Category Archives: web

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.”

Readings: On brawny work, memory and Google, social media misuse and serendipity-doo-dah

Lots of good long-form and think pieces about journalism, the media and the digital realm are served up here for your weekend reading. There’s plenty to choose from here, so enjoy:

But it feels like the first time: Slate’s Jack Shafer says the print-Web wars have nothing on the way the newspaper industry faced its first competitive threat, at a time when it was in much better health:

“Some print journalists and industry leaders claimed that radio content was inaccurate, skimpy, sensationalist, and trivial and that its practitioners were amateurs. When radio news was accurate, they asserted, it was either a bunch of headlines from a newspaper or a story directly pilfered from one. Does any of this sound familiar?”

AP’s copyright cluelessness: Erik Sherman at BNET lets the news collective have it over its threat to sue sites merely linking to its content. “Idiots” and “pinheads” are among his kinder epithets:

I’m not someone who buys into the whole ‘information wants to be free’ ethos. I make a living off my intellectual property of writing and have a lot of sympathy for print publications, where much of my work appears. However, you can’t run a business on how you wish the world operated. Instead, you must find a model that operates within reality. And that’s why the AP, and other media companies that long for the good old days, are doomed.”

Going down with the ship?: Ex-Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News reporter Michael Sokolove talks to Brian Tierney, publisher of both papers and who unapologetically defends the print-and-ink process:

“The Web efforts, they add something. I congratulate them. Let a thousand flowers bloom. But if somebody thinks in any short term, or even medium term, that the answers are those things, they’re kidding themselves. I know I sound like a heretic in that I won’t come out and say, ‘They’re the future.’ But they’re not. The brawny work is what we’re doing, and the brawny vehicle to carry it is the printed product.”

Murdoch’s big paywall gamble: Shane Richmond at The Daily Telegraph says the media mogul is serving up a big gift to his competitors, which include, er, The Daily Telegraph, although not in this particular sentence:

“This is a great opportunity for the Mirror, The Daily Star and, I suppose, producers of pictures of topless women, to hoover up those Sun readers who aren’t sure whether they want to pay.”

Drinking from a firehose: Danielle Maestretti at the Utne Reader is looking for a few good people who know how to help the masses navigate their way around the Web:

“All of this fretting over the death of reading might sound more genuine if it wasn’t usually articulated by and for people who’ve staked their lives and careers on traditional media models—authors, academics, journalists, publishers, and the like. More importantly, it’s often beside the point. The debate over how we read, perpetuated largely by media insiders, is starting to seem like little more than a distraction from the real problem: We have access to more information than ever, yet we do not know what to do with it. We are desperately information-illiterate.”

What was that again?: Librarian Emily Walshe isn’t exactly hand-wringing, and she isn’t the first to worry about how cognition is being altered because of the ease of the search engine:

“With so many of us slave to tin can memory, our human capacity for identification is jeopardized. Because when we commit things to mind, we become the authors of experience. When we choose to remember, we relate to our most fundamental resource and, in so doing, achieve a unique and perfect balance between representation and meaning.”

Commodify your Tweets: Before Twitter’s denial of service attack on Thursday, Jasmin Tragas did a Google search on a topic that’s been bugging her and came up with a question directed at novelist Rick Moody. It confirmed her suspicions about the exploitation of social media:

“Have we gotten to a point where the commodification of personality has become so overbearing that it’s impossible for us to separate self-promotion from expression?”

A very fine wine: Along those same lines, British freelancer David Lloyd takes a dim view of Web wine impresario Gary Vaynerchuk’s yammering about personal branding:

“The blogs I visit most aren’t written to be ‘monetised’. They’re written because their owners have something to say. Or they want to offer a service, or advice, or, maybe, they just want to write. And isn’t that where all the best sites originated anyway? Money might follow. It might not. Really, Gary, don’t sweat it.”

How many years of blogs? David Silversmith argues that given the 500-year head start by the printed word, it’s far too soon to determine the longevity of blogs. But he predicts they won’t be very egalitarian and could end up being dominated by blogging Darwinians. I think that’s already the case:

The world can’t support 184 million blogs. . . . The few, the mighty and the strong blogs will survive and thrive – but the age of blogging offering everybody a voice will fade away.”

(via Amy Vernon)

Serendipity-doo-dah: New York Times technology editor Damon Darlin ignited a firestorm over his assertion that the digital age isn’t good for information meandering:

Ah, the techies say, no worries. We have Facebook and Twitter, spewing a stream of suggestions about what to read, hear, see and do. . . . But that isn’t serendipity. It’s really group-think. Everything we need to know comes filtered and vetted. We are discovering what everyone else is learning, and usually from people we have selected because they share our tastes.”

Big Digerati Dog Steven Johnson got the logrolling going emphatically:

“Do these people actually use the Web?”

More pushback here and here. Even some of Darlin’s fans are scratching their heads. But he does have some defenders on this point.

And of course, there has to be some over-the-top snark for good measure.

I revel in all forms of serendipity, though I lean toward Darlin’s point that “group-think” could be a negative consequence of too much, or the wrong kind, of filtering. (What I compile here each Friday is a combination of serendipity and filtering by others, both in print and on the Web.)

During that testy interview with Der Spiegel last week, Chris Anderson admitted he really doesn’t do serendipity:

“I figure by the time something gets to me it’s been vetted by those I trust. So the stupid stuff that doesn’t matter is not going to get to me.”

It’s time for journalists to embrace the Web, or else

Oh dear, that does sound like a very preachy title for this post, does it not?

One of the objectives I had for this blog was not to rail from the pulpit so much. Yet in reviewing some posts from the first four months of Ink-Drained Kvetch (has time flown by!) I see that I’ve done that quite a bit.

For a while I’ve been debating whether I’d sound panicky and desperate by invoking such a tone. Then again, the news about newspapers and the media industry is only growing worse as we move into 2009. I won’t rehash the story here, because you know this. Some 2008 roundups from the world of journalism and new media can be found here, here and here.

I aim this blog for displaced journalists who still want to do the news, and who are open to learning ways of doing the news that weren’t standard newsroom fare for the most part.

Hug me, please?

This means it is more than past time to embrace the Web. Not just playing with some tools, casually posting to a blog about your Christmas vacation or updating your Facebook page with — ahem — adorable cat photos.

It’s time to seriously begin understanding how the Web works, how readers use it, how to reach them and how it can work for you. Now. It’s not just about learning code or going a little geeky or getting a better grasp on technology, although those things are part of the equation. It’s not just trying to learn how to get people to click on to what you write or produce, and have continuing conversations with them, although those are very important practices to learn.

What’s critical, at least to me, is to overcome long-held perceptions that many of us may carry over from our print backgrounds. It’s about jumping into the deep end of the Web, learning how to dog-paddle for a while, but also knowing that while you may feel in over your head, that’s okay.

You have to want to make this change. The learning curve is steep. I know, and I’ve been doing Web journalism for four years. I too feel overwhelmed at times. But there are a few rays of light in the following predictions for what may transpire in ’09 here, here and especially this one proclaiming 2009 to be the “year of the journalist.” Here’s the caveat:

“Whilst the idea that demand for content outstrips the supply of those capable of creating may not ring true for most it’s clear that a journalist with some web savvy, a good presence online and an understanding of their audience is an increasingly valuable proposition.”

Another veteran journalist excited about the possibilities on the Web says foot-dragging no longer makes any sense:

“To me the question isn’t, ‘Why should I use new media’; the question is, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to.’ Imagine if those monks who spent years transcribing books by hand said ‘no way’ to the new-fangled technology of their day, the printing press? To me, that’s as silly as journalists today refusing to even try the news technologies.’ “

Still not convinced? An enterprising young Web journalist who’s helped show me the ropes offers his Knute Rockne speech, which he calls a survival guide to “owning” 2009 and beyond:

"We're gonna fight, fight, fight, fight!"

“Journalism is NOT dependent on the fate of your employer, newspapers or mass media. Rather, YOU can help decide journalism’s future.

Later this week, I’m beginning weekly “how to” posts to point you in the right direction as get you started learning tools and applications on the Web. It’s strictly going to be 101 material for now, including topics related to freelancers and journalists as entrepreneurs.

Since some readers, former colleagues and friends have asked “How do I get started with a blog?” that’s a good and logical place to begin. There are so many terrific resources out there, but they can seem daunting and difficult to pick through. I’ve chosen a few links and tutorials designed with journalist newbies in mind, so there are no more excuses not to get started.

So anybody who’s still even a bit reluctant from this point on is gonna get a Bobby Knight speech!

Until then, I’ll leave you with my own take on all this, from the heart:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Perfection’s nice, but messiness is more fun

Lots of terrific tips, links and ideas on the first day of the national SPJ Conference in Atlanta. Advanced Webheads are already on to most of this stuff, but workaday journos are finally getting this drilled into their heads on a constant basis now. I hope.

In addition to Sree Sreenivasan’s exhaustive collection, two Web-savvy reporters and editors have their own impressive list of basic sites that every up-to-date journalist ought be familiar with (my opinion, not necessarily theirs). Again, it seems like old hat for many of us, but this is a convenient one-stop source for those in the profession only now hearing about some of these tools. Or who have been oblivious to them.

Since I’m relatively new to audio and podcasting, I’m eager to tool around with Vocalo very soon. It sounds like the perfect resource to get started.

In the second of two sessions on Thursday, Sree encouraged old-style reporters not to be afraid of using emerging Web 2.0 tools that may run counter to their journalistic DNA:

“Let’s see what we can marry of the new, new stuff with the good old stuff. The new stuff is good enough, but it can be perfected later. We don’t need to abandon wanting perfection, but we need to use good-enough tools to speed things along.”

In other words, post it now, update, correct and pretty up your prose (photos, blogs, other interactives, etc.) later. Once again, not something Webbies think twice about. But for the majority of journalists to adopt a “new media skill set, and a new media mindset,” as Sree put it, this will be a slow, often tortuous grind.

One especially encouraging thing was to hear how often Twitter is rolling off the lips of mainstream journalists. And being used by them. This morning Dave Cohn links to Erica Smith’s compilation of newspapers using Twitter. It keeps growing, and so do the numbers.

Mostly, I enjoy these conferences for meeting people I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. The initial point of contact has been, fittingly enough, on Twitter. It’s pretty easy to take it from there.