Dec 152012
A young boy is comforted outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut,

A young boy is comforted outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012 (Reuters / Michelle McLoughlin

More gun violence. My heart goes out to those affected by the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut as 20 small children and seven adults die in one of the worst massacres in U.S. history. One recoils at the horror of what the children in that school went through; and it’s impossible to fathom the pain and suffering that the families, the communities and so many others will feel.

Already the political snipping have started – Huckabee’s bizarre remark that the killings are due to God being removed from the schools ( as if this has anything to do with it) to those who argue for tougher gun control (Connecticut already has tough gun laws and the guns used were registered). There will be time enough to talk about solutions but the underlying issue here is a strain of violence that runs deep through our culture and people who can act out their mental health issues with immense firepower at their disposal.

At the same time (or the same day more or less), a man in China walked into a primary school in the Henan province village of Chengpin and attacked 22 young children and one adult. We don’t know what was troubling him, but the difference was that all the children are still alive.

He used a knife.

Here, someone picks up a Glock semiautomatic pistol and puts on a military vest before entering a primary school to shed blood. Glocks seem to be a favorite of those bent on a deadly rampage, used in killings in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Colorado. Perhaps because they’re so effective.

But I don’t see an easy answer to the gun violence here. It goes beyond access to the weapons themselves – it’s not video games, movies, or television but something else. Those are all the easy targets, the easy answers to something we do not understand.

For now, a short piece by Roger Ebert from his review of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, and reposted in

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Everybody was happy, indeed.

Sadly, we’ll probably make ourselves happy again, finding something easy to condemn for the shooting, bemoaning the gun violence we hear about so frequently and missing the deeper issue entirely. But there will be no comfort for the people in Newtown.

Oct 242012

Clark Kent is leaving The Daily Planet to become a blogger

Yes, print media is officially dead for Superman who is leaving The Daily Planet to become a blogger.

His reasons? Clark Kent has become something of a media critic and no longer wants to work for a newspaper that is pushing entertainment over news.


. . . this week’s new issue, and the first regular issue by writer Scott Lobdell and artist Ken Rocafort. Superman’s alter ego has been a reporter at the Daily Planet since the 1940s, and his central supporting cast has included employees Perry White, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen for as long.

I wasn’t going to test the waters. I was just going to do a cannonball in the Super-verse,” said Lobdell to USA Today of the big move. The writer is having Kent focus more on his life as Superman, saying that the most powerful man on Earth would have a problem sitting “behind a desk and” taking “instruction from a larger conglomerate with concerns that aren’t really his own.”

This isn’t just a kid having a tantrum though, as Clark will take a stand against the media’s move towards being more entertainment and less news. He even makes a comment about “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” being the goal that media, and people in general, should strive towards.

Entertainment reporter and longtime Daily Planet mainstay Cat Grant will be quitting alongside Clark, completing his Jerry Maguire moment, and joining up with him to create “the next Huffington Post or the next Drudge Report,” said Lobdell.

So if you’re a blogger and don’t need to go to the office everyday as a superhero in disguise, what becomes of the Clark Kent character? For the moment, the newspaper man will still be around since he – like all journalists making this move – will have to deal with the ramifications of leaving the paper and working online. Whether or not he still appears in the future probably depends on whether or not the superhero has to make public appearances as a blogger. He could always be like the late Andrew Breitbart and take over a press conference or two, or like Andrew Sullivan and do interviews with other media outlets.

If this doesn’t signal the death knell for traditional news media, I don’t know what does.  Perhaps the bankruptcy of The Daily Planet? Having it sold for a dollar?

Sep 092012

Murdochs testify

A while back, the Murdoch’s News International phone hacking scandal was almost daily news. While it’s front page status has given way to the Olympics, a self-destructing euro zone and other matters, it still continues, especially with the recent news that some 230 additional claims will be filed. All one can conclude from this is the staggering depths to which the News of the World (NOTW) went to hack into peoples phones. No wonder James and Rupert Murdoch shut the paper down – there was much more going on than they wanted the public to know.

Here’s the latest from the Guardian:

News International is expected to face at least 230 new compensation claims from alleged victims of News of the World phone-hacking, including former England footballer Sol Campbell.

Other new claimants include former Atomic Kitten singer Kerry Katona, her ex husband Brian McFadden, formerly of boyband Westlife, and The Apprentice contestant Ruth Badger.

The names were revealed at a high court case-management conference overseen by Mr Justice Vos on Friday, during which it emerged that 68 new civil claims for phone-hacking damages have now been lodged.

Hugh Tomlinson, QC, representing phone-hacking victims, also told the high court that 395 people had now applied for disclosure of phone-hacking evidence from the Metropolitan police and up to 40 more claims were expected to be lodged by the deadline set by Vos of next Friday, 14 September.

Undoubtedly, the upcoming deadline is leading to a rush of last minute claims. And you wonder just how much of what was done will never see the light of day, through silence either bought through loyalty or intimidation.

But more importantly, I suspect the historical perspective on this entire episode will be brutal. As the traditional news media staggers through the onslaught of the digital revolution, News International will become a benchmark, much like the recent discovery of a fossil of a complete track of a horseshoe crab in its death march, which fell into the bottom of a lagoon where the anoxic conditions soon sucked out its life. Immortalized in a remarkable fossil, we now have a complete record of an ancient life form as it struggled for survival. Likewise, News International’s death is laid out for all to see, forever to stand as evidence of a dying industry that understood innovation only as the violation of peoples’ privacy, that saw itself above both the law and the environmental conditions in which it existed.

. As Dr. Nic Minter from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, noted with the discovery of the fossil:

Discoveries such as this provide unique insights into the behaviour of extinct species – in this example during the last throes of its life and the environmental conditions that led to its demise. 

Soon enough, we’ll be able to say the same of the entire news industry. News International took one – patently illegal – approach to survival. Others tried (or are trying) different tactics. But in the end, Murdoch’s paper only illustrates how the depth of the current media crisis has fostered in some an astonishing loss of integrity.

horseshoe crab death march

Horseshoe Crab Death March

Aug 292012

Sun Front Page of Prince Harry - Heir it isIf you’re a fairly regular reader of Margin Lines, you’ll know I’m fascinated by images and Internet Memes and Prince Harry has turned out to be a god-awful easy topic. But this story is of particular interest as the event, the images, and the derivative memes all have a life of their own.

Much like Prince Harry, perhaps.

In the end, the entire story has gone full circle, images spreading virally beyond Las Vegas, evolving into memes and then returning to be used as an oblique reference in text ads by the city’s tourist bureau. What is so fascinating here is that we have the ability to drop a Mars rover almost dead on target millions of miles from earth, but have absolutely no idea where an event that gets on the Web will land. It’s like launching an out-of-control rocket that turns around and plows back to earth.

Again and again.

First, the nude Prince was all over the Web, to the point that the British press was in near rebellion over U.K. restrictions on printing the images. The Sun finally does a mock-up using a reporter and intern and then caves in and publishes the now famous image. But it’s done so late that they had to subtitle their front page: “Pic of Prince Henry you’ve already seen on the Internet.” A fascinating acknowledgement of traditional media’s relationship to the digital environment. Again, we’re late to the party.

Then the memes followed – there’s a small collection at EOnline but the best one plays on the movie Hangover. You’ll get it if you’ve seen the movie and if not, it’s Todd Phillip’s best work and is definitely worth watching (more so now that Harry has brought Vegas to life for us in new ways).


Prince Harry Internet Meme using Hangover

But while the event itself begins to recede a little (yes, there are other things going on in the world), the city of Las Vegas tourist site picks up on the images and is now running  a series of large text ads at the airport. No images here, but once in the public’s consciousness, none are necessary.

As Pop2It notes, ever since social media took off, the old Vegas tagline of “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is, well, pointless. With camera phones and social networks, nothing will stay in Vegas or anywhere else for that matter. So, the new campaign is titled “Know the Code” which the Vegas official tourism commission helpfully explains – we are not to use our cell cameras to post images of what friends do here. And the site gives you a chance to make a pledge to honor the code (click here!) and report violations on Facebook – paradoxically using social media against social media. The code is as follows:


And poor Harry’s misfortune? The story comes full circle and the images are now back in Vegas, not printed, but lurking in the lines of a tourist bureau ad campaign with display ads for all to see at every gate in the airport.

Prince Harry Ad in Las Vegas Airport


Indeed, Harry, carry on.

Aug 272012

Journtent WebsiteNo one knows where journalism and the traditional media is headed, but outsourcing news writing may be one direction to watch. Journtent, which bills itself as a “publisher’s dream come true,” makes the following offer: you keep local control while outsourcing the writing to lesser paid temporary staff in other countries.

Damien Hirst, Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain' (from: Drawing a Blank Blog)

Damien Hirst, Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain’ (from: Drawing a Blank Blog)

Can it work? First impulse is to say no, but if you look back over the past century, we’ve had this debate about outsourcing before – and in every case, textiles, autos, computers, smart phones are all being done somewhere other than in the United States even though at one point it appeared that the goods could never be outsourced. Perhaps in this case, it goes against what we perceive as the relationship between a writer and his/her words, that one always writes the draft and an editor rewrites (or requires the writer to rewrite) the final version. But what if it was reversed and someone else did the initial draft and it was fact-checked and revised by journalists here? Ultimately who is the author? Who the editor? The roles, as they have in other instances, may begin to break down.

It’s an admittedly strange landscape – freelance writers in Mexico, the Philippines and elsewhere churning out text after watching video streams of local events and sending copy back to be edited, fact-checked and published in the States. But is it any stranger from a broader historical perspective than placing a customer service call that is handled by someone in India?  And ironically enough, in some respects writing is easier to outsource than durable goods – there’s no shipping and inventory issues to contend within.

Perhaps this will get no further than Journtent and a few other attempts, and there has already been an outcry against the use of outsourced writers producing content under fake bylines. But I wonder if the controversy back in July with Journatic was entirely about the outsourcing or if was not more the issue of deception, of people in other countries being given fake American-sounding bylines? Journatic seems unable to recover from the controversy and is laying off staff.  But if the news organizations Journtent supplies are above board and do not deceive their readers will the public resist? If you look at the dynamics underlying the digital revolution, how many other sacred bonds have been broken, or are in the process of being flayed alive somewhat like Saint Bartholomew losing his skin?

Fred Grimm once wrote a satire for the Miami Herald that said in part:

A team of software engineers, call center operators, tax accountants and street urchins now assembles this column in Calcutta, cobbling together 20 inches of verbiage, checking the spelling, writing a headline and transmitting the product to Miami hours before deadline — a feat unobtainable under the old system. All this for a tenth of the cost of employing an aging American journalist. Without the mood swings.  (Poynter)

It may have seemed funny back then but now, “the joke seems a little less funny, and no longer so improbable.

Sadly, one thing we know for sure. Given the wage that freelance writers earn these days, they increasingly need to live in a country like the Philippines as they not making a living wage here.

Aug 242012
NYC Shooting - NYT Front Page Image

NYC Shooting – NYT Front Page Image

The tragic NYC shooting at the Empire State Building – perhaps the paramount icon of the City – had the press once again up against the unedited stream of information from the Web. A shooting on the sidewalk in broad daylight in the heart of mid-town results in hundreds of photos and videos from bystanders through their cell phones. The Web is quickly awash in graphic photos of the event and traditional media is left with the dilemma of what images to use. Given the vast range of images available online, the decision on what photos to use is almost a lose-lose decision.

Pick something that is too subdued and readers will just go elsewhere to see what they want to see (thus, the dilemma of the UK press with the naked images of Prince Harry all over the Web). Select images that are too graphic and the media looks like it’s being sensationalist and is probably alienating the older more traditional segment of their market.

So what did they do? Reuters went with a somewhat blurry photo that focused on the police activity while the NY Daily News showed the bodies but pixelated their faces. At first The New York Times used a subdued shot from above, but then changed it to include the blood on the sidewalk. No matter what they did, of course, the Web streamed whatever graphic images people wanted to see.

At it’s best, the press can (for now) quickly pull together resources that bystanders do not have the means to create; thus, the Times graphic of the shooting and interviews with witnesses offer insights to understanding the event. It’s the kind of work the press excels at (when they don’t self-destruct by firing their newsroom staff), but at one time, they also provided the primary source of images. Now it’s a bifurcated world for traditional media where they can at best offer analysis and readers will find their images with whatever degree of graphic content they want online. Perhaps this will continue for a few more years, but the ease with which bystanders can take and upload images and video is nothing now compared to what it will be in another decade. And if at some point in the future witnesses have the ability to instantly create resources like the Times graphic through some mobile crowd source platform, I’m not sure how the traditional press will survive.


Aug 222012
Prince Harry talks to gold medal-winning rower Sophie Hosking at the London 2012 Games. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

Prince Harry talks to gold medal-winning rower Sophie Hosking at the London 2012 Games. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

Dear me, Prince Harry nude in Las Vegas (no surprise there, I suppose). But the problem here is that the photos (trust me, they’re not the highest quality images and probably taken without his knowledge) are not being published by the UK press. This is not simply in deference to the Royal Family (which has probably swallowed enough Valium over this latest crisis) but due to the current situation with the Leveson inquiry. But here’s the challenge in a global, digital community: the images are published elsewhere and the UK press is now asking itself how can it compete if it’s not allowed to do the same. From the Guardian:

Each of the major British newspapers chose not to use them in online stories by late on Wednesday, although they were published by the Ireland-based Westminster gossip blog, Guido Fawkes.

The reticence of the British media is likely to be interpreted by some in the industry as further evidence of a chilling effect caused by the Leveson inquiry into media ethics. Tabloid executives, including the Sun editor Dominic Mohan and the Mail Online publisher Martin Clarke, have complained to the inquiry that they could be forced out of business if they are unable to publish material that is put online by media organisations in other countries and widely available on the internet.

There’s no easy solution here as readers will just go wherever the images happen to be online. And the same holds true for articles that might not be published in the UK due to libel laws but are published elsewhere. Digital media knows no boundaries – or at least the physical borders that once seemed so impenetrable - and news organizations find themselves competing with across different sets of publication standards. This can continue for a while only because print media still plays a (albeit declining) role. It won’t be all that far in the future where the issue has to be resolved. Otherwise readers will simply resolve it for you.

In the meantime, Harry, you may want to keep your pants on while your bar buddies have their cell phones out . . . for a host of reasons – the least of which is the unfair competition for the British press.

Aug 222012

NOTE: This post has been updated in light of Craig Silverman’s retraction of his statement that Time ended fact-checking in 1996. One comment: those that accuse others of not fact-checking need to make sure they do it themselves. However, the main point of the post remains – that Newsweek’s defense is that they rely on the writers themselves, not internal fact-checkers.

Newsweek cover with Niall Ferguson story

Newsweek cover with Niall Ferguson story

The Newsweek debacle over the this week’s cover story by Niall Ferguson on why not to re-elect President Obama continues to spin out of control. Not for the political views – it’s an election year and there will be strongly held views in both camps – but by the errors in Ferguson’s writing and Newsweek’s strange defense of inaccurate articles. Here’s Andrew Kirk (Newsweek spokesperson) talking to Politico on how the errors in the article slipped through:

We, like other news organizations today, rely on our writers to submit factually accurate material.

So we rely on our writers . . . and no one bothers to fact-check. And that’s what everyone is doing? Now listen to Charles Apple on the American Copy Editors Society site:

On that statement from Newsweek, I call bullshit.

Every news organization relies on its writers to submit factually accurate material. And on its assigning editors to give a first read to that material for content. And especially on its copy desk to give the material a thorough going-over for grammar, style and, yes, for content.

But a flawed, inaccurate story is journalistic bullshit. (Strike that; it’s notjournalistic bullshit. It’s just bullshit.)

No matter what the current state of newsmagazines or the news business may be, it’s work like this — courtesy of the current “editors” of Newsweek — that is hurrying along the death of our business.

Because if we don’t give a damn about accuracy or ethics or even a minimal level of standards, why should our readers? 

This is not about upholding traditional media practices and – sorry, Charles – I suspect that even the role of copy editors will have to change. But he makes a fundamental point – why bother to even read Newsweek if there’s no verification of accuracy? One might as well read anyone online (or Ferguson on his own blog); when an article gets the recognition and support of a reputable media institution such as Newsweek, one expects something more, that there’s a measure of authority based on the selection of writers and, yes, verification of what they say. Craig Silverman initially said in that fact-checking Time and Newsweek ended in the mid-1990′s. He has now retracted that statement but it is clear that over the past decade, fact-checking has suffered just as newsrooms have been decimated with buyouts and firings.

Obviously, the death of the traditional news industry is a lot more complicated than the loss of copy editors – we can start with the arrival of Craigslist, followed by the inability of media organizations to be innovative. But after reading Andrew Kirk’s remark on what news organizations do - apparently nothing – one might as well cast them into the bin of irrelevance in the digital age.

Are you listening, Tina Brown?

May 112012
Horst Faas, Legendary Photojournalist, Dead at 79

Horst Faas, Legendary Photojournalist, Dead at 79

Horst Faas, one of the great photojournalists of the 20th century has passed away, leaving an amazing body of work from a decade in Vietnam and elsewhere (including the Congo, Pakistan and Syria). Many of Fass’ photos are well known to Americans who lived through this period. But he also worked with so many American and South Vietnamese photographers as Chief of Photo Operations for AP’s bureau in Saigon that much of his work was behind the scenes, training photographers (“Horst’s Army” as they were called) and selecting images to be forwarded for publication.

From the Associated Press:

A native of Germany who joined the U.S.-based news cooperative there in 1956, Faas photographed wars, revolutions, the Olympic Games and events in between. 

But he was best known for covering Vietnam, where he was severely wounded in 1967 and won four major photo awards including the first of his two Pulitzers. 

“Horst was one of the great talents of our age, a brave photographer and a courageous editor who brought forth some of the most searing images of this century,” said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. “He was a stupendous colleague and a warm and generous friend.” 

Among his top proteges was Huynh Thanh My, an actor turned photographer who in 1965 became one of four AP staffers and one of two South Vietnamese among more than 70 journalists killed in the 15-year war. 

My’s younger brother, Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut, followed his brother at AP and under Faas’s tutelage won one of the news agency’s six Vietnam War Pulitzer Prizes, for his iconic 1972 picture of a badly burned Vietnamese girl fleeing an aerial napalm attack. 

Faas was a brilliant planner, able to score journalistic scoops by anticipating “not just what happens next but what happens after that,” as one colleague put it. 

His reputation as a demanding taskmaster and perfectionist belied a humanistic streak he was loath to admit, while helping less fortunate ex-colleagues and other causes. He was widely read on Asian history and culture, and assembled an impressive collection of Chinese Ming porcelain, bronzes and other treasures. 

“Horst Faas was a giant in the world of photojournalism whose extraordinary commitment to telling difficult stories was unique and remarkable,” said Santiago Lyon, AP vice president and director of photography. 

Faas was a two-time Pulitzer winner and a master of his craft, who understood the power of the photographic image to convey a story. He leaves us with some of the most searing images of the 20th century – a visual record that will retain its power with our increasing distance from the actual events. Not surprisingly, he was a task master and perfectionist, but also a humanist, generous in spirit, encouraging South Vietnamese photographers to document the tragedy of the War themselves.  Born into a childhood of war in Germany, he knew and had an eye for what we needed to see.

The Associated Press site has put together a slideshow of his work – it represents only a small portion of his influence but the images are memorable. See AP Horst Fass Images

Below, women and children take cover in a muddy canal from Viet Cong fire at Bao Trai on January 1, 1966. In the background, paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Division, who were escorting South Vietnamese villagers through the firefight.

Women and children take cover in a muddy canal from Viet Cong fire at Bao Trai on January 1, 1966

May 112012

The Guardian has created an incredible visualization of the status of gay rights in the United States, breaking it down state-by-state according to schools, housing, employment, marriage and other issues. There’s also a good account by Feilding Cage, the designer, on developing the infographic which was done utilizing Raphael javascript library and – as he put it – a lot of patience for getting it right with Internet Explorer (always an issue). But back to to the real issue here, Cage says:

When the idea of doing a gay marriage interactive was mentioned I had two initial thoughts. First, I didn’t want to use a map given that a quick Google search would find any number of news sites with just that. Second, I didn’t want to focus solely on gay marriage. The political dialogue seems to define the quality of life for gays and lesbians based on their right to marry, but it’s much more complicated than that. 

The polarization of the country is starkly visible in the image but he has taken a simplistic political discussion and placed it in the context of a much broader – and important – range of issues. This is what an infographic should be – not just the visualization of data you may already be familiar with, but an interactive graphic that lets you see the issues from different perspectives, and lets you pull-out, highlight, the data you want to explore.

Since this infographic really is interactive, you need to see it on the Guardian site – the reproduced image below simply does not do it justice. Not only can you view the data by individual State, you can also reorganize the graphic by the size of the population in each State.
Gay Rights Infographic Guardian

May 112012
Cable TV increase and decrease in subscribers in 2010

Cable TV Market Subscriber Gains and Losses

With cable providers hurting from satellite and Web TV distribution, there’s disturbing piece from ReadWriteWeb on the effort by old media content providers to maintain the current distribution paradigm:

The Internet was supposed to change everything. Television would be turned on its head, and big cable would be screwed – finally. 

TV is different now, to be sure, and those changes will continue for some time. But the Web-destroys-cable narrative many hoped to see isn’t quite playing out that way. Recent moves by content providers, cable companies and ISPs aim to ensure that that storyline never comes to fruition.

The tension between traditional content providers and the Web’s new model of distribution is nothing new. Networks have begun to rethink the practice of making new episodes available online for free, while some of the most coveted premium content (see HBO Go) remains locked behind the gate of a cable subscription.

Last week, word surfaced that Hulu may require a cable or satellite subscription in the future, a prospect that would effectively bring an end to one of the most promising – and popular – sources of TV content on the Web, or at least transform it into something very different.

The news, which was reported by the New York Post, hasn’t been substantiated. But if it’s true, it marks the strongest sign yet that big content isn’t ready to abandon its traditional distribution and revenue models for something that, while more innovative, is still largely unproven.  

Watch Netflix and Hulu carefully as they may serve as barometers for the future, revealing to what extent traditional content providers will accept a new distribution model. Netflix expects to add about 7 million new subscribers this year but is bleeding money to pay for content. And watch for the anticipated effort this summer by ISP’s to “voluntarily” throttle down access to file-sharing networks such as BitTorrent, locking out the other alternative of just grabbing shows for free. All one can say is that the TV and cable companies are not about to willingly go through the upheaval experienced by the music industry.

Unless of course, Apple forces their hand.

May 102012

In a world awash in social media and video, those in power have to try to connect with people in new ways. So now we have Prince Charles playing the weatherman for a few minutes at BBC’s Scotland headquarters in Glasgow for its 60th anniversary celebration.  His script has him focusing on the location of the royal residences in Scotland and he actually does okay – though at the beginning he looks a little nervous and skeptical at the remote control he has in his hand. Of course the forecast was “cold, wet and windy” due to an “influence of low pressure.”

However you view the Royal Family, it’s definitely one of their funnier appearances in recent years. Let’s just say their use of Twitter (@BritishMonarchy) and other media leans toward the formal side (though it has lightened up over the past year). But again, you can thank social media as it becomes increasingly difficult to remain disconnected no matter what your status.

May 062012
Photo of the Week: Man taking Photograph of Friends on now Demolished Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan

Photo of the Week: Man taking Photograph of Friends on now Demolished Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan

A simple photo that holds so much meaning – from the tragedy of 9/11, the the tracking and killing of one man who was the face of terrorism, the now demolished site, the man using a cell phone to take the photo here, his friends standing on the ruins, the multiplicity of meanings that the site will have for others. You wonder what significance the site will have a century from now – will it be overshadowed by locales of future events or gradually fade from the memory of later generations?

May 052012

Boston GlobeThe Boston Globe is changing its style guide to end references to “tomorrow” and “yesterday” as news publishing adjusts to a different environment. As the Globe noted by way of explanation:

The reason for the change is that articles are no longer written only for the newspaper. Breaking news is posted immediately on the Globe’s websites; stories are then fleshed out, posted again, then put into the process for the next day’s paper and the next day’s web entries. With all that traffic, a reliance on “yesterday, “today,” and “tomorrow” is an invitation for error. 

Of course, “Today” will remain “Today” as it is the equivalent of saying that it is happening “now”.  It surely doesn’t have much bite to write that there will be a mass demonstration on “Wednesday” when what you mean is that the protest will happen “Today”.

It’s a needed change given the online environment the press is now working in. Even the reference to “Today” remains problematic as it’s meaningful only within context – and on the Web, what is current can grow stale very rapidly, even by, . . . um, . . . tomorrow.

May 032012
Eskinder Nega, jailed Ethiopian Journalist

Eskinder Nega, jailed Ethiopian Journalist

A small glimmer of hope for Jailed Ethiopian dissident blogger, Eskinder Nega, the recipient of Pen America’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Nega, who works as both a journalist and blogger (a distinction that makes less sense with each passing year) is on death row in a country where the media climate has rapidly deteriorated since last year. In accepting the award on his behalf, his wife, Serkalem Fasil, said:

I accept this award on behalf of Eskinder Nega at a time when freedom of expression and press freedom are at the lowest in Ethiopia. If Eskinder were standing here, he’d accept this award, not just as a personal honor, but on behalf of all Ethiopian journalists who toil under withering conditions today: Those who went into exile over the years… those in prison with whom he now resides. 

Tragically, 25% of all exiled journalists in Africa are from Ethiopia and far too many have been jailed.  From Global Voices.

Apr 292012

Washington PostThere was a time (not that long ago) when text alerts from a newspaper were an innovative form of communication. No more.

People are still texting like crazy – an average of 40 a day – but Facebook, Twitter and new Smartphone apps means that news is everywhere – there’s little need to stay connected to a single media outlet. So the Washington Post is ending its text alert service, joining the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers in bringing to an end what was once a state-of-the-art service.

For the WP, too few people were signing up, leading the Nieman Journalism Lab to note:

The Post wouldn’t quantify what “so few” meant. News consumption is growing more mobile, but with the number of smartphone and tablet users on the rise, it might make sense for newsrooms to abandon text alerts — which can cost money for both sender and receiver — and shift to push notifications and that old standby, email.

But contrary to the above, I would argue that the real catalyst here is a combination of Twitter and the mobile environment. Twitter provides near instant notification if one follows major news outlets such as BBC, Reuters, and perhaps even the WP. If email remains useful for news alerts, it’s not because it’s an “old standby” but because mobile access has transformed how we use email.

But the real revolution here here is that people are continuing to cut their ties to a single news source – in an increasingly global news environment, we’re going to whatever source best suits our needs.

Newspapers beware.

Apr 252012

CitJoCitizen journalism was critical in the Arab Spring over the past year as ordinary people used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and other social media to push new ideas, organize protests, and document the atrocities of long entrenched dictatorships. Now they’re getting a more formal outlet with the start up of CitJo, a portal that will connect bloggers and videographers with official media agencies around the world. While this hasn’t gotten much notice outside the Middle East, it is an innovative approach to a question that remains unresolved in the West (try asking the New York City Police Department who is a journalist). The portal will allow citizen journalists to sell their work under a variety of copyright licenses, giving some of them a potential revenue stream.

According to Mahamad El Tanahy, Managing Director of CitJo,

Our aim is to provide an easy way for citizen journalists to get their word out and generate revenue. We’re looking to provide all the features necessary to make citizen journalists’ lives easier, starting with a migration of the service to Arabic, launching an online payment service, and much more to come.

It will be interesting to see how this develops, especially if some of the participants begin to be noticed for their work. And there are challenges to be resolved – are news agencies going to accept submissions that are not edited, fact-checked, or screened? Will they be willing to pay for videos if other people are making videos of the same events freely available on YouTube? And there may be competition from existing citizen journalism sites – AlJazeera’s Your Media, for example – that take submissions but do not offer payment.

It’s a fascinating experiment. Check out the CitJo website – it’s nicely done and will give you a glimpse of an innovative journalism experiment in action.

Mar 022012

Traditional media can occasionally get creative and resourceful (perhaps we all do when faced with extinction): consider this brilliant ad by The Guardian as they retell the story of the Three Little Pigs in a world where news is embedded in social media. No longer just a reporter’s article, the  story takes a number of unexpected twists and turns as rumors and facts emerge from multiple sources, eventually leading to Occupy Wall Street type demonstrations as the pigs are charged with murder and then . . . (well, watch the ad to see the ending).

News from all sources – it’s The Guardian’s position that this is the only way traditional media will survive, that a new form of “open journalism” follows a story through every means available. Whether or not you think they’ll succeed, the ad will definitely make you see the Three Little Pigs in an entirely different light. And there’s a little more detail on what “open journalism” from Editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger in the Guardian itself:


Feb 252012
Marie Colvin

Marie Colvin

Sunday Times veteran journalist Marie Colvin’s phone interview with Anderson Cooper at CNN, and her chilling last words, a few hours before she and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed by Syrian army shells in the city of Homs:

The Syrian army is shelling a city of cold, starving civilians . . . . There are no military targets here . . . . It’s a complete and utter lie that they are only going after terrorists. (via The Telegraph)

The Arab League and others continue to talk while people die. And just as disturbing, there is speculation that their location may have been tracked through their satellite phones. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good write-up on the possibility and a warning for journalists in Syria in other high-risk areas. And the providers of the tracking technology? West European and American companies, of course.

Tributes to Colvin have come from around the world, deeply respected by her peers and her readers. Time and again she put herself in the middle of conflict, never as a “war correspondent” but as the one looking for the human side of the story. Kurt Pitzer said it best in his tribute to her in Mother Jones:

Marie yearned for a way to not only document atrocities but to undo them. Although she chose to bear witness as her profession, she would have loved nothing more than to put herself out of business. 


Jan 102012

Okay, I can’t relate. At all. And surely this music video is just what you’d expect with a bunch of guys rapping about plaid. But the show is another thing altogether – shot entirely on iPhones. It’s not the first time Apple’s phone has been used for a production like this, but the show, Plaid Forever,  marks another step forward in leveling the playing field for video production and distribution (the show will be distributed on a YouTube channel and Tumblr). More details at thenextweb:

Jan 042012

What to do when the Republican primary race is a mess, the polling data utterly confused and your show is taped a few hours before the Iowa caucus results come in? If you’re Stephen Colbert, you just go with the extraordinary, if agonizingly slow, good judgment of Megyn Shelly, the psychic snail. Of course, Megyn, faced with pictures of the candidates on cucumber podiums under the glare of flashlghts, chose . . . . no one.

Here’s Colbert doing what he does best in a clip from Comedy Central:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Indecision 2012 – Iowa Caucus – Megyn Shelly’s Prediction
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive
Dec 142011
John Knefel being dragged off by NYC Police

John Knefel being dragged off by NYC Police

Boingboing has an insightful piece by Maggie Koerth-Baker on the journalism issues brought up by the OWS protests. Who is a journalist today? How do you issue credentials? We have policies and practices created in another era that no longer make sense given the digital tools available.

She takes the example of John Knefel, a writer and comedian arrested yesterday while documenting an OSW action in New York:

Knefel doesn’t work for a major media outlet. But he’s also not just some random bystander. He’s got a political podcast with new episodes three times a week. Do we only call someone a journalist if they have enough page views? Do they have to have a journalism degree? What’s the line?

Knefel is a biased source of information. But so are a lot of mainstream commentators. We’d call someone from Fox News a journalist. We’d call someone from Reason magazine a journalist. We’d call somebody from Mother Jones a journalist. Having a clear political angle to your coverage doesn’t make you not a journalist. Except when it does. So what are the actual criteria?

Knefel didn’t have a press pass. But, as Xeni has pointed out, the press pass system in New York is incredibly convoluted and contradictory. So what if you can’t get one? Does that mean you aren’t a journalist? This is particularly problematic given the fact that the rules seem to be set up to favor long-standing publications with lots of resources that mostly just cover New York City. How does that fit into a globalized world? Why punish media entrepreneurship?

We live in an age where publishing is easy and the tools to do it are available to a much wider swatch of people. But our standards and rules for who gets protection as a member of the press are based on a paradigm where publishing wasn’t easy and only a limited number of people could do it.

What is even more bizarre here is that the rules for obtaining a press pass in New York essentially require you to break the rules – repeatedly – as pointed out in an article last month by Elizabeth Spiers, Editor-in-Chief of the New York Observer, who ironically cannot get a press pass for herself. Simply put, it’s a form of control by the NYPD and stifling of the First Amendment.

And it gets even more twisted: the current rules are in response to a court settlement with bloggers who had argued that the prior even more arcane rules gave them no opportunity to be seen as legitimate news gathers by the NYPD.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter after all since credentialed reporters have been arrested at OWS gatherings. But it’s time for someone to breech the castle moat and let them know the world has changed.

Dec 132011

The article at sums up Russ Stanton’s departure from the LA Times after four years of grappling with the radical changes in the news industry in the digital era. Most interesting: the Times went to a 24 hour newsroom format since there is simply little alternative if one wants to remain viable in a highly competitive market where you are up against 24 hour online news sources.

LA Times, First Edition, December 4, 1881

A Text-based World: LA Times, First Edition, December 4, 1881

But the first paragraph of the article reads like a postmortem for the industry – cutbacks, cutback, and more cutbacks:

After nearly four years as editor of the Los Angeles Times, Russ Stanton will step down Dec. 23. Stanton became editor in 2008, replacing James O’Shea,who was forced out over disagreements with the Tribune Company about newsroom cuts. O’Shea moved to the Times from the Chicago Tribune afterDean Baquet left his post as editor, over disagreements with Tribune about newsroom cuts. Baquet was promoted to LA Times editor after John Carroll resigned over disagreements with the Tribune Company about, you guessed it, newsroom cuts. Stanton has worked at the Times for 14 years. “During his tenure, The Times’ newsroom staff shrank from more than 900 people to about 550,” the paper reports. Managing Editor Davan Maharaj will take over the top post. 

There’s a lot of out-of-work reporters these days and a lot of people who are essentially doing reporting for free. Not sure how viable this environment is for future; not sure if anyone can grasp what will replace it.

Dec 122011

A quick reading of history reveals that politics has always been brutal and cutthroat (indeed, you have to laugh at those who refer to our “Founding Fathers” as if they were a unified and homogenous group) but video surely offers new ways of plunging a dagger into your opponent.

Politicalwire notes that a Democrat aligned super PAC bought ad time and ran a video of Romney speaking French as payback for the way Senator Kerry was portrayed back in the 2004 Presidential campaign.

Video is nearly ubiquitous with seemingly every moment recorded and, just as important, persistent and retrievable. Of course, it doesn’t help that Romney lives up to his reputation. The noose is waiting, Mitt:

Nov 292011

Check out the Montblanc film Competition (link appears to have been taken down so you’ll have to settle for the video below) developed by the Leo Burnett Milan ad agency to pay homage to the chronograph which got time accuracy down to a fifth of a second 190 years ago. Curated by Wim Wenders the contest is taking video submissions – anything as long as it last exactly one second, is shot from a phone or high-end digital camera and is in 16/9 landscape format. If you want to enter your own, you can go directly to The Beauty of a Second Challenge.

Some of these are really good, though I wonder how much they benefit (artistically) from context, as each video is viewed within a broader context of other one-second videos. Moreover, there’s a single soundtrack which unifies the whole segment but undermines the one-second format. Would I watch a one second video? Of course. How often? Not sure. Why? Largely because the technology still gets in the way – it takes far longer to pull up the movie then to actually watch it, though that doesn’t hold for a compilation of clips as in the segment below.

It will be interesting to see what makes it to the final round and the ultimate winner. Here is a minute of some of the one second video submissions from Round One. Enjoy:

Seconds Of Beauty – 1st round compilation from The Beauty Of A Second on Vimeo.