Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Oct 13

The Equivalent of Google Analytics in 1928: Newspaper Readers Are Liars

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, New Media Strategery, newspaper crisis, Tail Wags Dog, Web/Tech.
Tags: , , , ,

Readers want “candy.” Do we give it to them?

Every so often, you’ll read a long, impassioned essay about how Americans are stupid, because they aren’t paying attention to world events, how we’re distracted by the latest tawdry celebrity scandals, fantasy sports leagues, or cute pictures of kittehs.

Which, of course we are. 

mcdonald's fry cook

Is this the future of the news business? Or has it always been this way, and we’ve been deluding ourselves to think otherwise? Gallup’s analysis in 1928 basically says, “Yup. Nobody has ever read those long investigative pieces.”

But it turns out that the same damn thing has been true all along. Check out this piece in the Atlantic about George Gallup (yes, that Gallup) who in the 20s, dared to actually study what people read in newspapers – as opposed to what people SAY they read.

Back then, they had tried various methods to track what people actually pay attention to, down to gathering the used newspapers off the floors of trolley cars and seeing what page they were left open to (and aren’t you glad you don’t have that job, back when people routinely chewed tobacco and spat?). Gallup came up with the novel idea of sending his researchers into people’s houses in Iowa and watching them read the paper (call it ur-Google Analytics).

His results:

  • People are liars. “The person who believes he has read all of the front page may not have read a fourth of it,” he wrote.

  • Nobody likes serious news nearly as much as they report on questionnaires. Gallup’s interviews reported that front-page stories were actually no more popular than small features in the back of the paper.

  • The most-read thing in the newspaper wasn’t news at all: It was the front-page cartoon by J. H. Darling, read by 90 percent of men compared with just 12 percent reading the day’s local government news.

  • For women, the most-read parts of the newspaper were “style and beauty pictures.”

This is very timely, as Wednesday’s class is going to be about using SEO and analytics to track what readers actually read – and the advisability of just giving them “fast food news”.

It’s led to the rise of what we in the biz are calling “hamster wheel” journalism. I talked last week to the editor of Metropolitan magazine, who said that he gets staffers from fairly reputable outlets, like Fast Company, where the reporters have an Excel spreadsheet with 200 stories that they are REQUIRED to do each month. These story “ideas” are generated by having bots track Google Trends to see what the target audience is clicking on, and then backwards-engineering that to have stories that will then fit those audience interests.
On the one hand: it makes sense to give your customers what they want. On the other hand: aren’t we supposed to be serving a slightly higher calling than the fry cook down at Mickey D’s? What does it mean when the news isn’t what you need to know to function in an increasingly complex and demanding world — but just the lowest-common-denominator pap that can be quickly shoveled out and morticed around the ads.
Seems to me that I wrote a book about this

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Sep 25

Yes, Investigative Journalism CAN Pay. And Pay Well.

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, New Media Strategery, newspaper crisis, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, This week in paid content, Wrongheaded solutions.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Mediapart in France is profitable because it gives readers what they are willing to pay for.

Imagine that.

mediapart.fr front page

The Mediapart organization makes its living by doing hard-hitting investigative journalism that its audience is willing to support. They also make a point of including lots of video on their pages.

Quick hit here for my students, who are increasingly upset about their job prospects after graduation.

I shared an article from Neiman about the upheaval in the newspaper business in France. Apparently, the same problems that plague the French economy at large are at work, writ small & exceedingly acerbic, at the major newspapers. They are tech-phobic, rely on business models that no longer fully function, and react angrily to anyone threatening the promise of a cushy work situation with guaranteed employment and 1/4 of the year spent on vacation.

Can’t imagine why that can’t cut it in a world increasingly dominated by the internet work ethic of, “If you eat lunch … you ARE lunch.” Somehow, I don’t think this will fit in with a languid afternoon at a sidewalk cafe with a nice burgundy and a baguette slathered with brie. With accordion music wafting in the background.

But about 2/3 of the way down the article, there appeared these grafs, which I am going to excerpt here, although I do urge you to go to the Neiman site & give them some traffic-love, ’cause @petergumbel did a damn good job with this write-up:

Edwy Plenel, for one, is incensed by the conflicts of interest inherent in the French press. But then that’s not entirely surprising, since outrage is Plenel’s mojo.

He has come a long way since his revolutionary youth, which he wrote about in a 2001 memoir. He made his mark as an investigative journalist at Le Monde; one of his most celebrated scoops was uncovering the role of French intelligence in the 1985 sinking in New Zealand of the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior. He made the Elysée so nervous that it illegally bugged his phone during the presidency of François Mitterrand. He spent a total of 25 years at Le Monde, including a stint as editor in chief, but he left in 2005 during one of its sporadic crises, after attacks on his management style.

He launched Mediapart as a subscription site in December 2007. Three years later it was at break-even. Today, it’s racing toward 100,000 subscribers, each paying the equivalent of about $12 per month. This year he expects the site to make about $2 million net profit on just over $10 million in revenue. It has a staff of 50, 33 of whom are journalists. It now outsells Libération, which has almost six times as many staff members. [Emphasis mine - dlf]

The secret: a laser focus on exclusive news, especially revelations of high-level political and financial skullduggery. Mediapart’s subscriptions soared in 2010, the year it broke the story about a convoluted political and financial scandal involving France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt. They leaped again in 2013, after it revealed that the then-budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, whose job included fighting tax evasion, himself had an undeclared Swiss bank account and had transferred funds to Singapore. After denying the allegations for months, Cahuzac eventually resigned, acknowledging that he had lied to parliament and to President François Hollande.

Work the numbers, folks. $10 mill in revenue-$2M profil = $8M in expenses. $8M/50 employees = $160K/yr per employee. Figure about 40% of that per-employee allocation is insurance, pension, and building/maintaining the site & gathering news costs, and you still get a salary of $64K/yr on average. For a journalist, that ain’t bad. Plus you’ve got a warchest of $2M that you can throw at a big story, should one come up, and to use to build out the site & extend its reach.

So. There’s a lot going on here. I’ve written in the past about how I disagree with the authors of The Death and Life of American Journalism, who called for exactly the kinds of government subsidies for newspapers that are allowing them to continue to try to deny reality, and live in a fantasy-bubble. At the time, I was reacting to what I’ve seen in Latin America, Georgia, Kazakhstan and other places where allowing the government to get its hands on the revenue stream is akin to letting criminals loop a choke-chain around your throat. They can lead you around by it, and if you start getting out of line, all they need to do is give it a quick, sharp yank, and you fall back in line, suitably docile.

I’ve seen that happen. First-hand. In Venezuela, when I was a very young editor.

Government subsidies are kinda like this. Nothing really sticks until you try to do something that the person holding the leash doesn’t like.

The solution that Mediapart has come up with here may not last. It may not work everywhere. But it’s something that makes a lot more sense to me than journalism that exists as a kind of state-supported performance art piece. Because I’ve seen that as well: journalists who are completely disconnected from the concerns of their audience, sporting paternalistic, condescending attitudes, producing self-indulgent “investigations” that nobody really reads, and that don’t really threaten the people who give them checks each month.

So when I see that Mediapart is actually making a pretty nice profit, running with a lean staff, and dedicating itself to serving the interests of its audience, it pretty much makes my day, particularly in light of the grim news out of the LA Register, NBC news, and pretty much every other traditional media outlet recently.

Look, I am not hooting and hanging on the rim here, delighting in the travails of people still stuck in jobs at tottering media empires, hanging on for dear life through ownership changes, strategy changes, and promises that melt away like morning dew.

Long-term, market forces are going to prevail. If journalists produce a product that people want, and give them a means by which to support/purchase/share it, then that audience will fight to ensure that this important part of their lives is still there. The very first case study I ever did was centered around that fact. It makes me sad to see so many journalists, who base their entire journalistic ethos on pushing people and institutions to change, to adapt to the times, to leave behind (even if painful) the habits & traditions of the past … ignoring their own best advice.

Liberation may not be a cafe. But it may also not be an outlet for journalism much longer either.

 

 

 

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Jul 09

Lessons from a C47 Pilot: the Core Trait of an Entrepreneur

Posted: under new media, Web/Tech, Webconomics.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Filed under: Things I didn’t realize I was internalizing at the time that have stuck with me & shaped my life

As a follow-up to my previous post about the “Secrets of Silicon Valley” post, there was something that Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin said, that stuck with me:

“I get thousands of pitches every month. And all of them suck. They tell me all about these numbers and charts and graphs. But what I really want to know is, ‘Why are you doing this? What makes you want to start this company.’  And then they relax, and they tell me what I really want to know.”

This made me think of an encounter I had with a guy back when the job titles “Entrepreneur” did not have the suffused halo of glory around it that it does now. Looking back, this short conversation was one of the transformative experiences in my life. It’s what has driven me to consistently take the road less traveled in my career.

When you try to imagine the most valuable thing in the world, what does it look like? Does it look like something in a museum, where people come from around the world and pay money just to look at it? Is it a thing that you can own? Or is it something quite else...

When you try to imagine the most valuable thing in the world, what does it look like? Does it look like something in a museum, where people come from around the world and pay money just to look at it? Is it a Special Thing, ancient and mysterious, that you can own? Or is it something quite else…

In 1987, I was a Pulliam Fellow at the Arizona Republic, working as a copy editor. That meant that I had most of the day free – I went in at about 3 p.m. each day, stayed until midnight and pretty much lived like a bat. So during the day, I explored the city of Tempe, where I lived, and tried to cool off by swimming and enjoying the pool (hey – I’d grown up in Wisconsin, where the rare days you got when it was sunny and warm you automatically headed towards bodies of water to enjoy this amazing gift of weather).

So I was  basking in the pool, when I was addressed by an older guy, who was leaning against the side of the pool, elbows on the fringe, watching the sun set. He looked content, but thoughtful.  He was tanned like a saddle, with piercing blue eyes, and a bemused expression on his face. He asked who I was and what I was doing in Phoenix.

I told him that I was there, fresh out of college, working for this gigantic media company. But that it was a little strange to me, because the company was so big that I felt like just a little cog in a big machine.

Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – if I believed in what the Big Machine was doing, and if I actually felt that the Big Machine cared in any way for all the cogs that had to mesh to make it run. Neither of which were true.

He frowned, and nodded his head.

“You’re coming to a point in your life where you’re going to have to make some very important decision,” he said.

I snorted, with the derision that only a 21-year-old recent college grad can muster. “Everyone keeps telling me that. But that just sounds like platitudes. What is that supposed to me to me? Every decision we make is important – we cross the street for breakfast, we get run over – hey, that was a life-changing decision! You look at it that way, hell, every decision you make is life and death.”

To his credit, he laughed. “Well, I guess that’s true. But I was thinking of something a bit different than what you do. It’s more about who you really are.”

And then he launched into the story of his life. Turns out that he was not retired, because he never planned on retiring, because every day he did what he loved. He had been a DC-3 pilot in WWII, flying the supply routes that went “Over the Hump,” or over the Himalaya mountains and into China. These were white-knuckle rides, because depending on how loaded down the old “Goonie Birds” were, you may or may not make it over these 20,000-foot peaks.

Each flight through the treacherous mountain passes was a gamble. As the odds against long-term survival mounted, the pilot I talked to said he just gave up the idea of control — that enemy fighters or sudden blizzards could trump any preparations humans could make. Simultaneously, he paid attention to all the little details that might mean the difference between survival and violent death.

He was terrified for the first few flights, and then he basically gave himself up for dead, and started having the time of his life. Most beautiful landscape in the world, wild adventures on either side of the flight, danger, and the feeling of contributing something meaningful to something really important, something that was bigger than him, something that was forever changing the world.

After the war, he started an airline. It was the wild & woolly days back then, not like today when there are basically highways in the sky, you never get lost, it’s all worked out for you. Back then, you were making it all up as you went along, trying to figure out what planes at what times into what airports would get there on time and make money.

But by his combination of daring (from the recklessness that he pursued life from flying over The Hump), and meticulous planning – because he had checked out every inch of every plane and every flight plan before he took off, which is why he survived and so did his whole crew – that combination made him successful.

He built an airline. Made millions. Had a big house and a pinup girl wife.

Was miserable. Hated running the company. Hated all the problems that come with having a lot of money.

So he divorced his wife. Gave her everything. Started from scratch. With a new woman in his life. He said that he had learned something really crazy about himself. He didn’t like being rich.

Making it back was no sure thing (image from Life magazine archives – click through for more).

 

He liked the struggle, the fight, the ups and downs, the thrills of BECOMING rich.

So he would repeat this pattern. Over and over again. He’d build a company – sometimes airlines, sometimes aeronautical service companies, or plane design firms – build it up until it was huge …

…and then he’d give it away, and start all over from scratch again.

I told this story to my mom, who grew up on a farm in the shadow of the Great Depression, to a father who had twice lost everything he had and worked himself into an early grave trying to provide for 8 kids … and my mom said, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

And for a long time, I agreed with her. What kind of a moron builds something only to give it all away? What kind of person can’t see that you earn money through struggle and pain? That every dollar is a treasure, and that you cling to it as hard as you can?

But then I remembered what that tough old pilot said, back when I said something very similar:

“Think about the most valuable thing in the world. Maltese Falcon, huge diamond, priceless painting – whatever. In your head, I want you to imagine having something that, if you had it, every other person you know would envy you. Just green-eyed, jealousy, eating their own heart out. Day and night, everyone wants what you’ve got, this Special Thing. There’s only one. And you have it.

But there’s a catch. Something that nobody else knows, that you’re trying hard not to let them see. The catch is that  hanging onto the Special Thing is killing you. Burning your hands. Feels like fishhooks ripping into your fingers every second you have it in your possession.

But still, everyone passing by says, “OMG! What a lucky guy! Just look at that Special Thing! I sure wish I had that thing!” All the while, it’s just killing you to hang onto it. And you can’t put it down.

The question you have to ask yourself is: would you hold onto that thing?

Would you choose to live in pain, in isolation, in anger, in contempt for everyone you see as lesser than you – would you choose to live that way just so you could conform to some other people’s ideas of how it is that you should feel, and what it is that you should want?

Would you hold on to that thing?

Or would you put it down and say, here. You take it. And while they pick it up and laugh at you – you’re the one that’s laughing at them inside. Because they have to deal with that Special Thing now. And you? You’re free.

And you’re going to build something else now. And building that … whatever it is … building that, is what makes you feel like you have the most valuable thing in the world already.

That was a man with rare courage. He was able to look deeply inside himself and not only see, but accept what it was that made him happy. And then he acted on that knowledge, even when the rest of the world said that he was an idiot. That he had lost his mind.

But he knew what he had to do. Because he literally couldn’t live any other way.

To me, that is the core trait of the entrepreneur.

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May 29

Economic Crisis Forces Spain’s Newspapers into Digital Migration

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, New Media Strategery, newspaper crisis, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Platform obsession.
Tags: , , , ,

Unemployment over 50% – banking system collapse – political instability – newspapers run out of options

When asked what are the enduring lessons of the last five years for newspapers, various pundits have opined “Don’t enter an economic recession massively over-leveraged and dependent on fragile business models.”

One by one, newspapers are falling behind.

In Spain, the problems that we are experiencing in the U.S. are even more severe. The advertising base was even more reliant on crazy real-estate bubble advertising than it was here. Anyone who has flown into, say, Barcelona, and seen 20 MILES of empty housing developments, half-built apartment blocks, and gradually eroding graded hillsides, can quite easily judge what kind of devastation was left behind when that bubble burst.

But now comes the news that digital media has overtaken print in Spain. 

There is some disagreement over just how many digital news outlets have sprung up in the past couple years:

Ahora desde la AEEPP (Asociación Española de Editoriales de Publicaciones Periódicas) reconocen que tienen 763 publicaciones digitales asociadas aunque, Carlos Astiz, secretario general de la Asociación, estima que puede haber 3.000 medios digitales.

…and exactly what constitutes a regular news publication (such as when its edition are funded via crowdfunding:

En medio de la crisis que afecta a los medios tradicionales, han surgido en los últimos meses un gran número de medios digitales con fórmulas diferentes para conseguir la rentabilidad. Desde la existencia de socios que por un módico precio acceden antes a los contenidos como en diario.es o infolibre.es a proyectos financiados por crowdfunding como la revista FronteraD.

But the trend seems to be that digital-only publications have been designed from the ground-up to be profitable on this new platform. The publishers, operating on a shoestring, find an audience, find ways to monetize that audience, and then start to methodically try to scale up.

The opposite is in action with the traditional media. They have their audience – but it is shrinking.

They have their revenue streams – but they are evaporating.

So they are engaged in a massive scale-down. Cutting coverage, cutting staff, and according to the Difusion story, only weeks/months away from re-erecting the infamous paywall around El Pais that was widely credited with destroying the paper’s digital operations before they had even gotten a chance to find their footing. I wrote an entire case study about it (and El Tiempo’s desperate attempts to re-connect with the young audience that they had alienated & lost) for the NAA. 

El Pais Spain front page

Soon to run back behind the paywall. Maybe it will work this time. Then again, with so much new competition in the digital marketplace, and with the brand discredited & distrusted by younger readers … maybe it won’t.

Meanwhile, over in the digital-only world, site owners are waking up to the trend of “native advertising” – i.e. putting posts into the middle of the flow that look a lot LIKE the news stories that readers are there to check out … but that contain sponsored content, written in a way that doesn’t conflict with the rest of the content on the site.

Check out what John Battelle has to say about this evolution of monetization: 

The reason native works is because the advertising is treated as a unit of content on the platform where it lives. That may seem obvious, but it’s an important observation. When a brands’s content competes on equal footing alongside a publisher’s content, everyone wins. Those search ads – they win if they are contextually relevant and add value to the consumer’s search results. Those promoted tweets only get promoted if people respond to them – a signal of relevance and value.  The same is true for all truly “native” ad products. If the native ad content is good, it will get engagement. The industry is evolving toward rewarding advertising that doesn’t interrupt and is relevant and value additive. That’s a good thing.

 

 

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Mar 07

How to Tell a Story – from Pixar, via BoingBoing

Posted: under Blogging, Digital Migration, new media.

OK, this is really derivative, but I’m so impressed with the insight in this list that I’m shamelessly repeating it here. Go to BoingBoing. Click on the ads. Give them some money. They are good. I like BoingBoing.

(Please, no DMCA notice for this…)

To my journalism students – when you’re trying to construct a compelling narrative, for a story that goes beyond “On Tuesday, the Board met for two hours to consider blah-de-blah…” you could do a helluva lot worse than use these rules to challenge yourself to come up with something that grabs the reader and makes them keep clicking the “Next” button at the bottom of your page.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling – Boing Boing

From Aerogramme Writers’ Studio, via Adafruit. My favorite is #13: “Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.”

These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coates, Pixar’s Story Artist. Number 9 on the list – When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next – is a great one and can apply to writers in all genres.

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

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May 28

State of Media in East Africa: “Mover and Shakers” Interview for AfroFM

Posted: under Catching a Falling Knife, Digital Migration, journalism, Multimedia, new media, New Media Strategery, Travel, Video, Web Tech.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

UPDATE: The first video below was erroneously a duplicate of video #3. I blame the shoddy connection I had – I am thrilled that the videos made it up to YouTube at all, frankly, and it took me an hour and several tried to get this post to publish, so I had some version-control issues. Anyway, I’ve fixed it so that vid #1 is now the proper first part, in which we talk about the persistent power of radio.

The more I learn about how the media operates in East Africa, the more I think this is going to be a fascinating area to watch over the next few years. The conditions here are ripe for some really interesting changes – we are going to see in this microcosm what the effects are of empowering a population that is still stuck with only one-way information flow (largely via radio – please see video #1, below) to suddenly leapfrog into the ubiquitous mobile web-fueled connectivity that we see in places like Japan, Korea and (to an extent) China.

BACKGROUND: A couple of weeks ago, I had a meeting with the CEO of Fana Broadcasting. At that time, I was told that the plan was to install 4G mobile connectivity throughout the country. I have since learned that the contract looks like it is going to be awarded to a giant Chinese telecom company. This is not necessarily good news. The suspicion among the journalists is that the infrastructure contract has been given to the Chinese because they have pledged to include many of the down-and-dirty spyware and censorship features that are common to the internet behind the Great Firewall of China. Also: it is rumored that the Chinese outbid US and European companies for this huge contract, because the government of China is (illegally?) subsidizing the work, secretly funneling money under the table to the ostensibly private-sector telecom company, to allow it to do billions of dollars of work for 1/20th the price. Conspiracy theories abound here; in the absence of any hard facts or verification, people always assume the worst.

At any rate: the plan is to wire up all the major cities and towns with 4G wireless internet service. One of the big reasons expressed for that is that the Powers that Be have noticed that on just about every roof, you can see a satellite dish. Those dishes are bringing news, information and TV programs into households from TV providers outside of Ethiopia. They want to jump-start their own domestic news and entertainment industry, to start to produce high-quality content, to lure audience away from these international sources. Part of this is to foster a sense of national unity: to expose Ethiopians to news, movies and TV series that star Ethiopians, speaking Amharic, and referring to matters that are of concern to Ethiopians (and eventually, to citizens of the surrounding countries, none of which really has their own video/web content production infrastructure). Part of it is to start building up the kind of media-production capabilities that might allow Ethiopia to start exporting its culture to the international marketplace; from what I have seen here, there is certainly an opportunity for the kind of smart, dedicated artists here to start changing the international perception of this place, which is still stuck in the famine years.

Anyway, in the first part of the interviews I did with Samson Tesfaye, for his show “Movers and Shakers” on AfroFM, we talk about what things are like in the present day – where the vast majority of the rural populations in Ethiopia still rely on what they hear over the radio as their main (perhaps only) source of news and information.

The next part of the interview, we focus on the impact of social media in East Africa. At this time, Sami says that social media is not having the kind of disruptive effects we see in North Africa, where the Arab Spring is still very much alive and kicking, or to the south in Kenya, where the technology scene is vibrant and lively.

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Feb 26

The Oscars on Social Media: International Audiences Yawn, US Bloggers Snark

Posted: under new media, Pop Culture Quirkiness, Social Media monetization, television, Viral Fame, visual storytelling.

Live-Blogging the Oscars and Tracking the Tweet Clouds

I was hoping that the real-time geo-Tweet maps would show something interesting in and around Los Angeles during the Oscars telecast. No such luck.

Apparently, not that many people in and around Hollywood were actually Tweeting during the Oscars telecast - at least, not enough to compete with some of the other topics showing up on a Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world didn’t seem too interested in the Oscars:

Strange that despite all the traffic about the Oscars, on Twitter that still didn't compete with some of the other trending news topics around the world -- such as the elections in Australia, or the massacres in Syria.

Drilling down a bit more, we can see some other names start showing up – although the Los Angeles area still isn’t #1 in Twitter activity. Guess our fingers are too busy here ferrying Scorcese-related cocktails to our mouths to actually type in a Twitter update.

Looking at the tag cloud, you can see that once you drill down past just "the Oscars," the names of the celebrities start showing up as trending topics.

 

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Feb 21

HTML5 Video: “Cap’n! The CPUs Won’t Take Much More O’ This!”

Posted: under Beyond HD Video, Multimedia, new media, New Media Strategery, Online (Multi)Media, Online Video, Platform obsession.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dep’t of Vaporware: New Super-Duper HTML5 Video Players Will Solve All Your Problems

I’m starting to get more than a little annoyed at the incessant blithe assurances that keep coming up around the (now) universally agreed-upon proposition that Flash Is Bad, All Right-Thinking Humans Must Avoid It.

Here's the problem: Playing video in a browser using the (still nonexistent) HTML5 standard is far more resource-hungry than you realize.

The problem is that the people making these statements haven’t really gotten their hands dirty with the actual workflows that the (non-existent) HTML5 video standard has inflicted on us poor A/V dorks trying to keep up with the chaos in the online/mobile video space. What’s getting my goat, you ask?

Check out the strain on system resources that playing video using the HTML5 tag puts on a Mac Pro with 8 cores, running at 3 gHz, with 9 GB of RAM and a upgraded ATI Radeo 4870 video card. Note the system temp. The fan was blowing hard enough to power a C130 cargo plane.

By means of comparison, this is what I got for usage stats when playing a Flash video in a web browser. Note the system temp. Also, the little blue graphs to the right of CPU are not pinned to the max for all eight cores, the way they are in the HTML5 playback example, above. Each one of those little graphs is a representation of the amount of strain being put on a core from the dual quad-cores.

Well. I keep seeing & hearing about these new players that will supposedly make it possible to custom-design a video player into a web page that will then adapt & play that video on any device, on any platform. The latest: thePlatform. Viz:

thePlatform is pushing cross-platform compatibility with a new offering that will let its customers create one video player that can be delivered to any device or browser that is trying to access it. That capability is being rolled out due to increased demand for HTML5 video, despite a lack of real standards across browsers for the display and rendering of video players.

(from GigaOm)

OK, fine.  What’s the big deal, right?

I shot the video below at the Social Media Club-LA meeting in January – it shows Tim Street, one of the early adopters of mobile video monetization, talking about the challenges of trying to deal with video across the profusion of platforms we’re now having to deal with.

My test of an HTML5 player, taking this video, putting it into a sandbox page in Dreamweaver, and playing it in a web browser returned the kind of usage stats seen in the screen captures above.

Flash had a lot of faults. I still think that it’s responsible for some of the heinous memory leakages that cause Firefox to take up to 1.6 Gigs of memory space if I leave it open for more than a day in the background as I do work. But fer crissake, at least it’s not melting down my CPUs when I’m just trying to play one video. If the average user starts seeing this kind of load on their systems just for playing a video, that means that there is going to be serious hits on the battery life of laptops/tablets, and some pretty bad lag times when trying to multitask – or even fast-forward, pause or (shudder) rewind.

Let me know if you get any of the same warning signs on your machine when playing back this video, eh?

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Jan 18

Truth Vigilantes and Online Reputation

Posted: under Denial of Reality, Digital Migration, new media, New Media and Politics, New Media Strategery, Webscams.

This was originally a comment to Robert Niles’ excellent piece on the Online Journalism Review, on whether or not the New York Times should be a “Truth Vigilante”. I’m republishing it here, because it looks like the commenting feature on OJR (always a little hinky) is b0rked again, and this issue is one that touches a really raw nerve in me.

First, the background:

On Friday, Arthur Brisbane, the public editor (I guess it’s another way of saying “Ombudsman” or “Sacrificial Flak-Catcher”) of the New York Times published a now-famous piece, asking, Should the Times be a Truth Vigitlante?

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news
reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they
write about.

(snip)

This message was typical of mail from some readers who, fed up with
the distortions and evasions that are common in public life, look to The
Times to set the record straight. They worry less about reporters
imposing their judgment on what is false and what is true.

Is that
the prevailing view? And if so, how can The Times do this in a way
that is objective and fair? Is it possible to be objective and fair when
the reporter is choosing to correct one fact over another? Are there
other problems that The Times would face that I haven’t mentioned here?

The reaction has been pretty heated. MetaFilter pithily said “Duh.”  Jay Rosen wrote a post name-checking his longstanding criticism of the whole “View from Nowhere” approach adopted by the press. And Gawker snarked that the NYT should instead just make stuff up.

Here was my reaction, republished here:

It’s interesting to see this issue break out into the open like this. In retrospect, the only thing that’s surprising is that it’s taken this long. Consider: internet sites like Snopes & PolitiFact owe their very existence to the breakdown of trust in our existing news institutions on the part of the audience. We read stuff (often sent via e-mail from the semi-mythical disgruntled conspiracy theorist uncle). Checking our newspaper/TV/radio/whatever, there’s a he-said/she-said story. So we go elsewhere to figure out if what we were originally sent is true or not.

Steve Yelvington long ago identified this as the most crucial (but neglected) part of the media in a societal ecosystem: being the “Town Expert.” (The other two roles are of “Town Crier” and “Town Square” – which media orgs more or less have a handle on.)

Can’t tell you the number of proposed startups that came through the Knight News Challenge in the last two years aimed at resolving this basic issue – how can we trust what we read? Many of them are seeking to assign some kind of a numeric “reliability score” to the source of the information. Which is interesting in theory – a published climate scientist getting a 99 score, for example, while a Big Oil-funded hack gets a 12.

But in practice, systems like this would probably fall prey to the same phenomenon that plagues Digg or other sites that rely on crowdsourcing to determine importance/credibility — the efforts of a committed radical few to rig the results in their favor. Still, it would be interesting to see a major media outlet start to offer little links in superscript next to attribution, that lead back to a page describing where that quote came from, who the person is, and what their history/agenda is.

We’re all struggling with the effects of the disintermediation taking place because of web technology – that much is evident to just about anybody working in media, advertising or marketing. The problem is that this is taking place at the end of a long, slow movement toward the utter blandification of content. The reasons for that are complex – some of them have to do with the influence of “risk management” thinking at media organizations, where the litigiousness of modern American society has driven deep-pocketed news organizations to water down stories out of fear, in order to evade expensive libel suits. The rest do have to do with the drumbeat these past 40 years of accusations of “liberal bias” in the press, and the attempts to defuse such accusations by applying the aforementioned “he-said/she-said” construction to stories, so that we can say, “Well, at least we gave them a chance to reply.”

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Nov 10

Ukrainian Professors Play with New iPad 2s

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, New Media Strategery, Online (Multi)Media, Online Video, Ukraine, visual storytelling, Web Tech, Web/Tech.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

…in the courtyard of the Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism

I’ve got great video of everyone having a blast, experimenting with the new guerilla-style video production tactics I’ve been teaching them — I showed them how to use the front and rear-facing cameras on their iPads to shoot video. Here, they are working on producing “establishing shots” using whatever equipment is available to you at the time; in this case, it means holding the iPad up in front of your face and doing slow 360s, talking to the camera, so the audience can see for themselves what the landscape around you looks like.

journalism professors playing with ipads

They absolutely loved their brand-new iPad 2s. It was like seeing little kids getting handed Magic Mirrors. They were polite enough for most of the day, but about mid-afternoon, I just lost them in the wilds of the App Store. Also - I will never understand how the Ukrainian women manage to walk down these uneven, treacherous ancient cobblestone streets in stiletto heels.

I also taught them the basics of shot selection, framing, the Rule of Thirds, and some basic stuff about editing and shot sequencing as a means to create emotion. It was about a semester’s worth of material crammed into a one-day lecture, but at least I opened them up to what is possible, and where they can go to try to learn more on their own.

This is still a beautiful city, even if the sky in unrelenting slate gray, and the wind from Siberia knifes right through you after the sun goes down…

At night, the streets of Kiev are filled only with the rumble and clatter of Dr. Zhivago trolley cars, and the whistling north wind. The architecture here is like the people; kind of battered, but still full of character. Resilient.

I haven’t gotten to see as much of this city as I would like; I’ve always been working too hard, or pretty much exhausted & creaking from the demented flight schedule it takes to get here from Los Angeles. Still, the little I have been able to discover on my own has been delightful.

ukrainian student concentrates on the screen

This time around, my students arrived in my classes with significant New Media skills. Some of them were already creating infographics, and this girl is already ghost-blogging for big financial companies. As you can see, she is quite determined; meanwhile, behind her, another of my more active and vocal students gasps in horror at the convoluted assignments I have inflicted on the class...

One of the greater joys of this class was seeing my students help each other out. When they got stuck with some of my more technically challenging exercises, they reached out to each other, and shouted advice back and forth across the classroom.

There is no better feeling for me. I am only here for such a very short time; I keep wishing that I had an entire semester to really reach deep into these young people, to help them draw out their skills & refine them. But seeing their willingness to follow me down these strange multimedia pathways, and to help each other out along the way … leads me to believe that they will continue to help each other out after I am gone.

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