Sips from the Firehose

Aug 19

The LA Times: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Posted: under Digital Migration, newspaper crisis, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
Tags: , , , , ,

The eulogies for the newspaper industry are starting to become almost commonplace, as the generation that matured and worked during the Salad Days of the 70s and 80s totters off into the sunset. Mark Heisler, the NBA beat writer at the LA Times, has weighed in with a long piece at TruthDig about what the last couple years under Tribune and Zell have been like.

The last round of layoffs at the LA Times was described as particularly hard to handle, as writers and editors who had devoted their lives to the industry were unceremoniously disposed of … reminds me of a scene I saw early in my career as a paparazzi here in L.A., where the workers at Cedars-Sinai hospital played H-O-R-S-E with sacks of squelchy “medical waste” that used to be parts of living human beings, tossing the greasy, bloody offal into the incinerator bin. Something about the blithe way that these people went about their day was just revolting and compelling at the same time.

If that seems a little stomach-churning to you, then you won’t want to read Heisler’s account of how the past two decades have gone at what used to be one of the world’s great newspapers. The waves of clueless management that have run the place into the ground have made the few newsroom survivors pretty much inured to whatever comes next. There used to be outrage, dire warnings of what the future would hold … that because fewer people were out there trying to report The Truth, society would start to disintegrate.

These days, the outrage has fizzled out; the flame wars that used to be de rigueur on all the “Inside the Newsroom” type blogs, defeated by the realization that Nothing Matters, Nothing Works, and Doom Is Certain. Most journalists leave these days, trying to appear chirpy and optimistic about all the exciting new opportunities in store for them at whatever cutrate Content Farm accepts their resume, while the pressroom guys watch their icebergs melt as well…

Heisler’s take is a little less sanguine, and benefits from his decades of experience, watching the entire industry implode:

It shouldn’t be a surprise that bad things
happen when an industry has been under the gun year after year, decade
after decade, century after century.

At 67, one NBA season from retirement (I
thought), the rising tide of BS was enough to prompt me (and, I’m sure,
half of the building, including bosses) to muse about throwing the job
in their faces.

One of the things that Heisler manages to do is to separate out the death of American newspapers from the growth of the internet, which is commendable and rare. Heisler has the perspective of 40-some-odd years in the industry, so he’s seen that things were not exactly going swimmingly, even before we all started installing second phone lines back in the late 90s, to hear the “SQUEEE-chirr-[white noise]” as we connected to AOL/CompuServe/NetZero.

I guess what struck me most was the tone of resignation. Every quarter, newsrooms will be cut. Valuable people will have their lives destroyed. Society will get worse. Dog bites man. What else ya got…?

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Jul 01

Sweet Mother of FSM, Google+ Is Smart!

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

In less than five minutes, I responded to an invitation (that is probably still in pretty high demand) and signed up for Google+.

Being able to add people to the circles is an absolutely frickin’ brilliant move! The little animations are absolutely killer. I have been wanting this and talking about this and boring the living shit out of my tech-dw33b friends about how the one big problem STILL with social media is that it’s damn near and all-or-nothing game.

No longer. Someone at Google “got it,” and this is a killer feature that Facebook DOES NOT HAVE.

Also: Google+ aggregates my information from all manner of sources, so I don’t have to go through that goddam tiresome “OK, let’s fill in all the blanks on this profile page yet again … wait, what? … it timed out? (long cursing session)”

Check out the screen cap below – this is after only a few minutes of cursory work:

dave lafontaine profile on google plus
All this got added to my profile automatically. It borders on the creepy … except for the fact that I wrote and posted all this info about myself in the first place, and I approve of it and can tell instantly where it came from. Also note on the right-hand side: all the various places where I have established a social profile, all aggregated in the same place.

I kinda disagree with this post on AllFacebook, where they focus in on how Google has made it “compulsory” to be part of Google+, and that the key to all this is “time on site.”

While tech pundits are widely praising Google’s new Plus product, I’ve found the one feature that could take away from Facebook where it’s most dominant: Time on the site.

Facebook users are known for staying on the site for over half an hour a day, something no other site could compete with… until now.

To be honest, my gut reaction after using Google Plus was initially, “Why on earth would anybody switch to this from Facebook?”

However, when I loaded up Google Finance as I do every morning, I suddenly realized that I was asking the wrong question. The reality is that users won’t have the option of not using Google Plus.

However, later on, they kinda stumble into something interesting, that’s also come up recently in the kerfuffle over the “Open Letters to RIM” — that is, that tech companies are starting to realize that what will really make them successful, is making it easy for developers & propellorhead-types like, well, us … to come and play in their sandbox.

Add to that this very insightful dissection of what was at the core of MySpace imploding – the same thing at work, i.e. pissing on indie developers — and you start to see something fascinating emerging in corporate thinking … for those intelligent enough to read the tea leaves (or Cheeto crumbs, if you will).


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Apr 01

Friday Videos: Angry Birds vs. Middle East Despots

Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: ,

Love the fact that this goofy samizdat apparently came from a grassroots websavvy protestor with some cool animation skillz.

I love the fact that around the world, the emerging global culture plays off the fads&trends that have their origin in what kids in the U.S. find cool & interesting. In this case, it’s doing a mash-up between the soundtrack from a 1930s-era cartoon about the three little pigs, combined with the Angry Birds mobile/tablet game. (I love how the video includes little gems of gameplay that shows that the animator has actually played Angry Birds, and knows enough about it to make it funny & honest to the game experience. Also: note that the big savior is the Mighty Eagle, with the American flag branding. More on that in a bit.)

All the work I’ve done internationally has shown me over and over again, that while people around the world (quite rightly, at times) view the U.S. government with suspicion, skepticism or frustration … they eagerly embrace the latest videos, music, online games, online technology or silly internet memes that come from the U.S. It’s not a case of the medium being the message – it’s that the medium is so rooted in U.S. culture that American values and points of view just start to permeate thinking.

The whole argument that “Twitter doesn’t topple dictators” is a tired one, and Jay Rosen has a great article with exhaustive links explaining why that is such a straw man for People Who Should Know Better By Now. However, I do agree that Twitter itself doesn’t topple anyone – but it’s the shift in attitudes that occurs because of the slow drip, drip, drip of American open-source/democratic/anti-authoritarian discourse that is landing in the brains of web-connected young people around the world, that the powerful, slow but relentless force driving these uprisings.

More than anything else, this gives me hope for the future. These changes have been taking place incrementally, under the radar, really. But it’s why when I talk to the nerd/New Media outlaws in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Colombia or Azerbaijan – they all speak great English. Because that’s the language that the tech manuals come in. English & American is the language of freedom & hope. Which sounds corny, but when you have these kids in their teens & 20s coming up to you with this look shining out of their eyes … it’s hard not to choke up just a little.

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Feb 03

Petting the Mountain Lion

Posted: under Uncategorized.

Petting the Cougar, originally uploaded by Wordyeti.

This is one of a series of photos I’ve put up on Flickr showing the various exotic animals at The Nature of Wildworks, a rescue facility in Topanga Canyon. More & more of them keep accumulating, as people who had once had the means to collect & keep exotic pets are falling victim to the Sub-prime Mortgage Meltdown here in Southern Cal.

Unfortunately, just as some hoodrats dump their pit bulls by the side of the freeway when they become inconvenient, a lot of these people are just bailing on these beautiful creatures. There are three mountain lions here, a half dozen other large cats (bobcat and civet – at least, I think the long-legged junior leopard is a civet cat), a silver wolf, a fennec fox, skunks (descented), hawks and coyotes.

These folks need help. Watch this space – we’re going to try to help them expand their web presence and try to get more donations to expand into a larger facility where the animals have a little more legroom & can have a better quality of life.

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Jun 18

Helping Hand

Posted: under Uncategorized.

Helping Hand, originally uploaded by Wordyeti.

This is the latest from my class of regional journalists in Tbilisi, Georgia. Of course, shortly after this picture was taken, Premiere Elements 8 crashed – yet again. Man, if I had known that Adobe had really neglected this product so much, I never would have touted it as a solution for video-editing here. It seemed like a good choice – usually the Elements line of products is good for developing countries, since they are cheaper, easier to use, and light enough in their system requirements that these poor guys don’t have to toss two years salary for the latest multimedia powerhouse computer just to run the software.

Not this time. Boo! Premiere Elements just crashed again! I’ve been forced to download a trial version of Sony Vegas Video. We’ll see how that turns out…

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Jun 17

Stalin’s Uniform

Posted: under Uncategorized.

Stalin’s Uniform, originally uploaded by Wordyeti.

Man, this was tempting. A true WWII relic; this jolly guy spoke pretty good English and kept trying to get me to buy the Medal of Meritorious Motherhood, given to a sturdy Georgian woman who had produced 18 (eighteen) children. In service to the glorious state, of course.

It was about 100 degrees in the shade here, but the old ladies sitting and arguing next to their blankets coated with tattered junk didn’t seem to feel a think. The area next to this is called “Dry Bridge.” It’s kinda near the odd brick domes that are the Turkish Baths here … which is where Tbilisi gets its name.

Apparently, back in the 2nd century, one of the Great Kings was hunting in these here parts with his pet eagle, and the raptor knocked another bird (allegedly a pheasant) out of the air and into one of the bubbling pools of water. Which, as any good farm kid knows, makes it dead easy to strip all the feathers off — a feature of the area that made it seem quite handy to that king of yore, who decided this was just the kind of place to build a little hunting chalet. Which became a mansion. And then a castle.

The feelings of the locals here towards their Soviet past are decidedly mixed. There’s still some pride and recognition of winning WWII, and there’s even the village where Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (aka Stalin) was born, that stubbornly maintains a statue of bloody Uncle Joe. But by and large, the stirring bear to the north has made people hereabouts feel as nervous as a sociology professor who has errantly wandered into a Tea Party rally.

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Jun 16

Flip Cameras

Posted: under Uncategorized.

Flip Cameras, originally uploaded by Wordyeti.

My students from the small towns sprinkled around Georgia were initially a little reticent and puzzled at the prospect of adding video to their skillsets.

These little Flip cameras are about the simplest possible devices I know of for creating surprisingly decent online video. Already, they’ve learned some of the differences between print and video – mainly, that to do a video story you actually need someone looking into the camera and talking to you. And that is not as easy as it sounds … particularly when you take on an edgy project, like the one Team #3 did. They wanted to do a report on all the idle layabouts that line up for free beer from the beer factories, and then lie down on the river banks, arguing about soccer.

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Jun 09

Abandoned Lab

Posted: under Uncategorized.

Abandoned Lab, originally uploaded by Wordyeti.

The Resonance Newspaper here in Tbilisi once had its door nailed/welded shut by the government to try to put them out of business. Apparently, they just crawled thru the windows. Now they’re located in this building – formerly the site of a bioweapons lab. I’m guessing nobody really wants to kick down the door now.

To the left of this shot is the office cat/mascot, a friendly little yellow cat named Anthrax (I think – they could have just been messing with me). The staff here was smart & eager to learn; I felt bad when the power went out as I was wrapping up. As Eliso Chapidze, the intrepid investigative reporter groused, “How can we do all the internet stuff you taught us when we have no electricity?”

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Jun 07

Test of Google Wave from Georgia

Posted: under Uncategorized.

This is a test of Google Wave for the Green Wave radio station.

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