Sips from the Firehose


Oct 13

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


Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, newspaper crisis.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

Which, of course we are. 

mcdonald's fry cook

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

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

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

His results:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments (0)



Nov 18

Cat Riding a Roomba


Posted: under Amusing Nonsense.
Tags: , , ,

I received the tweet earlier today, and it rocked my world like a bombshell.  It was from Scott Beale, owner/operator/provocateur of the Laughing Squid collective of digital mischiefmakers.

It read “what could you possibility be doing right now that is better than watching a cat ride a Roomba http://ping.fm/DRqoO”

Here is the video embedded here, but I encourage you all to click over to Laughing Squid, just so’s he can get some page traffic. Genius such as this must not go unrewarded.

I was forced to click over. What right-thinking person would not?

The conclusion is obvious. There is not one single thing that would be more important to do right now than to watch a cat riding a Roomba.

It makes me want to install wall-to-wall carpet in my house, just so I can justify getting a Roomba to see if my cats will do this. I love the rather scholarly air the cat seems to have, as though he were pondering one of the great questions of life, the universe & everything.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is, indeed a Zen Master Cat, and that he accepts the abrupt changes in speed, direction and scenery as all part of the temptations of Maya, the World of Illusion, and that the only appropriate response to such temptations is to adopt a calm, contemplative approach to the vagaries of the paths we travel as we journey through Life’s Rich Pageant. His purr is the equivalent of an “Ommmm” mantra.

Or maybe it’s just that the Roomba gets warm as it operates, and the kitty just wants to toast his butt a little. 

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Comments (0)



Nov 02

Viral Video Hits: Campaign ’08 Edition


Posted: under new media, Online Video, Politics & New Media.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Now that we’re finally approaching the end of a presidential campaign season that started way back in May 2007 … and as an aside, allow me to observe that it used to be that declaring for the presidency the December before the Iowa caucuses/New Hampshire primaries was early …

Let’s take a look back at one of the emerging forces that has come out of nowhere these last fours years to impact the way that politics is conducted: viral videos.

The first indication that this was going to have a transformative effect on the electoral process was back in ’06, when Virginia Senator George Allen’s “Macaca Moment” kneecapped the GOP’s best hope for hanging onto the White House. This was not the first YouTube video about politics, but it was the first really big one.  The scandal that erupted over this cost Allen his Senate seat, his shot at the White House, and was the signal that Virginia was now in play for the Democrats – one of the really big, under-reported shifts in electoral demographics of the last couple years.

Now they, you’ll notice that this video has only racked up 370,000 views or so. Good, but hardly awe-inspiring … not even in the category of kittens dancing around on piano keys. 

So how is it that these videos have such an effect?  Well, the mainstream media is still, for now at least, the ones setting the parameters and nature of the conversation.  But the process by which the MSM frames the national discussion has undergone a sea change. And part of it is the GOP’s fault.

It started with Drudge and the Monica Lewinsky scandal (although many are finally acknowledging that the “Drudge Effect” is losing steam), continued on with the Swift Boat veterans, and this year, finds its truest expression in the vids of Fey-as-Palin.

See, reporters and editors are pretty much web addicts.  We poke around on the internet all day long, trying to figure out what the Vox Populi is saying, so we can latch onto it and churn out a “trend” story.  And then go drink.

Viral videos that make us laugh, make us stop, make us click to get the link and then e-mail it to our friends & colleagues … those get the “trend” prize, whether they are or not at the time.  And, of course, once a critical mass of journalists bestows the “this is a growing trend” status on a meme (Soccer Mom, NASCAR Dad, Security Mom, Joe the Plumber, etc.), then said meme is going to get a serious working-over by the material-starved talking heads on the cable news programs. 

We are moving closer and closer to a merging of the “underground” flow of significant memes and information on the internet, and what the MSM reports and pays attention to.  This gallery of viral hits will take you through the history of the Presidential Campaign ’08, in a way that will have you remembering the conversations we were having only a few months ago, and how those memes have morphed into the Accepted Collective Wisdom.

Mission accomplished. Time for cocktails.

1. Yes We Can – Barack Obama Music Video

It started with this, back when the Iowa caucuses came back, and people started actually buying into the idea that maybe … maybe … there’s something to this guy Obama.  Maybe we don’t have to pin our hopes on Hilary and another depressing go-round with Bill Clinton in the White House with a lot of free time on his hands.  This has gotten 11 million views since it was put up, features will.i.am and hella good editing & soundtrack.

2. Dear Mr. Obama.

A hit for the McCain campaign, this Iraq war vet holds forth on his belief that the war was not a mistake. This has been made into a commercial for the Republican Majority Campaign PAC.

3. I’ve got a crush on Obama.

This one got more than 10 million views – which proves that hot chicks in tight clothing are certainly a spur to the success of a video.  Lately, Amber Lee Ettinger has diversified and put on the Palin glasses & hair bun, and there are now more than 30 “Obama Girl” videos.

4. JibJab’s “It’s time for some campaignin’ ”

This one came along in mid-July, when we were starting to get really serious about this, and provided a nice preview of the emerging themes of the campaign.  This wasn’t as big a hit as the videos back in 2004, when the images of Kerry sailing up the Mekong and Bush screwing up everything he touched really hit a nerve.   This one does deliever, however, with Obama riding a rainbow unicorn.  And seeing Hilary clonk Bill with a frying pan never gets old.

5. McCain’s YouTube problem just became a nightmare

This one has gotten upwards of 8 million hits, and is from provocateur Robert Greenwald and bravenewfilms (full disclosure: years ago, I worked on a project that was destined for Greenwald’s production company, until it got tied up in a very messy legal quagmire).  This video, part of a “The Real McCain” effort to define the candidate, set a lot of the foundations for the stories that we’ve been seeing reported in the last couple of months. Another very telling point: it’s garnered upwards of 66,000 comments – a pretty good yardstick for something that “engages” the audience.  

6. Obama, Paris Hilton & Britney Spears – the “Rock Star” Ad

This is another video that got more than 2 million view, and made a huge splash at the time.  To many people, this marked the spot where the McCain campaign went off the rails … where it started to become less about what McCain was going to do, and more about going negative and trying to smear Obama, using whatever means necessary.  Of course, this then led to one of the funniest responses of the campaign season …

7. Paris Hilton accepts McCain’s endorsement

“I’ll see you at the debates, bitches,” is one of the best one-liners of the campaign season.  I blogged about this before, so go there for a fuller reaction to her actually rather insightful energy policy.

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

8 . Crazy Hilary Supporter Goes Off

Remember back when the PUMAs were allegedly going to tear the Democratic Party apart? When this giant seething mass of resentful, fanatic feminist Hilary supporters were going to desert and vote for McCain because they were so pissed off about the treatment Hilary got in the primaries?  This woman made her way into the media spotlight for a while.  And then it turned out that she didn’t really represent any kind of significant voice in American politics.  She was just old, ornery and slightly nuts.  Kinda like McCain, some to think of it…

9. RNC Convention Protests

This footage of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman being carted away made a lot of news at the time, as did the tear gas and other protests going on outside the convention hall.  This was all quickly overshadowed by the next player to emerge on the national stage…

10. Is McCain Palin’s Bitch?

This one has gotten more than 2 million view, yet it hasn’t made it as big as some of the other viral hits.  I just love it because they managed to find an actor who actually kinda looks like McCain.  And it starts with the faux-Palin firing an AK-47. And ends with the line “Who wants to go polar bear huntin’?”

11.  Couric-Palin interview – “I can see Russia from my window”

This has passed into the category of epochal political history.  The moment that Palin said something so galactically stupid that people around the world stopped in their tracks to ask, “She said WHAT? What the hell was THAT?”  Of course, that then opened the door to….

12. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

This got more than 7 million views.  And has spawned a whole cottage industry.  I’m sure you have seen all of these.  And if you haven’t in a while, go and check them out. They could populate an entire list by themselves… 

13. Sarah Silverman’s “The Great Schlep”

This is not as genius as Tina Fey’s work above, but it’s still damn good, and more than that, has apparently inspired a whole bunch of young East Coast jews to bug their grandparents in Florida to vote Obama.  We’ll have to wait ’til Tuesday to see how well that worked out, but in the meantime, the description of Obama’s barbecue skills is worth a peep.


14. Obama – McCain Dance-Off

If we are not to settle big issues through single combat, then the dance-off would seem to some observers (OK, me) to be an equally thrilling and relevant process.  And it may reveal more about character and poise than those damn canned statements they just recite in front of the cameras in lieu of actually answering the questions asked by the moderators.

Final winners will be unveiled tomorrow.

Comments (0)