used a “promo-media” should always be a conversation #yalitchat

  • @LauraKreitzer: I noticed that when the social media and reviewers went quiet, so did the sales.
  • @LM_PrestonBLOG TOURs Rock! They are powerful in starting buzz! I’ve bought tons of books from blog tours
  • @AlysonCGreene: ARCS might not sell books, but I think reviews & blog recs do. ARCS allow bloggers and reviewers to read and create buzz pre-pub

Other Related Articles:

Bonnie Harris on Traditional versus New Media (part 2)

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Yesterday, I posted the first part of an interview with Bonnie Harris on traditional versus new media. Here’s the rest of that interview – some can’t miss information about new media in a world that comes from a different perspective. Check out part one before continuing with the rest below:

Allison: What are some of the differences between what most bloggers doing and how corporate blogs should be run?

Bonnie: I see a lot of blogs that look like they’re just hobbies of someone at the company. They don’t seem to have a strong mission, voice or purpose. Maybe someone likes to write and this is an outlet for that…that’s fine if there’s time for such an activity. I think, however, that without goals that translate to business goals (more revenue, better customer service, etc), most blogs just die.

I also see new blogs that are much too ambitious in the beginning. Unless you have the budget to do a big blog launch, no one will read it for a while. A couple posts a week by a problogger will work just fine to help build some archived content. Get a rhythm going, and a process, get your writing team and editorial guidelines established. THEN worry about great content, headlines, and search. I think most corporate bloggers do it backwards – they’re all gung ho to write the next Copyblogger when really they need to be managing all the components of a blog. Writing is just one piece of it.

Allison: What tips do you have for working with a team of professions at a company who all have access to the blog and social media accounts?

Bonnie: Again, think of the blog like a project. Have editorial guidelines, a calendar of blog posts, a clear mission and goals, and some frequency/content guidelines as well. You’ll find that some people are much more enthusiastic than others. Try to coach and train those people, and don’t worry so much about the folks that don’t want to contribute often. Blogging and social media aren’t for everyone, and you can’t force it. Having said that, if there are guidelines and a clear process, you’ll have a much easier time than you think.

Allison: For those who are interested in introducing blogging and new media to their managers/bosses/clients, what are some of the recommendations you have for helping them convince these old school marketers to get on board?

First of all, I would hesitate using the term “old school” – I think we need to blend new media and traditional tactics in order to be successful these days. Categorizing something as “old school” once again implies that it’s not as good or not as effective.

I do a lot of pilot, three month projects. Then I knock it out of the park during those three months.  And I ask THEM what goals they would like the blog to achieve…with some coaching from me of course. Maybe it’s more traffic to their product sales page. Perhaps they’d like to recruit influencers in the industry to write on the blog.  Most bloggers don’t do a good job of defining goals from a business standpoint. They don’t have to be aggressive goals, you just need to show progress against them. Again, it’s  about understanding how to justify this activity from a business perspective. Most of the time, I hear the person championing a new blog as saying something like “it’s the new way of marketing” or something vague like that. Those kinds of justifications won’t work with someone who has to manage your time and a budget.

Thank you so much for sharing all this valuable information with us, Bonnie. Readers, remember to check her out at the Wax Marketing blog and find her on Twitter!

Bonnie Harris on Traditional versus New Media (part 1)

Author:

Not every speaker proposal we got for BlogWorld was appropriate. Some were boring, over-done topics. Some were too self-promotional. Some were clearly thrown together in five minutes.

But some were fantastic. I don’t envy Deb, Dave, and Rick in having to pick from hundreds of awesome proposals for the relatively few spots we have open. Many proposals simply got passed up because there wasn’t enough space. Even more got passed up because multiple people wanted to talk about the same thing and someone else had more speaking experience. More still got passed up for other reasons, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t really great proposals. Bonnie Harris from Wax Marketing, in my opinion, had one of those proposals.

Luckily, I got a chance to speak with Bonnie about her top of choice – “Working with Old School Marketers.” In today’s world, there seems to me to be a great divide between those who understand new media and those who do not – which can sometimes cause problems when the two have to work together to create a comprehensive marketing plan for a business. Thank you, Bonnie, for agreeing to share you opinions and advice about this topic with everyone here at the BlogWorld blog!

Allison: Hi, Bonnie! Before we dive into this topic, tell us a little bit about your experiences working with traditional marketers and executives.

Bonnie: Most of the campaigns I work on involve integrated communications strategy.  We believe that a blend of messaging channels – traditional broadcast, combined with social media for example – is a powerful strategy if you pick the correct mix. For that reason I end up working with marketing executives at corporations, traditional publishers and agencies as well as new media consultants and bloggers in a lot of campaigns.

For example, I did a campaign for Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity to help promote  a series of videos on weight bias in schools and medical offices. We worked with the University’s public affairs office, the research scientists, bloggers in the “fatosphere” as well as mom bloggers ,  influencers on Twitter, traditional media such as the LA Times, and Good Morning America, medical trade press interested in obesity issues…the list went on and on.   My job as usual was to manage efforts across all these channels, and make sure they were in sync. We wanted to tweet at the same time our researcher was doing radio in LA, for example.  We blogged about weight bias when Jessica Simpson caught so much flack for her “mom jeans”. We used our celebrity spokesperson Emme to do interviews with mom bloggers and tried to time those just before her TV interviews.  That’s an example of what I do on a regular basis.

Allison: That definitely sounds like a challenging job. Do you find that there’s a disconnect between traditional marketers and today’s bloggers and new media experts?

Bonnie: I’m not sure disconnect is the right word. I think we simply have different perspectives and I’ve met great bloggers who really understand how to present ROI at a corporate meeting and marketing executives who are brilliant at social media. To me, if corporate bloggers and new media experts don’t understand how projects get justified in a corporate setting they will (and do) get very frustrated.  Also, they have to learn a greater respect for traditional marketing techniques and really get at least a baseline knowledge of what motivates sales. Because in effect, driving revenue is the bottom line in any for-profit corporation.

In return, marketing and PR folks need to stop treating bloggers like second class media. I was in a meeting recently where “mommy bloggers” were being discussed in an incredibly derisive tone. I luckily had some recent survey stats that showed the influence of moms on the internet, and they shut up pretty quickly. When we were doing the campaign for Yale, the mom bloggers and the “fatosphere” (they call themselves that, by the way) were the ones that really brought the videos to the attention of the traditional media, not the other way around.

Another thing traditional marketers need to understand is that the first place producers and editors look for sources and stories is the Internet. A strong digital footprint is an essential component of any modern communications strategy. (I say that a lot in meetings, by the way. It works.)

How can bloggers translate traditional stats into something traditional executives can understand?

I’ve never had any trouble with executives understanding web stats. Most of them get the principles of unique visitors, alexa rankings, etc. By the way, they tend to LOVE alexa…it shows them who is a their site in specific demographics, traffic percentages, and other really good information.

The problem is that bloggers need to show executives statistics that are relevant to them.  They could care less about unique pageviews. Show them that as your pageviews grew, it translated to something else that contributed to better customer service or higher traffic on the sales page. Then they’ll listen.

Just like web admins, bloggers need to think in terms of conversion. Traffic is great…but show them with Alexa that their key demographics are reading your blog. Show them that folks are going to a sales landing page from the blog. Show them that customers are engaging on the blog – or being driven to Facebook or Twitter from the blog and engaging there. Great blog content is a very small part of a corporate blog. You want to prove that it’s both a landing pad from other social media and a launch pad to other parts of the site where they can make money. You also want to show that it’s attracting and keeping readers with target demographics using Alexa stats, subscriber stats, whatever tools you have.

I do a small blog for a hearing aid company, it’s really simple but I post a couple times a week and tweet, etc.  An audiologist in another city saw the blog, and is now a client. That’s the ONLY justification I will ever have to do for that blog in my lifetime –  they are completely sold on having a blog now. It’s paid for itself already!  It’s really simple if you think according to management’s goals, not the goals of the blogger.

Wow, tons of information! So much that I’ve split up this interview into two parts. Check back tomorrow for more with Bonnie and traditional versus new media.

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