Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Kiss the strength of the shield

Congress is currently kicking the tires on a shield law for journalists that offers a level of protection from prosecution at a federal level--something that's been absent until now. That it's going to be dead in the water due to a promised Bush veto makes a lot of the arguments for and against it moot (two second summation: it started decent and got watered down), but in the process of crafting the law, congress is defining what it means to be a journalist, a pracice that seems both feudal and incredibly dangerous. Why? Well let's take a look:
COVERED PERSON -- The term "covered person" means a person who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public...

OK, so far so good. They've got the bases covered more or less, and it's nice to see publishers in there too. But...

...for a substantial portion of the person's livelihood...


...or for substantial financial gain

Double yikes.

Tying journalism with the pay a person may get from their work seems like a tin-eared way of defining journalism at any level, let alone at the level of a federal shield law. Of course it's defined to cut out as many bloggers as possible, but the definition currently put forth also automatically cuts out protection of first-person narratives from whistleblowers, soldiers in the field, and other ground-level, primary-source (thus naturally amateur) material. And that's just skimming the surface! It cuts out most community newspapers and indie pubs who don't pay worth shit, any kind of volunteer-run publication, even freelancers who work other jobs (even if that other job is teaching about journalism). In other words, it cuts out many of the folks that help to create everything we know as journalism on a daily basis and it sets a legal precedent that could cause trouble for years to come.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

looking forward to death

I thought I should follow-up on the Chicago Reader saga I documented a couple months back. The new tabloid-sized Reader (made in Atlanta!) came out last week to decidedly mixed reviews from readers. Many complained that the diminished size lead to a diminished paper (though editors were quick to point out that there was the same amount of text in this issue, a slight-of-hand that didn't really address the issue at hand). One thing that didn't come up is how ugly the post-Chicago era started, Case in point:

I'm not sure what's going on with that masthead, but it couldn't be less generic if it tried. And the whole cover lacks the elegance of earlier issues of the Reader (even the ones after a panicked Time Out-induced redesign, which created an awkward false-front to the paper held together better than this). They say not to judge a book by its cover, but as consumers that's all we do. This cover won't sell (good thing it's free).
Saddled with a bad cover, what's inside needs all the help it can get. Unfortunately for the Reader, the editors in charge (all good people, let's note) have decided that the best thing to do is to leave the content undisturbed. As one editor explains in the comments:

I can tell you that so far every effort has been made to make sure the new format can accommodate the contents of the old Reader.

This same effort was made during the last Reader redesign, which clearly didn't save the already diminishing returns of the paper. Why a smart staff would not look at that last lesson learned and say, "Hey, maybe it's not HOW the information is presented, but the information itself" is beyond me. Instead, the editorial decision-makers at the reader continue to insist that their way is the best way, while corporate magazines like Time Out continue to chip away at their readership with truly innovative ways of presenting local content.
What the Reader needs isn't another redesign, or another cost-reducing change in format, but a low-level rethink of what it is and what service it provides to its readers. Unfortunately, that chance has most likely passed the Reader by (these new owners aren't going to do anything but what they already know), and as a result there's little to look forward to but the death of a once-great paper.

Friday, October 5, 2007

the social networks flameout dance

The always-sharp Paul Davis writes about the speed with which social networking sites are burning out, and diggs (pun intended) down to the core of what's needed if social networking is going to be anything more than a fad.
The only way I see these social networks as having any kind of lasting impact, the sort that could develop a legitimate social-networking media buffet with the credibility of a legitimized old-media powerhouse, is if the networks currently at the top (and the major ones to emerge) strive for some sort of shared standards of interoperability among platforms.

Yowza is right. Can you imagine?