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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Post-Mortem (ha!)

OK, I'm a loser. I'm chuckling over my own bad pun, and I hate puns. Let's just move past this and get on to business, shall we?

I think it's time to talk about post-mortems.

I don't know most of my readers, but I'm guessing that at least half of you have never worked as journalists and have never been through a post-mortem. This is one of the ways to improve the quality of a publication or show. There are lots of ways to do them: through a meeting or a written report, daily or weekly or even less often, with all of the staff or just certain people. The only constant is that a post-mortem is a candid discussion of what went wrong.

Yeah, they can be tough.

Post-mortems provide constructive criticism. The point is not to insult other people or their work ("YOU SUCK! And you have NO IDEA how to interview city councillors! I should have that beat!"), but to make the publication better by pointing out problems that can be fixed. Sometimes it's hard to be there. You really don't want to hear someone criticise the story you worked so hard on. It's even worse when you know their criticism is valid: your attempt at humour came off as pretentiousness, or you buried the lede, or the headline someone else put on your story was completely inaccurate.

I occasionally receive e-mails from people who think I hate the news media or just want to take shots at my former industry. Nothing could be further from the truth. Journalism is an honourable profession that is critical to maintaining a free society. That's why we need to make sure that job is done well. I do media critiques out of a sincere appreciation for the role of the media in our society and out of the affection I feel for reporters. I know we can all do better, but we can't criticise out of anger, entitlement or snobbery. We need to criticise because we really want the industry to improve.

Let's do a post-mortem on the last thing I published. I'll get us started.

Dear Megan,

I have no idea why you thought this was interesting enough to publish. And it appears that you didn't, either: I don't care much for posts that begin by warning readers to expect something boring. Why bother? Seriously, why did you put in the effort if you thought it was going to be boring? Why didn't you try to make it interesting?

You don't NEED three reasons in this post, but I think a third reason would have strengthened it a bit. Every extra argument helps when you're starting from a position of weakness.

The paragraphs are unbalanced. I don't usually pick at paragraph length, but this post struck me as odd. It's weird that you say your son is the most important reason for staying, and then you go on three times longer about your job. I'm not saying the first bit should have been longer: I'm saying you should have cut some of the stuff about being a writer. Let's get this over with quickly. I could be reading another blog that actually IS interesting.

Finally, I know that reader-submitted items are your schtick, but I'd like to see more background in them. Obviously, these questions come from somewhere. If you're simply going to publish a one-line question, can you at least link to whatever made the person want to know the answer? I'd like to see more depth to these posts. Context is everything, and that's exactly what's missing in so many of your posts that answer reader-submitted questions: Everything.

Thanks for trying. But please don't try this sort of thing again.

Yours truly in blogdom,
Megan, Reflections in the Snow-Covered Hills


Anonymous said...

haha you are a very harsh self-critic.

I suppose from my point of view the short-comings in that post were more along emotional lines. I wondered how you felt about it - did you feel trapped sometimes, did you have wavering moments. I thought you skated over the question really. So if I submit a question I will not let you get away with such things - it won't be one question, oh no, it will be a whole barrage of them so that you can't wriggle out of the bits I want to know.

I'd hate it if someone pulled one of my posts apart like you did with that one? Oh dear! My posts just ramble on and lose their thread half the time. But then again I don't think blogging is an art for perfecting really - we should just do it.

You must need a very thick skin to survive in the journalistic world. I would sit sobbing for hours in the loo if I had to attend one of those dissection meetings.