Saturday, July 12, 2008

Of iPhones, the Internet, and life today

As I sit in the overcrowded breakfast room of a motel in southern Indiana with a driving rainstorm outside and hordes of high school girls' softball players milling around waiting for the rain to stop, I had some thoughts on the new media.  I'm specifically wondering whether we aren't putting all our eggs in the technology basket too soon.

For example, I'm in this room because the Internet connection in my room doesn't exist. The computer says it's connected, but the browser says it's not. So I couldn't rely on new technology in the room even if I wanted to. Frankly, it happens at home and in the office as well; the network just isn't 100% reliable. Second, those who bought the newest version of the iPhone (soon, of course, to be replaced by the next version), I read, are having problems connecting their newest toy. The computer gods keep giving us new toys, but there always seems to be a glitch or two (like trying to use Microsoft Office 2007 version of PowerPoint or Excel), and, don't worry, they'll download a patch or two or three that may or may not fix your particular problem -- if you can connect and the rain isn't too hard.

The bottom line of all this is that for all the promise of technology, we still aren't at a place where it is reliable and easy enough to fulfill its promise. Sure, I'm not giving up the Internet -- I love it's potential -- but reliability and efficiency seem to be too often left in the dust by the technophobes. 

Caution: Imagination at work

I think the Chicago Tribune's adaptation of a Newsweek idea is the kind of thinking-outside-the-box that all media -- but especially student media -- should be looking at.  For those who can't follow the link, Newsweek's cover picked up on the fact that Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day to stage a mythical match between the two on their thoughts and ideas. The Tribune copied the feature (giving full credit to Newsweek) featuring  Chicago figures such as Richie Daley and Barack Obama. My favorite Trib pairing was Gandhi vs. Godzilla (although I don't know the Chicago ties of either). The feature is different, it's cheeky, it's imaginative, and it's something that newspapers (and magazines) can do better than other media.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

And for proof that PhotoShop use is worldwide . . .

Look at the picture of four Iranian missiles that, the New York Times suggests, really are only three missiles. It shows that PhotoShop can be misused by just about anyone. It shows that we really need to be sensitive to how digital media can be manipulated.

Should students be trained as overseas correspondents?

That's the heart of this American Journalism Review online special. Given the fact that overseas reporting jobs are drying up like the Arctic ice during global warming, should America's journalism schools be offering such programs? It's a real question -- but how is it any different than asking whether we should be offering training in reporting for newspapers, since every day it seems someone or other is cutting staff.

My answer to both is that somebody's going to be doing the reporting and writing, both here and abroad. I'm proud of the recent Marquette Univesity students working in online and magazines as well as newspapers -- I know of one working on a book. Somebody is going to be creating content for all forms of media, and if we don't training them, who will?

The merged environment coming

James Brady, the Washington Post's web editor, expects a merger of his operation and the Post's newsroom. Why not? It makes sense. I get a kick out of people bemoaning merging media operations, like having print reporters do broadcast or web reports like it's never happened before. My wife's father used to read news from The Milwaukee Journal for its fledgling television operation in the 1940s. In fact, a corner of the print newsroom was set aside for a broadcast studio. It wasn't a problem for reporters then, and it shouldn't be now.

Stories and news reports: There is a difference

For a couple of days now, I've been thinking about a New York Times reprint of the obituary of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who died July 2, 1896. It was part of the Times' "On This Day" feature. It caused me to think about how journalism was practiced back then and how it is today. And how newspapers were used then and how they are used today.

The obituary ran 30 paragraphs and 2666 words – a length few stories reach today. But it was a narrative – and that's the departure from what appears in today’s newspapers. We’ve let reporting news dominate telling stories. The news, back in 1896, was that the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin died, and the story told of that death. But it told of that death in much greater detail than would be included today, using adjectives and nouns with great flourish. It detailed her life, and how she came to write her opus. It made reading about nephews and nieces and family servants interesting.

Sure, we do that at times (the Journal Sentinel just told the story of a baby orangutan as a narrative, the first of three parts is here), but that’s the exception. For example, the front covers of both the Times and Journal Sentinel today include nary a “story,” just news reports. Could it be that they’re not as much fun to read now as back in the day when newspapers were viewed as entertainment as much as news reports?

Maybe that's why they aren't a part of many peoples lives today.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The media news flow continues, unfortunately

Jay Rosen at PressThink offers a nice wrapup of a number of moves in the ever-fluid media situation (unfortunately, most of them are flowing downhill these days), most of the "woe is me; the media sky is falling" variety. But he promotes an interesting blog where the Tree House Media Project highlights a number of what I call journalist entrepreneurship opportunities. The blog says it's "about finding new models for the future." As usual, it's worth mentioning.

As to the "woe is me" news, today's variety, the Chicago Tribune will cut another 80 positions and the Star Tribune has broken off talks with its unions. As usual, Jim Romenesko has all the details. He also links to a couple of interesting columns about how things used to be and a nice blog from a couple of days ago by a "recovering journalist" suggesting lopping off some of the high salaried, M&M (for "meetings and memos") people to save jobs for actual journalists. I suspect we'll have to keep waiting for that to happen (or Hell to freeze over, whichever comes first).

CSU student newspaper editor refuses to quit

More twists in the Colorado State University flap over the student newspaper's using an obscenity in a headline. The editor refuses the quit at a hearing into the matter with hundreds of students attending. The editor notes it was the same obscenity that Vice President Cheney used on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and says he shouldn't be held to a higher standard than the vice president. An interesting sidenote is that faculty member Jim Landers who is quoted extensively worked at the Milwaukee Journal before taking a buyout when the Journal and Sentinel merged.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is hyperlocalism the key to survival?

Some of the big problems facing media in general and newspapers in particular are demonstrated in Adam Theirer's  thoughtful look at the trend in hyperlocalization at the Technology Liberation Front blog. Since some, including me, see localism as a way to differentiate content among media, it's important to really analyse what we talking about. Theirer plants some questions.

Monday, July 7, 2008

And 100 monkeys typing would be even more efficient

Somehow I missed this marvelous column by Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post. Thanks to have writer friends like Rick Horowitz, I got caught up. This is among the funniest things I have read recently -- certainly the funniest to do with media management (or mis-management). 

Wall Street Journal editor sounds a familiar note

The money quote from Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Robert Thompson is this: "Journalists at The Wall Street Journal have the objective of being objective. At The New York Times, you have news with a skew. Or a skew with news." That sounds like the WSJ is going to follow Fox News' ridiculous claim that it is fair, offseting the slant of all others. With an editorial philosophy echoing that of Fox News, it's understandable why so many journalists are fleeing. Getting beyond that point, Business Week's story does add some interesting facts and plans from New Corp.

More fun with St. Louis U.'s newspaper

The ongoing battle between St. Louis University and its former newspaper adviser continues with the university threatening to bar the former adviser from the student newsroom. Much as it goes against my normal reaction of defending the adviser (as I did when this first hit last summer, and as I do in his defense after being sued by the university), he's wrong in this case. There's a new sheriff in town, get out of the way and let the new adviser do his or her work.