Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

journalism … ‘mutualised’

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Finally had time today to read Guardian Editor in Chief Alan Rusbridger’s excellent piece from a few days ago, “The splintering of the fourth estate,” in which he discusses in depth the ways collaborative — or “mutualised” — journalism will continue to evolve and flourish. If you’re at all involved in journalism, this is a must-read. Actually, if you just care even the slightest about how news and information is distributed globally, it’s a must-read. Just read it. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

[On a related note: Rusbridger writes at length about the power of Twitter, and I first saw a link to his post in a tweet by Dan Gillmor, who certainly wasn’t the only one to tweet or retweet the piece. Just think about that for a second.]

Not since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press have so many had such a great opportunity to say so much. This isn’t news, at least not to anyone who follows what goes on in the Vast Everchanging Mediascape, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

In an essay loaded with salient points, perhaps the loudest of Rusbridger’s was about how we all must pay more careful attention to who ends up owning what’s left of the large media companies:

Indeed, it is a sign of the current turmoil that one should have to argue a case that, at any other time in history, would have seemed too obvious to make. Too great a concentration of ownership in the media has always been considered a bad idea, whether you were on the right or the left.

But the revolution we’re talking about is changing all that. It seems self-evident to some that a combination of fierce economic pressures and an ever greater convergence of text, data and moving pictures leads to one obvious solution: consolidation. Consolidation also brings economies of scale. If regulatory regimes can’t handle that, well, get rid of the regulators, goes the argument.

The economic and technological arguments are serious ones, but if they prevail we will – soon – see more and more power and influence concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

Frankly, that scares the hell out of me. But what gives me hope is that combating the oversized, one-viewpoint-fits-all media behemoths will be nimble, creative new organizations that grower stronger and more popular because they’re able to harness the viewpoints and ideas of thousands, if not millions.

Many journalists are just now beginning to realize this. Hopefully, so, too, will the masses. Because going forward, while roles and responsibilities will change — and keep changing — most of us will be on the same team. So let’s share playbooks. Let’s keep figuring this out together.

And let’s tweet about it.


‘wired’ [hearts] boobies

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Poynter.org hosted a lively discussion Friday over varying reactions to the recent cover of “Wired” magazine that featured a close-up shot of a woman’s breasts to promo a story on regenerative medicine. Certainly, the cover was provocative. Others, such as Cindy Royal, found it sexist.

“Wired” editor Chris Anderson actually responded to Royal’s remarks in the comment section of her blog. Here’s an excerpt:

This is an issue we wrestle with all the time, and it reflects a combination of things, ranging from not enough high-profile women in the tech industry who are recognizable to sell a cover (every month we cover test a list of names to see which ones people know well enough to want to read about them), to your sense that if we go outside the tech industry for women that this somehow doesn’t count.

First, I have to correct one point: this cover story was not about tissue engineering, it was about *breast* tissue engineering. Of all the covers with cleavage out there, it’s hard to find one more editorially justified than that.

Second, this problem goes beyond women: we have trouble putting *people* on the cover. It’s the same reason: they have to sell, and what sells for us is either big ideas (sans people) or well-known, likable people with interesting things to say. The problem is that there aren’t enough geek celebrities, so we often end up going with celebrity geeks instead. Our Gates and Zuckerberg cover didn’t sell as well as our Will Ferrell cover. I’m glad we did both, but at the end of the day, we have to work on the newsstand to be a profitable business.

I agree with both points, especially the former: It’s a story about breast tissue. A photo of breasts makes sense. Accompanying the story also are diagrams of the surgical process that … wait for it … feature drawings of breasts.

Breasts, breasts, breasts. There. Are we all OK now?

journalism inc.?

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2010 at 7:58 am

Dan Mitchell, a friend and my editor at 944 magazine, guest lectured in my JMC 313 (intro to editing) class yesterday, and the thing he said that perhaps most caught my attention was about the future of funding journalism.

Specifically, he mentioned Incword, a London-based co-op of dozens of journalists who think of remarkably creative ways to earn money while writing fantastic stories, such as how Jeremy Hart participated in the Ford Fiesta World tour, which was featured in 944 and a number of internationally recognized media outlets, such as Wired. The gist of the proposal was this: A few Incword journalists contacted Ford and said, “If you donate a few of your new Fiestas on each continent, we’ll drive them literally all over the world, and they’ll be featured in the background of photos and casually mentioned in stories that actually have nothing to do with Ford.” It’s not exactly like Snapple’s being pimped on “30 Rock,” but it’s close. Ford agreed.

From a return-on-investment standpoint, Ford couldn’t lose, considering the cost of full-page print ads (often as much as $200,000 per page, per month in a national magazine) compared with financing the Tour, during which the journalists would take breaks from driving to file reports for media outlets that paid them for their copy and photos and video. (Additionally, much of that media will remain online for a very long time, while, say, a print ad for the Fiesta probably ends up in your recycling bin after a few days.)

“If you really don’t care who signs the check, and it doesn’t actually affect telling a great story, well, some people are OK with that,” Mitchell told my students, later adding, “Pretend you’re an editor, and your publisher comes to you and says, ‘Hey, we just got this huge Ford account, including a big ad that cost $250,000, so let’s consider giving them some editorial space.’ Maybe you tell the publisher you’re not OK with that. That, ethically, it bothers you. That’s perfectly fine. But what if your publisher then says, ‘OK, well, if we don’t do this, you have to go lay off three people.’ It’s a real-life situation.'”

And more and more media outlets and corporations, in an effort to save money and reach more potential customers, are going to start teaming up and cutting out advertising firms and p.r. agencies, Mitchell added. Young magazine writers and editors will adapt or perish.

This all begs the questions: At what point is it OK? Or, perhaps a better question, at what point are you, as a journalist, OK with it?


In Uncategorized on November 2, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Here’s the thing: Keith Olbermann is right: MSNBC is not as awful as Fox News. But 24-hour cable “news” … still … is … awful.

Let’s back up a bit. Olbermann, in response to Jon Stewart’s railing against cable TV news during the Rally to Restore Sanity/March to Keep Fear Alive last weekend in D.C., and Newsweek/MSNBC contributor Jonathan Alter, whose wife works for The Colbert Report, said on Monday that comparing the two networks is unfair. MSNBC, both men argued—here’s the clip—is more sane. MSNBC doesn’t make things up. MSNBC isn’t ideologically driven so much as it’s accompanied by an ideology. MSNBC hosts who get angry are doing so because they’re angry with actual facts, not fake or exaggerated “facts.” Olbermann basically said the “MSNBC is on the left, and Fox News is on the right” argument is too simplistic, “a false equivalence,” adding:

“What are the odds of two cable channels on opposite sides of the political spectrum being exactly the same in every other respect—exactly as bad in dividing the country, exactly as bad in twisting facts, exactly as bad in demonizing religious minorities, exactly as bad in defending the corporatization of the country?”

He’s correct. But here’s my question: Does that matter? Is it not the fault of those at MSNBC for allowing the network to be perceived in such a way? If the only people demonstrably saying, “Hey, MSNBC isn’t as crazy as Fox News!” also work for MSNBC, who’s going to pay attention?

For the record, I’m an enormous fan of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Keith Olbermann. I actually sat next to Olbermann in the press box at a Major League Baseball game three years ago, and he was genuinely polite and congenial. We talked sports—particularly the first Brett Favre comeback—we double-checked our scorecards against each others’ and he seemed, frankly, like a really good dude. Per his show, I usually agree with what he says. Same with Stewart and Colbert, who despite constant denials—especially from Stewart—should be considered journalists and not only satirists or comedians.

But here’s the thing: No matter how fact-based and interesting and important and non-Fox-Newsy Olbermann’s—or Rachel Maddow’s or whoever else’s show on MSNBC—is, and no matter how much lower Fox News sinks, erasing that “Left vs. Right” stigma is vital if MSNBC wants an audience where it’s preaching less to the converted.

Olbermann just announced that he’s putting on hiatus and possibly retiring his “Worst Person in the World” segment because “its satire and whimsy have gradually gotten lost in some anger.” Maybe that’s a good start. But most of the rest of the crap filling MSNBC’s 24-void isn’t news. Same for Fox News. Same for CNN, which may eventually change its motto to “All the news fit to reprint from viewers’ Twitter feeds.” And until this changes and until these networks’ mostly-all-opinion-show lineups are replaced with actual news broadcasts, the overwhelming majority of viewers will continue to perceive, correctly or incorrectly, that cable TV hosts are biased and want little more than to shout into an echo chamber.