Category Archives: media

Crying Wolff about the state of digital media

It’s not news that Michael Wolff is sour on digital media, and has been for quite a while, and this recent Q and A with Digiday makes it clear his mood is as dour as it’s ever been:

“TV was the wasteland. Now digital media is the wasteland. There’s nothing there. A deluge of crap. TV has gone in the other direction and produced these things everybody watches and talks about and become important signposts of the culture. So TV is upscale, and digital is downscale media.”

What’s more, he says that what successful web plays like Vice are really angling for is some kind of TV gig. But he’s off the mark in claiming that “digital media has killed music, has killed newspapers.” No, those industries cemented their own demise long before Napster and Matt Drudge, et al, came along. Not that Wolff cares about being right, even after being reminded that he once predicted the end of BuzzFeed. Classic reply:

“What the hell, that’s karma.”

The utopia of the engaged elite

In his final retort to Jay Rosen during a recent online journalism debate at The Economist, Nick Carr tries to throw water on all the clucking that we’re in a golden age of journalism:

“Outside the new-media hothouse, people do not have the luxury of spending their waking hours tweeting, blogging, commenting, or cobbling together a Daily Me from a welter of sites and feeds. They are holding down jobs (or trying to find jobs). They have kids to raise, parents to care for, friends to keep up with, homes to clean. When they have spare time to catch up on the news, they often confront a wasteland. Their local paper has closed or atrophied. The newscasts on their local TV stations seem mainly concerned with murders, traffic jams and thunderstorms. Cable news shows present endless processions of blowhards. America’s once-mighty news magazines are out of business or spectres of their former selves.”

And there’s this:

“I understand how a member of the plugged-in elite would assume the internet has improved journalism. If you spend hours a day consuming news and producing opinions, the net provides you with endless choices, diversions and opportunities for self-expression. For the news junkie, the net is a crack house that dispenses its wares for free. But if you look beyond the elite, you see a citizenry starved of hard, objective reporting. For the typical person, the net’s disruptions have meant not a widening of options but a narrowing of them.”

I’m not totally on board with Carr’s blanket assertion that “net has eroded journalism’s foundations.” And his last sentence deserves a fuller critique than what I’m examining here.

Those building blocks have been under assault for a few decades in the old media world, with corporate excess and poor management far more devastating than any technological developments that have driven down the cost, and value, of content.

While I’m not in the plugged-in elite, I do see the potential for reshaping solid journalism on the web. I agree that Rosen, perched safely in tenured academia, does get carried away — willfully, I think — with his certitudes about new ways of doing the news. It’s easy for him to get excited, since his livelihood doesn’t depend on whether those experiments succeed or not.

Since leaving print behind three years ago, I’ve been involved in a few very limited efforts, most of which never had a chance and in fact never got off the ground. Currently I am making a living with one of the more ambitious projects to date, and this opportunity was not easy to come by after two years without steady employment.

While I remain hopeful about the possibilities — as well as the necessity — for something to work, I also operate with the daily reminder that none of this is guaranteed.

Thoughts on redefining journalism, Part 2

A recent commenter on a post I wrote here some time ago clarified some thoughts I was trying to make on “redefining journalism” by reminding me it wasn’t necessary to go that far:

“In my opinion it isn’t a matter of ‘redefining’ journalism. The definition hasn’t changed.

“It is, as has been somewhat indicated, a matter of changing how we pursue and execute the craft.”

Last week Salon co-founder and “Say Everything” author Scott Rosenberg laid out one of the most succinct definitions of who’s a journalist, and what it means to be doing journalism today. It might make traditionalists squirm, but it’s not a redefinition at all. Rather, it’s an understanding that what journalists have always done isn’t limited just to those of us who’ve done it for a living.

It’s one of several compelling media and journalism pieces I’ve been reading in recent days and excerpt below:

No more bouncers at the journalism club door:

“The law should stop trying to protect journalists, and instead protect acts of journalism. Any time someone is pursuing an accurate and timely account of some event to present to some public, he or she should be protected by the law in whatever ways we now protect professional journalists.”

How to Save the News:

“A decade ago, Jon Stewart was not known for political commentary. The news business has continually been reinvented by people in their 20s and early 30s—Henry Luce when he and Briton Hadden founded Timemagazine soon after they left college, John Hersey when he wrote Hiroshima at age 32. Bloggers and videographers are their counterparts now. If the prospect is continued transition rather than mass extinction of news organizations, that is better than many had assumed. It requires an openness to the constant experimentation that Google preaches and that is journalism’s real heritage.”

The Atlantic’s James Fallows demystifies — without coming across as too much of a fanboy — Google’s experiments to bolster journalism online. Fallows goes beyond interviewing the usual Holy Trinity of Google executives — Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin — and talks to the engineers, former journalists and others in the Google trenches. A very long piece, but worth taking some time to read and absorb.

Do journalists need to learn to be programmers? Yes and no:

“I think the ability to mark-up some HTML and understand why <span>, <div>, classes and IDs are important for CSS and Javascript is essential for anyone publishing on the web.

“But my answer is that no, journalists don’t all need to be able to write programs, but the ability to think like a programmer is an invaluable skill.

London-based information architect Martin Belam, who’s been a developer for The Guardian’s lauded website, offers a relieving thought to former print hacks like me who are overwhelmed merely by dabbling in this stuff. Still, there’s a big jump in conceptual thinking involved here that goes far beyond mastering basic HTML and CSS.

What Web Media Can Learn From Print:

“When you hear someone say they like ‘holding” a paper in their hands what they really mean is that reading online sucks. It doesn’t have to be that way. The most popular news sites on the Web look horrible and do little to promote actual reading. It amazes me that when pundits talk about the fact that people skim instead of read online that they assume that that can’t change.”

Web designer Bud Parr says Web publishers who can create a better online reading experience will thrive. But we’re not there yet. Not by a long shot.

Fear, loathing and privacy on Facebook

Bipartisan Congressional action on anything — much less social media privacy?

The latest furor over the most recent Facebook changes comes as a House Democrat and Republican are soon to introduce legislation that would regulate what information Internet companies could make public and allow users easier opt-out procedures.

In truth, this bill has been in the works for almost a year, but the timing of making it available for citizen comment as many Facebook users are up in arms over “instant personalization” is interesting, to say the least.

I’m becoming increasingly disturbed by Facebook’s deceptive explanations for what it has been doing, and more than irritated by founder Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that nobody wants privacy any longer. Speak for yourself.

His company is scouring every possible avenue for revenues, and I’ve got no problem with Facebook making money. I don’t post anything there that I want to keep private. The same goes for Twitter, my blogs and other places where I post online. It’s exercising simple common sense.

But I and millions of others signed up for Facebook with the understanding that we could control what information got out on search engines and to the general public.

Now Facebook is taking away those options as it becomes an even more dominant — if not the most dominant — figure on the social media landscape. Under Zuckerberg’s ethos, you ought to believe that you should want to share so much more information, photos, etc. with your friends than you’re already doing. This of course, serves Facebook’s bottom line interests.

My bottom line is this: Facebook has betrayed the original trust it offered to users who signed up under their real names, with closed networks and required confirmation to add friends.

Facebook is a terrific place for me to stay in touch with former colleagues, old friends and family members out of town. As an avid social media participant, I love seeing how individuals consume and share news and other information, and I respect the power and command Facebook has created within one vast, self-contained environment.

That’s why Facebook is banking that so many millions of users simply cannot do without it, and therefore won’t take action to delete their accounts. Even though there are growing reasons to do so.

But while I’m unsure about the wisdom of government intrusion — and where it might go from here — Facebook has crossed a line that doesn’t appear to concern Zuckerberg.

To help cut through the confusion and Facebook’s facile language about privacy issues, I suggest following the updates from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It’s an amazing resource.

So is the Electronic Privacy Information Center, especially, as Chrys Wu reminds us, with this being Privacy Week.

I think I have locked down information from my account that Facebook has no business distributing without my permission, and that I can still control. But there’s no way of knowing for sure.

Or what Facebook will do next.

Journalism/Media/Web links for April 27

8 Ways for Entrepreneurial Journalists to Think Like Business People:

“Many, many businesses have failed where the income statement showed things were great, but they didn’t have cash. Cash flow is ‘the lifeblood of your business.’ ”

Bias Or Balance: Media Wrestle With Faltering Trust:

“Five or 10 years ago, the conversation about trust and the media would have triggered different results. But people no longer volunteer so many complaints about reporters making up stories, as they did in the wake of the scandals involving Jayson Blair at The New York Times and Jack Kelley at USA Today. And concern over how stories are slanted no longer comes just from conservatives. It comes from all quarters.”

72 Marietta — I Still Love You:

The Journal and Constitution hated each other then — a deep, healthy hatred that was a beautiful thing. The first time in history when the Constitution out-circulated the Journal was on Aug. 17, 1977, when the morning rag reported Elvis Presley’s death. I never forgave Elvis for dying on Constitution time.”

Terry Gross: What I Read:

“I really don’t keep up with bloggers. I suppose I should feel guilty about that but my goal in life is to get away from the computer. Time spent reading blogs takes away from the time I should be spending preparing for guests. It’s hard when you’re doing a show like Fresh Air and you’re talking to musicians, theater people, actors and experts on every subject. You have to make peace with the fact that you can’t keep up with everything. It’s more information than you can possibly absorb.”

Think Again: The Internet:

“Today’s Internet is a world where homophobic activists in Serbia are turning to Facebook to organize against gay rights, and where social conservatives in Saudi Arabia are setting up online equivalents of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. So much for the ‘freedom to connect’ lauded by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her much-ballyhooed speech on the Internet and human rights. Sadly enough, a networked world is not inherently a more just world.”

Facebook Further Reduces Your Control Over Personal Information:

“The new connections features benefit Facebook and its business partners, with little benefit to you. But what are you going to do about it? Facebook has consistently ignored demands from its users to create an easy ‘exit plan’ for migrating their personal data to another social networking website, even as it has continued — one small privacy policy update after another — to reduce its users’ control over their information.”

Taking the Twitter Times plunge

I’ve created my own personalized “Twitter Times” that encapsulates what some of my most active Twitter followers are reading and sharing.

As you can tell, my tastes run newsy, geeky and jocky, in no particular order. And with some local Atlanta news sprinkled all around.

When I hear fellow Twitterati say they use Twitter as their own personal news wire or news service, this is a good example of how it can be used not only to distribute interesting links.

It also makes it easier to catch up with what your followers have been interested in when you can’t get on the Tweet, as has been the case quite often for me lately.

Like Twitter lists — and here are mine — Twitter Times makes being on the Tweet a lot more manageable. And fun.

New York Times media reporter David Carr explains why Twitter will endure.

Follow me on Twitter here.

Merry Christmas 2009!

Not much more to say except that I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I just received the nicest gift any humble blogger could expect when Ink-Drained Kvetch was included on a list of 91 journalism blogs and Web sites you will love.

What a pleasant surprise! There are some excellent resources there for all journalists and media professionals to use. I know I’ve gained so much from many of those individuals and organizations.

One of the many benefits of having a blog hosted on WordPress are the snowflakes that appear during the holiday season. Nice touch, WP! Thought I’d pass along some of my favorite holiday songs.

Will return next week with more on journalism, media and the digital age. Until then, enjoy!