Listing entries tagged with news
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the institute sets up shop in london 09.18.2007, 10:51 AM
Beginning today, i'll be spending at least ten days per month in London where i'll be a senior fellow at the London School of Economics and also joining our new colleague, Chris Meade, with the intention of establishing a London base for the institute. Until recently Chris was the director of Booktrust, an organization which among other things gives a package of books to all children born in Britain at the time of their birth and when they start primary school. A year ago Chris signed up for the pioneering Creative Writing & New Media masters program at DeMontfort University and decided to make the leap into the future. He's landed here with us and will be the co-director of the institute, based in London.
a problem 04.23.2007, 4:59 PM
A screaming comes across the sky: the familiar roar of the growing Media Event, gathering power as it leaves the launchpad – the shootings at Virginia Tech – behind it. It has happened before, and it will happen again, and we know exactly how it will work: cover stories and TV coverage of Seung-Hui Cho will proliferate for the next few weeks, while journalists try furiously to get to the bottom of what caused this, feeling out the endless ramifications.
I don't have any noteworthy opinions on Cho. I am, however, interested in the news cycle and how it impacts the way we think about the world we live in. This is something brought home last week by this post from Wonkette, which points out that 160 people were killed in Iraq at roughly the same time as the Virginia Tech massacre. The tone is crass, but I think it's on target: Iraqbodycount.org estimates that 700 people died in Iraq last week, over twenty times the number killed in Virginia. That's not a ratio reflected by coverage in the American media: looking at the front pages of The New York Times for the past week, I find seven stories on Cho, two on deaths in Iraq. It's a strange and problematic disparity when you think about it. While it's difficult to predict where and when the next school shooting will occur, there's a high probability that a similarly high number of people will die in Iraq in the coming week. Predictability doesn't translate into preventability, but there's some correlation: we can still do something about Iraq.
The media is very good at reporting on sharply punctuated events (the death of Anna Nicole Smith; the rise and fall of Sanjaya; French politics when there's an election happening). The news cycle feeds on novelty. I'm sure in the weeks to come we'll learn more than we ever wanted to about the sad life of Cho. The media's not very good at reporting on things that go on for a long time: as the war in Iraq grinds past its fourth anniversary, it's hard for anyone to get excited about what's happening there, no matter how horrific they are. Any number of similar long-standing issues are similarly poorly served: when was the last time you heard about what's going on in New Orleans? Afghanistan? post-tsunami Indonesia?
This becomes an if:book issue simply because temporality has become such an enormous part of the way we deal with electronic media. The past few years have witnessed the ascendency of blog-based writing online; when we read blogs, we tend to read the most recent posts, to look at what's new. This works very well for targeting certain sorts of problems: a snippy post at Boing Boing about some perceived wrong will target thousands of would-be hackers' wrath. But we don't seem to have a good way to deal with big, lasting problems that aren't changing quickly, in part because the media forms that we have to use are so strongly time-based. Historically, this is a space in which books have functioned: consider the role of Thomas Paine's pamphlets or Uncle Tom's Cabin in fomenting past wars. An open-ended question: how can this be done in today's media environment? Are the forms we have good enough? Or do we not know how to use them?
NYTimes reader 09.21.2006, 10:42 PM
[editor's note: The New York Times released a new software reader. It is Windows only. No Mac compatibility at this time. We asked Christine Boese, of serendipit-e.com, to post her thoughts on the matter.]
I got this off another news clip service I'm on...
NYT Finally Creates a Readable Online Newspaper (Slate)
Jack Shafer: About six months ago, I canceled my New York Times subscription because I had found the newspaper's redesigned Web site to be superior to the print Times. I've now abandoned the Web version for the New York Times Reader, a new computer edition that has entered general beta release.
I went around to try to sign up for it and get a look. I couldn't, because the Times IT dept overlooked making its beta available for Macs. I scanned through the screenshots, tho, and the comments on the blog preview of features, sneek peek #1 and #2.
Jack Shafer isn't exactly an expert in interactive design, so I don't know if his endorsement means anything other than, "Gee whiz, here's a neato new thing!".
My initial impressions are that it looks like the International Herald Tribune
with a horizontal orientation I just can't stand (the Herald Tribune often requires horizontal scrolling, and it's far easier to read the printable version of stories). Yes, I see there is a narrow screen screenshot, but I'm thinking more about the text flow nightmares this design must cause.
But I think I have bigger reservations about the entire concept behind the Times Reader beta.
Here's just a summary of questions I'd want answered, if I were actually able to test the beta:
- How is re-creating a facsimile of a print newspaper online a step forward for interactive media? Is it really, or is it just a kind of "horseless carriage" retrenchment? Shafer talks about some non-print-like pages that tell you what you've read or haven't read, to assist browsing and search, but notes that the archives are thin. I wonder if the Times "Most Popular" feature makes the cut.
- Code. The big deal here is that it uses Microsoft .NET and advancers on Vista technology. I smell a walled garden. Is this XML-compatible? RSS-enabled? Is it even in HTML code that can be easily copied and pasted? (Shafer's piece says it can be, but I want to see for myself) W3 validated? Does its content management system have permalinks? How do bookmarks work?
- Hyperlinks. Will the text accomodate them? Will the Times use them? Or by anchoring themselves firmly in a "reader" technology, perhaps a completely web-independent application, is the Times trying to go beyond simply a code-walled garden and also create a strong CONTENT walled garden as well? Is this a variant of TimesSelect on speed?
- Audience. Presumably the Times has some research that shows a need to court its paper-bound print-loving audience to its online products by making the online products more like the print products.
- Usability and Design. I've already mentioned the Mac incompatiblity. What other usability and design issues are present in this Times Reader technology? I'll leave that to people who actually get use it.
But my question about audience is this: is there a REASON to make heroic efforts to lure print readers online? Isn't the bigger issue trying to keep print readers attached to print, so that the ad-driven print editions don't have to go the way of the dinosaur? The online news audience is already massive, and (Pew, Poynter) studies show that during the recent wars, large numbers of people were turning away from traditional news providers and outlets to seek out other sources of information, particularly international information, on the Internet and with news feed readers (RSS/Atom).
So in a competitive online news landscape, the Times makes a strategic turn to become more like its print product? And this will lure large numbers of online news readers back exclusively to the Times exactly HOW? Especially if it is a walled garden that doesn't integrate well into the Blogosphere or in RSS news feed readers?
People like Terry Heaton and other media consultants (Heaton has a terrific blog, if you haven't found it yet) are going out and telling traditional news media outlets that they have to move more strongly into an environment of UNBOUND media, to make their products more maleable for an unbound Internet environment. It appears the Times is not a company that has purchased Heaton's services lately.
From the screenshots I've seen, there seems to be very little functionality or interactive user-customizable features at all. I don't know. Color me stupid, but my gut reaction is that this is nothing more than another variant of the exact PDF version of the paper that the Times put out, only perhaps with better text searching features and dynamic text flow (meaning I'd bet it is XML-based instead of PDF-based, only with some custom-built or Microsoft-blessed walled garden DTD).
You know, for the money the Times spent on this (and the experienced journalists the Times Group laid off this past year), I'd have thought the best use of resources for a big media company would be to develop a really KILLER RSS feed reader, one that finally gets over the usability threshold that keeps feed readers in "Blinking 12-land" for most casual Internet users.
I mean, I know there are a lot of good feed readers out there (I favor Bloglines myself), but have any of you tried to convert non-techie co-workers into using a feed reader lately? I can't for the LIFE of me figure out why there's so much resistance to something so purely wonderful and empowering, something I believe is clearly the killer app on par with the first Mosaic browser in 1993. But because feed readers caught on bottom up instead of top down, there's not only usability problems for the broadest audiences, there's also a void at the top of the technology industry, by companies that fail to catch on to the RSS vision, mainly because they didn't think it up themselves.
"a duopoly of Reuters-AP": illusions of diversity in online news 09.08.2006, 6:02 AM
Newswatch reports a powerful new study by the University of Ulster Centre for Media Research that confirms what many of us have long suspected about online news sources:
Through an examination of the content of major web news providers, our study confirms what many web surfers will already know - that when looking for reporting of international affairs online, we see the same few stories over and over again. We are being offered an illusion of information diversity and an apparently endless range of perspectives which in fact what is actually being offered is very limited information.
The appearance of diversity can be a powerful thing. Back in March, 2004, the McClatchy Washington Bureau (then Knight Ridder) put out a devastating piece revealing how the Iraqi National Congress (Ahmad Chalabi's group) had fed dubious intelligence on Iraq's WMDs not only to the Bush administration (as we all know), but to dozens of news agencies. The effect was a swarm of seemingly independent yet mutually corroborating reportage, edging American public opinion toward war.
A June 26, 2002, letter from the Iraqi National Congress to the Senate Appropriations Committee listed 108 articles based on information provided by the INC's Information Collection Program, a U.S.-funded effort to collect intelligence in Iraq.
The assertions in the articles reinforced President Bush's claims that Saddam Hussein should be ousted because he was in league with Osama bin Laden, was developing nuclear weapons and was hiding biological and chemical weapons.
Feeding the information to the news media, as well as to selected administration officials and members of Congress, helped foster an impression that there were multiple sources of intelligence on Iraq's illicit weapons programs and links to bin Laden.
In fact, many of the allegations came from the same half-dozen defectors, weren't confirmed by other intelligence and were hotly disputed by intelligence professionals at the CIA, the Defense Department and the State Department.
Nevertheless, U.S. officials and others who supported a pre-emptive invasion quoted the allegations in statements and interviews without running afoul of restrictions on classified information or doubts about the defectors' reliability.
Other Iraqi groups made similar allegations about Iraq's links to terrorism and hidden weapons that also found their way into official administration statements and into news reports, including several by Knight Ridder.
The repackaging of information goes into overdrive with the internet, and everyone, from the lone blogger to the mega news conglomerate, plays a part. Moreover, it's in the interest of the aggregators and portals like Google and MSN to emphasize cosmetic or brand differences, so as to bolster their claims as indispensible filters for a tidal wave of news. So whether it's Bush-Cheney-Chalabi's WMDs or Google News's "4,500 news sources updated continuously," we need to maintain a skeptical eye.
two newspapers 01.04.2006, 11:21 AM
I picked up The New York Times from outside my door this morning knowing that the lead headline was going to be wrong. I still read the print paper every morning – I do read the electronic version, but I find that my reading there tends to be more self-selecting than I'd like it to be – but lately I find myself checking the Web before settling down to the paper and a cup of coffee. On the Web, I'd already seen the predictable gloating and hand-wringing in evidence there. Because of some communication mixup, the papers went to press with the information that the trapped West Virginia coal miners were mostly alive; a few hours later it turned out that they were, in fact, mostly dead. A scrutiny of the front pages of the New York dailies at the bodega this morning revealed that just about all had the wrong news – only Hoy, a Spanish-language daily didn't have the story, presumably because it went to press a bit earlier. At right is the front page of today's USA Today, the nation's most popular newspaper; click on the thumbnail for a more legible version. See also the gallery at their "newseum". (Note that this link won't show today's papers tomorrow – my apologies, readers of the future, there doesn't seem to be anything that can be done for you, copyright and all that.)
At left is another front page of a newspaper, The New York Times from April 20, 1950 (again, click to see a legible version). I found it last night at the start of Marshall McLuhan's The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. Published in 1951, The Mechanical Bride is one of McLuhan's earliest works; in it, he primarily looks at the then-current world of print advertising, starting with the front page shown here. To my jaundiced eye, most of the book hasn't stood up that well; while it was undoubtedly very interesting at the time – being one of the first attempts to seriously deal with how people interact with advertisements from a critical perspective – fifty years, and billions and billions of advertisements later, it doesn't stand up as well as, say, Judith Williamson's Decoding Advertisements manages to. But bits of it are still interesting: McLuhan presents this front page to talk about how Stephane Mallarmé and the Symbolists found the newspaper to be the modern symbol of their day, with the different stories all jostling each other for prominence on the page.
But you don't – at least, I don't – immediately see that when you look at the front page that McLuhan exhibits. This was presumably an extremely ordinary front page when he was exhibiting it, just as the USA Today up top might be representative today. Looked at today, though, it's something else entirely, especially when you what newspapers look like now. You can notice this even in my thumbnails: when both papers are normalized to 200 pixels wide, you can't read anything in the old one, besides that it says "The New York Times" as the top, whereas you can make out the headlines to four stories in the USA Today. Newspapers have changed, not just from black & white to color, but in the way the present text and images. In the old paper there are only two photos, headshots of white men in the news – one a politician who's just given a speech, the other a doctor who's had his license revoked. The USA Today has perhaps an analogue to that photo in Jack Abramoff's perp walk; it also has five other photos, one of the miners' deluded family members (along with Abramoff, the only news photos), two sports-related photos – one of which seems to be stock footage of the Rose Bowl sign, a photo advertising television coverage inside, and a photo of two students for a human interest story. This being the USA Today, there's also a silly graph in the bottom left; the green strip across the bottom is an ad. Photos and graphics take up more than a third of the front page of today's paper.
What's overwhelming to me about the old Times cover is how much text there is. This was not a newspaper that was meant to be read at a glance – as you can do with the thumbnail of the USA Today. If you look at the Times more closely it looks like everything on the front page is serious news. You could make an argument here about the decline of journalism, but I'm not that interested in that. More interesting is how visual print culture has become. Technology has enabled this – a reasonably intelligent high-schooler could, I think, create a layout like the USA Today. But having this possibility available would also seem to have had an impact on the content – and whether McLuhan would have predicted that, I can't say.
pulitzers will accept online journalism 12.07.2005, 4:45 PM
Online news is now fair game for all fourteen journalism categories of the Pulitzer Prize (previously only the Public Service category accepted online entries). However, online portions of prize submissions must be text-based, and the only web-exclusive content accepted will be in the breaking news reporting and breaking news photography categories. But this presumably opens the door to some Katrina-related Pulitzers this April. I would put my bets on nola.com, the New Orleans Times-Picayune site that kept reports flying online throughout the hurricane.
Of course, the significance of this is mainly symbolic. When the super-prestigious Pulitzer (that's him to the right) starts to re-align its operations, you know there are bigger plate tectonics at work. This would seem to herald an eventual embrace of blogs, most obviously in the areas of commentary, beat reporting, community service, and explanatory reporting (though investigative reporting may not be far off). The committee would do well to consider adding a "news analysis" category for all the fantastic websites, many of them blogs, that help readers make sense of the news and act as a collective watchdog for the press.
Also, while the Pulitzer changes evince a clear preference for the written word, it seems inevitable that inter-media journalism will continue to gain in both quality and legitimacy. We'll probably look back on all the Katrina coverage as the watershed moment. Newspapers (some of them anyway) will figure out that to stay relevant, and distinctive enough not to be pulled apart by aggregators like Google or Yahoo news search, they will have to weave a richer tapestry of traditional reporting, commentary, features, and rich multimedia: a unique window to the world.
Nola.com didn't just provide good, constant coverage, it saved lives. It was an indispensible, unique portal that could not be matched by any aggregator (though harnessing the power of aggregation is part of what made it successful). The crisis of the hurricane put in relief what could be a more everyday strategy for newspapers. The NY Times currently is experimenting with this, developing a range of multimedia features and cordoning off premium content behind its Select pay wall. While I don't think they've yet figured out the right combination of premium content to attract large numbers of paying web subscribers, their efforts shouldn't necessarily be dismissed.
Discussions on the future of the news industry usually center around business models and the problem of solvency with a web-based model. These questions are by no means trivial, but what they tend to leave out is how the evolving forms of journalism might affect what readers consider valuable. And value is, after all, what you can charge for. It's fatalistic to assume that the web's entropic power will just continue to wear down news institutions until they vanish. The tendency on the web toward fragmentation is indeed strong, but I wouldn't underestimate the attraction of a quality product.
A couple of years ago, file sharing seemed to spell doom for the music industry, but today online music retailers are outselling most physical stores. Perhaps there is a way for news as well, but the news will have to change. Dan Gillmor is someone who has understood this for quite some time, and I quote from a rather prescient opinion piece he wrote back in 1997 when the Pulitzers were just beginning to wonder what to do about all this new media (this came up today on the Poynter Online-News list):
When we take journalism into the digital realm, media distinctions lose their meaning. My newspaper is creating multimedia journalism, including video reports, for our Web site. We strongly believe that the online component of our work augments what we sometimes call the "dead-tree" edition, the newspaper itself. Meanwhile, CNN is running text articles on its Web site, adding context to video reports.
So you have to ask a simple question or two: Online, what's a newspaper? What's a broadcaster?
Suppose CNN posts a particularly fine video report on its Web site, augmented by old-fashioned text and graphics. If the Pulitzer Prizes are o pen to online content, the CNN report should be just as valid an entry as, say, a newspaper series posted online and augmented with video.
And what about the occasionally exceptional journalism we're seeing from Web sites (or on CD-ROMs) produced by magazines, newsletters, online-only companies or even self-appointed gadflies? Corporate propaganda obviously will fail the Pulitzer test, but is a Microsoft-sponsored expose of venality by a competitor automatically invalid when it's posted on the Microsoft Network news site or MSNBC? Drawing these lines will take serious wisdom, unless the Pulitzer people decide simply to ignore trends and keep the prizes the way they are, in which case the awards will become quaint - or worse, irrelevant.
I'm also intrigued by another change made by the Pulitzer committee (from the A.P.):
In a separate change, the upcoming Pulitzer guidelines for the feature writing category will give ''prime consideration to quality of writing, originality and concision.'' The previous guidelines gave ''prime consideration to high literary quality and originality.''
Drop the "literary" and add "concision." A move to brevity and a more colloquial character are already greatly in evidence in the blogosphere and it's beginning to feed back into the establishment press. Employing once again the trusty old Pulitzer as barometer, this suggests that that most basic of journalistic forms -- "the story" -- is changing.
alternative journalisms 11.23.2005, 2:26 PM
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark has announced he will launch a major citizen journalism site within the next three months. As quoted in The Guardian:
The American public has lost a lot of trust in conventional newspaper mechanisms. Mechanisms are now being developed online to correct that.
...It was King Henry II who said: 'Won't someone rid me of that turbulent priest?' We have seen a modern manifestation of that in the US with the instances of plausible deniability, the latest example of that has been the Valerie Plame case and that has caused damage.
Can a Craiglist approach work for Washington politics? It's hard to imagine a million worker ants distributed across the nation cracking Plamegate. You're more likely to get results from good old investigative reporting, but combined with a canny postmodern sense of spin (and we're not just talking about the Bush administration's spin, but Judith Miller's spin, The New York Times' spin) and the ability to make that part of the story. Combine the best of professional journalism with the best of the independent blogosphere. Can this be done?
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo fame wants to bridge the gap with a new breed of "reporter-blogger," currently looking to fill two such positions -- paid positions -- for a new muckraking blog that will provide "wall-to-wall coverage of corruption, self-dealing, and betrayals of the public trust in today's Washington" (NY Sun has details). While other high-profile bloggers sign deals with big media, Marshall clings fast to his independence, but recognizes the limitations of not being on the ground, in the muck, as it were. He's banking that his new cyborgs might be able to shake up the stagnant Washington press corps from the inside, or at least offer readers a less compromised view (though perhaps down the road fledgeling media empires like Marshall's will become the new media establishment).
That's not to say that the Craigslist approach will not be interesting, and possibly important. It was dazzling to witness the grassroots information network that sprung up on the web during Hurricane Katrina, including on the Craigslist New Orleans site, which became a clearinghouse for news on missing persons and a housing directory for the displaced. For sprawling catastrophes like this it's impossible to have enough people on the ground. Unless the people on the ground start reporting themselves.
Citizen journalists also pick up on small stories that slip through the cracks. You could say the guy who taped the Rodney King beating was a "citizen journalist." You could say this video (taken surreptitiously on a cellphone) of a teacher in a New Jersey high school flipping out at a student for refusing to stand for the national anthem is "citizen journalism." Some clips speak for themselves, but more often you need context, you need to know how to frame it. The interesting thing is how grassroots journalism can work with a different model for contextualization. The New Jersey video made the rounds on the web and soon became a story in the press. One person slaps up some footage and everyone else comments, re-blogs and links out. The story is told collectively.
Posted by ben vershbow at 02:26 PM
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tags: CitJ , Publishing, Broadcast, and the Press , Social Software , citizen_journalism , craig_newmark , craigslist , grassroots , journalism , katrina , media , news , politics , press , talkingpointsmemo , washington
gawker blogs to appear on yahoo 11.16.2005, 7:11 AM
Gawker Media, the Conde Nast of the blogosphere, has just sold distribution rights for five of its blogs to Yahoo. Selected posts from Gawker, Wonkette, Gizmodo, Lifehacker and Defamer will soon appear daily on the Yahoo news portal.
Not so worrisome (or surprising) to see blogs like these going corporate. From the beginning, they've sort of pitched themselves as commodities -- the tabloids and gadget rags of the blogosphere. But when blogging comes fully front and center as the next hip business strategy -- that authentic unfiltered element with which to adorn your comapany's image (hang some humans on the doorpost) -- then we may see a massive rush to rake up the brighter talents with lucrative little hosting deals. I'd hate to see bloggers foresake their independence like this. Then again, it might clear the way for a whole new generation of authentic voices.