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

Jul 18

Curmudgeon: It’s What’s For Dinner

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, Lemmings, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Web Tech.

More articles about the noxious effect of curmudgeons on the newspaper industry. This meme has really taken off in the last couple of weeks; I sense a great deal of pent-up frustration on both sides of this ideological debate. If this were an ABC Afterschool Special, the solution would come when both sides reach a crisis point where they realize that the other side isn’t all wrong, and at about minute :58, we’d have a wide-angle of the warring camps laughing and hugging it out.

I’m not sure that kind of cliched happy ending is possible, or even desireable here.

Vickey Williams of the Readership Institute tries to come up with the “Can’t we all just get along?” moment
in a recent blog post, first defending the Millennials:

The bad press turned nasty with the recent release of a book by Emory
Professor Mark Bauerlein speculating that this could be the Dumbest Generation.

I think there’s much more to this generation, and that they can offer
traditional news organizations invaluable help as they try, in chaotic
times, to invent the future. The question is, will existing newspaper
culture let them?

And then, to be even-handed, wags a finger in the Millennials’ direction, basically advising them to work with the clueless old coots in the newsroom, in some Digital-to-Deadtree intellectual barter system, wherein the plugged-in 1337 kidz teach gramps how to use Twitter in exchange for the key to bribing Sgt. Schulz with some strudel to bring in the big story that blows the lid off this here town…

Partner with a younger staffer for mutual benefit: In every newsroom
I’ve been in, veterans said they have certain skills knowledge that
goes untapped – often in topics where younger staff, when polled, said
they want help. Tips on storytelling in trade for a Twitter orientation? It could work.


Maybe my early career experiences have too strongly soured me on the toxic effects of the newsroom sourpusses. But I spent way too long a time at the mercy of some deeply damaged individuals who had inhuman drive and persistence – but used it to claw their way to a position where they could drain their radiators all over everyone and everything they came into contact with. I’ve walked dogs with weak bladders & overactive territorial imperatives that peed on less landscape than those curmudgeons. Every new idea of expression of belief in New Media … splat. Mocked, run down, soaked in cynicism and discarded as being not worth the time, and doomed to fail.

Jeff Jarvis over at Buzzmachine points out
that not all salty old newshounds are clueless about technology (I sense a harrumph from the greybearded pundit), nor are all apple-cheeked interns free from the instinct to protect tradition at all costs. OK, fine, perhaps the blanket generalizations are not warranted, and yeah, I’m sure there are always exceptions to the rules everywhere. But Christ, can’t we just try to get away from the Old Media thinking that we have to try to do a he-said she-said on every contentious issue? Isn’t that one of the things that’s brought us to this situation in the first place – wishy-washiness?

I have to agree with both of them on their core premise, though – they both point out how the time is past that the newspaper industry could afford to coddle the voices crying out against real, core, fundamental, daring changes. Of insisting on the half-hearted half-measures as a means of mollifying the curmudgeons. Of reflexive caution, playing it safe, trying to be prudent.

We’ve come to the part of the movie where the hero is pointing out to the frightened civilians that there is no alternative to crossing the rickety rope bridge over the crevasse, because everything on that side of the gorge is on fire/blown up/overrun by bloodthirsty Martians. In the next year, papers will either start to invest in really radical re-inventions of themselves, or they will gutter out into messy puddles like a bunch of burnt-out candles. Candles that once proudly provided illumination to their communities … existing only as twice-weekly direct-mail supermarket flyers and loose agglomerations of desperately underpaid semi-pro bloggers.

In my consulting work, I’ve seen newsrooms completely at war with each other. Newsrooms where the mossbacked conservatives hold up their years of service holding others accountable for their actions – as reasons that they should be exempt from the changes sweeping the industry. I’ve tried to control meetings where the New and Old Media stood on either side of the room, hurling insults at each other, screaming and shouting out charges and counter-charges, trying to pin the blame for failures on the other faction(s).

Such newsrooms are not happy places. And yeah, given the options available to content producers with multimedia expertise, this kind of warring over very basic concepts is indeed chasing away the very people that the industry needs most if it is to survive.

Convergence is no longer optional.

The curmudgeons – and maybe we should come up with some other appropriate terminology – cannot be allowed to take this entire industry down with them – no “Media empire makes a good shroud.”

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Jul 16

What Automakers (and Newspapers?) Can Learn from the iPhone

Posted: under Catching a Falling Knife, Digital Migration, journalism, Lemmings, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Web Tech.

This is going to have to be another “quick hit” because I’m struggling with Premiere Pro’s shakiness on the Mac platform – and yeah, I know, I should be using Final Cut Pro, but I’m trying to once again use myself as a guinea pig to see what problems crop up when you try to migrate footage from one platform to another. Which is not without its little surprises.

Anyway, I like to keep an eye on what advertisers are saying, and this little article in AdAge caught my eye: it’s ostensibly about what the auto industry can learn from how Apple has revitalized its brand with the iPhone and other portable gadgets in recent years. Check out these grafs:

Functionality: Auto execs pondering how to replicate the iPhone’s commercial and cultural success would be wise to note that the iPhone is not simply a marketing phenomenon. The iPhone is a breakthrough product. It revolutionized the mobile phone business through design, features and functionality.

One way for auto companies to create breakthrough products may be to begin thinking like a consumer-electronics brand. Technology brands are the new car. Throughout the last century, the automobile stood for freedom, mobility and joy. Cars represented modern life at its best. Today that role is served by each new smart phone, gaming system, wafer-thin laptop or home theater that joyfully proclaims that the present is better than the past. An automaker should commit to creating a truly modern car, a car that democratizes the latest technologies; a car that liberates us from tired compromises by proving that design and performance go hand in hand with safety and environmental responsibility; a car that is an extension of the personal technologies we use to make our lives more efficient, organized and entertaining. Create a car that joyfully proclaims that today is better than yesterday.

I think you see where I’m going with this already. Both the auto industry and the newspaper industry are in dire straits these days because they stubbornly cling to the products and business models that made them so much money for so long. And instead of really re-tooling to confront the threats that they’ve long been warned were coming, both industries still seem mired in pointing fingers at the competition – the Big 3 automakers and their fans once again bitching about competition from Japan, and newspapers having hissy fits about Google and blaming Craigslist for the imminent collapse of Western Civilization As We Know It.

The article goes on to tout Apple’s limiting supply and thus creating demand – the way that the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii did – which really doesn’t apply to newspapers. But the bit on coming up with new distribution models … now THAT is a fat pitch right down the strike zone.

And I especially like the recognition that the iPhone is a product that looks towards the future; that rejects “tired compromises.” I think that a lot of the pessimism and anger in the newsrooms has leaked over and tainted the news coverage. One of the places where this might be happening is in the news about the economy. I’m not saying that everything is wine & roses out there – I’ll leave that to Phil Gramm – but perhaps when you look around the newsroom and see nothing but empty desks and sad, echoing offices full of junked-out computer equipment, it becomes easier to believe that the entire economy is in in rock-bottom shitsville.

Apple was in similar straits about 10 years ago. They had to take money from Microsoft (i.e. The Evil Empire) just to survive. They were irrelevant, except to a hard core of graphic designers and photographers, and their notebooks kept catching on fire. They came up with the iPod and the entire music business was changed forever.

There are proposals out there for what newspapers could do. What they could become.

The U.S. is not yet ready to adopt some of the things that I’ve seen working elsewhere. Things that could cause the kind of “buzz” and speculation here about what newspapers are doing. That would bring back that “give ‘em hell” sense of daring that is sadly missing from Big Corporate America.

In about a year, after the election-year ad spike really bottoms out, newspapers may just be desperate enough to try these radical re-thinkings of their core products and business methods. I just hope by that time, it is still possible to turn this industry around.

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Jul 09

Many Eyes Word Tree: What Went Wrong in Iraq

Posted: under Design, Digital Migration, infographic, Iraq, journalism, Multimedia, new media, Newspapers, visual storytelling, Web Tech.

A brief respite from the yammering about curmudgeons, interns, naivete vs. nihilism and all the rest of the debate over whether or not newspapers will be considered a curiosity in less than 2 years’ time…

I got to this thru a post on the Poynter site, and man, is this ever addicting.

I’m a big fan of any tool that helps the user filter, organize and digest data according to his/her needs, and this one definitely shows promise. It’s an IBM tool called “many eyes” and what it does is form graphic representations of complex data in ways that allow you to click through and follow from a central starting point thread, where it leads… The visualization of the salmonella outbreak does what a great infographic should do – it presents complex data in an easily grasped visual way, and shows the relationships between various data streams.

I typed in my own search string to the tool – check out the results:

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Jul 07

NBC Throws Audience Measurement Methodologies at Olympics to See What Sticks

Posted: under adsense clickfraud, advertising, Digital Migration, google, journalism, new media, Newspapers, Online Video, television, Web Tech.

Meanwhile, Google whistles nervously, hoping nobody thinks to raise the issue of AdSense clickfraud again…

There’s a yawning gulf in New Media. It stretches from the pittance that most media creators get for their ad space to the other side, where the results of those ads sit, filing their nails. In between are the bleached bones of media tracking companies that have tried to draw a connection between the two.

From the LA Times story:

NBC has created TAMI — the Total Audience Measurement Index — to better understand how viewers are consuming Olympic content. The system, which Wurtzel has spent the last year assembling, will use technology and old-fashioned focus groups to closely monitor this.

For example, Wurtzel will be able to tell with greater certainty whether viewers are surfing the Web in search of Olympic content. He will be able to determine whether live alerts delivered via cellphones drive fans to television sets or computer screens to catch a record-breaking performance. And he will see how fans use online and VOD replays.

The system also will attempt for the first time to track Olympic watching outside the home via mobile devices created by San Mateo, Calif.-based Integrated Media Measurement Inc. A limited number of people will have the cellphone-like devices designed to monitor every bit of media consumed — whether in a bar, a movie theater or someone else’s house.

NBC Universal also is assembling focus groups to find out how consumers are interacting with what Wurtzel described as “the first 360-degrees Olympics.”

This is refreshing. I’d like to see more major media outlets doing this. Why? Because it’s pretty much the only way to break Google’s stranglehold on ad dollars. See, the problem is that everybody has fallen in love with search advertising, because it seems to offer such great results. Someone clicks on the link, they come to your site, and then it’s up to you to get them to convert to sales, right?

But see, that kinda ignores one little point: howinhell did the user know what to search for in the first place? Clairvoyance? Come on.

I think if NBC can start connecting the two sides of the results gulf, they can start showing that ads on TV (and display ads in newspapers, and morning drive-time shout-athons) have a lot bigger effect than what Google has claimed. And that will mean that advertisers will start realizing that buying search ads is not the end-all, be-all of advertising.

Which could be a very, very good thing for all the Old Media giants who are stuck in midair over that yawning gulf, their feet doing the Wile E. Coyote mid-air invisible bicycle pedal…

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Jun 11

Tiny Sips: The 60-Second Steve Jobs and On-Demand Jon Stewart

Posted: under Design, Digital Migration, Multimedia, Online Video, Web Tech.

Still struggling with assessing, organizing and condensing all the information I’ve been taking in, so my posts here and at Hard News have been sporadic, at best. This situation looks like it will persist for at least another week, so in the meantime, I’m resorting to the old faithful “aggregate and snark” model of blogging.

First, over at Mahalo, here’s a really neat condensation of Steve Jobs’ iPhone 2.0 speech into 60 seconds containing the most relevant bits of information. I know that for the walleyed Apple “f@nb01s” this may be heresy … but I kinda dig the way this was edited.  The quick hits at the end of the vid were definitely a hoot – they really show how much of a “hurry hurry hurry step right up” carnival barker Jobs is…

And now, here’s the link to Hulu having The Daily Show and Colbert streaming from their site.

The article describes what they see as a possible conflict between cable operators and Comedy Central – that having content providers putting their best stuff online is generating that “giant sucking sound” of viewers abandoning the increasingly less-broad “broadcast” offerings.  Viz:

Eventually, if this is not already the case in a small number of instances, it may lead to what’s known as “cable bypass”–individuals may opt to cancel their cable subscriptions.

Nonetheless, it is remarkable just how many TV shows’ full episodes are available on the Internet (with a relatively low commercial load), including most of the top network scripted series and many in cable. Arguably, the only premium broadcast content not available in full online are certain sports events and “American Idol.”

The background image for the Hulu internal page on The Daily Show.

The Daily Show’s page on Hulu looks spectacular. Someone really paid attention to not only eye-pleasingdesign, but to quick & painless navigability.  In fact, the whole front page and user experience of Hulu is worlds better than when I first encountered it back in January.

Man, I love, love LOVE the controls that Hulu has built into its video player.  The pop-out control especially comes in handy for a multi-monitor, multi-tasker like me.  Also, the 5-second pre-roll and associated ad from Honda are absolutely perfect … non-instrusive, not annoying, and I dig the way that they respect me. Can’t believe how much better this is than before.  So far there’s only 76 episodes up of this, but I can see where this is headed.  I wonder if the ad presence there is enough to capitalize all this development right now (I’m guessing NOT at the moment), but if they’re operating under the theory of aggregating the audience/eyeballs right now so that things pay off down the road, this is certainly a strong step in the right direction.

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May 26

Welcome to the Artesian Media blog

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Community, Design, Digital Migration, journalism, Multimedia, Newspapers, Online Video, Uncategorized, Web Tech.

I’ve been blogging for more than three years now on the Typepad platform, and have finally taken the leap to WordPress.  It’s not because Typepad was bad – although it was a little clunky at first, and I haven’t ever really been happy with their recommendations on how to deal with video – but more a case of me wanting to start exerting more control over the design of the blog, and its location.  Basically, I’ve outgrown Hard News, Inc. So, rather than try to make the old “brand” learn some new dance steps, I’ve decided to start afresh over here at Artesian Media.

I feel a little sad at leaving the Hard News blog behind – it was my first foray into blogging on my own, although by that point, I had been a web editor and publisher for 10 years.  I remember feeling euphoric at first – I was able to publish on my own, any time I wanted, about anything I felt like, without having to spend hours on the phone to coders in Bangalore!  When I wanted to move items in a list around, add or change photos, change the number, size and location of the text columns, I just clicked on a few radio buttons, and zammo! Hit F5 and everything’s changed.

Since that time, I’ve seen the blogosphere really start to codify and fall into predictable patterns.  Flame wars have their own cartoon graphics explaining their life cycle. Everyone gripes the same about trackback spam and script kiddies haxxoring your database and putting “U R Pwned” up in place of all your precious bits of Joycean stream-of-consciousness wisdom.

I kinda want to take the best bits of Hard News and migrate them over here – not only because some of them are (at least in my opinion) damn good, but also to multitask. I’ve always adopted the Army ethos of “Never ask your men to do something you wouldn’t or couldn’t do yourself.”  Well, now that a great deal of my professional life revolves around taking traditional print journalists (as I was for the greater part of my career) and guiding them on their first steps on the multimedia path, one of the things that I try to do is to look at the technologies and knowledge that content producers are going to have to master, and then to force myself into their shoes for a stroll.

So yeah, part of what I’m doing here is using myself as a guinea pig, to see how difficult it’s going to be to try to migrate over about 3 years’ worth of content from Typepad.

Stay tuned, watch this space, and thanks for checking in.

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