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.

From Newsarama.com:

. . . 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?

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.

Nov 152011

Another Candidate has an “Oops” moment in the Republican nomination battle; this time it is Herman Cain trying to answer a question on Libya in an interview with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. You can see the full five minute version or the quick version below.

It’s interesting to read the Washington Post article in contrast to the video: which has the greater impact? When the Post writes the following:

Cain fidgeted in his chair, searched the ceiling again and adjusted his suit jacket before allowing, “I gotta go back, see, got all this stuff twirling around in my head.

it’s fairly devastating. But when you see the video of his body language, his interaction with the questioners, it’s even more so. What I find most interesting here – besides a candidate who does not seem to understand how to handle himself in a media-rich environment (did you not notice that video lens staring at you with the intensity of Satre’s No Exit?) – is that the Post separates out the video from the article, placing it on a different page. It’s as if we’re talking about something other than what we as a newspaper do. This is different from us – we live by text, we analyze text, and if you want to see what we’re discussing, go here (even if it is just another page on the Post). And true, if one physically picks up a copy of the newspaper, you do so to read it; but online, one is seamlessly moving from text to video to conversations and back again, all of it blending together in one broad (if diverse) stream of information. Separating the two only makes sense in the analog world.

So one could be critical and say the Post still doesn’t get it – like all newspapers, it’s fumbling for the right way of delivering content online. Of course, there’s an economic issue at play – sending you to another page increases the Web site statistics and provides real estate for another banner ad. But one could be more charitable here and point out that as of yet, there is no perfect way of delivering diverse content through a single stream. Television’s strength is video, newspapers do text, and radio does best at audio. But as our environment reshapes the flow of information, it would seem that new ways of integrating everything into a single place becomes critical. In some respects we haven’t progressed much beyond the Middle Ages which produced manuscripts that awkwardly in terms of format, but beautifully in terms of results, incorporated images and notations (and even some graffiti) into the primary text. And yes, they were in a quandary over how to deliver visual information and opted for an entirely separate platform – the incredible stained glass windows of the Gothic cathedrals.

One might note here that the formats of both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report are dealing with the transition from analog to digital. They’re TV shows and live by video, but they incorporate text and still images to make their points. So they are comedy shows, but they’re not; they are news shows, but they’re not (and of course they’ve been both praised and criticized for this) and; they’re talk shows, but no, they are something altogether different. They’re not always successful but they get the point that the formats inherited from the past are not adequate for the present. Everything is called into question, a point nicely captured in Colbert’s stage set with its fake fireplace and Latin inscription: “Videri Quam Esse,” (to seem to be rather than to be). As a direct reference to Colbert’s character it’s a play on the Latin phrase “esse quam videri,” (to be, rather than to seem to be) but it could just as easily refer to the format – a television show that only seems to be television but is something other.

But I digress. Here is the short version of Herman Cain digging himself into a very deep hole:

Oct 082011
Occupied Wall Street Journal

Occupied Wall Street Journal

Funding by the crowd-source funding platform KickStarter, the Occupied Wall Street Journal has published its first issue. The audience?

It’s aimed at the general public. The idea is to explain what the protest is about and profile different people who have joined and why they joined.

Hoping to raise $12,000, they’re up to $62,000 as of this evening, enough to print 50,000 copies and get a few more issues out. There’s no official publication for the protest, but this is one – and so far, successful – effort to get the participants’ story told. It’ll be online shortly and a video project has also met its funding goals at Kickstarter.

Sep 152011

It can actually happen – a newspaper getting Web design right. Check out the new Bostonglobe.com site that is getting good reviews all around.

Technically, this is not a redesign but a completely different site from boston.com, the Globe’s popular Web site which functions more like a community portal (and the news is buried in classifieds and event listings). The new site is news oriented – a readable newspaper on the Web that doesn’t require an App for a portable device. It’s paywalled (free until September 30), but incorporates a number of innovations that are worth checking out.

Most remarkable is the Responsive Web Design approach by designer Ethan Marcotte where the content on the screen seems to redesign itself in response to its context. For Marcotte, designers have taken false comfort from the increasingly explicit requirements – I need a site for an iPad, it has to render on a Blackberry – that has allowed them to compartmentalize design problems. But with the proliferation of devices, there’s no way to keep up – a “zero sum game” as he puts it – and a better approach is to do one design (and codebase) that renders across all platforms by redesigning itself on the fly.

A good analysis by Joshua Benton of the Neiman Journalism Lab describes it best:

Open up BostonGlobe.com on your computer, then shrink and grow the browser window to various sizes. On any page — most dramatically on the front page and section fronts — you’ll find the content resizing, realigning, and resorting itself as its viewport changes. It’s not just that things grow bigger or smaller — it’s that they change position and form. Shrink the front page and the top navigation — a list of the paper’s sections — collapses into a dropdown menu labeled “Sections.” Listing “News,” “Metro,” “Arts,” and so on makes sense if you’ve got 960 pixels to pay with — not if you’ve got the iPhone’s 320.

The design is clean, though not entirely minimal. Benton does some link counting and in comparing Boston.com to the new site, there are fewer links on the front page (312 to 160) and on the articles page (99 to 41). There’s still marketing but the number of links and the ads decrease significantly on a smaller screen.

Benton is not all praise here and there are a number of questions: will a quality experience attract readers willing to pay or will they stick with Boston.com or go elsewhere? It’s hard to say, but at the moment, it’s refreshing to see a clean, well-designed page by an old media institution.

Boston Globe Front Page

Aug 022011
Economic Observer spread on train crash

Economic Observer Front Page

Remarkable, powerful, and moving – there’s no other way to describe this. While most Chinese newspapers buckled under the censorship edicts issued for the seventh day coverage of the train crash, the Economic Times refused and published an eight page spread on the disaster. The graphic on the front page drove the point home: the emblem of the Chinese Ministry of Railways superimposed over a photo of the crash.  Perhaps even more startling is the text underneath the image which takes the form of a letter written to the two-year old child, Xiang Weiyi, who was rescued some twenty hours after the accident. The rescue was rolled out as a public relations coup by the government but quickly backfired on the Sina Weibo social network site where it was seen as more evidence of government incompetence and the desire to cover-up the accident. Indeed, it was around this time after the accident that the railway employees at the crash site started burying equipment, fueling the perception that they had something to hide. For all one knew, they could have been burying victims with the destroyed equipment.

The letter is titled: “Yiyi, When You’ve Grown Up” and I’ll reproduce a portion of it here. You can read the full text on The China Realtime Report in the Wall Street Journal. Not surprisingly, the Journal is reporting in an update that the text has been removed from the Economic Observer’s Website. I’m sure that will be followed by removal of the staff responsible for the coverage as you just do not come across this in China’s mainstream media.

Yiyi, when you’ve grown up and started to understand this world, how should we explain to you everything that happened on July 23, 2011? That train that would never arrive, it took away 40 lives that loved and were loved, including your parents. When you’re grown, will we and this country we live in be able to honestly tell you about all the love and suffering, anger and doubts around us?

How do we tell you that, even as they’d declared there were no more signs of life in the wreckage and had started cleaning up the site, you were still there struggling in the crushed darkness. Do we tell you that, with the truth still far off in the distance, they buried the engine; that before any conclusions had been reached, the line that had given birth to this tragedy was declared open. They called your survival a miracle, but how do we explain it to you: When respect for life had been trampled, caring forgotten, responsibility cast aside, the fact that you fought to survive – what kind of miracle is this?

. . . . Now, Yiyi, on behalf of you lying there on that sickbed and those lives buried in the ground, people are refusing to give up on finding the truth. Truth cannot be buried – no one plans to give up the inquiry. We know that anything we take lightly today might lead to our rights being violated and our lives being ignored again tomorrow. We reap what we sow. If every fact we seek becomes a secret, we’ll never know the truth. If we keep giving up half way in our pursuit of dignity, we will never be treated with dignity.

To live – to live with dignity – is that rainbow you get to see only after suffering through the wind and the rain. Yiyi, when you’re older maybe you’ll realize that dark night of July 23 was when things started to change. After that day, we won’t simply complain, but instead learn how to advocate and act. We understand that we have rights, we respect these rights and are will spare no effort to protect them.

“. . . that dark night on July 23rd when things started to change” – one can only hope that this would be the case, that the crash and her recovery serves as a catalyst, a Rosa Parks moment if you will, for far more sweeping change, a “Chinese Spring” long desired and repeatedly postponed. The skeptic in me argues otherwise, argues that the sheer complexity of China’s traditions, society and economic development will soon force this quietly seep under the surface. And of course, there is never one single event that instigates change, but a confluence of dynamics that the one event draws upon if the time is ripe. Perhaps the time is not now, perhaps not this year, but soon, definitely soon if the sentiments expressed here are widely held.


Aug 012011
People light candles at the scene of the fatal train collision in Wenzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province

Candles at site of fatal train collision in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province

In much of China, the death of a family member requires seven weeks of mourning (though I’m simplifying here as it is more complicated). Of this period, it is the “first seven” or the seventh day after death that is most important, the time when the soul of the loved one returns home before their journey onward. So as you might surmise, a number of families returned to the site of the high-speed train crash in Zhejiang Province to light candles and honor those who were lost in the tragedy. And many of the major newspapers were planning extensive coverage. The former happened as families gathered under the railway viaduct; but not surprisingly, the latter was squashed by the Chinese government at the last moment. Clearly, they have had enough of unfettered criticism inspired by the free-for-all online.

According to the Sunday Morning Post (subscription required – but free trial available), the order from the Publicity Department of the Communist Party said:

“After the serious rail traffic accident on July 23, overseas and domestic public opinions have become increasingly complicated . . . . All local media, including newspapers, magazines and websites, must rapidly cool down the reports of the incident. . . . [You] are not allowed to publish any reports or commentaries, except positive news or information released by the authorities.”

The end result according to France 24 was a hasty revision to the press runs – the China Business Journal scrapping eight pages of its newspaper, 21st Century Business Herald axing twelve, and the Beijing News cutting nine. Today’s issue of the People’s Daily Online has buried news of the crash down toward the bottom of the site with the focus on punishing those responsible. But as social networks increase their presence, they paradoxically increase the transparency of censorship efforts. A former reporter for the Party-run China Youth Daily, Lu Yuegang, who was recently fired for denouncing government controls said the following:

These crude censorship steps used to have some effect, but now the speed of the flow of information has surpassed them. On the contrary, the word about such restrictions simply deepens people’s distrust in government.”

This is the second time the Party has issued an order to curtail coverage of the crash and it remains to be seen how it will affect the ongoing discussion and criticisms on the social media networks. One thing is clear, the videos of grieving relatives are widely distributed and one assumes that they are also making the rounds in China.

China censorship protest image

China censorship protest image

The Chinese Media Project notes that July 29th was a “day of glory” for the Chinese press for their independent reporting on the event. But now that the government is clamping down again, social media is left to fill the void. Here’s just one example of an image posted on Sina Weibo as a protest against the official party line.




May 072011

As a number of newspapers undertake steps to setup  paywalls and charge for access – the New York Times among the most recent – news comes that the country of Slovakia now has an entire group of walled news outlets. A project of a consulting company run by a former editor of one of the dailies, Tomas Bella, a deal has been reached where nine of the country’s major news organizations will charge for premium content.

It remains to be seen how successful this will be but Slovakia is in a somewhat unique situation, with its isolation in terms of language (almost all Slovak speakers live there). But more interesting, the payment model is different than what has been seen elsewhere as a single provider offers access to independent sources of content.

Facebook groups to oppose this have already been set up in the country and I want to return to this later with a more in-depth look at how (and if) the pay-for-content schemes are working for different news organizations. I confess, I’ve pretty much stopped reading the New York Times (except through news/blog aggregators) after its paywall went into effect due to the cost. I would pay if it was less, but the Times seems to have a price structure that discourages online reading from multiple devices in favor of the printed version.