In the journalism world, Jim Romenesko is an icon. His Poynter Institute Web site is a must-read for trends, news and insider info that feeds our need to know — and sometimes tell — all. Though he keeps a low physical profile, posting from his neighborhood Starbucks, Romenesko’s work has the power to propel a news-making journalist into the industry spotlight with the click of the “publish” button. He agreed to take a break from posting to answer questions for Quill readers via e-mail.
Q: Your name is known throughout the industry and yet you remain largely out of the limelight. I’m assuming that’s intentional. What’s it like to be known by your name, as in “Did you read Romenesko?” How do you manage relative anonymity in such an image-conscious world?
A: It’s true that I don’t attend conferences, give speeches or appear on panels. That’s because I prefer to stay close to my computer and serve readers with frequent updates. I’m probably not as “anonymous” as some people think; I have four thick scrapbooks with stories about my Web site — and about a year’s worth of clips waiting to be filed.
Q: I’m sure by now Romenesko feeds itself. But how did it get started? At what point did Poynter latch on, and what did they see in your Media News?
A: I started posting media-related stories on my Web site, obscurestore.com, in 1998. (Obscure Store is mostly links to stories about unusual/quirky news events.) In May 1999, I decided to put the media stories on a separate page that I called MediaGossip.com. The New York Times mentioned it in an August 1999 story. Poynter’s online editor saw that story and contacted me. I struck a deal with Poynter within three weeks.
Q: Tell us about your print days, the kinds of stories you covered and how you turned a passion for media stories into a leading industry Web site?
A: I was a suburbs reporter, police reporter and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal from 1977 to 1982. In 1982, I went to Milwaukee Magazine. I wrote lengthy pieces on the media and crime. I also wrote a monthly media column called “Pressroom Confidential.”
I got on the Internet in 1989, freelanced a monthly column about the Internet for Online Access magazine (now defunct) and then covered the Internet for the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1996 to 1999. I started ObscureStore.com and MediaGossip.com as hobby sites while I worked full time at the Pioneer Press.
Q: You’ve clearly found a way to make money on the Internet. I’ve heard managing editors at dailies proclaim to independent journalist/bloggers: “How do feed yourselves?” Care to share your secret with others?
A: I’m sure some popular bloggers do well by using Google AdSense and other advertising. I’ve done well by aligning myself with a respected journalism school for working journalists.
Q: What are the guidelines for getting into Romenesko? Walk us through a typical day of posting (how many sites you read, number of hits, updates, etc.).
A: A story simply has to interest me to get on the page. I start out shortly after 5 a.m. and go through my bookmarks of major newspaper Web sites and blogs.
I go through my Google News Alerts, Yahoo News Alerts and e-mail. If there’s time in the day, I hit the Web sites of second- and third-tier newspapers. I post letters and memos throughout the day also — generally up until 5 p.m. Daily visits range from about 65,000 to 90,000 — up from about 14,000 when I started with Poynter.
Q: Is your column edited? Who is responsible for fact-checking the items (particularly the more inflammatory insider memos)?
A: Poynter Online editor Julie Moos checks the site for typos, etc.
Q: You also post oddities at The Obscure Store. How do Romenesko and The Obscure Store complement one another?
A: Obscure Store is my hobby site, which I maintain on the side and during brief breaks from my Poynter duties. I also use Obscure Store to send traffic to my Poynter page. (Nearly 2,000 Obscure Store readers go to Poynter each day.)
Q: What’s the future of newspapers? If you could make a suggestion to improve readership, what would you suggest?
A: I suspect newspapers will get smaller as readers move to the Web. I suspect print papers will be a rarity in 20 years. Today’s young generation seems to do everything online; it doesn’t make sense for them to log off to read a print product when they can read the news online. I still read at least three print newspapers daily, so I’m cheering for their survival.
Q: What item in recent memory generated the most buzz?
A: The debate over Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell’s column on Jack Abramoff has been one of the hottest news-biz issues in 2006. The Judith Miller saga stands out as the big-buzz issue of 2005.
Q: You often post from Starbucks. What’s your beverage of choice?
A: I stick with drip coffee. No fancy drinks for me.