Category Archives: culture

20 years of audio on the Web, more or less

The Knight Lab worked up this very cool timeline of audio developments on the Web. It’s an unpredictable arc, ranging from the now-shuttered Napster to the seemingly invincible iTunes, but the real bullishness here is the present and future of the podcast.

Included in the timeline is a link to a story from The Washington Post in September about the growing profitability of podcasting, but of course it’s relative to the kind of topics and the entrepreneurial verve (if any) behind them.

With all the buzz lately about the addictive podcast “The Serial” (from the creators of NPR’s “This American Life”), it’s worth watching what it may inspire, whether we’re in a “golden age” of podcasting or not.

As Cecilia Kang of The Post notes:

“Radio is still far more popular and lucrative than the fledgling world of podcasts. The industry has withstood the disruption that the Internet wrought on newspapers and TV, partly thanks to an enormous audience of commuters trapped in cars. But podcast enthusiasts believe preferences are beginning to change.”

Marketing guru Seth Godin blogged not long ago that the business of local radio is on very shaky ground:

“Just as newspapers fell off a cliff, radio is about to follow. It’s going to happen faster than anyone expects. And of course, it will be replaced by a new thing, a long tail of audio that’s similar (but completely different) from what we were looking for from radio all along. And that audience is just waiting for you to create something worth listening to.”

Public radio’s response to the demand for personalization of Web audio was the introduction this summer of the NPR One app. Users can devour a mix of NPR and affiliate content curated on their preferences.

News economics consultant Ken Doctor calls the app first and foremost a “listening hub” (his italics), and says it’s aimed at casual, rather than addictive, public radio audiences. Kelly McBride at The Poynter Institute dubs it the Pandora of public radio.

Godin is the recent guest of Krista Tippett, host of one of my favorite podcasts, “On Being,” where long-tail radio has found a comfortable place. The topic of this episode is “The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating.”

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Discerning views about the digiterati

One of the biggest developments in the five-plus years since I first began my digital media education in a serious manner is learning how to better evaluate the claims of those I like to call the “digiterati” — especially when they sound absolutist.

I’m generally bullish on the Web, particularly as it applies to the journalism profession. Being among the tens of thousands of those having joined the print diaspora, I know the transformation will take years and decades, and may not save many of us who are mid-career journalists.

On other topics related to the Web, such as the evolution of open societies, for example, I cannot offer a more informed opinion. But that hasn’t stopped some in the digiterati from claiming that democracy is on the march. This is not the case everywhere, as Evgeny Morozov explained recently in “The Digital Dictatorship,” revealing a rather big hole in the ideology of those he has labeled the “techno-utopians:”

“. . . while the American public is actively engaged in a rich and provocative debate about the Internet’s impact on our own society — asking how new technologies affect our privacy or how they change the way we read and think — we gloss over such subtleties when talking about the Internet’s role in authoritarian countries. . . . While we fret about the Internet’s contribution to degrading the civic engagement of American kids, all teenagers in China or Iran are presumed to be committed and engaged global citizens who use the Web to acquaint themselves with human rights violations committed by their governments.”

I recalled Morozov’s argument this week when I was catching up on news about the release of iPad. There’s unhappiness within the techno-utopian set about what some have heatedly labeled a not-so-shiny new toy. All of which made Nick Carr, my favorite critic of the digiterati, rather gleeful:

“Progress may, for a time, intersect with one’s own personal ideology, and during that period one will become a gung-ho technological progressivist. But that’s just coincidence. In the end, progress doesn’t care about ideology. Those who think of themselves as great fans of progress, of technology’s inexorable march forward, will change their tune as soon as progress destroys something they care deeply about.”

Some like to accuse “old media” of getting too comfortable with their own value systems that blind them to what’s happening to the public they serve. Carr calls out the digiterati for the same offense.

Some of the “geek gods” — his term — have gotten so carried away with their own technological worldviews that they don’t consider that many outside of their realm may not want what they do from a new device.

Not everybody wants to be a content creator. Not all are constantly flushed with the compulsion to be all multimedia, all the time, and always, always, to be connected.

Sometimes we just want to sit back and be the audience for a while.

I don’t know what to make of the iPad because I haven’t held one in my hands and played with it. But this might be the invention that gets my 74-year-old mother to ditch her badly outdated WebTV (yes, she still has WebTV!) to surf and check e-mail more easily and conveniently.

Not everything that comes on the market is designed for the “thought leaders,” those so offended by what the iPad represents that in one instance shipping the “Bizarro Trojan Horse” back to Apple was the only appropriate thing to do.

Their certitude and bluster is no different than that of tough-minded literary and restaurant critics. Maybe they’ll be right about the iPad.

But I do find it ironic that those who like to snort at middle-brow technology users have given up on something before it’s been widely sold, or has undergone upgrades and improvements.

Perhaps I’ve been following the digiterati long enough to be better able to discern when they’re dispensing something of value and when they’re just full of hot air.

But when far too many of them sound like overgrown, impulsive, perpetually disappointed teenage boys — not many females here — I tend to think what what they’re serving up is more of the latter.

Happy happy gobble gobble

Just wishing everyone observing the American Thanksgiving a very good, peaceful, restful and enjoyable holiday.

I’m still burrowed in the work of launching a sports site I’ve mentioned here before, and hope to finish that in the coming days.

My posting here has been more sporadic than I intended as I work on that project, but I want to return to more active blogging as soon as possible. There’s been a lot going on in the journalism and media realms, as usual, and there’s so much I want to explore when I get the time.

So my thanks to you for your patience.

In the meantime, help yourself to some links on journalism, media and work, plus some miscellany, that have caught my eye on the fly . . .

Walt Disney vs. the news industry: How bad management is killing newspapers and their websites (Online Journalism Review)

Journalism, Technology Starting to Add Up (MediaShift Idea Lab)

How Demand Media’s Business Model Can be Applied to Niche Sites (Poynter)

Reinvention: Now the job requirement for Boomer women (Vibrant Woman)

It’s Not the Recession, You Just Suck (Outspoken Media via Mike Wells)

Local Bookstores, Social Hubs, and Mutualization (Clay Shirky)

Coffeehouses: Bringing the buzz back (Wall Street Journal via Evgeny Morozov)

 

 

Readings: The Web at 40, and how we’re still kids

I’ll admit it: I’m looking forward to a good long Labor Day respite, and so are you. So I’ll post some really good links here on a Thursday that I usually save for weekend reading. Will return on Tuesday after I get off the griddle for a few days (and I really mean it this time).

The first connection between two computers in September 1969 was a quiet event, eclipsed by such events as Woodstock. Now, some of my fellow aging Baby Boomers are trying to come to grips with the Web and all that it has wrought before we head for the rocking chairs.

What has become a major life-changing event for many of us in the media fields took place right after Richie Havens played his bongos on an upstate New York farm, Richard Nixon summoned the silent majority to speak up, a car careened off a bridge on Chappaquiddick and two men walked on the moon. There was a lot going on.

Various overview thoughts on the Web at early middle age here, here, and here, plus some goodies about the Web and digital life below that have many of us feeling like rebellious teenagers in the face of it all:

The Web Does Not Equal More Civic Engagement: “The impact of these new tools on the future of online political involvement depends in large part upon what happens as this younger cohort of ‘digital natives’ gets older. Are we witnessing a generational change or a life-cycle phenomenon that will change as these younger users age? Will the civic divide close, or will rapidly evolving technologies continue to leave behind those with lower levels of education and income?”

Bill would give President emergency control of Internet: “Rockefeller’s revised legislation seeks to reshuffle the way the federal government addresses the topic. It requires a ‘cybersecurity workforce plan’ from every federal agency, a ‘dashboard’ pilot project, measurements of hiring effectiveness, and the implementation of a ‘comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy’ in six months–even though its mandatory legal review will take a year to complete.”

The erosion of privacy in the Internet era: “Do we want to live in a society where the government can—regardless of whether they use the power or not—have access to all of our communications? So that they can, if they feel the need, drill down and find us?”

Multitaskers beware: your divided attention comes at a price: “Heavy multitaskers tended to be more readily distracted by extraneous information than their more focused peers. That doesn’t mean that multitasking is a total loss, as there may be benefits that weren’t tested in this study, but it does make the case that heavy multitaskers might want to consider the limits of their habits.”

Why Studies About Multitasking Are Missing The Point: “I reject the notion that media is a stream of soulless ‘content’ that I am ‘consuming’. As a result, I read differently than than someone who simply wants to scan the headlines. An article may cause me to look something up, and I read that, and I need to let some inchoate idea at the back of my mind bubble for a day before taking any measurable action.”

Sentiment Analysis Takes the Pulse of the Internet: “Social media used to be this cute project for 25-year-old consultants. Now, top executives are recognizing it as an incredibly rich vein of market intelligence.”

‘Social Networking’; Give me a break: “Granted, there are people spending too much time on social media, just as others 10 years ago spent too much time surfing the Web, or using AIM. I’m old enough to remember people who spent the entire morning pouring over every word in a newspaper sports section, or checking their stocks. Those who are non-productive in the workplace are obvious, whether they are addicted to Twitter or online puzzles. Why should companies spoil it for everyone else?”

How Twitter saved my career . . . and my life: “Over the course of my unemployment, my Twitter account grew from roughly 2,000 followers to more than 5,000, and it was undoubtedly these impressive numbers and a demonstrated knowledge of the power of social media that played a role in my hiring and differentiated me from others with similar skills.”

A history of blogging, and why it matters: “I am now one of them, although, like half of registered bloggers, I rarely update. As such, I can attest it’s possible to accept blogging with neither cynicism nor Rosenberg’s unequivocal enthusiasm. Blogging is time-consuming no matter what your profession, and if you happen to be in the business of selling your intellectual and creative capital, giving it away free can be a mystifying and maddening expectation.”

Race to Be an Early Adopter Goes Mainstream: “There’s really no group out of the tech loop. America is becoming a digital nation. Technology adoption continues to roll along, picking up more and more mainstream consumers every year.”

Readings: Newspapers and democracy, the freelancing life, Craigslist and slow media

Some good long-form pieces on journalism, the media and related topics for some weekend reading. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the fate of newspapers, but soon I’ll be unveiling a revamped blog concept designed to move far beyond those boundaries.

As usual, I seem to conclude this roundup with an admonition to get off the Web for a bit. It’s a great and wonderful thing, but not merely for its own sake:

Unnecessary death of an institution: “To see the word ‘I’ in any kind of piece written by a reporter is about as shocking a development as a reader can read in the Times. Suddenly Times reporters are writing in the first person. The next thing you know Times beat writers will be cheering in the press box.”

Vanishing down the ink hole: “Not to be snide about it, but is quality journalism the best tool to foster democracy? Advocates of participatory democracy and government accountability might be smarter to invest their time directly in reforming government.”

The Midnight Disease: Freelance Writing’s Joy and Terror: “One night, sharing drinks with a woman, long after the thrill of seeing my byline had died, she asked in wonderment, ‘Don’t you just love seeing your name in print?’ I replied: ‘I love seeing my name on a check.’ ”

Why not sell EveryBlock to a newspaper? “It’s like asking me, after I put together a band of musicians, why I didn’t choose the musician who spoke Portuguese. What difference does it make if a musician speaks Portuguese?”

The New Media Crisis of 1949: “Americans of all ages ­embraced TV unhesitatingly. They felt no loyalty to network radio, the medium that had entertained and informed them for a quarter-century. When something came along that they deemed superior, they switched off their radios without a second thought. That’s the biggest lesson taught by the new-media crisis of 1949. Nostalgia, like guilt, is a rope that wears thin.”

Of Media Poverty and Passion: “Add a healthy dose of old-fashioned journalistic passion to the mix, and you will be more successful than your father or any journalism professor ever could have imagined. That knowledge is all that keeps the hope within me alive after three consecutive layoffs, two of them within 10 months, in a changing media world. The future of journalism is both scary and exciting. It will be literally what we formerly ink-stained wretches make of it.”

Portrait of the Artist as a Digital Native: “As a creative type you can promote your work as much as you can online, you can give samples or all of your work for free, but until now a sure foot on ‘old’ media is still needed for success. Notions of authority, professionalism, quality, respectability and good artistic reputation are still defined by gate-kept models.”

Why Craigslist is such a mess: “It is easy to find hypocrisy in the idealism of a business owner who prescribes democracy for others while relieving himself of the tiresome burden of democratic consultation in the domain where he has the most power. But of course, craigslist is not a polity; it is just an online classified advertising site, one that manages to serve some basic human needs with startling efficiency. It is difficult to overstate the scale of this accomplishment.”

A Manifesto for Slow Communication: “Many of the values of the Internet are social improvements—it can be a great platform for solidarity, it rewards curiosity, it enables convenience. This is not the mani­festo of a Luddite, this is a human manifesto. If the technology is to be used for the betterment of human life, we must reassert that the Internet and its virtual information space is not a world unto itself but a supplement to our existing world.”

Before taking a little time off the grid . . .

I just got a bit too busy — at least to write here in any meaningful way — during what’s been a very productive week.

What I need more than anything is a bit of a break from the Web and will be posting lightly here over the next week. A number of freelance writing proposals, laying the groundwork for some sports media startups and the brainstorming needed to put everything in order will be my priorities.

In addition, I’m doing a little rethinking of this blog to go beyond career reinvention for displaced journalists. I’ve altered the blogroll already and soon will explain more fully the changing focus of what I want to examine here.

But I do want to pass along some good weekend reading links on media, the Web and digital life, as I try to do each Friday. Enjoy and as always, I do appreciate your feedback and comments:

For Families Today, Techology Is Morning’s First Priority: “This is morning in America in the Internet age. After six to eight hours of network deprivation — also known as sleep — people are increasingly waking up and lunging for cellphones and laptops, sometimes even before swinging their legs to the floor and tending to more biologically urgent activities.”

The Future of Work, It’s Data, Baby: “As suggested by Daniel Pink’s assertions on the rise of a right-brained working elite, the ability to extract stories from a world of increasing and abundant data will be increasingly critical to many industries. Indeed, the opening of U.S. federal government data at data.gov implies a new societal and cultural importance for data wranglers.”

Tim Berners-Lee: We No Longer Fully Understand the Web: “The brain is something very complicated we don’t understand — yet we rely on it. The web is very complicated too and, though we built it, we have no real data about the stability of the emergent systems that have cropped up on it.”

The Age of the Stream: “As it becomes the primary way we interact with content, streams threaten longer formats like TV shows, articles, albums or books. Over time, we will find we’re no longer a nation that eats media meals. Rather, we’re all-day content snackers — which means we become more source agnostic too.”

Disappearing in the Digital Age: “Mr Ratliff is truly testing the ability to just simply disappear in an age of 24/7 connectedness and digital clues that litter our lives. It’s an intriguing project that at its heart aims to find out ‘what does it take to up and disappear these days? Not to head off the grid for a few days, mind you, but to actually vanish from your life?’ “

Readings: Garrulous Luddites, hyperlocal hyperventilating, going viral and the joys of vinyl

Arts journalist Bill Wyman’s tough-minded series on Splice Today this week about “Why Newspapers Are Failing” leads off a weekend long-form reading list on topics related to journalism, the media and the Web.

In his first installment, Wyman takes his own profession to task for being too sentimental and naïve about the newspaper industry while ignoring the habits, assumptions and practices that have led to its steep decline:

“If the media doesn’t understand the issues that have actually put it into the precarious position it’s in, how can it survive?”

In the series finale Wyman — who for a while worked at my former newspaper as well as Salon and NPR — says newspaper journalists need to ditch their institutional timidity as well as the “garrulous Ludditism” that too many still hold dear:

“The attitude ate journalism away from the inside in two ways: It put journalists physically and psychologically out of touch with society and hampered its coverage; and it devolved into a head-in-the-sand response to the challenges facing the industry. . . . The truth is, newsroom staffs are permeated with fear of change and a discomfort with new technology.”

Wyman eviscerates newspaper Web sites, which he says serve their companies at the expense of readers, and offers up some suggestions for improvement that I really wonder will ever be followed:

“Serve the community. Don’t publish crap. Tell folks stuff they might not want to hear. Grow a pair.”

• Wyman isn’t the first to suggest that news organizations go “hyperlocal” as they reinvent themselves. Online journalism gurus have long been hailing this approach as a surefire way to replace what’s draining out of daily newspapers. But Fast Company’s Michael Gluckstadt casts a gimlet eye, because of previously failed advertising models as well as the constant evangelizing:

“The future of hyperlocal — according to the people who have studied, lived, and championed it — seems to be in convincing others that hyperlocal is the future.”

• But hyperlocal creators are carrying on in a myriad of ways, and in some cases are spreading their wings. The brand new San Diego News Network appreciates its citizen bloggers providing gratis contributions. But it’s wagering its success on paid professional journalists to provide substantive community reporting:

“Blogging is interesting, but it’s like whipped cream on apple pie. If you only had whipped cream, you’d get clogged arteries and drop dead.”

• Bill Wasik, author of a forthcoming book about “viral culture,” is at once excited about the frantic nature of Web opportunities for young creatives and wary of the fleeting drawbacks that can accompany them:

“Online, the audience can be yours right away, direct and unmediated — if you can figure out how to find it and, what’s harder, to keep it. . . . ‘Microcelebrity’ is now the rule, with respect not only to the size of one’s fan base but also to the duration of its love. Believe it or not, the Internet is a tougher town than New York; fewer people make it here, but no one there seems to make it for long.”

• Nick Carr has been discussing Wasik’s book, and particularly in the context of these music-on-demand times:

“The problem with the Web, as I see it, is that it imposes, with its imperialistic iron fist, the ‘ecstatic surfing’ behavior on everything and to the exclusion of other modes of experience (not just for how we listen to music, but for how we interact with all media once they’ve been digitized). . . .

“It’s the deep, attentive engagement that the Web is draining away, as we fill our iTunes library with tens of thousands of ‘tracks’ at little or no cost. What the Web tells us, over and over again, is that breadth destroys depth. Just hit Shuffle.”

• Alex Ross, the classical music critic of The New York Times, like Carr, is no Luddite. But he felt the same way after scarfing up some of the best digital offerings he could find on the Web:

“But these meandering journeys across the Internet soundscape can be taxing. The medium too easily generates anxiety in place of fulfillment, an addictive cycle of craving and malaise. No sooner has one experience begun than the thought of what else is out there intrudes. Putting on an old-fashioned disk and letting it play to the end restores a measure of sanity. This may explain why the archaic LP is enjoying an odd surge of popularity among younger listeners: it’s a modest rebellion against the tyranny of instant access.”