Sunday, July 19, 2009




Two days ago, I submitted a 3-page plan that advocates investing money so the NWU becomes far more visible and, thus, eventually dramatically increasing membership.
Below is the follow-up that I promised. It shows how a campaign would work – and demonstrates that a long-run effort to reach out to the media will SAVE MONEY.
Here is step-by-step how a press campaign works.

A. Chicago is selected as the site of a national convention. The National Writers Union (NWU) sends a press release to Editor & Publisher (E&P) trade magazine.

B. The next week, the NWU sends a release to E&P on announcing its new leadership – and repeating the information in press release A.

C. The new leadership announces a campaign to create a new division that will focus on free-lance writers (I’m making this up, but the leaders will have better ideas) and sends this info to E&P. At the end of Press Release C, the NWU concisely summarizes Press Releases A and B.

D. The NWU places an ad in the same E&P that it expects Press Release C to run in. The ad seeks new members and makes reference to recent news events.

E. The NWU announces the speakers at its national convention. Press Release D summarizes the facts of the first three at the end.

F. The NWU places an ad in the same E&P that it expects Press Release D to run in. It also seeks new members and makes reference to recent news events.

G. Future press releases and ads are sent that follow the same formula.

Now how do we know a campaign in E&P will work? We have NO bleeping idea.

And that’s the point of having labor. The NWU needs to spend money efficiently and needs to figure out SOONER RATHER THAN LATER where our efforts will pay off. Using hired help, for example, could help us ascertain that E&P is a waste of time and money and the same campaign should be run in a different magazine.

The NWU needs to pro-actively contact publications to figure out where to run its material BEFORE going through steps A through G.

The union is better off finding out these things ASAP when the labor is cheap and before spending thousands for nothing.
Martin Zabell



Press releases increase membership
and enhance odds of beneficial laws

Plan presented by Martin Zabell of Chicago chapter of National Writers Union to other leaders in Chicago chapter on or around June 1, 2009

The National Writers Union (NWU) will NEVER increase its membership enough to achieve what it needs to achieve for its writers unless it INVESTS money in writing and distributing press releases and other information.

LOCAL groups all over the USA invest HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dollars per year in people who perform these tasks. They do so because it works. I know because I’ve seen this first-hand in 20 years as a reporter and editor, essentially distributing information from organizations smart enough to contact me and others to hundreds of thousands of people and short-changing groups too dumb to see the forest because they’re looking at the trees.

The NWU has to stop being dumb. Who knows how much money it has lost by appearing to be a defunct organization that doesn’t post basic info and news on its Web site?

Eventually, the NWU should invest hundreds of thousands annually in press relations. Currently, though, I’m proposing that it invest a tiny fraction of that – roughly $10,000 per year.

My plan makes this investment contingent on the performance of many of these duties for FREE. In other words, an expenditure of $10,000 means roughly $20,000 of voluntary services. In addition, the $10,000 would make the NWU’s current expenditures in advertisements more effective. Currently, local chapters advertise for events, but as the director of a writer’s group I brought in thousands of dollars without ever running an ad.

NOW is the time to make this first investment because on May 20 a new leadership was elected. The membership has given the new leaders a MANDATE to change.

Nowhere in the leadership’s campaign platform is there talk about a balanced budget, continuing to provide the services it has in recent years, and maintaining a small membership. Instead, the platform includes 16 goals that can be summarized as GROW. The goals include:

* “Through our concentrated efforts in both organizing and communication, establish the National Writers Union as the leading public voice for all freelancers and writers.”

* “Communicate with the outside world by issuing regular press releases, writing Op-Eds and letters to the editor, keeping our website up-to-date, and developing partnerships with groups that have similar interests.”

* “Develop organizing drives and initiatives with the goal of building our union, strengthening diversity, and widening the age range of our membership.”

My plan has the following goals:
A. Increasing visibility.
B. Activating current members.
C. Increasing membership.
D. Using financial resources more effectively.
E. Making the Web site more interactive.
F. Improving the NWU’s image and professionalism via the above goals.

Here is my plan to achieve those goals:

a. Research publications that should be amenable to NWU articles.
b. Place articles in labor newspapers.
c. Place articles in writers’ magazines.
d. Place articles in other specialized publications (ex.--trade and business mags).
e. Place articles in “mainstream” publications.
f. Utilize all those famous people on our board by ghostwriting for them or seeking them to pen articles themselves.
g. Send press releases to lawmakers.
h. Establish regular relationships with all of the above.
i. Write blogs in response to articles on pertinent issues.

a. Solicit NWU members to write on issues of expertise.
b. Solicit members to tell their stories of unfair labor practices in print.
c. Contact local and specialty publications to maximize the writers’ odds of getting the articles printed.
d. Ghostwrite if the members don’t have the time to write on their own.

a. Solicit members who can pinpoint local or specialty publications that can reach prospective members.
b. Use the news releases as advertisements to seek new members.
c. Coordinate news releases with advertisements that seek new members.
d. Contact members, ex-members and prospective members to inform them of the NWU’s success at increasing its visibility.
e. Use the success as an argument for them to join or rejoin an active and growing organization. (Coordinate news events and press releases with phone calls.)

a. Keep track of who is publishing our materials.
b. Spend less time and money on reaching out to publications that have not demonstrated an interest in our activities.
c. Spend more time and money on reaching out to publications that have demonstrated an interest in our activities.
d. Figure out where we need to spend money on advertisements and where press releases can replace ads.
e. Report back on prices of ads.

a. Post articles on the Web site.
b. Encourage members to provide feedback on these articles.
c. Encourage members to write articles that will be posted on the site.
d. Advertise our success by listing the articles that were published in publications.


Yes, it’s true that the new leadership can write lots of articles and press releases as they promised.

But, here’s what they cannot or should not do – spend time trying to figure out which publications are receptive to printing their articles and which are not. In other words, I would, in part, be acting as support services for the leadership.

For example, Larry Goldbetter writes an article on the national shield law. Before he writes it, I would contact a number of publications to gauge interest, report back on which are most interested, and improve the chances of publication by recontacting editors who had previously expressed interest.

I am 100 percent certain that many publications will print information from the NWU.

How do I know? At a UAW conference, I wrote news articles on the spur of the moment, submitted them to few newspapers, and was informed by a couple of them that my articles were printed. Labor newspapers have expressed an interest in printing more of my articles.

Frankly, a national group should have a staff to do the above tasks. However, I am offering to do this for 30 hours per week – 20 volunteer, 10 paid. If I was paid $20 an hour and did this for one year, that would add up to $10,400.

And, by the way, you could get some of that money back from the publications themselves. I know the Chicago Tribune pays guest columnists because I had clients who were paid by them.

Ex-NWU treasurer Tom Gradel informed me that the NWU paid $50,000 for its Web site – easily the worst Web site I’ve ever seen put out by a national organization.

If it paid $50,000 for its Web site, it surely can spend $10,000 for nationwide publicity.


I submitted the following plan to Larry Goldbetter on Jan. 29, 2009. He said something to the effect that it was a good first step in the union getting involved in the issue mentioned in the plan. He urged me to post it on the NWU ListServe to get feedback and work on improving it. NO ONE has ever commented on it.

With the Delegates Assembly approaching, I decided to post the plan on the blog I created for the NWU's Chicago membership. Here it is.

Writers’ union needs to furnish information to members

To: Larry Goldbetter
From: Martin Zabell
Date: Jan. 29, 2009


During the time that I’ve spent phoning lapsed National Writers’ Union (NWU) members, I’ve concluded that the best ways to boost membership are for NWU officials to communicate regularly with members and to provide information that is of value to them.

How can this be accomplished? After reading the article that I sent you on Jan. 18 about the predicted demise of about a dozen major newspapers, I drafted a plan for the NWU to formulate a report on “The Future of the Journalism Industry.” I sketched out my ideas on Jan. 21 and am now on Jan. 29, putting the ideas into this report.

I should also give Loretta Campbell of the New York City branch some credit for this initiative. Although I can’t recall her exact words, she kept on saying something to the effect that the NWU needed to offer a service that other unions don’t and that thought was in my head as I read the report on the demise of major American newspapers.

The major premise of this plan is that writers in the National Writers’ Union want to help their colleagues and receive help from their colleagues. That is the feedback that I have received on the phone. The number of people who complained that they were only contacted when politics was the subject is large.

Instead of contacting members and non-members when the NWU needs their votes or money, the union should be making members feel like they’re making intellectual contributions and are part of an active group throughout the year. Writers need “news they can use.”

In any case, my plan includes the following elements:

* Contacting journalists in our union as well as ex-members to ask them about writing opportunities in light of the journalism industry’s collapse. Are more writers involved in public relations? Technical writing? Books? Web sites? Research? Education?

* Conducting research to ascertain what professional journalism industry analysts have concluded about the future of the industry.

* During the course of the research, posting some of the insights that our members and ex-members have on the NWU Web site.

* During the course of the research, e-mailing some of the insights that our members and ex-members to people who live in the same region as the person providing the insight. In other words, if someone from Denver has a insight about Denver-area publications, we could e-mail that insight to others in Denver.

* Working toward putting journalists in the union in touch with each other so they can help each other, particularly those who live in the same area.

* Building long-term membership by contacting current members regularly. In these contacts, the union should be sharing what it has gathered from other members.

* Putting together a skill development section in the report as well as a Tip section on the Web site as the report is being put together. For example, a member or ex-member could write something about how to increase audiences for Web sites or blogs or teach others how to put together blogs with graphics.

* Listing projects that our members or ex-members are working on. The purpose would be to improve the chances that the projects come to fruition. For example, a book being written by one person in the privacy of his or her home might be going nowhere, but he or she could use the help of another writer or non-writers that union colleagues could put him or her in touch with.

* Posting news updates on the Web site and e-mailing these updates to members.

* Boosting membership by reaching out to ex-members and other non-members. Making them feel part of an important project could enhance the chances that they will join or rejoin.

* When the report is complete, it should be put out in a user-friendly region-by-region format so members can easily access information.

* The report should also have sections. The first item on this list provides an idea of how to break this down. For example, there should be a section on books, education, Web sites, etc.

* The report should also include lists. For example, it could list newspapers that are still paying decently, new Web sites, specialized magazines that our members are now writing for, etc.

* The report should also include anecdotes. Members essentially would be telling their own stories whether they be horror stories about people and publications others shouldn’t be dealing with or the opposite.

* The report should also include the equivalent of advice columns from our members.

I sincerely believe that they would get a lot of cooperation from members and non-members of the National Writers’ Union. At minimum, we should be providing them more information on a regular basis. Many of the stories on the Web sites are ancient.

I’m sure that I can provide more depth to this proposal if asked.

Martin Zabell

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Please list the kinds of events that will lead you to drop all your dishes and rush into the city or a suburb to attend. Our last event, for example, was a self-publishing workshop. What kinds of events would interest you.

And please list the kinds of projects that the Chicago branch of the National Writers Union should be involved in. For example, we once put out a collection of works written by members.

And don't be afraid to tell us that you don't just want to be a spectator, but would prefer to be a presenter. For example, if you wrote a book, perhaps we can put together an event that includes self-published authors or science fiction authors or whatever and you will have a chance to sell your book. One of our members did that successfully in January.

Martin Z.
Chapter chair


Please post your thoughts on what you think the National Writers' Union's Chicago branch should be doing for you.

For example, should we be creating a Job Hotline or pressing the national branch to revive its hotline? Should we be more active about creating an informational service that will alert our members about publishers who are good to work with and bad to work with? Should we be publishing a newsletter with columns of tips that will be useful to members?

I am also hoping these thoughts will include what you think YOU should be doing for us.

Thank you very much,
Martin Z.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Distinguished panel more optimistic than expected

By Martin Zabell

CHICAGO – The glass half-full/half-empty cliche doesn’t really fit the debate going on in most journalistic circles about the industry’s future.

Most journalists, it seems, are looking at the proverbial glass as 90 percent empty.

On June 18, though, a panel of very distinguished Chicago journalists was surprisingly optimistic despite a crisis that includes the bankruptcies of both major city newspapers and perpetual layoffs at numerous Chicago-area newspapers. The current crisis, they said, could spur a future that’s a lot brighter than the industry’s 2009 predicament.

“This is an opportunity like when we moved from the horse and buggy to the automobile,” said Monroe Anderson, a longtime renowned television reporter in Chicago and a columnist for EbonyJet. “The rules are not set so you can contribute to (the new rules).”

Anderson was speaking at what the sponsor, the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, called “a discussion on the fast-changing state of the profession and the strategies for survival.” The others were moderator Dirk Johnson, a Northern Illinois University teacher and a former bureau chief for The New York Times and Newsweek; Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown; Chicago Tribune investigative reporter Ray Long; Eileen Brown, the innovations editor at the Daily Herald; Chicago Sun-Times’ editorial page editor Tom McNamee; and Andrew Huff, the editor of GapersBlock.

The event at the Union League Club of Chicago was attended by about 60 journalists. It was sponsored by the Chicago Headline Club, the law firm of Kelley Drye & Warren, and APCO Worldwide, a public affairs and strategic communications firm.

The panelists acknowledged journalism was in a transition phase with newspapers reducing salaries and staffs and numerous newcomers on the Internet challenging the mainstream media, but putting out products that are often hampered by paltry budgets and writers whose experience and skill is often questioned.

In the long run, though, the panelists were optimistic that journalism would survive – and might even thrive.

“There will always be a need for news,” said Eileen Brown. “Journalists will always be needed. I’m not worried about journalists. I’m worried about how we’re going to get paid.”

Eileen Brown elaborated on her half-full/half-empty perspective by saying that she often jokingly says “hell no” when first asked if young people should become journalists, but upon reflection recommends that they pursue their dreams, but focus on developing skills that will help them outside the newspaper world.

“Journalists have the skill set to be successful in many careers,” she said. “The problem is if you box yourself in, if (writing for newspapers) is all you can do.”

“If you’re good at gathering information and can write, you can still break through (in journalism),” added Mark Brown.

There seemed to be a consensus that the financial support of journalists was a bigger problem in the long run than the ability of young people to be capable writers.

“Young people are really sharp,” said McNamee. “I’m not worried about the caliber of young people going into the business. I am worried about the depth of journalism.”

McNamee cited the long investigation into the behavior of a Chicago police commander who tortured suspects into making confessions as an example of a series of stories that declining newspapers and fledgling Web sites might not pursue. He said new ventures like need to be even more local and should hire skilled writers rather than just being a “bulletin board” used by ordinary citizens and organizations seeking positive publicity.

For most of the approximately 1-hour discussion, the mainstream journalists were very complimentary toward the kind of online publications that have started in the last several years although they often stressed that it could be many years before the quality of journalism rebounded from its recent decline.

Near the end of the discussion, though, there was some fireworks. Huff said six-year-old GapersBlock and other online ventures are doing significant investigative journalism and the primary reason why newspapers are trusted more is “longevity.”

Long objected. “We’re breaking stories every day,” he said. “(Our strong reputation) is not because we’ve been around a long time; it’s because we’re breaking news every day.”

Huff and McNamee also disagreed about the quality of some blogs.


Although I don't have the specific information in front of me, the National Writers Union's national office is looking for volunteers from Chicago to help it administer the Aug. 5 through Aug. 9 national assembly in Chicago.

Participating in the national convention will be very exciting. Please post your interest on the blog and I will put you in touch with the national officers, two of whom are Chicagoans.

Martin Z.


A few dozen non-Chicagoans will be in the Windy City from Aug. 5 through Aug. 9 for the national assembly so I encourage Chocagoans to post their advice on what to do and see while they're here.

I personally love the Museum Campus because I'm a nerd. The Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, and The Field Museum (upcoming exhibits -- Ancient Americas, Africa, Animal Biology, Earth Sciences, Evolving Planet, and more) are all very close to each other and about one mile south of the hotel where the conventiongoers will be staying and the assembly's activities will occur.

It should also be noted that the Sears Tower, which will be renamed the Willis Tower soon, has just opened a ledge that juts out from the 103rd floor and includes a glass floor. I think it's going to be like the CN Tower in Toronto. It could be scary to look down and see nothing but the ground below, but I'm sure anyone in the union is an adventurer.

Most visitors like Wrigley Field, but it's not within walking distance. Chicagoans are free to offer transit advice.

Martin Z.


As was mentioned in previous posts, the national National Writers Union Delegates Assembly will be in Chicago from Aug. 5 through Aug. 9.

Officially, Chicago has three delegates to the national assembly -- Regina Baiocchi, Tom Gradel, and me, Martin Zabell. However, it would be a dereliction of duty for us to only propose resolutions, plans for action, changes, etc. that we personally are interested in. There are lots of things that members are interested in that just haven't reached our eyes and ears.

We would appreciate it if Chicago writers who are members of the union as well as non-members who are interested in what the union can do for writers (future members, we hope) would post your ideas about what we should try to achieve from Aug. 5 through Aug. 9.

And please understand that non-delegates are welcome to attend the Assembly. The schedule is on an earlier post.

Martin Z.