Tuesday, May 31, 2005

From JD Lasica: Top 10 assaults on digital liberties

JD Lasica has put together a great summary of the U.S. government's 1984-esque efforts to restrict digital liberties. If you're not aware of any of these, you should be. The most obviously important assault for journalism is the growing restriction of fair use, but everything on the list has the potential to limit development of online journalism, such as podcasting (as just one example.)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Sound seeing: An awesome new application of Podcasting

Hack your local museum: that's the approach of unofficial museum guides who have been releasing recordings of museum tours as Podcast files over the Internet. Instead of buying the museum's version (or in addition to) of the audio tour, you can now download audio tours that are often more irreverent and funny, and sometimes complete with soundtrack, according to this New York Times article.

Did I mention I love the Internet?

Friday, May 27, 2005

From the 'What were they thinking?' column

Detroit Newspapers recently sold full page ads on page one of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News to Marshall Field's. Yeah, this is going to help with circulation - good move, guys. I know magazines do cover wraps, but they don't give over their covers to ads, as far as I know. Ewww....

Thursday, May 26, 2005

This column gave me whiplash

Using the Media for a Magic Trick, by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, is a brilliantly-written column with which I alternately agreed and disagreed vehemently while reading. Here's an overview of the back and forth:

AGREE: "If we covered government, business, foreign affairs, sports, entertainment and the rest of modern existence as aggressively and thoroughly as we cover ourselves, we might not have to worry so much about declining newspaper circulation and anemic television ratings."

DISAGREE: "And even if the so-called mainstream media turn out to be dinosaurs, fated to suffocate in the oxygen-poor, fact-free Internet blogosphere, at least we'd go down swinging." (Emphasis added)

AGREE: "That was an awfully neat parlor trick the Bush administration performed last week, focusing attention on the reporting and editing process at Newsweek and away from more inconvenient facts."

These first three sentences followed one after the other, causing the worst of the whiplash. But it continues:

DISAGREE: "It's the job of a free press to watch the hand the magician wants everyone to ignore. Normally we do a decent job." (Comment: Not so much lately.)

DISAGREE: "[Isikoff] accurately wrote what he had been told by a person in a position to know. That's what reporters do." (Comment: This is a cop out. Argh! Two disagrees in a row.)

AGREE: "But without unnamed sources, we -- and you -- would be less well-informed. To cite just one example, Watergate would be nothing more than the name of an expensive apartment building overlooking the Potomac... this is the most secretive administration in recent memory. If you say inconvenient things out loud, with your name attached, you get frozen out. Unnamed sources are a necessity."

AGREE: "Let me get this straight: The White House makes a mistake on the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, relying heavily on its own unidentified sources who turn out to have their own political agendas, and what follows is a war in which tens of thousands of Iraqis die.... And we're supposed to blame Newsweek's editorial procedures?" (Comment: There! Two agrees in a row. That balances things out.)

Gitmo Koran abuses: Everyone looks bad

Why Michael Isikoff ever acknowledged a link between his report on abuses of the Koran at Gitmo and the Afghan riots is beyond me.

Now, of course, we know that, while he was still wrong, he wasn't anywhere near as wrong as some people are making him out to be. At the very least, we know there have been allegations of Koran abuse, which is serious enough in the context of other substantiated abuses of military detainees.

And yet those who have been howling for Isikoff's head are disdainfully dismissing the extensive FBI reports of alleged prisoner abuse.

That's fine for pundits. But why aren't more people outraged by White House spokesman Scott McClellan's (and, by extension, the President's) hypocrisy? When has this administration ever admitted it was wrong, let alone apologized for it? Why does the press get slammed for every misstep, while the administration doesn't even get reprimanded for clear ethical, if not legal, violations?

I really don't want to make this a political blog. I certainly don't want to be lumped in with liberal bloggers (or any well-defined group of bloggers, for that matter). But hypocrisy is one of my serious pet peeves, and I can't stand by without calling the administration on it.

On the other hand, Newsweek's handling of the whole situation hasn't done anything to improve the media's credibility crisis. In this story, everyone comes out looking bad.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Blogosphere: Half forensic lab, half tavern

Yet another pithy definition of the blogosphere, this time from Michael Cornfield, an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University and the chief author of "Buzz, Blogs and Beyond," a study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project and market research firm BuzzMetrics.

"The magic of the Internet is you can be looking at evidence, at direct documentation, while you're talking," Mr. Cornfield was quoted as saying in a New York Times article about the study. "It would be as if the Nixon tapes were available in MP3 format during Watergate."

The Times article about the study didn't contain anything fascinating other than Cornfield's quote, but here's a link anyway.

Rocketboom: An interesting experiment raises questions

There's a very interesting discussion going on at videoblogging site Rocketboom. The exchange was engendered by a May 20 special report posted on the site about an alleged incident of police brutality. (Warning: the page launches right into the report, so turn down your speakers first.) The comments vacillate wildly between 'excellent stuff' and 'disappointing'. IMHO, the debate comes down to Rocketboom's intention - are they producing entertainment or reporting truth?

An excerpt from my comments:

If the intent, as Quirky suggests, was pure entertainment and the desire to satsify people's desire "to hear tales of victimization. Others' pain." then so be it. That's not a goal I'm personally interested in, but I strongly support the right of anyone to say anything they want for any reason (I even have my doubts about the whole crying fire in a crowded theater thing.)

However, if the intent was to present these people's story as truth, then I think the report falls significantly short. I am skeptical by nature; I'm sorry to admit I do not take people at their word. People have to earn my trust, as I expect to earn theirs. That goes doubly when the matter is as serious as this one.

So my question to Amanda and the producers of Rocketboom is, if you were intending to present this report as truth, what evidence do you have other than these people's word that it is so?

UPDATE: Another thought, prompted by this article about investigative blogging from Steve Outing - if Rocketboom was trying to present the truth and/or trying to help this family, it would have behooved them to provide more identifying information so that viewers could follow up on the story for themselves. To anticipate one objection, if the family is telling the truth and are willing to go on camera, they shouldn't be concerned about providing their full names for the record.

Sidenote: it's amazing how much blogging I can do when I can't sleep! :)

Congress mandates Constitution Day programs at colleges

I don't agree with how it was done (rider on a spending bill) and I think it's a disturbing precedent (Congress dictating curriculum), but I can't help but agree with Sen. Robert Byrd's mandate that schools that receive federal money must teach students about the Constitution on Constitution Day (Sept. 17, in case you didn't know.) As I've mentioned before, the lack of knowledge among high school students about the First Amendment is appalling, despite the wailing in the post article by the National School Boards Association rep that public schools already cover the Constitution.

If I can get my act together I'm going to propose the Rowan Journalism department sponsor a First Amendment symposium on that day.

Praise for pop culture: Could this include the blogosphere?

I've just gotten around to reading an excerpt from the latest fascinating book by my current favorite nonfiction author, Steven Johnson, entitled Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. I'll leave you to read the excerpt (the title gives enough away for my purpose).

What I'm wondering is whether Johnson's premise can be applied to the current news environment in general and the blogosphere in particular. When Walter Cronkite told us that was the way it was, we believed him straight away. But even if we didn't, we didn't have too many other sources to examine for alternative explanations (I'm exaggerating a bit, but compared to today my statement might as well be true.) Now, each news consumer has no choice but to evaluate the tidbits of information they collect from a wide variety of sources. Is it possible that there's a good side to the current crisis in journalism?

In any case, I'm heading out to buy Johnson's new book today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Bill O'Reilly goes way too far

I know what those of you who aren't O'Reilly fans are thinking - doesn't he go too far every day? But this time, it's disgusting. Here's the first sentence of an editorial from the May 24 LA Times:

In a May 17 radio broadcast, telephilosopher Bill O'Reilly fantasized unpleasantly that terrorists might "grab" the Los Angeles Times editorial and opinion editor "out of his little house and … cut his head off." O'Reilly went on, "And maybe when the blade sinks in, he'll go, 'Perhaps O'Reilly was right.' "

That's not journalism. That's not punditry. It sure as hell isn't fair and balanced. If he really said that (I tried to find a transcript but the archives on O'Reilly's site require a paid subscription) Bill O'Reilly has proven he is a thug, a bully, an unfit to be on television (or radio.)

In case you're wondering, the LA Times says O'Reilly was upset with Michael Kinsley, the editorial and opinion editor, because of a thoroughly reasonable May 17 editorial about the Newsweek fiasco.

Whether you agree or disagree with the editorial, you should see that O'Reilly's comment was shameful. If you don't, then shame on you too.

Monday, May 23, 2005

If one more person blames the riots on Newsweek, I'm going to scream

I go on vacation for a week and return to find out that the world's tilted slightly more towards complete insanity while I was gone. How in the world can anyone blame Newsweek for 17 deaths during anti-American riots in Afghanistan? Evidently it's true that guns don't kill people; magazines do. Arrggh!

I'm dumbfounded. Thankfully, Frank Rich managed to capture my thoughts exactly.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The blogosphere's long tail

Wired EiC Chris Anderson once again elegantly summarizes a complex issue - what is the blogosphere? As he says:

The first rule of the blogosphere is not to generalize about the blogosphere... In short, blogs are a Long Tail, and it is always a mistake to generalize about the quality or nature of content in the Long Tail--it is, by definition, variable and diverse.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

CNN president calls news judgment 'elitist'

During an interview on the May 6 edition of WNYC's On the Media, Brooke Gladstone repeatedly asked CNN President Jonathan Klein to justify the network's overwhelming coverage of the so-called 'runaway bride' incident. The conversation included the following exchange:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: It seems to me that, for the purposes of our discussion, you keep equating stories like Lebanon, which need no justification, with a weird little blip of a story like the runaway bride, which actually does need some justification.

JONATHAN KLEIN: Well, and yet, that's possibly a pretty elitist thing to say, because I don't know that you can say that one story needs justification, one doesn't. Who are you to argue with "the people" who flock to watch one story and not the other?

I guess that tells us how CNN makes coverage decision these days, huh?

BBC Backstage: Brilliant!

The BBC has launched Backstage, a service that allows anyone to 'remix' BBC content. I can't endorse this announcement strongly enough - instead of fighting progress, the BBC has found a brilliant way of working with it. It's hard to understand the significance without concrete examples, so check out the prototypes page.

One developer has already created "a social bookmarking tool just for BBC News that allows logged in users to tag/bookmark stories and view related stories that other users have tagged using similar terms."

Another protoype turns the BBC World News Feed into a podcast. Thank God - now I won't have to listen to the pledge drive on NPR on the way to graduation tomorrow!

Seriously though, any news organization that doesn't seriously consider following the BBC's lead may as well accept the inevitability of its impending extinction.

Monday, May 09, 2005

You say tomato....

I was surprised to read Dan Gillmor's take on the CNN comment spam story making the rounds in the blogosphere. Gillmor is focusing on what is, IMHO, a minor point in Nick Lewis' post suggesting that CNN is trying to decrease his Google page rank.

As I said before, I'm not convinced CNN had anything to do with this, but that's not what's interesting about Lewis' post. In addition to his evidently sincere effort to ferret out the source of the spam comments, here are the sentences I found interesting:

Regarless (sic) of whether this was CNN or a smear artist, allowing these guerrilla marketing campaigns to continue could result in our blogs -- leftwing and rightwing alike -- to become the battlefield in ratings war between two of the largest media giants.


Some people feel that the comment spams were mere PR, and nothing to worry about. Others, like myself, believe that we must do our best to avoid a world where we constantly have to second guess whether or not we are talking to PR spam, or a human being. In the end it’s up to each of us to decide how far we're willing to go to defend the blogosphere from marketing imposters.
(emphasis added)

I hate to indulge in nostalgia, but in the 21st century it seems every message we encounter has been co-opted by PR or marketing efforts to sell us something. While it may or may not be happening yet, I do believe the scenario Lewis suggests is possible -- I can absolutely see marketers attempting to latch onto the coattails of popular blogs through whatever means necessary.

One final point: I found the title for Gillmor's post rather disingenuous -- "Pure Speculation Makes 'News'". As if this were an unusual occurrence. Pure speculation makes news every day. I can't see calling Lewis out on this point at all.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Good example of 'expert editing'

Matt Vance's May 4 article in Playlist surveys ways to find new music online (not how to get it, mind you; just how to identify which new bands you might like.)

To me, the article is a perfect example of what Bob Benz and Mike Phillips recently called 'expert editing.' The article is a true timesaver -- Vance has scoured the net looking for sites that provide music recommendations. Vance has saved me hours by not only separating the wheat from the chaff, but also explaining why he chose each site. From there, I can pick the three or four sites that interest me.

I'm sure not all journalists would agree, but I would argue this is a valid form of online journalism, certainly of the 'news you can use' variety. It sure beats some of the useless, self-serving, and unethical rubbish that passes for journalism on major networks and in major newspapers.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

South Asia: Where journalism is much more than a joke

Thousands of Asian journalists rallied this week on World Press Freedom Day to protest media censorship. It's easy for us in America to forget that while many of our journalists waste their time (and ours) on rehashing press releases and chasing celebrities, many reporters still don't have anything remotely resembling First Amendment protections.

Paul Graham: 'PR diving', authentic writing, and the decline of the MSM

Paul Graham, author of one of my favorite essays of all time, has published another brilliant essay on his website, entitled The Submarine.

The article addresses the tawdry, symbiotic relationship between public relations firms and the MSM. He goes on to explain why the web in general and blogs in particular are bringing the sordid details of this relationship to light.

My favorite quotes:

Most people who publish online write what they write for the simple reason that they want to. You can't see the fingerprints of PR firms all over the articles, as you can in so many print publications-- which is one of the reasons, though they may not consciously realize it, that readers trust bloggers more than Business Week.


Whatever its flaws, the writing you find online is authentic. It's not mystery meat cooked up out of scraps of pitch letters and press releases, and pressed into molds of zippy journalese. It's people writing what they think.

This essay should be required reading for all members of the MSM. And I'm considering including 'PR diving' in my next Online Newswriting class.

Interesting theory on Apple's anti-blogger lawsuit

Robert Cringely has an interesting theory in the last few paragraphs of his April 28th column on why Apple is taking legal action against three blogs to uncover the source of unreleased product information the bloggers published on their sites. (See my earlier post.)

I'm torn as to how to feel about this. On one hand, I'd be relieved to know that Apple felt obligated to talk tough on intellectual property to look good in the eyes of the music and movie moneygrubbers. On the other hand, I'd be pretty repulsed if it were true because it would mean that a multi-billion dollar company in one of the best phases of its history has to rattle its own user base just to keep the moneygrubbers happy.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Riddle me this, blogosphere

Nick Lewis suspects CNN may have engaged in a guerrila marketing campaign by posting blog comments to 'promote' some of their new shows.

The responses to Lewis' research fall largely into three groups:
* Great work!
* Interesting, but I'm not convinced
* You've been scammed, Lewis!

I myself fall into the second category - there's no smoking gun. But I strongly praise Lewis for doing research, something many professional journalists seem to have forgotten how to do (if they ever knew at all.)

As is most often the case, the truth may remain unknown. But journalists are always fighting this uphill battle. The best any journalist has ever been able to do is to do the research (as Lewis did) and see where it leads. Anyone who doesn't want to call that journalism is fooling themselves.

Sidenote: what would be really ironic is if Lewis cooked the whole thing up to generate buzz about his blog. Not that I think it's true, but considering all the possibilities is like playing a game of mental Twister.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Insightful piece advocating 'Napsterized news'

Bob Benz and Mike Phillips from Scripps have written an insightful proposal for creating a new news cooperative in the wake of the Associated Press' decision to charge clients an additional fee for publishing AP content on their websites.

Even more interesting than their proposal, IMHO, is their analysis of current trends in the news business, which contains this point:

As content loses value, expert editing and customer-driven bundling are becoming the tools for building audience. And audience -- not content -- is the news industry’s value proposition.

I've been telling my students all semester that synthesis, filtering, and context are the keys to a journalist's success in the new news environment. Glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks so.