Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The key to saving the Washington Post is more Photo Hunt

In its wisdom, the advertising and marketing people at the Washington Post have decided that the key to turning around declining revenue and saving the newspaper industry is more Photo Hunt -- in the 2/15 edition of the Sunday Magazine, directly adjacent to the usual Second Glance feature, they're running an ad for the Outer Banks, mimicking the photo hunt style:


The answers aren't live yet, but I have, thoughtfully and helpfully, provided the answers:

1. Lighthouse level
2. Barely concealed disdain, envy
3. Asymptomatic congenital heart defect
4. Used condom 2 inches below surface
5. Some sort of blight or fungus
6. Vague sense of existential foreboding
7. Post-racial worldview
8. Proof of global climate change
9. SEO-optimization, Section 508 compliance
10. Ill-advised coastal erosion management project
11. Non-convict labor

The Second Glance feature has been subverted before, so perhaps that was the first step down the slippery slope.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The New York Times Doesn't Want Any Dirty, Stinking Fark Links

I've seen a notable lack of New York Times links on Fark over the past few months. NYT used to be really unfriendly to social bookmarking and linksharing sites (with their login-registration wall), but that changed when they added permalink sharing URLs, which made linking to their stories easier.

Now, though, when you try to submit an NYT link to Fark, it fails -- you get an error:

"Can't verify that link: Throwing away unfetchable URL... 302 Moved Temporarily"

The error message says it's a 302 temporary redirect, though Redirect Checker says it a 301 permanent redirect. Either way, Fark doesn't like it.

I'm not 100% on the timing, but I think it's related to changes that were made when NYT rolled out their TimesPeople social network a few months back. (I already disliked TimesPeople because it adds a persistant Javascript tool bar at the top of the page -- when you page down in an article, it cuts off the first few lines, so you have to scroll back up to pick up where you left off. It's annoying.)

Anyway, that's probably why there haven't been any NYT links on Fark the last few months. (Other social booksharing sites seem unaffected.)

I guess an alternate interpretation would be that Fark doesn't want any NYT links. But the headline on that doesn't sound as cool.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Joelogon Facepalm Strikes Again

The Industry Standard blogger Jordan Golson has an item today taking bigshot tech bloggers to task (or, more accurately, taking bloggers at bigshot tech blogs to task) for committing attempted journalism without actually doing any of the "journalism" bits -- "A lesson for bloggers: go to the source or look like a fool" [link via Fark].

It's about some "OMG, Congress wants teh iPhones!!!" misinformation that was primary sourced at an article on TheHill.com, then batted around the tech media blogosphere with lots of punditry and very nonexistant fact-checking.

Anyway, that's not the important bit. The important bit is, the article uses my facepalm photo:

D'oh! I mean, woo-hoo!

This is the first media use of it I've seen since I noticed the photo made it into Wikimedia Commons (and it's properly attributed too, at the end of the article).

Additionally, here are the Fark tie-ins: I saw the article where it was greenlighted on the Fark main page; it quotes Drew Curtis (and mentions his book); it links to Fark, and it uses the creative commons-licensed photo from (and of) a Farker. So it's like a quad-damage bonus that's worth... precisely nothing.

Oh, as to the rest of it?

BoingBoing updated with a correction, but of the other linked tech blogs -- all of whom originally reported the story with varying degrees of righteous indignation and/or wish fulfillment -- none of them did a correction or followup that I could see (from the article, Ars Technica, Wired Gadget Lab, Gizmodo, ZDnet, CNET's iPhone Atlas, The Unofficial Apple Weblog, PC Mag (via Gearlog), a quickie mention in the LA Times Technology blog, Cult of Mac, and iPod Observer).

This is just using a citation as an appeal to authority, and it's nothing new, of course: It's how things like the Super Bowl domestic violence myth perpetuated itself, and it's gone on in academia forever (who traces a citation all the way back to a primary source? If you see something cited enough, it becomes its own source, very much how a lie told enough times becomes the truth.)

Of course, me: I didn't do any fact-checking either, but I'm not a journalist, and I'm not much by the way of media -- I'm just a cat-blogger (sans cat) who just wanted to brag about one of my photos.

However, looking at some of the blogs in that list, that are either associated with "real" tech journalism or trying to make a case for legitimacy in that space -- how many of them can make that claim? Folks, if you want to play journalist, you have to act like one. Just saying "I'm just a blogger" isn't going to work unless you want blogging to forever stay the junior varsity dumping ground of media, somewhere above tabloids and below the main stream (or was that the other way around?)

I know, it sucks -- having to do all the new media stuff like transparency, authenticity, and responsiveness, then having to do more traditional media stuff like "sources," "requests for comment," "factchecking," and "ethics" (such as they are) -- that's a pain in the ass, as opposed to just snark and punditry.

But, if you're going to make it a profession, you're going to have to be more... professional.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 07, 2008

All the News You May or May Not Use at LiveNewsCameras.com

Al's Morning Meeting had an item yesterday about LiveNewsCameras.com, which is an online video news experience that comes out of the Chicago Fox affiliate. It launched this week:


It's a moderated mashup of Fox news affiliate feeds -- if you click one of the updating thumbnail photos, you'll see the video stream from that station. If they're doing a news broadcast, you'll get it; at other times, you'll get a variety of things: Beauty shots of the scenery, raw live feeds from remote crews, traffic cams, weather radar, streaming feeds from their Web site, etc.

You can see the human element in the upper right -- they've got commentary from live video moderators who will highlight particular feeds. (Yesterday, you also overheard chatter from neighboring cubicles, though I think they've fixed that.) Just now, reporter Andy Roesgen was moderating. He'd been talking continuously for some time now -- it was kind of impressive.

The human moderation does add an extra dimension to the coverage (they also take great pains to point out that you can mute the moderator, but when you do that, you lose a lot of the value), but it also raises a significant problem: Having a human moderator is not particularly useful when there isn't anything going on. Which is going to be most of the time.

So, to avoid awkward dead air, the moderator either has to come up with filler (like rampant, unbased speculation during a crisis), or try to find something, anything, interesting from the available feeds.

And interesting doesn't mean relevant -- just because you get the unfiltered, raw scoop on a Philadelphia row house fire, doesn't mean it's relevant to you; you may find the illusion of relevance, which just means you get invested in something that wouldn't otherwise matter to you. It's kind of an artificial investment.

In many ways, it's kind of the news extension of the kind of "ambient intimacy" that many people ascribe to Twitter.

However, in Twitter may be kind of a solution to this -- they're already using their Twitter account and displaying the feed under the moderator video. Instead of trying to have a talking moderator 24/7 (or however long they're using human coverage), maybe they can pull in humans only when events warrant, and use Twitter (or similar alerts) to let people know.

Al has an interview with their news director -- it's in the nature of an experiment, and they're still feeling things out. Like I said, it has an interesting flavor, so we'll see what becomes of it.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Fighting... er, VOTING underway in New Hampshire

Funny Freudian misstatement by NPR's Carl Kassell during today's 11am Hourly News Summary:

"Fighting is underway in the New Ha... rather, voting is underway in the New Hampshire presidential primary..."

It's not exactly Miss Teen South Carolina territory, but I guess he was stuck on the "war report" template, since there are a few more mini-flubs in there.

As to why it took so long to get the clip up? I had to re-install the Audacity sound editor, which hosed my audio settings for a bit until I finally rebooted. Then, I had to pick an audio hosting service with an embeddable player -- not exactly rocket science, but I had to choose a provider. I'm trying Twango, we'll see how that goes.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Parade Gets Benazir Bhuttowned

Here we see yet another, particularly unfortunate failing of dead tree media (Weekend Supplement Edition) -- the cover to this Sunday's (January 6th) Parade magazine, which features an interview with Benazir Bhutto. It speaks of her in the not-dead tense:

January 6, 2007 Parade magazine cover.

In the online edition, they preface the interview with this:
Editor's note: The assassination of Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 27 occurred after PARADE’s Jan. 6 issue went to press.
They also talk about how they posted the full interview online, immediately after her death.

Not having to deal with the production and distribution of a weekly national newspaper supplement, I'm sure there are very good reasons why they couldn't update the edition. Even though she was assassinated a week and a half ago.

And I'm pretty sure that the dead tree edition of the magazine reaches far, far more people than the online version (looking at the demographics of the people who still read the Sunday newspaper).

The techno-optimist in me hopes that this is going to be one of the last times that print media gets so badly overtaken by events. Not because print dies -- that would be bad, since the form factor is more convenient and conducive to serendipitous browsing.

I'm just looking forward to the potential transformation of print media if and when electronic paper ever gets here in a large-format, consumer-friendly, Minority Report-esque way. Which will turn dead tree media into a print/broadcast hybrid.

It's 2008, after all. We're ready and waiting.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Talking Myself Out of a Job: The Beg, Borrow, and Steal Model for Corporate Blogging

TVNewser reports that CBS has flatlined its Public Eye blog (via Silicon Alley Insider).

I was not a regular (or even sporadic) reader of the blog -- it had launched in the summer of 2005, and I first saw it at the October 2005 BlogOn conference.

At the time, I opined in my then-work blog that I didn't think that Gil Schwartz, CBS EVP for Communication, really "got" bloggers and blogging (though I note that he started blogging in 2007 for his Stanley Bing persona, so maybe he came around).

Trapped in the Cost Center Ghetto?
Now, the Public Eye blog was originally created to bring transparency to their editorial operations (largely in response to the 2004's "Rathergate").

However, the report quotes a spokesperson who says it was shuttered because they weren't able to find a "sustainable business model" for it.

This is the problem for corporate blogging -- how do you justify the costs (however low -- and they ain't necessarily low)? How do you measure blog success, where, unless you're building a mass audience (and you're not), you're just another cost center?

One conceit of bloggers is that our influence is profound, yet can't always be adequately captured by quantitative metrics like pageviews, comments, linkbacks, citations, pagerank, uniques, time spent, repeat visits, and ad impressions.

(This is especially true when those metrics aren't very good.)

I've faced that particular problem, myself, and I don't have a good answer for it. For example, if you publicly answer someone's technical problem, will it be reflected in a tangible way -- reduction in call volume on that issue, resulting in X dollar savings? It's hard to say.

It's even worse when you're talking about anything that's not tied to a fixed point (everything that's not like those defining moments in the PR-blogging talking point-o-sphere -- the Kryptonite lock-opening and iPod nonreplaceable battery examples).

That's when you start dipping in to the weasel glossary for terms like goodwill, branding/positioning, mindshare, and engagement. (Back at AOL before they ditched the paid-subscription model, the equivalent phrase was "helps retention." I used it many, many times.)

Accepting the "Beg, Borrow, and Steal" Model for Corporate Blogging

Lets stick with the assumption that corporate blogging is still valuable (and not just to the corporate blogger). How do you justify this to the bean counters?

I don't think you can, and unless you can co-opt the PR or communications budget, I suspect that the answer lies in explicitly laying out what people are already doing -- for corporate blogs that are not primarily created as revenue-generating destinations (adjunct blogs, or product support blogs that add personality or "behind the scenes" flavor):
If the blog goals are "softer", the costs have to be minimal -- relying on the efforts of non-dedicated staff who are essentially moonlighting, and leveraging the existing infrastructure for things like design, hosting, moderation, etc.
Does this means more work for no pay? Pretty much, unfortunately: Take solace in the fact that, if you're any good at it, you do get to exploit the corporate brand to build your personal brand, which is not for nothing.

(I also note without irony that I would have essentially talked myself out of a job, which I figure is close to what happened. Though I would have tried to justify being in the "infrastructure" bit of things.)

Now, for destination blogs, where you're trying to build a mass audience (even a "mass niche audience") around an interest or whatever, you can and should devote dedicated resources to support them, so long as the return warrants. Though there has to be a rigorous and ruthless eye when it comes to costs and benefits (see the recent Gawker Media pay adjustments).

Of course, given the questionable, ponzi-like nature of the online advertising game, we'll see how long that model lasts.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Future of News Industry Jobs Conference: Session 1

As previously threatened, I'm at the Future of News Industry Jobs Conference, at the University of Maryland. Getting to College Park was less of a hassle than I feared, so I got there just on time.

Now, I have no journalism experience, but I'm interested in online media in general and social media in particular.

There are a lot of newspaper folks here; some of them are visibly uncomfortable with the whole online thing. (This is not unfamiliar to me -- I was working with a lot of product folks who were uncomfortable with the whole social media/public communciation thing). There's a lot of anxiety evident, especially among the union folks.

The first session really demonstrated this anxiety -- "Industry Upheavals and the Effects on News Workers," where John Newhagen of the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism presented a survey of newspaper industry people (reporters, ad folks, circulation, etc) and their attitudes towards the future of the industry.

* 73% respondents were not sure or did not think they will be working for a newspaper in 5 years. It evidenced a nostalgic view of the past, pessimism towards the future.
* A slide on attitudes about the importance of software tools (Google, spellcheck, Photoshop, Video [Avid]) and hardware tools (PC, Cell, Digital Cameras, Digital Video)
* A high percentage of people responding to questions about layoffs of people doing the same jobs as them.

Panel reactions varied. Linda Foley of the Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America was mostly defensive spin (e.g. high proportion of responders with low work-related Web usage [c. 1 hr/week day -- Correction: I was quoting someone else, who was incorrect; I later spoke to John Newhagen and saw the survey slides] meant that reporters were out in the community, not deskbound

Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism gave a contrarian view, where the question isn't (or shouldn't be) "will you still be in your job at the newspaper" but "will you still be doing journalism" (in whatever form)

Liza Gross of the Miami Herald and Int'l Women's Media Foundation had the best points and anecdotes. She noted that the fears & anxieties of int'l newsroom workers were similar to those presented in the survey and that layoff/outsourcing fears were greater in older (35+) workers.

* Sound bite: "Generally speaking, we journalists are not models of time management." She gave an example of designer using a "proportion wheel" (I had to look it up -- it's basically a slide-rule for resizing images -- talk about not adapting to "new" technology)

* Some journalists simply fear losing status or voice, especially where "voice" is equated with "length"-- the sheer number of words printed (vs. integrating graphics, photos, video); the same types of folks exhibit discomfort with interactivity, citizen/public journalism -- problem of mindset and the way journalists see themselves.

* Looking at changes in newsroom piecemeal leads to lack of clarity

* Rush to hyperlocal news (local-local-local) -- won't solve all ills, may not work for everyone

* Newspeople can get lost in academic issues (she shared a story of a days-long discussion at a European paper whether editors should use the computer mouse, or if that was a role for a blue-collar worker -- I'm hoping it was an old ancecdote)

Bruce Shapiro from the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma had a few points, but they were basically irrelevant to the session.

From the QA, a few points to pull out:

* The role of technical training -- people want it, say they don't get it, then often don't take it when it's offered.
* A Reuters writer told of being asked to do video, audio, photo (typically other union roles), and brought up the question of quality and time.
* The session videographer closed it out by saying: Let the kids teach. It kind of raises an interesting question -- if there's the idea of mentorship and apprenticeship by more-experienced journalists, why not have mentorship and apprenticeship by folks who are experienced with the new technologies and tools?

Labels: , ,