The five conversations journalism professors have in hell.

Growing up as a Catholic kid, who spent way more time near nuns than is now recommended by the FDA, I found the concept of hell horrifying. Conceptually speaking, it was a place of fire, brimstone and evil where you went after you had sinned without repenting, angered God through evil acts or accidentally ate a Slim Jim on a Friday during Lent.

Later in life, I asked a priest who was a little more “new school” about the faith for his views on eternal damnation. He told me it was probably more of never-ending sorrow and sadness than the torture outlined by those who grew up before the Vatican II era. It was a a longing and pain for better things and regret over what we should have been. In other words, hell is more individualized and accounts for what we did and who we were.

If hell hits somewhere in that “sweet spot” between those points, I’m sure I know exactly what I’ll be getting myself into if I’m not a decent human being. Since I’ve invested most of my life in teaching and journalism, I know that hell will involve reliving certain conversations I’ve had with students over the past 20 years that continue to sap my will to go on.

So without further ado, I bring you the five conversations journalism professors have in hell and how you can help us avoid them while we’re still alive:



Look, I get it. Textbooks are expensive. In fact, the entire premise of this blog is that textbooks cost too much, change too often and usually have the lifespan of a mayfly. That said, we assign them for a reason: They actually contain stuff you’ll need to know. This is particularly true for books like the AP style guide. Here was an actual conversation I had with a student half way through the semester:

Student: How much are these books?
Me: What do you mean?
Student: This AP book, how much does it cost?
Me: About $20-25. Why?
Student: It must not have been listed on the criteria for the class. I think I’ll go buy it though.

OK, let’s pretend that I hadn’t mentioned it about 10,002 times already and that I didn’t include it as a required book in the syllabus and that I didn’t mention this as a MUST HAVE for the class (as in, “If you are broke, don’t buy the textbook, but buy the AP book.) AND that it wasn’t stocked at the book store.

Every other student in that class had the book. What, they were clairvoyant and just figured I wanted them to have it?

Making things weirder, a student in the very next section of that class, sitting in that very same seat asked the EXACT SAME QUESTION about the AP book, swearing he had no idea that this thing would be important. I think I need to call in some sort of holistic medicine person to burn sage on that chair or something…

Still, this pales in comparison to the year I told the students in WEEK 12 that they should bring their AP style guides to class, only to have one student reach into his backpack and whip his out. “GOT IT!” he said, proudly displaying the book he was supposed to have read by that point in time.

It was still shrink wrapped.

HOW TO PREVENT THIS: Buy the books and read them. If you are REALLY broke (as in, stacking pennies for Ramen broke) and you CAN’T afford them, talk to the professor and see what is absolutely essential and what you might be able to dodge. However, do this somewhere before the midterm.


The constant yelling of old people (read: me) about “damned kids these days” come from the fact that we often wonder how hard students really tried before giving up all hope and saying, “Just give me the answer.”

Damned Kids

Case in point, here was a conversation I had about a midterm question in which students were asked to rewrite a lead on one of four stories. Each story included a specific time peg, so I told students to use the day specified in the story (e.g. The game happened Saturday, so use “Saturday” as your “when” element.) when they wrote their lead. About an hour into the test, here was the conversation:

Student: I know you said that there is a time element we need to use with each of these stories, but I honestly can’t find one in this story I’m using.
Me: OK, pull it up and let me see. (he does)
Student: I looked through this whole thing and there’s no time element.
Me: Really?
Him: Yes, I can’t find it anywhere.
Me: Read the first sentence out loud for me.
Him: Oh.

Yep. Right there in the lead was that elusive time element he sought. I suppose I was lucky the student didn’t have trouble finding his pants before showing up in class…

HOW TO PREVENT THIS: Don’t give up so easily on figuring things out. There is something to be said for figuring stuff out on your own. Print it out or magnify the text or whatever you need that will help you consume the content. Also, if you really CAN’T find the content, when you ask, do so in a way that doesn’t immediately insinuate your professor is an idiot who failed to include the content.

Trust me, this is a great fear of many instructors and there are days we can’t remember what we ate for lunch, so screwing up a test is always a possibility. We then panic when you are “so sure” that whatever it is you’re looking for isn’t actually there. Finding out that, no, it actually is present and, no, we don’t have early onset dementia, is both a relief and a moment of “What the hell is wrong with kids these days?”



Rules are put in place to assure fairness, standardize procedures and give everyone guidance on how to proceed with a test, an assignment or a project. If you want to curdle a professor’s soul, explain to him or her that, yes, you understand rules exist for all those reasons, but the rules really only apply to other people.

Student: I know you said we can’t interview relatives for this assignment, but I was wondering if I could interview my mom.
Me: OK, what does your mom have to do with (the story topic)?
Her: Well, she’s a parent of a college student…
Me: But that’s really not what the story is about and even if it was, there are like 14,000 students on this campus, many of whom have parents. Does she have some special insights that none of the others would have had?
Her: Um… I don’t understand what the problem is. Why can’t I just interview my mom?
Me: Again, she has nothing to do with the story and I need you to get out of your comfort zone and interview people that you don’t know. It’s a skill you’re going to need as a reporter.
Her: So that’s a no?
Me: Yes. That’s a no.

HOW TO PREVENT THIS: Start by assuming that the rules, however arcane, have a reason behind them. Envision that “Karate Kid” moment where Daniel realizes that he hasn’t just been an indentured servant, but rather has been learning karate:

Also, realize that we WILL give people special dispensation for certain things, but it has to be germane to what we’re doing and provide a rare glimpse into something no one else could provide. If you’re doing a story on what it’s like to be an NFL referee and your uncle is an NFL referee, we might think, “That would actually work.” However, if you’re doing a story on how bad parking is on campus and you want to interview your best friend because he owns a car, think twice before asking on that one.

Nothing sounds worse to a professor than a student essentially saying, “Look, I know you told me what to do here, but you have to understand that rules don’t really apply to me because I want to do it my way and obviously that’ll be better for me, so can you just rubber stamp my demands? Thanks!”


Professors have a ton of stuff to do and most of them feel like they’re not doing it well enough to make anyone happy. The ability to focus well enough to deliver a two-hour lecture on something you will need to know to succeed in the class is the Educational Dream of the Millennium.

When you blow it off, fail to take notes or get way too into a SnapChat battle with your roommates during lecture, it can be irritating to us. When you then ask us to “fill you in” on what you “missed,” We tend to have this reaction:

Actual email:

I was just wondering what exactly the group interview project is again and what needs to be turned into you by Friday! I don’t quite remember everything you said at the end of class yesterday so if you could remind me that would be great.

At least that guy showed up, unlike the student who blew off class, skipped an assignment she knew about and then sent this:

Sorry, I was not able to attend class today. What did I miss? When is the interview paper due?

Perhaps my favorite one was years ago when I had a student tell me she spent six hours in the ER with a kidney infection and that she was way too sick to attend my 3 p.m. class. I explained I understood and that these kinds of things happen.

Later that night, my wife and I were at the local journalism bar and guess who walked in? Yep. The student.

She saw me, got a freaked-out look on her face and practically dove into the party room next to the entrance.

The conversation that followed the next class period was epic:

Her: Hi, I was wondering if I missed anything in class…
Me: Well, it’s been said that the appearance of impropriety is worse than impropriety itself, which is what I thought about when I saw you walk into the Heidelberg the other night, four hours after skipping my class.
Her: Oh! I can explain that!
Me: I’d love to hear it.
Her: Well, it was my friend’s birthday and I was feeling much better at that point so I just stopped by for a drink.
Me: With a kidney infection?
Her: Oh, yeah! I have my doctor’s note for you. Let me get that!
Me: (feeling aneurysm building in my brain, fueled by her complete lack of self-awareness) Um… That’s OK… Let’s just start class.

HOW TO PREVENT THIS: Go to class. If you don’t go to class, get notes from somebody before asking us to rebuild a lecture for you. If you went to class and forgot to write something down, ask a classmate. If you are going to class, writing stuff down and still failing to remember major things, seek help immediately.


Me: Hello? Anyone out there?
Voice: Welcome to hell. I am Lucifer, the fallen one, evil incarnate, the lord of the underworld. Do you know who you sinned against to land you here?
Me: Do you mean, “Do I know against WHOM I sinned to land here?”
Voice: Oh great. Another journalism professor. Y’all are down the hall, third door on the left.


NYT’s Bari Weiss, “immigrants” who get the job done and Filak’s first rule of holes.

As we’ve mentioned before here, using social media is like playing with live ammo: You need to take it seriously, think things through before you publish and realize there are ramifications for your actions. Unfortunately for some people, having access to social media is like giving a toddler a bag of meth and an automatic weapon.

And, as we’ve mentioned here before, screwing up will happen. Your face is not on a lunchbox. You should do your best to avoid screwing up in the first place, but if you do, the worst thing you can do is double down on your screw up. As I’ve told my students who mess something up, “Filak’s first rule of holes is ‘When you find yourself in one, stop digging.'”

Case in point: Bari Weiss of the New York Times.

When Mirai Nagasu landed a triple axel during her performance at the Olympics, the first time a woman has done this in the history of the Games, Weiss tweeted out, “Immigrants: They get the job done.”

Nagasu is a U.S. citizen whose parents were immigrants and she has maintained dual citizenship in the U.S. and Japan. When someone pointed out this fact to Weiss, she responded in a dismissive and unsatisfying way:


This, like most dismissive statements tossed at people on social media, did not go over well with the Twitterverse, which responded in pretty much the same array of rage you get whenever someone makes a racist comment, complains about politics or picks on Brittney Spears. Some people called Weiss on the carpet for not taking this issue seriously enough, while others cut right to the chase and essentially told her, “Here’s toaster. Go play in the bathtub.”

The problem wasn’t that she said something glib that put her in a hole. The problem was that she kept digging.

First, it was a reference to the fact she was quoting (incorrectly) the line from “Hamilton” about immigrants. Then it was her trying to bend reality to fit the notion this was a compliment and that it spoke to Nagasu’s immigrant parents. Then it was her chastising all of Twitter for picking on her:


Anyone who has spent any time on social media had to be thinking at this point, “How deep do you really want to dig? This hole is getting to the point where the core of the Earth is about to be exposed…” It was similar to what happened when Louise Linton, an actress and the wife of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, sent out an Instagram post that detailed her fashion wear as she stepped off a government plane.

When people poked at Linton for flaunting her wealth, she belittled them, told them they didn’t pay nearly as much in taxes as she did and then called one poster “adorably out of touch.”


Instantly, she became the “Marie Antoinette of Instagram” and became a symbol of out-of-touch wealth in this country. Recently, she has noted that she was “super-duper sorry” about her social media rant, which I’m sure will quell the crowds that continue to call for her head.

The lesson for today is a simple one: When you put something out into the public via a media channel, you will be held to account. Before you decide to snap back at people who are voicing their opinions about your opinions, stop and think about a couple things:

  1. Is it possible that I just screwed up and that people, although they may be expressing it in a way I don’t like, are right that I was off base?
  2. Will any good come from me randomly trying to justify what I wrote or am I just fanning the flames for trolls and people with a legitimate beef alike?
  3. Is this REALLY the hill I want to die on? In other words, is this worth me pouring a ton of time, effort and energy into trying to change the minds of people who probably won’t change their minds as I engage in an ever-escalating Quixotic attempt to “set the record straight” or will it just be a waste of time?

I never thought I’d say this, but maybe a New York Times journalist can learn something from a guy at Barstool.

When Chloe Kim took the gold in the half-pipe event, Barstool radio host Patrick Connor called the 17-year-old “a hot piece of ass.” (Pause. Wipe the vomit off your lips and hang with me here…) After realizing that a grown man ogling an underage girl during the Olympics was not all that bright, he went on Twitter and wrote:


No, that shouldn’t entirely let him off the hook and yes, there should be more ramifications for him, but he at least decided he was deep enough in the hole and it was time to stop digging.

“It’s an attribution. It’s not the front pocket of your suitcase.” (Fixing flubs in writing with Filak-isms)

Filak-ism: A random observation, borrowed idea from a movie/song/TV show/book, odd concept or weird phrase that has been warped in the mind of Dr. Vince Filak for broader application within journalism situations.

Today’s post marks the 150th blog entry since July 1. In recognition of this… um… achievement (?) I figured I’d celebrate with a few famous Filak-isms meant to help your writing. Hope I don’t break anybody’s brain with these…

Here we go:

“It’s an attribution. It’s not the front pocket on your suitcase.”

The idea behind an attribution it to tell people who said something in a direct or indirect quote. That’s the whole reason for its existence. However, for some reason, people try to do more stuff with it and make their copy almost unreadable:

“There are a lot of opportunities for officiating in our community,” explained physical education teacher Sean Stout, who will teach the class beginning next fall or next spring, depending on how many students sign up.

“People know Bach more than they might think,” said the Dutch singer Anne Horjus, who will perform Bach cantatas Saturday with his wife, Deanna Horjus-Lang, at Portage Center for the Arts.

“I can’t say enough about what AAU did for me when I was younger,” said Heise, who graduated from Lena in 2017. “It allowed me to really zone in on my skills and perform at a higher level, which helped me play at the top of my team in high school and then in college.”

The attribution isn’t supposed to be like that front pocket on your suitcase, where you cram all the crap you forgot you needed to pack in your bag. In each of the cases above, you could probably write an entire paragraph of paraphrase out of what these folks stuffed into the attribution. Doing so would have made the content more readable and less cumbersome.


“Says who?”

Journalists rely on sources to tell the reader things that are important. When opinions show up, they need to be attributed to a source. This is especially true when the opinion is something this weird:

“Some things just go together: a good restaurant on a good golf course.”

OK, it’s a review, so you get a bit of an “opinion pass,” but where did you get the “golf courses just scream great food” thing? Country club? Sure. The Par-3 muni track out near the lakefront? Yeah, you’re not even getting any Grey Poupon to put on your luke-warm wieners out there.


“Honey? I unexpectedly severed one of my blood-carrying vessels! Could you transport me to a nearby medical facility?”

I have two passions in life that can lead to a lot of unintended medical bills: I refinish and restore old furniture and I repair and restore my beloved 1968 Mustang Coupe. In the course of both of these hobbies, I have on various occasions, caught my hand in a running fan, dumped brake cleaner in my eyes, set fire to upper arm, cumulatively swallowed a quart or two of coolant, sanded off the top of my thumb, punched a hole in my index finger and cut my hand so deep my wife could see my thumb’s tendon.

And that’s all I can remember. That might have something to do with me smashing my head into a few things.

In all of those experiences, never once did I rely on jargon to express myself:

When the determination is made to proceed with an involuntary Baker Act, private medical transport services (i.e. American Medical Response or similar private medical vehicle transport services) can be used to transport younger students to the mental health receiving facility. In the case of a formerly violent/combative student (during the crisis) or a combative student, the private medical transport service can transport the student to the nearest mental health receiving facility.


In addition, EPA found Syngenta failed to provide both adequate decontamination supplies on-site and prompt transportation to a medical facility for workers exposed to the pesticide.

If you find yourself using words you would never actually use in real life, consider rephrasing your work so that you don’t sound like a person perceived to be lacking intelligence, or someone who acts in a self-defeating or significantly counterproductive way. (AKA an idiot)


“Congratulations. You just drafted a punter with the first pick in the draft.”

The idea of a good lead is to have information that is most important at the top of the story. The 5W’s and 1H give you some direction and the FOCII elements provide you with a good lens through which to view the who, what, when, where, why and how.

That said, the order of the elements in the lead matters as well.

I’ve explained to students before that you should look at your lead like it’s the first round of an NFL or NBA draft: The best players should be in that round and the best of the best should be at the front of the round while lesser great players are found near the end.

When you decide to lead with the “when” aspect of the story in the lead, you’re essentially wasting that first pick:

On Monday morning, paramedics from the Joliet Fire Department responded to a single-vehicle crash on the Des Plaines river bridge on I-80 eastbound and a four-car crash at I-80 westbound near Larkin Avenue.


A May 31 jury trial was scheduled for Renee L. Lange, 46, Oconto Falls, on charges of identity theft to avoid a penalty and identity theft to harm a reputation in connection with an incident that allegedly occurred Feb. 3, 2017.


One year ago, Will County hired Dr. Kathleen Burke as director of substance use initiatives.

If the most important thing you want to tell your readers in the most important sentence you are writing is a time element, you really need to go back through your story and rethink your whole approach.


“Take a normal human breath, not a ‘The Titanic is going under and I need to survive’ breath.”

A good way to determine if a sentence is too long or too involved is to take a breath and read it out loud. If you start feeling a tightness in your chest by the time you finish, it probably needs a trim. If you run out of air, you definitely need to go back through the sentence and do some serious cutting.

The point is to keep the sentences short, not to test the tensile strength of your lung tissue, like these sentences do:

The 17-year-old Portage High School junior, who won’t be old enough to vote until November, became the first high school student to be appointed to a city board or commission, when the Common Council voted 6-1, with one abstention, to appoint her and three others to the Historic Preservation Commission.


Following the backlash over images of a seven-year-old boy being placed in handcuffs, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools on Saturday unveiled changes to the district policy that dictates when teachers and other school staff can call police to deal with emotionally troubled students.

These sentences are 50 and 43 words, respectively and unless you have the lung capacity of a blue whale (or the student I had one year who swam distance for our university), you aren’t getting through them on one breath. That doesn’t mean take a bigger breath. That means go back and cut these down.


“Really? Did you check with every guy in Burundi?”

Burundi is a relatively small, landlocked African country of about 10 million people. I think I learned about it one night when my daughter, Zoe, was an infant and I had both a need to get up with her every two hours and a really lousy cable package. Not much on at 4 a.m., let me tell ya…

In any case, I think back to this place whenever I get sentences like this:

Several years ago, nobody thought a space transportation service could be a lucrative business.


President Trump himself entered the 2016 election as a long-shot candidate who nobody thought could win.


When the Bulls signed the moody Rondo in the summer of 2016, nobody thought he would evolve into the difference between winning and losing a first-round playoff series, yet Rondo’s injury against the Celtics, more than anything, shortened the playoff run.

Really? NOBODY thought any of these things? How do we know that none of these things was even an inkling in the mind of a visionary, a dream sequence on “Dallas” or the imagination of an autistic boy that kept us riveted for about six seasons of “St. Elsewhere?” Better yet, did you survey the entire nation of Burundi to make sure nobody thought about whatever it is you’re telling me with absolute certainty that nobody thought about?

Every time you think about using an absolute term (nobody, everybody, all, none), think about Burundi and reconsider it.


I’m sure if you took a class with me, you remember your own personal favorite Filak-ism, so feel free to hit me up and ask for an example. I’ll add them to future posts.



Journalism education, first impressions and the importance of working hard for what you want: The Doctor of Paper on the Edupunx podcast

One of the greatest joys of being a professor is having students come back to see you, years later, once they have found their joy and passion.

Even if their first impression of you was, “Man, this guy’s a dick.”

Katy Hamm, who graduated from UWO with a degree in journalism, came back to Wisconsin for a holiday visit along with her partner, Craig Bidiman. Katy now works as the Coordinator of Student Activities at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Craig serves as the Health Education and Wellness Promotion Specialist at the University of Massachusetts Boston. They both have a passion for education, college media and a ton of other things related to student life at the college level.

One of their projects is the eduPUNX podcast, which covers a wide array of issues such as sexual assault prevention, educational opportunities and even grad-school blues. On the day after Christmas, they were nice enough to sit down with me and do a podcast about the current state of media, journalism education and how I got involved in this field to begin with. It was a blast and it’s punctuated by some of Craig’s musical choices, which made it even better. They just released the podcast this week, so I wanted to share it with you all. In doing it and listening to it, I learned a few things:

  • I can actually go almost an hour and a half without (really) cussing if I know I’m likely to be recorded. I think I need someone to follow me around with a microphone.
  • I’m not as negative about media as I thought I would be in all this. I think it has a lot to do with having both of them with me and how we kind of fed off of each other’s positive vibes. It’s good to be surrounded by good people.
  • Wisconsin is an objectively frigid place. It was -2 on the day we recorded this with a -25 windchill. Katy and I had to explain to Craig the concept of it being “too cold to snow.” Craig, who spent time in Oregon and now lives in Boston and is an almost fanatical runner, refused to run in weather this cold. He also now knows what it’s like to have your butt freeze.
  • I still hate the sound of my own voice. I feel bad for students who have to listen to me. Or maybe it’s just the “your voice always sounds funny to you” thing.
  • Katy’s first impression of me was not a positive one. The opening of the podcast will tell you that. I’m glad the impression didn’t stick, as she was a heck of a great student, a wonderful person and a top-notch member of the educational community.

You can catch my chat with them here, or you can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes as well. If my voice doesn’t annoy you, give me some feedback if you’d like to have me add podcasts to this site on any topic of interest.



How to avoid promoting the most racist sweatshirt in the world (or 3 things to help you avoid looking stupid, insensitive or worse when you publish something.)

(Yes, this actually ran as an ad. No, it did not go over well…)

Clothing manufacturer H&M found itself scrambling Monday when the advertisement above went viral on social media, leading many people to accuse the company of racism. The image of a black child wearing a “coolest monkey in the jungle” sweatshirt was pulled from all of the company’s advertising and company officials issued an apology. (As the article notes, this isn’t the first time an advertiser has manged to pump out a racially tone-deaf advertisement.)

The stereotyping of black people as “monkeys” or “apes” is not a new phenomenon, nor is it germane only to the United States, so attempting to give the Swiss-based company a pass on this racially insensitive ad doesn’t hold water. That said, the goal of this blog isn’t to beat up on people who make mistakes but to help you figure out how to avoid making mistakes like this in the first place. Here are three simple tips to help you avoid something like this:

  • Paranoia is your friend: Murphy’s Law includes the famous line about “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong” so it’s always best to plan for the worst. When you find yourself putting together ANYTHING that will be disseminated to the general public, you want to engage in some active paranoia. Read every word as if it might have a double meaning or if a misspelling might lead to an awkward moment (e.g. “Bill Smith, a pubic librarian, reads…”). Look at every image you have to see if anything could be misconstrued in a negative way or would cast aspersions on an individual or group. Go through every potential stereotype you can think of in your head and see if something looks like it might be playing into that stereotype (e.g., Is a blond woman shown to be less intelligent? Did you put a person of color into a “monkey” sweatshirt?). For example, check out this University of North Georgia course catalog cover:

    Notice anything particularly problematic? Like the white guy is winning the race, the other white guy is coming in second and the woman and the only person of color included in the image are coming in far behind?
    If you come across something that could cast a negative light on you or your organization, rethink your approach before publishing it.


  • Diversity is not a buzzword: One of the main reasons why having a broad array of people from various backgrounds and experiences in a media organization (or any organization for that matter) is because it help the organization gain a more diversified view of reality. Unfortunately, some places see diversity as a “check box” item in terms of race, gender or other demographic elements.
    In organizations that embrace this wider view of societal understanding, people can put ideas out there and open the floor for discussion. If the person who put the kid in the “monkey” sweatshirt didn’t see how this could be a negative stereotype, (and I’m not sure how this is possible, but still…) someone else in that organization who might have dealt with this kind of negative language could raise the issue. In the end, this likely would not have seen the light of day and thus we could have had a “cute kid in a sweatshirt” ad that didn’t lead people to think of the company as racially insensitive.


  • Know where the landmines are: As the famous Filak-ism notes, you will screw up at some point. Your face is not on a lunchbox. That said, some screw-ups are bigger deals than others, whether you know it or not. Case in point: I was interviewing for a job at a university in the southwest, so my wife and I went out and bought me some newer shirts and ties. When I got there, I got the stink-eye from some of the students and more than a few faculty members.

What I didn’t find out until much later in the interview was that my new shirt and tie combo was in the colors of that university’s most hated in-state rival. It probably wasn’t the only reason I didn’t get the job, but I’m sure it didn’t help.

When you are putting content out for public display, you should know what specific topics, ideas and issues are most sensitive to anyone in your audience. In the United States, pretty much anything having to do with race, gender or sex will have some pretty sensitive tripwires. In some cases, companies don’t pay enough attention to these possibilities, like when Bud Light got into a jam for using the phrase “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” Critics charged it accentuated the ties between alcohol and rape culture.

It’s not easy to catch every mistake or avoid every public snafu, but it’s not hard to do a little research to figure out exactly where the biggest landmines might be and avoid them.

Don’t let the chuckleheads get you down

(NOTE: “Chucklehead” is one of my favorite “Filak-isms” as a replacement for my more traditional outlandish cuss words. I’ve been asked to keep “unnecessary swearing” off of the blog, so I’ll be using “chucklehead” from time to time and only relying “necessary swearing” elsewhere.)

I was perusing my Facebook feed near the end of the year when the Timehop feature pulled up something from about four years ago:


I had completely forgotten about this review someone did on my first book pitch to SAGE. At the time, it was something that really felt like it was going to end my book-writing career before it ever got started. Now, it serves as a reminder why it’s important not to let the chuckleheads out there beat us down.

Back then, the acquisition editor and I were trying to figure out how to put a book together that would teach the basic skills of journalistic writing to students across all media disciplines. We were also coming to grips with the model of “We write, you read” was outdated and didn’t fit with what we were seeing. The ideas of how to do this were scratched out on a random piece of Renaissance Hotels stationary in my almost incomprehensible scrawl and grew to become a giant pitch for how to do this.

After this review came through along with several others, I got a call from Matt Byrnie, the editor who had asked me to build this pitch. I was waiting for the inevitable conversation that said, “It’s just not the right time” or something else that would dismiss me and get him off the hook for this thing.

“I’m not really seeing a book here,” Matt began. “I mean… I actually see two books here…”

In short, he was doubling down on this idea of reaching the audience. He wanted two specific pitches: One for a media writing text and one for a news reporting book. It was a huge leap of faith on his part. It was also a huge leap of faith on my part.

Neither of us knew if the reviews would be any better the second time or if Matt was right about two books being better than one. Even more, I’d never written one book on my own, so what made him think I could actually write two? On my end, I wasn’t under contract for anything at this point, so I found myself pouring a ton of work into not one potentially pointless project, but two. Still, I promised I’d meet his Feb. 1 deadline and I started hacking apart that pitch and rebuilding it into two.

Four years, a ream of wall-sized Post-It Notes full of deadlines and an incalculable number of Diet Cokes later, it’s all finally done and ready for public consumption. The first book, Dynamics of Media Writing, turned out to be a hit (well, as much of a hit as a textbook can be… I’m not going to shove J.K Rowling off the best-seller list or anything). The tone, the features and the vibe matched what Matt and I were trying to accomplish: Give all media-writing students a set of tools they can use regardless of their area of interest or specialty in a way that doesn’t talk down to them. That came out about two years ago and a second edition will hit the shelves in the next year or so.

(The office walls with giant Post-Its full of deadlines… Yes, this is crazy…)

The book that would be “pandering to… students’ interests” comes out tomorrow: The Dynamics of News Reporting and Writing. Even before the Media Writing book started selling, I was working on this book. Again, SAGE took a huge leap of faith, in that they decided to go big with this: Full color, lots of art and more. The workbook and blog became outgrowths of that faith, in that the goal I had was to make absolutely sure this book was going to be worth all that.

Will it be? I surely hope so. Either way, I wanted to make absolutely certain that whatever that chucklehead wrote about me wasn’t going to be true.

And this is what I wanted to tell you all leading into this new year: Don’t let the chuckleheads win. In many cases, people like this are negative for no real reason other than their own insecurities, their lack of ability to do anything better or just because… well, just because. Constructive criticism is helpful, but stuff like the review above doesn’t do anything of value.

Each time you face adversity in the form of one of these people, realize that their sole purpose for existing is so that you can use them to drive you to do more and better work than they believe you can. I like to think of them as the “nobody believed in me” part of the story I tell after I succeeded.

In actuality, the childish part of me actually wants just do this to the person:

It’s a new year, a fresh start and another opportunity to prove some chucklehead wrong.

Go get ’em.

6 thoughts for new journalism graduates on the job hunt that have nothing to do with actually getting a job

Graduation swept through town this weekend, and along with it came the speeches, the pomp, the circumstance and academic regalia (When I wear mine, I look like Henry the VIII got a Mr. T starter kit for Christmas).


Along with all this comes the anxiety of, “OK, now what?” Some students have jobs and they’re worried about how well they’ll do at them. Others have no jobs and wonder if they’ll ever get one. Parents worry that their children will be happy. Some probably also wonder if they’ll have to give up the home gym or a spot in the basement for a returning grad who hasn’t “found it” yet (whatever “it” is). What comes next?

For journalism grads, the anxiety can be even more palpable, as everyone seems to be telling you that your field is dead and you should have gone into business. Other fields can spend months or even years cultivating students for a job that’s waiting for them upon graduation. Journalism? I’ve been told once during a first interview, “We’d like to offer you the job today (Saturday). Could you start Monday?”

I asked the hivemind of pros and profs what advice they had for you all and it was really a mixed bag this time. Usually, everyone chimes in and it’s all in the same vein. This time, things were all over the place. One professor friend of mine noted:

My adult daughter just moved back home, soooo I got nuthin’.

I have often relied on the famous William Golden quote about Hollywood as well: “Nobody knows anything.” Whoever tells you, “This is how to get your perfect job” is either lying to you or trying to recruit you into a cult. Unlike all of those multiple-choice tests you’ve taken over the years, this question doesn’t have a right answer. That said, here are a few to think about as you try to game up for the next stage of life:

  • You have to be idealistic, but you have to be practical: U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks once said this in explaining his team’s chance to do well in the 1980 Olympics. His point was you should shoot for the best possible outcome, but you shouldn’t do so without a reality check. In the case of the job search, take a shot. You want to work at a top five newspaper, in a top 10 TV market, a Fortune 500 company or whatever right away? Toss an application out there. What’s the WORST that can happen? They say no and you don’t get the job, which is right where you are right now.
    That said, a 22-year-old journalism graduate with five clips from an internship at the Tamany Tattler and a year’s experience at the student newspaper isn’t likely to land at one of those spots right away, so feel free to look elsewhere. Apply to starter jobs, smaller firms and other places that have openings and you think would be worth a shot. You have to eat. You have to pay rent. And, as they mentioned in “Bull Durham,” it beats selling Lady Kenmore’s at Sears.


  • Don’t become a desperate psycho-hose-beast: As Tom Petty noted, the waiting is the hardest part. For you, this is the most important thing ever, especially if you’re searching at this time of the year. Even if it’s not cold, snowy and gray where you are, a winter job search can be danged depressing. You know that you don’t want to go home for the holiday where every well-meaning relative will ask, “So, what are you doing now that you’re graduated? Do you have a job?” (Side note 1: When you say “No” and they look at you like you just came down with an incurable disease, remember that look so that you never give it to anyone else ever. Side note 2: Realize that these people will always ask you questions like this that will sap your will to live, even after you get a job. “Do you have a job?” will become “Are you dating anyone special?” will become “So when are you getting married?” will become “Don’t you two want kids?” will become “Are you sure you only want (1, 2, 3…) kids?” Your only hope is to outlive this person so you don’t have to hear, “Are you sure you want to be buried here?”)
    This can drive you crazy and it can manifest itself in a number of ways, none of which are good. The worst thing you can do is take it out on potential employers as you decide to call, email or text repeatedly to find out exactly WHERE they are in the hiring process. Most people can smell desperation a mile away and it naturally repels them. Think about the guy at the bar who is insistently trying to buy a gal a drink, a shot, an appetizer, a game of darts or a 1979 Chrysler Cordoba. Does that interaction ever end well for that guy? If you ever need a reminder of how bad this can get, catch the classic “Mike from ‘Swingers'” scene (NSFW- some cussing) or the “Wayne’s World” look at Stacy’s unrequited love.
    In short, don’t push it. Breathe.
  • Look more deeply into your toolbox: The premise of both of these books is that we’re putting tools in your toolbox that you can use in a variety of ways. If you can find the perfect job that  makes you happy right away, that’s great. If not, don’t be afraid to apply those tools elsewhere. A recent grad sent me this note, which touched on something I never considered:

    After I graduated while I was looking for work I hooked up with a temp agency. It’s a great way to try different stuff without major commitment, you gain experience (and interview skills), you get to network, and you get a weekly paycheck. And some positions are temp-hire.

    A journalism professor noted something similar:

    Think creatively about ways you can use your journalism skills for other professions, such as PR, teaching, trade publications, advertising, web producer and social media manager jobs. Many more people cross back and forth into journalism and other careers these days than they did back when we were journalists.’

    Look around you and see what kinds of places need your skills and don’t fret if they don’t have your exact degree specified in the requirements. You will bounce a lot in this day and age (sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity, sometimes against your will), so look for things that you think might pay the bills and give you a leg up the next time your perfect job comes around.


  • Remember the Johnny Sain Axiom on Old-Timers Day: Sain, a longtime pitcher and pitching coach, used to disdain Old-Timers Day. It wasn’t the concept he opposed, but rather that banter among the older players. Sain used to note that “The older these guys get, the better they used to be.”
    The same thing can be true for you when dealing with people who are more than happy to tell you that when they were “your age” they got a job right out of school or they had a perfect job waiting for them or whatever. In their mind, they had it all figured out perfectly and made a seamless transition between their education and a career, so why can’t you?
    The truth is, it wasn’t that easy for most of them. Some people just got a fortuitous bounce, a lucky break or a family connection. Others don’t work in your field, so comparing your search to theirs is like comparing apples and Hondas. It’s not that they’re better or stronger or faster or whatever. It’s just the way it happened for them. Each search and each job is unique (and I mean that in the truest sense of the word), so don’t let what other people tell you about how great life is get you down.
    Even more, don’t presuppose that people you see as your role models nailed the perfect job on the first take. I met with a couple students last week who kept referring to a recent grad as “having it all worked out.” She was their role model who, according to them, interned at Company X, graduated into a full-time job at Company X and then got promoted at Company X in less than a year. She was their Golden Goddess.
    What they didn’t know was all the anxiety she had about getting ANY internship, how she had been rejected twice by Company X for an internship and how she ended up sobbing in my office multiple times after that. They also didn’t know about the office fights and other less-pleasant aspects of Company X. In short, the grass isn’t always greener.
  • Don’t keep up with the Joneses: The easiest way to make you hate yourself and your job search is to compare yourself to other people in a constant game of one-upmanship. If Billy gets a job in a top 75 market, you shouldn’t try to get one at a top 50 market. If Jane gets a job as a writer at a 50,000 circulation newspaper, don’t just go looking for a job at a 100,000-circ paper to prove a point.
    I watched this happen constantly among peer groups of students at several of my previous stops, in which it wasn’t enough to get A job, but rather it was crucial to get a job that was better than someone else’s job. Here’s the problem: Just because a job is at a bigger place or somewhere with more cachet, it doesn’t follow it’s a good fit for you. This was how one of my former students ended up in Kentucky doing night-cops, despite not wanting anything to do with Kentucky or a night-cops beat, simply so he could look more impressive. It didn’t work out and he was miserable, before eventually going back to a job that was more “him.”
    I know it’s hard to push back against that competitive thinking. (Trust me, it happens everywhere, even in my gig. Former professors will tell their former doctoral students, “Oh, I see you’re at (less prestigious university)… Did you know that James is now at (mega-university) and he’s a dean?”) However, if you find something you like doing, you’ll never really work a day in your life.
  • Never forget this moment: You will eventually get a job and  you will do well. You will get older and get more responsibility. You might change jobs or careers or whatever. However, what should never change is your memory of this moment right now, when you’re scared out of your mind about getting any job at all, making rent, dodging Aunt Ethyl and her questions at the family holiday party, trying to avoid calling the Beaver County Tidbit 1,002 times to find out if they are still interested in you and everything else you feel.
    If you can remember the feeling you have at this moment, you will never lose your empathy for the future generations who are going through it. It might help you in little ways like not asking the “Aunt Ethyl” questions of your younger family members or hustling a bit more to get through that stack of resumes you need to read. It might help you in big ways as well, like thinking a little better about the next generation instead of a little worse of it. (People  more than occasionally ask me if being around younger people all the time doesn’t make me kind of envious of their youth. My answer is always, “Hell, NO!!!!!” I survived my 20s the first time and made it this far. There’s not enough of anything in the world to make me want to go back to that point in time).
    When it comes to getting employed, things almost always work out. I know that sounds ridiculous, but my batting average on things like is pretty good and in the end, you’ll have some great stories to tell.
    And thanks to your journalism education, you’ll tell them well.

A few tips on making the most of course evaluations (or Why “You suck! Your an asshole!” rarely helps.)

As the semester draws to a close, students have two equally important things to deal with: Finals and course evaluations. When it comes to finals, most students probably feel like this:

Perfectly normal response, when everything is due all at the same time, every final test or project is worth 80 percent of your grade and every professor thinks his/her final should take precedence over everything else.

And then there are course evaluations: The one moment in time where, behind a cloak of anonymity, students have the ability to grade their instructors. It’s easy enough to imagine you wanting your “Jules Winfield” moment:

I’ve had my share of evaluations over 20 years of teaching college journalism students, so I’ve seen quite a range of commentary over the years. The one that always stuck with me was the student who filled in the whole row of “Strongly Disagree” bubbles on the ScanTron sheet with what appeared to be a frenzied scrawl of a demented clown.

On the back, where students were asked to list three things they liked about me or the class, three things they disliked about me or the class and three things they’d like to see the class do in the future, he (I assume it was a guy) wrote one thing in giant letters:


It is that succinct and yet nonspecific response that led me to today’s post about course evaluations. Some students view it as an opportunity to “get back” at a professor while others use them to lavish praise with exclamation points and emojis to boot. Some students hope their comments will “fix” a class while others see them as never having an effect on how the professor operates.

The truth, as it is with most things, sits in the middle somewhere, as some professors will take every word to heart and others will use your criticism to light the yule log in their hearth. However, consider these thoughts when you fill out your course evals:

  • Numbers are fine but comments matter more: Some schools just give you numerical scales to rate a professor, so you don’t have much leeway here. However, if you are lucky enough to have an evaluation form that allows you to make comments, do so.
    If one student gives me a “3” on “The material made sense to me” and another student gives me a “4,” that doesn’t tell me anything. However, if both of those students wrote that a particular assignment, reading or whatever didn’t make sense or was confusing, I’m going to take another look at that thing. If you apply the “Filak-ism” of how grades don’t matter but what you learn does to your evaluations, you’ll see that one good comment matters more than all the 3s, 4s and 5s you can shake a stick at.


  • Tell me WHY: OK, I suck. Got it. Why do I suck? What specifically makes me suck? Just like you don’t like getting a paper back with no comments on it and a “D” grade, professors don’t like getting vague statements. I can say with absolute certainty that I have changed assignments, class structure and even my teaching based on “why” answers.
    Case in point: In one class a student wrote that he/she thought I was playing favorites by giving the students who worked with me at the newspaper special treatment. The student mentioned that I never called out a newsroom kid for texting during class, but I publicly admonished another student for texting. The student also said I called on the newspaper kids first when we were doing discussions. I hadn’t realized what I was doing, but the student saw it and it made me think twice about how I was conducting myself in the classroom and I altered my behavior. Had the student simply said, “You suck,” I never would have known why he/she felt that way.


  • Don’t undercut your own arguments: I might suck and I might be the other thing that person said about me, but when the student used the wrong form of “your” in proclaiming that edict, he (or she) really had me laughing more than anything else. Lousy grammar and spelling (especially in critiquing a journalism professor) will really diminish the impact of your words. So will statements like, “I quit going to lecture after the third week, but I didn’t feel I really learned anything from this course.” If you want to make me sit up and notice, write it in a way I’ll accept it: Use complete sentences, give me specific examples and don’t make mistakes in your writing.


  • Sunshine and lollipops are nice, but they don’t help either: Having one’s ego stroked is a great feeling. The more exclamation points used in the sentence “Dr. Filak is the best professor ever!!!!!!!,” the more joyous my day will be. That said, once I get past having sunshine blown up my keester, I’m left with little else that matters. Most of your journalism professors have thick skins, so telling them negative stuff will not have them at home drinking vodka and listening to Chaka Khan. However, feeding us sunshine and lollipops doesn’t help, either. Tell us WHAT you liked or wanted us to keep. In some cases, it’s something simple like “I loved that you told jokes to keep the class laughing.” In other cases, it’ll be about content: “I never had to learn about X before, but your approach made it easier.” You should feel free to tell us what to keep and what to get rid of.


  • It’s not personal: Our program assistant and I were chatting about various comments we’ve seen over the years on evaluations. She said when she worked for a different department on campus, she had to type up all the comments on course evals, regardless of content and without changing typos and so forth. Aside from the grammar errors that made her feel like she died a little inside, she said some of them were revoltingly personal. One involved the student’s supposition that the faculty members mother had mated with a goat. Another was for a female professor and commented about how “hot” she was.
    I used to get comments on how I dressed (One student noted that I dressed like a homeless guy. Another once noted: “What’s 12 inches long and hangs from an asshole? Filak’s tie.”) Someone mentioned on an eval that I was going bald. True? Yeah, even probably the tie thing, which is why I don’t wear them any more (well that and I feel more comfortable dressing like a homeless elf). Fair? Not a chance.
    It’s inappropriate to comment on the physicality of people unless it in some way diminishes your ability to understand the material. If a professor was too quiet, it’s fair to ask for that person to speak up. It’s not decent to note that the faculty member was “so ugly it made it hard for me to concentrate.” As they say in every “Godfather” movie: It’s not personal. So don’t make it that way.
    Think about the converse happening to you. If you got a paper back and the professor wrote, “I’d like to give you an A on this, but I could never give that high of a grade to a Chicago Bears fan, so here’s your C,” you’d be rightly upset. If a faculty member told you, “Keep wearing clothes like that and you’ll never get a decent grade” or commented on how “hot” you are, there is no way you would tolerate it. (And by the way, if any of those things do happen, especially the sexual harassment, tell an administrator immediately. There’s no place for that stuff anywhere.)


  • Don’t wait until evals: If you are sitting in week 5 with a lousy grade, no idea what the professor is talking about and a general sense that this class is essentially going to turn your life into a Dumpster fire, don’t wait until evaluations come around two months later to make mention of it. Talk to your professor about concerns when you have them to see if you can rectify a few of the problems you are having. See if you can find some common ground in making the class work better for you.
    If we can fix things before they become irreversible problems, we’re so much happier for it. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I don’t get a Christmas bonus or a free set of steak knives for every student I fail, so I have no motive to avoid helping you. Tell me sooner rather than later and we’ll both be better off.

Twitter’s move to 280 Characters and the “Fat Pants Theory” of fixing the wrong thing

Twitter officially announced its move to 280 characters per tweet this week and generally speaking, people were a tad annoyed more about what they didn’t get than what they got:


The edit button issue is part of a larger problem: Organizations that don’t listen to their users. One of the biggest pushes on this blog and in these books is the idea of putting your audience’s needs front and center when you ply your trade. Some people on Twitter made that concern clear:


The second issue is that while Twitter is telling people that very few tweets reached the 280 character mark, it doesn’t mean they won’t. When Twitter first rolled this out, we noted this issue as the “bigger house” approach to having too much stuff. Apparently, we’re not alone in that thought:


In rethinking this, however, the house thing isn’t entirely accurate, in that more space can lead to more stuff, but it’s not necessarily the worst thing on Earth. A more accurate “Filak-ism” might be the “Fat Pants Theory.” Here’s how it works:

  1. Let’s say I’m wearing jeans that are Size X and they fit fine, I’m eating well and the pants feel good.
  2. I start working out less because I’m lazy and I start eating more of my meals out of the vending machine at work and Taco Bell on my way home from work, thus my pants start feeling tighter and tighter. I’m uncomfortable in my pants.
  3. I solve the problem by buying larger pants. I now have jeans that fit me fine.

I know I have pants of various waistband sizes at home because of the “Fat Pants Theory,” even though I also know that buying new pants doesn’t solve the underlying problem: I need to get off my ass, work out more and eat better food. If I don’t do this, not only will those earlier pants fail to ever fit me again, but I’ll eventually grow out of these pants and the cycle will continue.

Twitter is doing exactly this: Instead of forcing people to learn how to improve writing, clarity and focus, they simply gave them larger pants and said, “Enjoy eating lard while you lay on the couch watching ‘Stranger Things.'” As journalists, the temptation to let a few of those tweets slide toward 150, 160 and 170 characters doesn’t seem like a big deal, just like that extra bag of chips or that extra Burrito Supreme doesn’t really hurt at first. In the end, however, we’ll eventually be begging for 560 characters if we aren’t careful.

Since it’s here and we aren’t going to get rid of it, consider the following issues when deciding to tweet under this new level of textual freedom:

  • Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should: The old Filak-ism rears its ugly head here again, with the idea that extra space means extra responsibility, not just extra freedom. Some organizations clearly got that idea when they posted their response to this change in restrictions:
    Make sure that whatever you put into your tweet goes to the core of the primary point you are trying to get across and also that you remain focused on what the audience needs.
  • Edit anyway: One of the benefits of having a character limit was that it forced Twitter users to think and edit. The economy of the format meant you needed to swap out terms like “sustained injuries” for terms like “was hurt.” If you felt you needed the term “injuries” or “sustained,” you had to find ways to trim characters in other areas. It forced people to tighten their tweets. During that process, we were able to make sure that we had words spelled properly or that we had the precise message we wanted to send.

    Here’s a great look at how 280 can become 140 if we just focus on the writing:

  • Use this opportunity to fix some problems: As much bad as this change can do, you can use it to do some real good. First, one of the key, lame excuses for poor texting behavior was the character limit. People used “text speak” and annoying abbreviations, arguing that it was due to the restrictions of twitter. Thus you got this:

    OK, Twitter just doubled your space. Time to use actual words and complete sentences. U R able 2 wrt w/o BS abbr. so ppl w/brains can C U have 1 2.

    Second, a lot of social media policies were developed in a hurry because companies and organizations knew they needed one, even though nobody making the policy really knew what the policies should be. In some cases, these rules are arcane and in other cases, they never made sense. A number of places are considering changes in their policies to meet the opportunities of the new 280-character limit:

    Take this opportunity to weasel your way into the conversation and help set some logical boundaries and remove pointless restrictions. This rare policy shift will force leadership to reassess the rules on a larger level, so don’t miss this chance to get into the mix and help improve social media where you work.


3 reasons Twitter moving to 280 characters won’t help journalists communicate more effectively (Or, “Filak-ism: Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should)

(Once again proving that just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should do it.)

Before I wrote my first book for SAGE, I sketched out a handful of “Rules of the Road” that had to apply to ALL journalism. That ratty piece of hotel stationary with fading black ink on it sits in front of me every day at work, a reminder of the core principles of what matters most in this field.

When Twitter announced the other day that it was taking a trial run at doubling its character limit, I hated it, specifically because it violated several of those “Rules,” specifically:

  • Right tool for the right job
  • Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should
  • Audience (and timeliness) matter most

In other words, Twitter could make it so tweets are 914,292 characters each, but that won’t make them any better or more helpful to readers, thus negating the value of the tool.

Here are three reasons why Twitter’s move to 280-character isn’t a great idea and/or why you should still shoot for that 140 limit:

  1. Noun-Verb-Object tells the best story: One of the biggest problems students have in transitioning from other forms of writing to media writing is learning to write tightly. One of the biggest reasons for that is their lack of strong sentence structure. In both books, we talk about the idea of starting with the noun-verb-object approach to a sentence and then building outward from that. Twitter, in its 140-character perfection, forces you to do that if you want to get your point across. When a sentence lacks a concrete noun or a vigorous verb, the writer must slather on adjectives and adverbs to get a point across. That makes for longer, weaker, lousier sentences.
  2. The Homeowner Theory on the Accumulation of Stuff: The more space you have, the more worthless crap you will accumulate.
    My first “grown-up job” had me moving 500 miles across the country and as such, they included a nice perk: A moving service. I packed everything in my studio apartment and had it ready for what I expected would be a full day of moving guys coming in and out of my place. The three movers walked in, looked around and started to laugh. “Is this it?” My total accumulation of goods didn’t even cover the back wall of the truck.
    The next move was from a two-bedroom apartment to our first house. The house had a giant rec room, where I dreamily envisioned adding a pool table and giant entertainment center. At the time, however, all we had to put in there was the beige velour floral couch I bought off a guy’s dead aunt for $50. We put the couch in that room and started laughing uncontrollably. It was this tiny speck of furniture in this giant room. We eventually bought a sectional and a pool table.
    Each move meant a bigger place and more crap. No matter what we thought we were doing, we kept adding more and more stuff. Thus the point: If you have extra space, you’re going to fill it with a lot of stuff you probably don’t need. If you are like our friends who live in tiny big-city apartments, you know you need to maximize space and get rid of stuff you don’t really need.
    Its true of space in a home, time in your day and characters in your tweet. If you are limited to 140, you’ll make the most of it. If you get 280, you’ll fill that space as well. Eventually, 280 also will seem too small because you keep cramming extra stuff in there and you get used to the larger size. It’s like knowing you’re gaining weight and that it’s not good but instead of trying to exercise more, you just buy bigger pants.
  3. It fails to demonstrate audience centricity: Look at the explanations that people have offered for this switch to 280:

    The idea of extending the length of Twitter posts has been contentious internally, batted around among product groups that are trying to find ways to persuade people to use the service more frequently. At 328 million users, Twitter has been criticized for its inability to attract more people. Investors have grown nervous, as that slowing of user growth has affected the company’s revenue.

    “We understand since many of you have been tweeting for years, there may be an emotional attachment to 140 characters,” the company said.

    As a result, Twitter said, if rules around characters are loosened, English-speaking users — who tend to use more characters in tweets — will also hit character limits less frequently. That may, in turn, lead English-speaking users to post more regularly.

    So, in short, Twitter is looking at this as a way to get more people sending more tweets as part of a profit motive and people who got used to the 140 characters are essentially just “emotional” in their concerns. Notice what’s missing here: The focus on people who RECEIVE information on twitter, a.k.a. the audience.
    The value of any tool you use in media writing is how well it does in reaching your audience members and providing them relevant, useful and interesting information. Nothing about the increase of the characters focuses on how much better the tweets will be or how the audience will be best served. The reason? It won’t, primarily for the reasons outlined in Points 1 and 2.

In the end, this might be tilting against windmills and everything will be fine. However, keep in mind this is just a “test” of the new limit so if you get to play with it, don’t get too attached. After all, once you get used to 280, it’s going to be hard to fit into that 140-character space.