Wednesday, May 28, 2008

death of a model

Over the last few years, as newspapers have announced layoffs and closures, one model that's been continually held up as a possible way forward in the future is that of non-profit ownership. The news is a public good, the argument goes, and so it shouldn't be held against the profit motive. Even more, in this time of flux in the industry, removing a publication from the demands of the bottom line allows it more flexibility to innovate and expriment.

The big example that's always held up is the St. Petersburg Times, which is owned by the Poynter Institute, a non-profit dedicated to "everything you need to be a better journalist."

Of course, step one of that "everything" is probably a job. well...

The St. Petersburg Times is offering an enhanced retirement option to some staffers to reduce its payroll and, depending on response, could resort to layoffs later this year. The Poynter-owned newspaper also is imposing a one-year wage freeze for remaining employees.


Friday, May 23, 2008

nice use of Google Maps to illustrate journalism's depressing present

From the blog Papercuts, which charts the layoffs in the newspaper industry. The count for 2008 alone? 2170+ layoffs. And it's only May:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

YouTube's Citizen News channel puts the final piece into the user-generated news puzzle

The amateur video news space is about to get rather interesting. Yesterday YouTube announced the creation of a Citizen News channel, complete with a newly-created news manager position (announced in spectacularly cheesy fashion in the video that concludes this entry) and the horrendous graphic design that YouTube is famous for.

While non-professional video reports are certainly nothing new, they haven't caught on with the same level of popularity that blogging has. Part of that is that the technology is just now catching up--until recently, it's been a lot easier to write than it has been to shoot, edit, and upload your video--but the other part is that there hasn't been a central repository for these types of reports. Because video isn't easily searchable (yet), if you were doing video news reports and hosting them on your own server, they were essentially invisible to the Internet.

Currently, your best bet for finding relevant video isn't Google (despite their much-touted Universal Search algorithms). It's YouTube. For example, here's two searches for video on the Zimbabwe elections:

The Google search feels like searching for a needle in a haystack, while the YouTube search clearly gives you some stuff you'll want to look at (considering that Google owns YouTube, it's a bit of a headscratcher why it isn't better integrated, but that's a different post).

So if you're looking for video, you're probably going to end up on YouTube, not Google. That's because, for better or worse, YouTube has become the central repository that video has been waiting for. This is, of course, nothing new. YouTube has been the defacto source for video on the web for years now and it's dominance is only getting larger.

But finding actual user-generated reporting on YouTube (or anywhere else on the web, for that matter) has been difficult up until now. Having a single channel for all these reports (which, of course, are embedded elsewhere on the web as well), simplifies the hunt for relevant content significantly. It also creates an object lesson for even more creators to follow suit. Which, if the entire history of YouTube is any indication, they will by the millions. And then things get interesting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

for an industry that purports to have their hand on the pulse, newspapers sure are slow

A hot new innovation in news from the LA TImes today:

"Today, we are also creating a fully integrated department in editorial that will serve our site and our newspaper, combining our print photo, Web photo and video operations into one new department: Visual Journalism," said LA Times editor Russ Stanton in a memo to staff.

You read that right: at the LA TImes, people that use cameras are all going to work together. How many meetings were held to make this decision? How many back-and-forths? And how many compromises were made to finally make it happen? Probably more than you'd think.

But the real question is this: How was it that web photography and print photography became separate departments in the first place? Did someone seriously not imagine that their goals were the same? That somehow photography for the web was inherently different than photography for print--so different that a church/state wall needed to be erected? That's like keeping your right shoes in a different closet than your left shoes.

The scariest part of the whole story? This:

[This] very significant change at the Los Angeles Times will certainly be emulated at an increasing number of newspapers

Yep--keeping the camera-users separate is industry standard. And people wonder why newspapers are doing so badly.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

mobile ubiquitousness is changing the landscape for polling

A terribly boring, but very interesting YouTube video is making the rounds--it's an interview with Jeff Jones of the Gallup polling organization, talking about their experiments this year with polling mobile-phone only households in their presidential polls. Before now, it's never been done--mobiles were invisible to pollsters. It's a small sample (they're trying it in just four states), but it's significant:

While the inclusion of cell phone only households makes little difference in the Clinton-McCain contest, it benefits Obama by a net four points: Without cell phone interviews, and weighted using Gallup's usual likely voter model, McCain would get 49% to Obama's 46% (clarification: this result combines six Gallup/USAToday surveys conducted so far during 2008). With the cell-phone interviews included, the result is Obama 48%, McCain 47%.

If you want to watch the whole video (trust me, you don't), here:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The wisdom of crowds

Here are two national presidential primary polling graphs. Both show the same basic scale, and both tell the same basic story: A Clinton lead throughout 2007, followed by a sudden jump in Obama support in January, and a lead maintained by him from there on:

Simple, right? Various polling data usually reflects each other, in part because it attempts to choose a random sample of people to use as a predictor. But these two polls aren't equal. In fact, the one on the bottom isn't a poll at all: It's a graph of Google searches for "Obama" and "Clinton."

Fascinating, isn't it? They're so similar--they show the same ebb and flow in 2008, with a wide Obama margin in February, when he was winning all those states, and then a compression again once Ohio and Pennsylvania came in, followed finally by a widening gulf again once the North Carolina blowout and Indiana squeaker happened.

Yet one is reflective of expensive and extensive polling (it is, in fact, an average of numerous national polls)--a reflection of stated support for a candidate--and the other is simply a record of who searched for their names--positively, negatively, actively, or passively. And yet they mirror each other. So what's the point of dropping millions into polling then?

When people talk about "the wisdom of crowds" this is what they're talking about. Because here's nothing but crowdsourced data, yet it's a perfect reflector of the national attitude. If it holds up, it's bad news for John McCain.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

CNN plays dress-up

Have you paid close attention to lately? Noticed any strange icons lurking next to a headline, perhaps?

See it yet?

Down there, next to "Nude model tells why she bared all" (classy, by the way), on the other side of the video camera icon, it's a ... T-shirt?

Yes, someone down in Atlanta thought that the true way to appeal to the youths was to start competing with Threadless for the hipster T-shirt demographic. And really, who wouldn't want to be seen at the show wearing this:

While most of the shirts currently available skew towards the "nude model" demographic (fully three of the ones currently available involve being drunk or hungover at work), it's the more serious ones that truly make you scratch your head. Like, who's walking around with this on:

I mean, that doesn't even make sense.

While CNN offers an extensive FAQ on their shirts (though, oddly, "Why on earth did you think this was a good idea" isn't one of the questions), they don't give any insight as to the seemingly random selection of headlines. Though it's interesting that they've built a scarcity logic into the designs--they're only available while the headline remains on CNN's front page.

Anyone care to wager on how long this feature will stick around? And what they'll replace it with? My money's on phat pants.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Is twitter breaking news faster than news organizations?

That's the question posed by none other than Reuters this week:
At about 1:37 pm, software developer Dave Winer asked the Twitterverse: “Explosion in Falls Church, VA?” (Perhaps not coincidentally, Winer is a well-known blogger and podcasting evangelist). A flurry of posts, or “tweets,” followed, as users reported rumbles as far away as Alexandria.

The mainstream media entered the fray at 2:33 pm, with radio station WTOP reporting ground rumblings throughout Northern Virginia, citing a possible earthquake

That's almost an hour between the initial post and an actual news report--a pretty staggering example.

It also, however, lays bare the big problem with Twitter right now: There's no discovery mechanism built into it, so how the hell do you find this stuff in any way but after the fact? After all, if a tree falls in the forest (or an earthquake happens in Virginia), and nobody's there to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does, the same as these earthquake tweets, but unless you're friends with someone who's there when news hits, you'd never know.

It's all well and good to champion the curiously useful technology that Twitter offers, but it's not going to truly break through until there's a mechanism in place for discovering important tweets or newsbreaking users. Currently the only way to do something like that (through a third-party Twitter search) keeps far too much noise in to get the actual signal through.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

replacing pundits with people

Watching returns from the North Carolina and Indiana primaries come in last night, during the pause in counting in Indiana that seemed nearly endless, I tried something new: I set up a Twitter search (using Summize, since Twitter inexplicably doesn't have its own search function) for the word "Obama."

What poured into my screen changed the way I took in the news of the evening: a near-constant stream of opinion, news links, straight reports (I saw the switch from a 20,000 vote spread to a 16,000 vote spread on Twitter before it was on the New York Times). Even this morning, during the time it has taken me to write this post, 31 more Tweets have come in covering topics from Obama's letter to Superdelegates to personal notes about how people feel about Obama today.

It offers a unique glimpse at the public psyche, rolled out in real time and filled with the kind of cacophony of voices that allow you to know it's truly real. It's an interesting alternative to the canned pundits trotted out by the networks, and the me-too political bloggers offering increasingly homogenized opinion.

Twitter is, of course, not a replacement for longer-form news, but it's one of those unique, couldn't-have-done-it-before additions to the ever-growing definition of news.