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 […] [...more]
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.”
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.
Scattered throughout the vast Bahir Dar Lake are seven sacred islands, each home to an ancient monastery, where monks still live in seclusion and contemplation The lake is the source of the Blue Nile (more pictures on that in a bit), and just getting to the islands required a long boat trip through very rough […] [...more]
Scattered throughout the vast Bahir Dar Lake are seven sacred islands, each home to an ancient monastery, where monks still live in seclusion and contemplation
The foundation to this building is ancient; the superstructure was built after it was burned/destroyed. The top part shows the influence of the Portuguese Jesuits of the 16th century, a particularly bloody period in the religious wars that have swept over Ethiopia with regularity. The cheerful guy in yellow to the right in the picture is the learned monk who cares for the priceless documents and treasures locked in the basement. There are also caves winding underneath this island; natural lava tubes that were used as retreats for the hermits - and are still used for that purpose today.
The lake is the source of the Blue Nile (more pictures on that in a bit), and just getting to the islands required a long boat trip through very rough waters. The bow kept getting swamped, and I was soaked to the bone by the time we made landfall. Apparently, the winds kick up in the afternoon, which is why there are so few (as in none) that will go out on tourism missions at that time. However, I had spent an extremely frustrating morning wrestling with the laissez-faire attitudes at Ethiopian Airlines (where the offices are rarely open to the public, apparently), so I wasn’t entirely in control of when I went.
Anyway, at the periphery of the island is a weathered stone dock. There used to be big tires as bumpers, but the local kids have swiped these and use them as toys.
To get to the sacred places, it’s a half-hour hike, all up steep and winding paths, paved with jagged volcanic rocks, through dense undergrowth that is dotted with ancient coffee bushes.
I met this boy on the path. He said that he makes the trip three times a day lugging this 5-gallon jerrycan to get water from the lake. Where I had to carefully pick my way, even wearing thick-soled shoes, he was as nimble as a mountain goat. I will post a video of our conversation in a bit.
More about those later.
The islands are inhabited by people who scratch out a living from the combination of fishing and selling souvenirs to the rare tourists who show up here. I was impressed by the fact that the first few stalls that we passed by were empty – but by the time we made our way to the top of the hills, the locals had rushed down and arranged rows of their little treasures and were desperate to sell to the lone ferengi (foreigner) who had stumbled across their little island on a Thursday afternoon.
The first monastery I went to was built in a circular shape; it symbolizes the nature of eternity. That everything goes in a circle, unbroken, with no beginning and no end.
There are 12 entrances to the monastery, one for each of the apostles. The paintings are a fascinating insight into the layers of history that have washed over this place, and left their marks.
The original paintings and carvings date back to the 1200s (or perhaps earlier), when the forces of Islam started disobeying the commandments of Mohammed and embarked on a campaign of burning and destroying Christian churches. This would not be the last time this happened. The monks, desperate to preserve their sacred writings – bibles that date back to the 4th century or so – fled to the highlands here, and out into the monasteries on this lake, where they could hide from the conquering hordes.
Among the treasures that they brought up to this region was the fabled Ark of the Covenant. Yeah, the thing that Indiana Jones used to melt the faces of a bunch of Nazis back in 1937. And no, there is not a giant warehouse where it is stored, along with a crystal skull or any other such nonsense (or so says my long-suffering guide).
On top of the monastery is a peculiar decoration – ironwork, festooned with ostrich eggs, which apparently symbolize fertility and rebirth. I’ll get to the amazing artworks that decorate the walls in the next post.
Meanwhile, the legend is that the monk who founded the first monastery (see in the first picture, above) was living in a cave, minding his own business. Like you do when you are a monk. Only the locals kept having sacrifices to a giant python that they worshiped. He came storming out of the cave and (as legend has it) called on god, did some angry preaching, and the giant python croaked on the spot. Which kinda impresses the locals, when you kill their pagan god and all. So they all converted and the monk figured he might as well build something on the spot over the caves where he’d been hanging out (better ventilation, some sunshine now and again, maybe even a chimney).
This bit of decoration features ostrich eggs at the ends of the spikes. Not sure if the eggs are petrified, hollowed out, or these are just replicas. I'm guessing they aren't still real, or they'd be rotten away by now & need frequent replacement, especially in this heat. The ornate spray of metal curlicues around the cross has a distinct meaning to those who know; the circle motif in the center is apparently a mark of Axum.
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. The problem is that the people making these […] [...more]
Dep’t of Vaporware: New Super-Duper HTML5 Video Players Will Solve All Your Problems
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.
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?
…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 […] [...more]
…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.
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.
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.
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.
The problem is that Strontium-90 looks to the body like calcium. So the children's bodies grab it and add it to the calcium being deposited in the bones. And once it's there it quietly goes about poisoning the bone marrow, causing strange and unpredictable cancers. Mutations. Leukemia is about as benign as it gets. [...more]
200,000 deaths. Could Fukushima get this bad?
This video was produced by my students at the University of Mohyla‘s Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism in Kiev, Ukraine. It’s in Ukrainian, so my English-speaking audience won’t be able to understand the narration or interviews.
Which is kinda beside the point, after you look at these kids.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the radioactivity spewed out in a meltdown. Their bodies are growing, and as part of the growth process, the body is constantly looking for calcium to add to their bone structure.
In light of the recent disaster at the Fukushima Reactor Complex in Japan, it is more than a little chilling to look at these pictures of deathly ill children that are still – STILL – turning up in “cancer blooms” in Ukraine, long past the time when the rest of the world considered the whole matter done & dealt with. That’s the thing about true nuclear meltdowns: they don’t just go away when the news cycle gets bored of them (they way it so clearly has with the Fukushima situation).
The problem is that Strontium-90 looks to the body like calcium. So the children's bodies grab it and add it to the calcium being deposited in the bones. And once it's there it quietly goes about poisoning the bone marrow, causing strange and unpredictable cancers. Mutations. Leukemia is about as benign as it gets.
So look at these images. Remember that back in ’86, the governments — in the USSR and elsewhere – were also saying that there was nothing to worry about. That the levels of radiation that were released were so low that they posed no real danger. Nothing to worry about. Move along.
It came as quite a surprise to me to learn that there is a widely known (but officially denied) statistic: 200,000 people have died as a result of the radiation leak at Chernobyl. Apparently, even the average Ukrainian on the street (Dmitri Six-Pack?) knows that the government has drastically underplayed the casualties. The problem is that it is devilishly hard to pin down what it is that has caused a death 5, 10, 20 or more years after an event. Was it the radiation? Or heavy metals in the groundwater? Second-hand smoke? Or just genetic bad luck?
Valiant Ukrainian doctors refused to shut up about the root causes of the cancer crisis. Some of them paid a heavy price for not going along with the program. Not shutting up.
When I was teaching at Mohyla, coincidentally, across the hall from my classroom, there was a doctor’s conference being held. The doctors were quietly furious. They felt that they had been screaming their lungs out about this problem, but that they were being ignored, hushed up.
Even arrested and carted away for daring to contradict the official line.
They had come to a journalism school to meet directly with people who they hoped would help them sound the alarm. To tell the story that things weren’t what the Men In Charge were saying.
“At least 500,000 people — perhaps more — have already died out of the two million people who were officially classed as victims of Chernobyl in Ukraine,” said Nikolai Omelyanets, deputy head of the National Commission for Radiation Protection in Ukraine. “[Studies show] that 34,499 people who took part in the clean-up of Chernobyl have died in the years since the catastrophe. The deaths of these people from cancers were nearly three times as high as in the rest of the population.
“We have found that infant mortality increased 20 percent to 30 percent because of chronic exposure to radiation after the accident. All this information has been ignored by the IAEA and WHO. We sent it to them in March last year and again in June. They’ve not said why they haven’t accepted it.”
Evgenia Stepanova, of the Ukrainian government’s Scientific Center for Radiation Medicine, said: “We’re overwhelmed by thyroid cancers, leukemias and genetic mutations that are not recorded in the WHO data and which were practically unknown 20 years ago.”
It’s impossible to look at these pictures and not feel a small sliver of dread in the pit of your stomach.
So many children have gotten awful, incurable cancers that they have had come up with all kinds of special equipment to treat their frail, tiny bodies.
This is going to happen in Japan. The invisible killer has already been unleashed there. The radioactive poisons released into the ocean are, by definition, heavy metals. They aren’t going to go very far. At least, not at first.
No. this isn’t about how advertising brainwashes us all into buying the latest overpriced electronic P.O.S. (although The Onion News Network has one of the most hilarious stream-of-consciousness obscene NSFW videos about this very subject). This is an intro to a mind-blowing speech by Caltech neurologist Moran Cerf at last week’s Mindshare LA, wherein we […] [...more]
This is an intro to a mind-blowing speech by Caltech neurologist Moran Cerf at last week’s Mindshare LA, wherein we all learned that we’re not alone in our heads … (cue Psycho music). In fact, we’re not really the ones behind the steering wheel up there; our decisions are made by what seems to be something of a quorum. And what we think we know … we don’t actually know. We just react to the most recent events, no matter how traumatic the actual event was … which goes a long way towards explaining why the U.S. voted the Republicans back into power. We really have no long-term recollection of how f’d up things were — just as long as they are slightly less painful NOW. There is a part of us that actually is rational, that knows and remembers … we just choose to shove that part/persona/personality to the background in our heads so we can go about our days cheerfully smiling into the face of our delusions.
In the rest of Moran’s speech, he dealt with such things as what are the five things that actually make us happy (and no, money & sex were NOT on the list), and how we can “listen in” to the neurons firing in a human brain to detect if a person is thinking about Marilyn Monroe, or Josh Brolin. Wearing a red bandana around his head.
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.
A while back, I was asked to give me take on “The Emerging Visual Language of Online Video” as part of Rosental Alves’ amazing yearly journalism conference in Austin. I made the room laugh when I showed parody videos like the “SoulWow” and others, created by the People Formerly Known As The Audience. Check out […] [...more]
A while back, I was asked to give me take on “The Emerging Visual Language of Online Video” as part of Rosental Alves’ amazing yearly journalism conference in Austin. I made the room laugh when I showed parody videos like the “SoulWow” and others, created by the People Formerly Known As The Audience.
Check out this interpretation of Bob Woodward’s book on Obama & Afghanistan:
My larger point (other than getting a cheap laugh, which is never to be, well, laughed at) was that the first impulse of video-makers is to take things that they know and love, and that their friends know and love, and to do their own snarky take on them. It’s what we see when little kids get their mitts on video cameras for the first time, and produce their own home movies.
It’s what Spielberg did when he was a kid and producing his own WWII epics in his backyard. My sisters, cousins & I did this back in the (mumble mumble) decade, with 8mm film, and a script based on what we had seen of ads of movies like Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (we couldn’t get into R-rated theaters in Wisconsin).
For the average user, producing a video is an inherently daring process. Any media creation is, really – but creating a video is so much harder than typing into a WordPress text window (ahem), that it ratchets up the anxiety. As any good comedian can tell you, laughter is the release of anxiety.
Creating funny, sarcastic or absurdist videos is a way to laugh at yourself, before everyone else does (again – check with comedians as to why they became class clowns – something to do with avoiding beatings from the bullies, I expect).
But now these videos are coming into their own. Before the book has really cleared out of the news cycles, already there’s a video (pretty good quality, too), interpreting it in a way that makes you pay attention.
A collective snicker/groan radiated out through the interwebs today with the publication of this AdAge piece on how video is like the news business was in 1998, as legions of print journalists who have seen the number and budgets of the news outlets for which they once worked steadily dwindle. Welcome to Disintermediation 2.0, where […] [...more]
Welcome to Disintermediation 2.0, where the content is video. It’s entertainment not news. And the stakes (at least the monetary ones) are much higher.
While everyone in online video is challenged by the reality that digital presents to any media — measurement, targeting, accountability — traditional “editors” are also being squeezed by the very same process that beset news in the late 90’s.
This has led to a new rating system, called either “C3” or “live-plus-three”; instead of only counting viewers who watch shows live, Nielsen counts anyone who records and plays back the program up to 3 days later. This captures more of the time-shifted viewing audience. By the end of 2010, McDonough says, Nielsen’s ratings will combine both DVR’d and online streaming content.
Kate Sirkin, executive vice president and global research director for Starcom MediaVest Group, sees the DVR, particularly the TiVo, as fundamentally changing the way Americans view television. “We have three in our house,” Sirkin says. “My 5-year-old doesn’t understand live TV; she’s always had a DVR.”
The other effect of DVRs, of course, is the commercial-skipping. Used to be that you had to hack your TiVo to be able to skip 30 seconds at a time. Now that comes programmed directly into the remote on the DirecTV HD controller (but I still prefer the TiVo, since it skipped you automatically 30 seconds forward in time, rather than making you watch blurred fast-forwarded action).
But the biggest eye-opener for me is that articles predicting that broadcast TV, the cash cow for so long for the advertising industry, is about to head into the abyss … well, that’s news. Because what took down newspapers was not that nobody was reading them anymore – in fact, the stats show that more people are reading newspaper content than ever before.
What has laid print newspapers low is that the revenue streams from traditional print advertising have dried up & blown away.
This relationship is inherently abusive, much like the relationship was between newspapers and their advertisers. When a viable alternative comes along, and you’ve managed to piss off your customers, guess what they do?