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


Mar 26

If the numbers don’t lie – what shall we put above the fold?

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism.
Tags: ,

When clicks drive coverage, what happens to hard news stories? Are we doomed to “hamster wheel journalism”?

kitteh sleeping is the end of good journalism

Sleeping kitteh, dying news industry.

Is the future only listicles and kitteh pictures?

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Mar 18

Mr. Mitchell’s Opus

Posted: under journalism, Online Video.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Readings from “The Light on the Coast”

My very first case study on best practices in journalism was about Dave Mitchell and the saga of the tiny Point Reyes Light. It was a multimedia piece – which, back in 2005, was a real Big Deal for the Online Journalism Review. I shot so many hours of video of Dave explaining his philosophy for running a newspaper, that Dave said that “I don’t think I recognize you without a video camera in your hand pointed in my direction.”

It’s a bit hard to find the files, and I’m not guaranteeing that the video files will play – but they are still up on some hidden portion of the OJR site.

David signing books in the offices of the Point Reyes Light.

David signing books in the offices of the Point Reyes Light.

A little over a week ago, I went back to visit Dave, to celebrate the publication of his book “The Light on the Coast,” a compilation of stories culled from decades of the Point Reyes Light. These are funny, touching, quirky – really, just about any other adjective you could ever apply to the complex little pocket of rural intellectualism that is West Marin.

Many of Dave’s former reporters, editors and photographers traveled long distances to make it to this party. You could tell there was a real kinship between all the people who had worked at the Light over the decades. Journalists reminisced with each other, and mingled with locals in the current offices of the Light, and next door at Vladimir’s restaurant, where we took over the back room.

The entire event was a testimony to the lasting effect that Dave has had on the lives of everyone in this community; how his dedication, hard work, gentle spirit and shaped the evolution of the little communities sprinkled up and down this beautiful coastline. Dave’s stubborn belief in the power and virtue of providing a a good, reliable forum for a community to have a conversation with itself, has meant that West Marin still has a “sense of place” that is sadly missing in so many other areas of the country, where big chain stores and soulless luxury hotels have taken over.

If you are a good journalist, and live your lift with integrity, decency, and caring about the community you work in … if you are really, really lucky … you will get a day like what Dave Mitchell got. You will get a day when your community and your former co-workers all turn out to tell you how much you meant to them. How much your life’s work has positively affected the place that you love so much.

And now, check out some of the readings from Dave Mitchell’s book. You can order it online – I highly recommend it.

First up: Dave reads a Don DeWolfe column about how the Point Reyes Light got its name.

(Don is the editor/publisher who preceded Dave, and who reminisced about the printing technology he used – an actual Linotype machine, with molten lead pouring into molds to print the pages.)

Next up: Dave reads a story about how bar owners used to have to dash back and forth, due to local laws preventing “Lady Bartenders” from serving anything other than beer or wine.

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Feb 24

Gawker’s Nick Denton: “Privacy has never really existed”

Posted: under journalism.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thought-provoking take in a Playboy interview of Gawker Media’s Nick Denton, one of the most-hated men on the internet. Also, one of the most successful.

His premise may be a little self-serving, in light of his whole net worth being based on prying into people’s lives and then shaming the shit out of them on his web properties. Then again, you might also legitimately say that his web properties are devoted to outing/shaming/calling B.S. on people because that’s the ethos he lives by.

PLAYBOY: You’re more willing than most people to organize your life according to principle and see how the experiment turns out.

Nick Denton, displaying some of the “let it all hang out” spirit.
Photo credit: Village Voice Blogs

DENTON: You could argue that privacy has never really existed. Usually people’s friends or others in the village had a pretty good idea what was going on. You could look at this as the resurrection of or a return to the essential nature of human existence: We were surrounded by obvious scandal throughout most of human existence, when everybody knew everything. Then there was a brief period when people moved to the cities and social connections were frayed, and there was a brief period of sufficient anonymity to allow for transgressive behavior no one ever found out about. That brief era is now coming to an end.

PLAYBOY: That doesn’t jibe with your other theory about how we’ll judge one another more kindly when we have no privacy. Human history is not a history of tolerance for deviation from the norm.

DENTON: You don’t think there was a kind of peasant realism? You hear these stories about a small town, seemingly conservative, and actually there’s a surprising amount of tolerance. “So-and-so’s a good guy. Who cares if he’s a pig fucker? His wife brought a really lovely pie over when Mama was sick.”

I grew up in Small Town America in the 1970s. Tucked back into a musty corner of the Upper Midwest, rural Wisconsin pretty much ran along the lines that Denton is describing. You can’t live with a family for generations without pretty much knowing all about their business.

You’d know without asking what their opinion was on pretty much any matter of import without having to ask, because their opinions were shaped by their grandparents, their parents, their siblings, and their life experiences.

As were yours.

The idea that we are free to become who we say we are, to invent ourselves – that is a curiously American concept, and one that functions only in fairly large urban environments. Even there, if you become suitably prominent, all the locals will pretty much be all up in your bidness, as the Southerners say.

So in that light: does social media represent a phase in human evolution wherein we all voluntarily put ourselves back into that small-town pressure cooker, where everybody knows all they need to know about us all at a glance? And is that a good thing or a bad thing? Can we even stop it at this juncture – and if we did, would we really want to?

Because there is this thing about small towns: after a certain amount of time, it becomes next to impossible to really pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.

It’s like my career with the paparazzi taught me. Somebody talks.

Somebody ALWAYS talks.

In our modern media landscape, so littered with charlatans who take advantage of ignorance and misinformation to skin the rubes, maybe this kind of brutal enforced honesty is not the worst thing after all.

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Nov 29

Creating a Banner Image for Your Social Profiles

Posted: under journalism.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Here’s an example of a banner image, created for Storify.

dave lafontaine on storify

i chose these images based on … well, not much at all really. Just stuff that was foremost on my hard drive. Given more than 5 minutes, I could probably do better … but this is still more attractive than the blank space that is the default on Storify.

This example uses a variety of quickly-chosen and lightly edited images to fit the radically horizontal image space on Storify.

Damn. Things are getting heavy. Journalists are being attacked by paid provocateurs:

journalists beaten by pro-kremlin thugs

Journalists being beaten by thugs: Hromadske.TV’s Dmytro Gnap was stomped, his camera smashed, and the memory card stolen.

The pro-Russian government in Ukraine is using “titushki” — paid provocateurs hired to disrupt rallies and provoke police, according to the Kyiv Post.

These protesters are acting like morons, trying to make the protests look like they are violent and anarchic. They are helped along in this mission by some of the more casual protesters, who show up after having a few drinks, and seem to be mainly interested in the more festive aspects of the protest.

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Nov 27

Embedding Infographic Example for Kiev Students

Posted: under journalism.
Tags: , , , ,

This is just a test of an embed code…

 

How NOT to look Ugly on a Webcam

by Lemon.ly.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

 

 

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Oct 07

eBook Publishing Options

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

How journalists can build their own news/publishing business

I was asked by my students if there were ways that they could publish their stories, videos and audios, without having to give up control to media companies that really aren’t all that interested in publishing new & interesting content from unknown authors. Well, not unless it is given to them free, with no obligations to pay any residuals or royalties, and they have exclusive rights to publish and market that content in all media known or unknown, throughout the universe, until the end of time.

There are a bunch of companies that have sprung up that publish multimedia books – you’ll have to do some research to see which one would offer you the best deal for your project.

1. Vook – they started off just doing ebooks with video embedded. These were interesting as experiments, but really didn’t push the form very far. Now, they’ve started publishing to all the major platforms (rather than trying to establish themselves as an alternative to Amazon, with their own proprietary standards – a losing game, if ever there was one).

The first Vooks were like the first CD-ROMs. They had text on them with cutscenes of dubious quality. Usually made from literature that was in the public domain (i.e. free for some geek to hammer on without having to pay fees to the pesky creative writer-types).

The first Vooks were like the first CD-ROMs. They had text on them with cutscenes of dubious quality. Usually made from literature that was in the public domain (i.e. free for some geek to hammer on without having to pay fees to the pesky creative writer-types).

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Sep 03

Google’s ‘In-Depth Articles’ Feature: What Journalists Need to Know

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

…back from summer vacation, and leaping into the school year. Well, trying to leap, anyway.

I mentioned this development in digital news to my journalism classes at Annenberg, and figured I might want to expand a bit more on it, and provide some links to related articles & research.

(Google Data Center from Wallpaperstart.com)

First, forgive me if this is old news, but I haven’t heard much about this from the usual suspects; for some reason, there isn’t much notice being taken of this by publishers, or professional journalists.

But the PR guys are all over this. Viz: How Google’s ‘In-Depth Articles’ feature could affect PR

Nut grafs:

The feature, which Google calls “In-Depth Articles,” offers up links to a set of three long-form articles, usually at the bottom of the search results page. The articles are usually detailed profiles and exposés on companies and their leadership. Companies and high-profile individuals should take notice of this development and understand that it presents a number of opportunities, as well as some perils. 

No one but Google itself knows exactly how these articles are selected, but the search engine giant has described them as “thoughtful in-depth content” that “remains relevant long after its publication date.” This is a major coup for traditional long-form publications such as Rolling StoneVanity Fair,FortuneThe Atlantic, and The New Yorker, as well as new online-only media such as The Verge,SB Nation, and Slate

The implications for businesses, prominent individuals, and the people in charge of maintaining the reputations thereof, are pretty significant, if not outright terrifying.

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Mar 19

Best of Journalism, Worst of Journalism

Posted: under Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Matty Yglesias says on Salon that online journalism means things have never been better! 

OK, there is some validity to his POV that access to unlimited sources of information has made the sophisticated news consumer (at least potentially) better-informed than ever before. Here’s Yggy on why things are so peachy-keen:

American news media has never been in better shape. That’s just common sense. Almost anything you’d want to know about any subject is available at your fingertips. You don’t need to take my analysis of the Cyprus bank bailout crisis as the last word on the matter: You can quickly and easily find coverage from the New York TimesWall Street JournalFinancial Times, and the Economist. Or if you don’t want to see your Cyprus news filtered through an America/British lens, you can check out the take of distinguished Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis on his blog. Reuters created an interactive feature that lets you try out different formulae for making the Cypriot haircut work. A pseudonymous London-based fund manager using the name Pawel Morski has offered vital, deeply informed coverage on Twitter and hisWordPress site. You can watch a Bloomberg TV interview on the situation with native Cypriot and former Federal Reserve adviser Athanasios Orphanides at your leisure.

Best of all, today’s media ecology lets you add depth and context to the news. Several sources on Twitter recommended to me a 2008 Perry Anderson article in the New York Review of Books about the broader sweep of post-independence Cypriot history.

Well. Yeah, that’s all true. If you’re looking for information on what is happening in Cyprus, and why this might melt down the Eurozone and start the dominos toppling the way they did back in the fall of ’08 again, there are certainly all manner of viewpoints, neat multimedia presentations, and interactive tools that will help you understand this big, glamorous, international story.

economist cyprus banking meltdown coverage

…as is the Economist.

Business week coverage of cyprus banking meltdown

Bloomberg and Business Week are all over this…

But where I start to have problems with his premise is down here on the local level. Now, trust me, I am very far from a newsroom curmudgeon. I don’t want things to go back to 1989. Hell, I make my living creating and refining digital content that is delivered across a wide variety of platforms (broadcast TV, desktop web, mobile web, native apps, online video, etc. etc.). And I am all to painfully aware of the problems inherent in making professionally produced content pay on digital platforms (see, well, pretty much the entire output of this blog for the past six years).

Here’s the deal: big international stories get lots of clicklove. The Cyprus meltdown could potentially affect billions of people. So that’s a huge potential audience right there. Many of those people are bankers, international businessmen, politicians, the investor class, etc. (READ: people who advertisers will pay to get their messages in front of.)

So the business model & incentives are there to produce all manner of content running this story to ground and microscoping all the possible permutations.

Again, this is not the problem.

The problem is this (from 2009 – and since then, it’s only gotten worse):

Only a handful of states have budgets bigger than Los Angeles County’s. NASA spends 25% less in a year. The county’s welfare and foster care departments serve the neediest, whose ranks will only grow as the economy staggers.

And the county’s purse strings are controlled by just five politicians, the Board of Supervisors, whose powerful incumbency means they almost never face serious reelection challenges.

But now just four reporters tend this turf anywhere close to full time: two for The Times, one for eight dailies controlled by newspaper baron William Dean Singleton, and one for City News Service, although that young reporter frequently gets pulled off for other duty.

Back in my day, as many as a dozen full-time reporters walked this beat, filling the row of cramped, glass-walled cubicles on the dimly lit fourth floor just above the supervisors meeting room. (The Times had at least half a dozen other reporters at its downtown mother ship, digging deep into city and county government.)

Yep, that’s right. Down here on the local level, those incentives that make it possible to provide such in-depth coverage for international stories are not (yet?) in existence. So we get things like the 2013 budget for LA County going through with barely a hiccup.

la county budget chart 2013

This is where $25 billion goes this year. I heard nothing about this – and I’m plugged-in!

That’s a lot of loot. But what really blows my mind is this other pie chart. It shows that this year, Los Angeles County gets almost half its budget – $10 BILLION – in assistance from the State and Feds.

Seriously, WTF? This county is home to an absolute massive amount of economic activity. We have the 2nd biggest port in the hemisphere. Hollywood, high tech, manufacturing, etc. And we still have to get about half our money as basically political welfare from the state and feds?

If those lifelines ever go away, this county will frickin’ implode.

What is the story with this? I’ve not seen it. It’s probably out there – but I have heard reams and reams about the fiscal cliff, the sequester, and yes, Cyprus. Not a whisper here in the LA market about a budget that has a far greater likelihood of actually devastating me and the community I live in.

LA county budget 2013 sources of revenue chart

I know the ’08 real estate meltdown devastated property taxes, but come on! This is unsustainable.

I know there are many, many proposed solutions to this problem. But I also know that none of them have gotten traction – yet.

I am working every week with my class of journalists at USC, to try to prepare them for gigs in the real world. It is my hope that they will not have to work at news outlets (and you know who you are) where they will have to use the skills I’m teaching them, to put together linkbait slideshows on celebrity sideboob. Or produce yet another think-piece on whither the Euro.

So yeah. In some situations, with some stories, things are really, really great. But down at the granular level, journalism is not in the greatest shape. Dismissing these problems as the fantasies of ill-tempered Luddites is not a path to a solution, Matty.

xxx

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Oct 30

Hurricane Sandy Coverage on Storify: An Inflection Point?

Posted: under Uncategorized.
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Major news outlets use Storify to aggregate & make sense of social media flow about Hurricane Sandy

In the last two days, as we’ve all been inundated (pardon the lame water-related pun) with near-constant TV, radio, web & social media updates on the progress of Hurricane Sandy, one thing that stands out this time around (as opposed to previous disasters) is that, having had time to prepare, the major media outlets turned to Storify to pull together live coverage of the storm, via the thousands (millions?) of ad-hoc citizen reporters who were posting so many TwitPics and Facebook updates.

storify front page showing stories about hurricane sandy

The front page design of Storify has gotten much better over the past year, and shows the clear stamp of the current trend towards “Pinteresting” everything. Still, when you look at the content mix that has made it to the front page, you can see just how widespread the Storification of Sandy has been…

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May 28

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

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, new media, Video.
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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