27 Print Dollars for $1 Digital; Social News; Papers in Trouble; Kodak v. Fuji I posted this picture via Twitpic earlier today, and my digital brethren quickly chimed in on how much they felt like this in their daily lives. And I get it. Working in the media industry these days is far, far different [...] [...more]
27 Print Dollars for $1 Digital; Social News; Papers in Trouble; Kodak v. Fuji
I posted this picture via Twitpic earlier today, and my digital brethren quickly chimed in on how much they felt like this in their daily lives. And I get it. Working in the media industry these days is far, far different from the way it was when the journalists of my generation got into the biz. Looking back at recordings from the early 90s, I am struck by how much free time we all seem to have had back then – these days, you feel like you can’t take your eyes off your Twitter feed for even a second, lest you miss the Next Big Meme and are thus branded as a digital troglodyte who “just doesn’t get it.”
Strung out and exhausted, journalists are wondering when this migration ends, or even when they might run across a handy signpost telling them which way to go. (click to embiggen)
So yeah, if you feel like you’re lost in the desert and that the only future involves your bones bleaching in the sun next to a steer skull … well, maybe it’s because most newsrooms these days evoke the feeling you get when wandering through any of the weathered ghost towns that dot the arid landscape in Arizona and Nevada, left behind when the seams of gold and silver petered out.
This is painted on the ceiling of the Rila Monastery in the mountains of Bulgaria, one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. I can’t help but wonder whose eye this ancient artist used as the model for the Eye of God. The history and beauty of this complex makes me feel like I’m about to embark [...] [...more]
I can’t help but wonder whose eye this ancient artist used as the model for the Eye of God. The history and beauty of this complex makes me feel like I’m about to embark on some sort of DaVinci Code-like adventure, only this one will involve online business models and the mysteries of HTML5. Heh. Hopefully, I won’t be pursued by some self-flagellating Newsroom Curmudgeon, bent on undermining my message about how there is actually hope for the future, that journalism will survive, even if it does take a form that is strange and possibly abhorrent to the practitioners steeped in The Old Ways.
The point is that the problems with the news business bear surprising resemblance to the problems of society as a whole. We've tied our fate to the unfettered free-market economic forces, without really taking notice of the fact that there are a few industries, at least, that are not prepackaged Cheetos. Where diluting quality and streamlining production schedules and all the other tricks of modern corporate management may work in the short term ... but in the long term are not only killing the industry, but harming ... well, basically Western Civilization. [...more]
The good folks at CNN asked me to appear on Backstory” to talk about the News of the World’s phone-hacking scandal.
I tried to oblige them with some insights onto why this kind of scandal keeps happening, and why. You can see the results of the interview in the segment below:
More on why the news business keeps getting hit with privacy scandals like this, and why it won’t stop after the jump…
The clash of ancient and modern is never more stark than in these developing nations I’ve been in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the last week, training the local journalists and government information officers (aka PR flacks) on how best to take advantage of the way that “New Media” is creating new ways of connecting with [...] [...more]
The clash of ancient and modern is never more stark than in these developing nations
I’ve been in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the last week, training the local journalists and government information officers (aka PR flacks) on how best to take advantage of the way that “New Media” is creating new ways of connecting with each other, and the world at large. I’m here as part of the same US Embassy program that has sent me to places like Chile, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Costa Rica, etc., to try to bring people the benefits of experience (aka the way newspapers & TV news has imploded in the U.S.), so they can start planning for the Great Digital Migration.
This is my class of TV journalists at Addis Ababa University (AAU). I tried to cram as much about online video and sharing into my short sessions as I could. Here, I'm showing how to use both professional tools like Adobe Premiere Pro CS5, as well as free alternatives like Windows Movie Maker.
The one thing that everyone here agrees on is that Ethiopia desperately wants to change its international image – c’mon, admit it. When you think of Ethiopia, what images come to mind? Deserts, starving people, vultures, Live Aid, right?
Well, it’s not like that any more. In fact, if you look around at the Addis Ababa skyline, you’ll mostly see cranes and highrise towers under construction. The real-estate bubble that burst and devastated the rest of the world never took hold here.
There are still many reminders that the ancient ways of living are still very much in existence here in Addis, but please also note all the other markers of modernity in this shot.
However, they are facing many of the same challenges as the rest of the world, at least when it comes to the emergence of the internet, and the struggles of newspapers, radio and TV stations to come to grips with social media, and the ability of anyone to become a publisher/broadcaster/internet troll.
The very first place I visited was Sheger FM, the one independent radio station in Ethiopia. This is the courageous owner, who is really struggling to walk the razor's edge here in Addis.
I’ve found many of the same behaviors and attitudes I’ve encountered in the other places that I’ve done web/online video/social media training sessions – stubborn insistence that things will never change, toxic skepticism, and even outright hostility.
After a bit of a rocky start, these guys really came around and appreciated the hands-on lessons I gave them on how to do live video stand-up reports and how to compress video into the best codec to upload to YouTube. The Nelson Mandela building is a challenge, though; between the thin air at this 8000-foot altitude, and having to haul my big carcass up 5 (five) steep flights of stairs, the first few minutes of every class were mostly spent huffing and puffing, and hoping that someone in the class had a particularly insightful comment.
Dave LaFontaine and his tv production class in front of the Nelson Mandela building at Addis Ababa university in Ethiopia.
First in a series of videos taken during a panel discussion for PR Newswire at the LA Times building. On the panel with me, the delightfully funny and plainspoken Serena Ehrlich, who knows more about how to handle media in the digital age than the last three Presidential Press Secretaries put together. Although there [...] [...more]
First in a series of videos taken during a panel discussion for PR Newswire at the LA Times building.
On the panel with me, the delightfully funny and plainspoken Serena Ehrlich, who knows more about how to handle media in the digital age than the last three Presidential Press Secretaries put together. Although there is a marked resemblance there to C.J Craig of the late, lamented Bartlett administration.
Anyway, this is a bit of an intro to what the conditions are like for the media, and what the big forces shaping the future are going to look like.
The Knight-Ridder chain of newspapers used to represent the sinewy, beating heart of American journalism. Then they got run into the ground, bought up by Tribune dorks who were more interested in playing out their boyhood “I wanna play right field for the Cubs!” fantasies, and then sold to the “grave dancer,” Sam Zell. Zell’s [...] [...more]
Now that the Tribune creditors seem to have grown a pair, and are starting to openly murmur about where all their money might have gone – in stark contrast to so many investors who have complacently plodded through the zigzagging pens of modern American Capitalism towards where the Bernie Madoffs, Angelo Mozilos & Magnetars of this world wield their blood-soaked financial sledgehammers – the word is out that Zell has reached the end of the plank.
So now what?
The villagers gathered around the moat look at each other blankly, their torches sputtering, pitchforks starting to droop. There is muttering in the ranks, a strange sense of deflation. What to do now that the monster has abandoned them?
Perhaps some new savior will arise. One who can lead them out of the bottomless cycle of self-asphyxiation and learned helplessness. A man who has “vision,” and who (with just the right sort of spinelessboot-lickingunderstanding board of directors) can restore the kingdom to its past glory. Maybe … maybe … yes. Yes! That’s it!
This shall be the image of serious news-gathering and investigative reporting in America.
Signs were there that DVD sales were about to implode; industry ignored all warnings To anyone in the newspaper industry, the parallels are eerie. The disruptive technology is introduced, and people with the ability to look beyond this quarter’s P&L statement say, “Oh-oh. Something’s in the wind. We gotta take a look at this, maybe [...] [...more]
Signs were there that DVD sales were about to implode; industry ignored all warnings
To anyone in the newspaper industry, the parallels are eerie. The disruptive technology is introduced, and people with the ability to look beyond this quarter’s P&L statement say, “Oh-oh. Something’s in the wind. We gotta take a look at this, maybe start shifting some resources into R&D, or we could blow up in a couple years.”
The need for a viable post-DVD digital strategy has been blindingly obvious for most of the past decade. But instead of focusing on that existential challenge, the industry wasted four years on Blu-ray, an absurd format that addressed no identifiable consumer demand that could not have been met years earlier, more cheaply and with less consumer confusion with readily available alternatives, like HD DVD or even red-laser DVDs.
The industry is still wasting time and resources trying to invent uses for Blu-ray to justify the time and cost sunk into it.
Hitting the snooze button when the alarm goes off doesn’t mean that what happens in the meantime is beyond your control. It means you’re asleep.
If I can extrapolate from the behavior I’ve witnessed in my friends, some of whom are the greatest TV & movie aficionados I’ve ever met; the type of people who can go one for an hour about how David Duchovny’s characterization of Fox Mulder owed more to John Wayne in The Searchers than, as is commonly (and erroneously) thought, the seminal Darren McGavin in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
When DVDs came out, they were such an improvement over the jittery, fragile VHS tapes that we loaded up on them. All the extras – the audio tracks, the Easter Eggs – oh, they were sah-weet. We’d have parties where we’d go through our favorite movies and break it all down – because now, when we freeze-framed, it was a perfect picture, not that damned bent image with static bars at the top & bottom, the way VHS shafted us.
And then something happened. We had a whole shelf – maybe a coupla shelves. Maybe even a whole room – full of DVDs. Alphabetized, categorized.
And we didn’t watch them anymore.
Why should be drag out a DVD, fire up the player, switch the Video1 to Video2 – just to sit through something we’ve already seen … when the TiVo has something fresh & new? There has to be a real dearth of new material that’s any good before we’ll go to the archives for some nostalgia.
The success of the studios & networks in setting up all these TV channels & alternative means of distribution of content has also been its undoing. If I don’t have to shell out $24 for a movie – when I can just stream it over Netflix, or better yet, see something new on my DVR – then why would I spend my increasingly scarce hard-earneds?
Technology alone didn’t change consumer behavior. It wasn’t the internet’s fault. It’s just that when alternatives opened up – when true competition arrived on the market – all of a sudden, the old Walled Gardens, with their high price to enter and their restrictive DRM – those places became not so fun to hang out it. So we all left. Gradually, but in increasing numbers.
The crisis that newspapers have faced for the last 5-10 years — the TV and movie industry is about to fall into that same Black Hole, for the same reasons, and apparently is determined to attempt the same half-measures to turn the clock back to where it used to be. Look for a lot of appeals to Congress for restrictive legislation, blaming “piracy” and “content thieves,” and then resorting to a death spiral of cutting costs and putting out shoddier products.
Still up in lovely Point Reyes, decompressing and re-imagining our web presence, so the output here has been seriously cramped. However, these three little items just beg for notice. 1. We've all seen the "MSM sucks, don't believe what it says" meme gain strength the last few years, flourishing in the fertile soil of talk [...] [...more]
Still up in lovely Point Reyes, decompressing and re-imagining our
web presence, so the output here has been seriously cramped. However,
these three little items just beg for notice.
1. We've all
seen the "MSM sucks, don't believe what it says" meme gain strength the
last few years, flourishing in the fertile soil of talk hate
radio hosts, and migrating over to the Kos/Firedoglake end of the
spectrum. Meanwhile, in the developing world countries that I've
worked in the last few years, the people react with puzzled frowns to
the thought that anyone ever would have any sort of uncritical trust in
Big Media. Well, according to the Highway Africa media conference,
the 3rd world on the way up countries are starting to really dig the
idea of citizen journalists. Which makes sense, because they have the
sad history of governments/revolutionaries, as their first act, seizing
the TV/radio stations and firebombing the presses.
…the power of citizen journalism, in its objective and independent approach, is not to be underestimated.
“We need occasions where the actor in society gives us a very good insight on what is going in communities, where journalists cannot be found.
Responding to "catastrophic" circulation and ad revenue projections,
the OC Register, long known as the dysfunctional family of California
journalism (i.e. everyone knows Weird Old Uncle Floyd is not to be
trusted around children, but nobody talks about it), is reportedly
studying the idea, with intentions of perhaps forming a blue-ribbon
committee that will issue non-binding recommendations, of maybe perhaps justalittle changing their format from broadsheet to tabloid.
Will wonders never cease?
Other cost-cutting measure being considered from the team reviews are Monday and Tuesday papers with fewer pages and self-service advertising options. Horne also says the paper may cut back on the number of distribution centers it operates, noting that it recently reduced the outlets from seven to six.
"Studying it and doing it may be two different things," Horne stressed about the tabloid change and other moves. "Every newspaper needs to study driving down costs
And last, for everyone out there who is concerned over those searches
that were done … late at night … after a few beers … y'know, just
for a hoot … that could be traced back to their IP address …
you only have to worry for nine months rather than 18. As part of
their "Pay no attention to the all-seeing man behind the curtain"
campaign, Google is reducing the latency of their caches of your searches. They
are also supposedly working to "anonymize" the userinfo, although how
that's supposed to help when all Google search&response data goes
thru the big computers at the NSA anyway is beyond me.
to all NSA, FBI, ATF & IRS functionaries now tracking me: Just
joking. Heh. Really. I have nothing to hide. I'm happy that the
government is vigilant against evildoers of all stripes, foreign and
domestic. Go Team America!)
Nicole Wong, Google's deputy general counsel, told a meeting of computer industry privacy experts at Microsoft Corp's Silicon Valley offices that her company planned to "anonymize" the computer addresses of its users more quickly.
"We're significantly shortening our previous 18-month retention policy to address regulatory concerns and to take another step to improve privacy for our users," Google officials said in a blog post released Monday night.
….until a year-and-a-half ago, Google had kept personally identifiable information about its Web users on company computers for an indefinite amount of time.
In all the trainings I’ve done over the last couple of years, the one hot-button issue guaranteed to touch off a passionate debate, even amongst the most detached, sit-on-their-hands group is the reader comments section. See, journalists just hate them damn comments. Yeah, yeah, notable exceptions abound, and some people “get it” that we’re supposed [...] [...more]
In all the trainings I’ve done over the last couple of years, the one hot-button issue guaranteed to touch off a passionate debate, even amongst the most detached, sit-on-their-hands group is the reader comments section.
See, journalists just hate them damn comments.
Yeah, yeah, notable exceptions abound, and some people “get it” that we’re supposed to include our readers/users in our little game of “Hey lookee here! I done found out sumthin’ kewl!” But by and large, newspaper reporters & editors have grown accustomed to their comfy positions as The Voice Of God That Brooks No Disagreement.
So when I start talking about some of the measure that newspapers around the world have taken to try to moderate & impose order on the chaotic forums, comment sections, trackbacks, etc., the journalists fairly leap out of their chairs, eyes alight, as they tick off all the awful insults and calumnies they have been forced to endure by the damn intertubes propellorheads. They talk about how their readers are crazy people who write horrible insults and lies about the reporters, and who get crafty to avoid all the various moderation/banning mechanisms.
In Chile, in Argentina, Russia, Mexico, Colombia, Ukraine … the trolls know no boundaries. In each place, the reporters and editors go on and on at great length about how they can’t stand looking at the comments under their stories, because they know that some persistent readers that have an axe to grind against them are going to show up there and start yammering and flinging virtual monkey poo.
I’ve actually found this subject to be a godsend – when my voice is wearing out and I need a few minutes to chug water and compose myself, I toss this little conversational grenade in the room, and let the journalists vent for a while before moving on to possible solutions.
It’s stunning to me that there appears to be international norms and predictable patterns to troll behavior. Vulgar sex-based insults, thread hijacking, escalating to physical threats. There’s a great gallery of Flame Warriors here – I highly recommend that you check it out. If you’ve spent any time whatsoever in the comments sections, having conversations online, you will laugh, cry and grit your teeth in rage as you recognize the archetypes. Is there some special international brotherhood of the troll that you have to join? Do the entrance exams call for you to drive a netizen into such a frenzy of rage that he smashes his computer monitor with his fist? Hey … that’d made a cool YouTube movie…
There’s an interesting case coming out of the Yale Law School that might put an end to all this. How?
By making people responsible for what they say online.
So yeah. The reason socially retarded dimwits, 15-year-olds off their Ritalin and drunk dormrats stink up forums and comment boards is because they aren’t going to have to pay the price for their actions.
AK-47 was one of a handful of students heaping misogynist scorn on women attending the nations’ top law schools in 2007, in posts so vile they spurred a national debate on the limits of online anonymity, and an unprecedented federal lawsuit aimed at unmasking and punishing the posters.
…lawyers for two female Yale Law School students have ascertained AK-47′s real identity, along with the identities of other AutoAdmit posters, who all now face the likely publication of their names in court records — potentially marking a death sentence for the comment trolls’ budding legal careers even before the case has gone to trial.
The unmasking of the posters marks a milestone in a rare legal challenge to the norms of online commenting, where arguments live on for years in search-engine results and where reputations can be sullied nearly irreparably by anyone with a grudge, a laptop and a WiFi connection.
We keep dancing around this problem on the internet, mainly because nobody has really found a workable solution yet. On the one hand, unfettered speech leads to such chaos that the signal-to-noise ratio becomes unworkable – my best example of this is the Yahoo News message boards. They’ve been down for more than a year and a half. If you ever went there, you know why.
The boards were taken over by a hard-core group of trolls with apparently limitless time, energy and hatred. No subject was too off-topic for them to use to spew their anger, obscenities and insults at … well, it wasn’t really at each other. It was basically the digital equivalent of a grubby guy in tattered clothes in a bus station screaming “AAAAAHHHHGGG! AHHHGGG!” at his socks. Even the most innocuous subjects – a story on flower arrangement or dogs, f’rinstance, would attract the trolls within about 10 posts.
One of the key things that helps keep internet users sociable is imposing some kind of accountability for their actions. Which is what registration is all about – trying to attach a real human identity to the screenname. The fight for newspapers has been trying to raise the hurdles for commenters to a level where it’s tough enough to establish an identity so that you don’t do it casually (no shelling out to create a free Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo account on the spot to establish a handy sock puppet), but not so hard that users start feeling like they’re applying for a home equity line of credit a Business Visa from the Russian Consulate.
Now that there appears to be a clear legal precedent for peeling back the layers of anonymity to hold trolls accountable for their poo-flinging, I find myself of two minds about this. I have been roughed up by a fairly good cross-section of trolls over the years, and it’d be nice to be able to expose them as the pathetic, mommy’s basement-dwelling loser subcreatures my wounded ego insists they must be. On the other hand … some of my responses to said trolls (hey! I was provoked! Honest, they started it!) may have been a bit … intemperate. So I have to wonder if there are perhaps some other sad, wounded egos out there. And, where would it stop? If you can bring an action for something someone said in a chat room, or Second Life, or the forums at AngryJournalist, well, we better just pave over the downtown areas of every major city in the U.S. and turn it all into one giant courthouse, because we’re gonna need the space.
A wildly successful industry is faced with a bold challenge from scrappy digital interlopers and reacts in all the predictable ways… Stage 1: The industry reacts with disdain – "The new digital stuff is just a fad. Look – our sales are going great. And people love us. They've always loved us. They'll be back [...] [...more]
Stage 1: The industry reacts with disdain – "The new digital stuff is just a fad. Look – our sales are going great. And people love us. They've always loved us. They'll be back in droves when this digital stuff blows over. It's so cheap and shoddy – where's the fun and interest in that?"
Stage 2: The industry's P&L statements can no longer be ignored. The industry reacts by trying to co-opt the new digital technology into its existing product.
2a. The existing designers and producers react with outrage and strong resistance to changing the way that they've done business for decades.
2b. The industry half-heartedly markets the new hybrid product to its existing customers. The distributors don't really understand the appeal of the new digital technology, but they glom onto the idea that the hybrid is the "same thing only different" and try to force the digital product into their same old channels and strategies.
Stage 3: The old guard loyalist customers are turned off by the hybrid product that doesn't function as well as the "pure" version, and inundates the industry with complaints and threats.
3a. The newer customers, who don't have that much loyalty, and who use both regular and digital products, try the new hybrid and find that the experience isn't really all that satisfying. It doesn't do the old thing well, and it doesn't do the new thing well. So they split their time between the new digital and old analog, trending gradually towards the new.
3b. The newest customers, who have been using digital, look at the hybrid and sneer. They don't bother using something that is so obviously lame and half-hearted.
Stage 4: The industry is relegated to a curiosity, maintained only in small niches, and used by nostalgic aficionados.
The story of newspapers? Or of pinball machines? I know, I know – the analogy breaks down at a million kajillion places along the way, but there are some interesting points of reference.
Full disclosure: I was a pinball nerd back in the day. After every big mid-term test, I'd go to the student union, and take out my frustrations and anxieties by banging around Pinbot,Black Knight,Eight Ball, Centaur and others. Sure, there were other video games there, and every once in a while, I'd goof off with one of them to pass the time. But there was something therapeutic about the way that you could actually get physical and bang on a pinball machine to get results – either to get the damn shiny sphere to go down the right ramp, or to get a revenge "Tilt" when the damn thing kept draining on you…
I remember the machines that started appearing that tried to include video games into the back panel. You'd make a shot, and then a short cut scene would come up and you'd have to take your hands off the flippers and yank on the controls for a bit.
The game sucked. The pinball game was shoddy and ugly and didn't really play well. The video game was light-years behind the competition that was specifically designed to be a video game. Worse, it cost far more than either one, and the damn thing was always either out of order, or the arcade owners had its guts all over the floor and were wrenching on it.
In later years, the pinball industry was relegated to producing super-expensive movie tie-in games for Terminator, Lethal Weapon, Addams Family, etc. etc. Meanwhile, the video game industry migrated from the arcades to the game consoles in every living room. The technology kept improving from the simple move-and-shoot games like Asteroids and Space Invaders to the current MMPORPGs like World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, Guild Wars and all the first-person shooters like Halo 3, Resistance: Fall of Man, and whatever iteration of Doom/Quake we're now up to…
The lessons for newspapers here are not clear-cut. But I'd like to believe that it is possible for a whole new thriving economic ecosystem to arise when a new technology invades an existing content space. I've spent the last couple of years staring into the crystal ball, trying to discern hints of what the future info-media-news landscape is going to look like … all of which may be as futile and doomed to error as it would have been for a Bally or Williams pinball game designer back in 1983 to have predicted that someday, a teenager in a basement could play a 3-D immersive game with other kids from all over the world, and then run his own business connected to said game…