Archive for the ‘news’ category

Time.com’s ‘The Page’: Like a Blog, But Better

17, September, 2008

There are more things wrong with Time.com’s renovated website than befits a multimedia news-and-content monolith. Maybe that’s due to the lingering toxicities of that whole nearly fatal AOL infection. But those flaws are a subject for another day.

Today I’d like to call attention to really smart evolution of the blog and into a successful new format: The Page, Mark Halperin’s daily dose of high-quality political news scrapery.

[Sorry for the lousy cut-n-paste. Those two images should read seamlessly, as one.]

There’s so much I like about this:

The items are essentially links to the full content on Time.com and elsewhere. This makes the blog an easy scan of current relevant news items, with one-click access to the full versions.

It’s all very visual, using big images, varied typographic textures and white space to make The Page highly scannable. Essentially The Page is a compelling front end for the news.

It’s built on WordPress!

Below the big entries of the moment, the bottom of The Page is a more conventional gathering of news items, but notice again how each is presented with scannable typography and written as if the blurber actually understands the content.

The Page is also pushed out as a daily e-mail.

The Page is an excellent evolution that combines blog, well-crafted blurbified news and next-gen e-mail. It’s one of the most usable products of this type I’ve come across.

The real value-add, as they say on the business side of the operation, is not the content, but Halperin’s brain. Instead of rewriting the news, he selects and presents it.

Flaws? Halperin should be more ecumenical in his item choices, so the product remains a gateway to the political news of the day, not Time.com’s news reporting of same.

Oh, and this: Is the title “The Page” ironic, retro-cool or, for all of the product’s digital virtues, an artifact of the creators’ ink-and-paper-centric worldview?

Conflict of interest note: In a moment of weakness, Time.com several months ago declared this humble blog a Top 25 blog.


Bookmark and Share

Advertisements

Rick Sanchez Debuts Twitter on TV

8, September, 2008

Today at 3 p.m. EST, CNN’s promiscuous social media adopter Rick Sanchez debuts a TV show called Rick Sanchez Direct.

This may be of some cultural significance, in that that the program appears to be about/from/in/around [insert your favorite preposition] Twitter.

It’s hard to imagine the details of this first-of-its-kind broadcast. But in a Twitter message, Sanchez announced that it would indeed be “a Twitter show.”

Sanchez and other CNN anchors have been putting Twitter on camera as they report the news over the last week or so. Sanchez apparently had great sport with Twitter during Hurricane Gustav. I caught some of it, and it gave the news a sort incoherent, populist je ne sais quois I sort of admired. [See this Mashable entry for some details on CNN’s adventures in social media.]

Sanchez follows 4,607 people as of this writing. He has 8,766 followers. This appears to have generated some anxiety at Twitter’s San Francisco HQ, where the troops have been struggling mightily to keep the Fail Whale in its enclosure.

Sanchez’s producer Tweeted the following: **from Rick’s producer** working out a “follow limit” issue with Twitter. Stuck right now, unable to follow new folks.

Whether Sanchez will generate an entire show out of people’s messages to him, I have no idea. It’s hard to imagine how a Twitter feed from 4,607 users might behave live. The mind swims at the possibilities.

In his sign-off message Sunday night, just a little bit before I published this blog item, Sanchez Tweeted thusly:

heading out, c ya tomorrow THREE PM EAST, NOON for u california peeps, and everything in between. dvr, dvr, dvr,

Which is to say: Sanchez is asking us peeps to use our DVRs so we can time-shift a broadcast of his program that features Twitter. Talk about “appointment TV”!

As you can imagine, some see this as yet another sign that Da Man is appropriating social media in its evil plan to generate economic activity. You’ll find evidence of this on the blog Clips & Comment, in a post entitled  “Can Someone Shove CNN’s Twitter Screen Up Rick Sanchez’s A**?”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Code Blue!

* * * *

Note: The following added at 6:09 p.m.: For a review of the debut, see the next post.


Bookmark and Share

DNC Exposes a Gap in the New Media Ecosystem

27, August, 2008

As part of my utterly ineffectual campaign to embarrass the journalism establishment until it capitulates to my irresistible wisdom, I’m doing my best to boycott mainstream media coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

There are 15,000 journalists in Denver. There are 4,000 delegates.

At a time when news leaders face the urgent need to reinvent themselves around crushing economic changes, they’re squandering precious journalistic resources earnestly covering an event that’s part infomercial, part pep rally and part goofball Americana parade. All right now, let’s listen to State Sen. Rhubarb Buttwhistle’s intro to Gov. Louis Meander’s tribute to Adlai Stevenson! Tough questions, you say? Tell me, Mdme. Janie, is this convention hat really from 1956?

Yo, journalists: Is this what you went to school for? Isn’t there a meth lab in a house jointly owned by a city councilman and a corrupt contractor catching fire back home or something?

So anyway, I figure this is a great time to check out the emerging media. You know, those bold, independent voices unfettered by the groupthink of corporate media and resistant to the virus of party politics.

I went looking for a source that pulled together an eclectic mix of the best independent voices from non-mainstream, non-corporate media. Certainly some new media visionary was at this task right now, mining the indie datastream for precious nuggets, producing a truly fresh, truly independent, crisply edited feed representing news and opinions spanning the spectrum of politics, age, gender, lifestyle, social class and headwear preferences.

Um, no.

I found four varieties of DNC blog aggregation going on.

Big Brands (Washington Post, The New Republic, Politico) These mainstream outlets simply have their staff use blogging software to get their content on the screen faster. Also saves money on copy editors. Independent? Not so much.

Digital Algorithmic Aggregators (DayLife, Topix) These wrap a skin of a harried producer’s choices around an armature of machine-generated content, usually from mainstream sources. Curated? Not so much.

Lefty Blogs (Huffington Post) and Righty Blogs (RedState). Interesting for three or four clicks. Then, very quickly, thin and stifling.

I spent well over an hour searching for a dispassionate curator who undertook the task of presenting an eclectic mix of high-value content representing a range of views, avoiding both mainstream news and an ideological filter. I searched in vain.

I guess it makes sense. Big media brands are invested in promoting their own folks. Lefties and Righties want to ventilate only the viewpoints their benefactors embrace. The machine aggregators just want to assemble eyeballs at the lowest costs.

All of this exposes an interesting gap in the new media marketplace. Lots of great independent content is being created from and about the convention. Nobody I could locate is making an intellectually honest attempt to select the highest quality stuff and make it accessible in a single place with a single RSS feed. If it included multiple media–pix, Tweets, videos, etc.–so much the better.

I know there’s an audience for this. I know there are people capable of producing this.

And yet. . .there it isn’t.

The digital media marketplace being what it is, I wonder if this task isn’t best suited to a journalistic foundation or university program. [This isn’t a grant proposal, honest.]

Of course, it’s entirely possible that there is a politically independent, journalistically sound effort to curate the best non-MSM content produced by a variety of sources coming out of the DNC in something like real time.

If so, I’d love to hear about it.

It would make my pitiful solo boycott of MSM DNC coverage so much more satisfying.

Online Journalism Awards and The Audacity of Hope

6, August, 2008

When I first saw the list of the finalists for the 2008 Online Journalism Awards, sponsored by the Online News Association, my response was despair: Almost 100 finalists in 23 categories. My carpal tunnels began to swell shut just at the thought. This smelled to me of those contests where every entrant is declared a finalist in order to pack the awards dinner.

Well, questions of motivation aside, the list is full of spectacular stuff. I use the word “spectacular” to describe online journalism very rarely. But I clicked into the list with dread and came away surprised and delighted–and feeling something like hope–more often than not.

I won’t critique the list or pick my favorites, but offer just a few observations:

When a major news organization dedicates itself to telling a story with multiple media, it can create a thing of beauty and power. True to the claims of those who insist there is a future for capital J Journalism in the digital age, the projects often provide a deeper and richer and fuller journalistic experience than projects whose toolkit is limited to 26 letters. Just two examples: Reuters on 5 years in Iraq, Dallas Morning News on Unequal Justice, which investigates a scary pattern in Texas of murderers who are given probation.

Political commentary done digitally can be as incisive as the kind using words alone. Example: Beliefnet’s God-O-Meter, which does regular visual news reports on the spiritual tweakings and tinkerings of Barack Obama and John McCain:

At least some journalism students due to replace the legions of buyoutees in Ameica’s digital news operations are ready to take over. Witness South of Here, a collaboration between the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Facultad de Comunicación at the Universidad de los Andes in Santiago, Chile. These kids have chops their parents often don’t.

On Digital Jouralism Worst Practices

Of course, I can’t let this opportunity pass without at least a brief mention of persistent Worst Practices in Digital Journalism.They are also frequently evident among Online Journalism Award finalists.

Segregating “video” from other parts of a package, or even labeling it as video. Media of all types should be integrated into a whole package. Calling out “video” rings of an anachronistic brag: “Hey, lookit, we did some video, too!” I demand this practice be stopped immediately.

Layering a show-offey Flash entry page above the package. Flash pages waste time, bandwidth and user patience. They add no value. They impress nobody other than their own designers. Stop it, I tell you, stop it!

Placing the whole 3-part, 120-inch wordroll at the center of a digital package. Long blocks of text work okay on paper. They deliver a lousy experience online. Keeping those wayback-style reports at the center of digital packages tells me the newspaper folks are still in control of the website, fighting the future, defending the interests of their print reporters and slowing the new organization’s transition to a financially stable future. In fact, how about this: Instead of sticking “videos” in the sidebar of an article, how about putting “articles” in the sidebar of a visually-driven presentation. [“Hey, lookit, we wrote an article about this too!”] Editors who take offense at that suggested inversion, I submit, may want to consider that next buyout offer very seriously.

Visualizing the Iraq War, and the Scary Future of Journalism

9, July, 2008

I’m not sure how I missed this wonderful act of journalism-by-data visualization produced by Mother Jones magazine.

Titled “Lie by Lie,” it’s the wayleft publication’s “history of the Iraq War.” The project was undertaken, the editors state, “to create a resource we hope will help resolve open questions of the Bush era. What did our leaders know and when did they know it? And, perhaps just as important, what red flags did we miss, and how could we have missed them?”

Why I love this work of journalism [my own political inclinations notwithstanding]:

1. It’s nothing fancy, hardly a data visualization at all. It’s essentially a timeline navigation of information on the Iraq War. The only visual grace note is the roulettey spin of the date slider as you move it around. But the tool is functional: It permits navigation of the same data by topic, tags or search. It engages and it works.

2. It is an aggregation of content reported by others. This is a great example of curation, of journalism by assembly. Clearly, smart people knowledgeable about public affairs paid close attention to a huge amount of information, made careful selections and used available digital technology to make it accessible and flexible in a way no print publication could.

3. It proves you can advance a political agenda with digital journalism just as easily as you can in the analog world. Edit, select, tweak, ignore. . .and you can assemble your own version of history, just as certainly as the wingnuts at The Washington Times or the pinkos at the New York Times.

4. By virtue of its form, it surfaces new understandings that a reader of the original reports would not achieve. For instance, noodle around with the “Dick Cheney” taq and you’ll discover, right at the top, this entry dated . . . over 15 years ago:

Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, speaking to the Discovery Institute in Seattle, says the first President Bush was right not to invade Baghdad: “The question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth? And the answer is not very damned many. So I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that…we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.”–Aug. 14, 1992

But even as it offers a great example of digital journalism, “Lie By Lie” raises troubling questions about same.

Most of the information is drawn from reports that appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, Knight-Ridder, the New Yorker and many more. Yes, some bloggers made significant contributions. But it’s hard to imagine there would be much of a record of events to assemble without mainstream journalism’s (eventual! shame-faced!) commitment to digging for facts about the runup to Iraq.

The rub: This original reporting cost a fortune. It was produced under the old, dying model of journalism, wherein investigative reporting is funded by advertisements for cell phones, new subdivisions, mattress-chain mega-sales, designer clothing, and so on.

It’s important to remember that for all their swashbuckling highbrow bravado, the authors of New Yorker articles write on the back of designer vodka ads.

As Mother Jones has shown, people who are passionate about telling a story have powerful new tools at their disposal to do so. But without high-quality content–difficult, time-consuming, intellectually demanding, butt-numbing, sometimes actually dangerous reporting–the tools are just toys.

And who will pay for that reporting as we glide forward into the age of paper-free journalism?

Pour yourself a designer vodka and think about that one.

Journalism: It. . .Lives!

8, July, 2008

In the midst of a deep trough of bad news about the news business–the L.A. Times newsroom prepping for about 150 going-away parties, 60 folks heading for the emergency exits at the Baltimore Sun, 140 [40 percent of the news staff!?!] left stranded on Palm Beach–I received a link in my e-mail box that made me feel something like hope.

The Online News Association has relaunched something it calls Interactive Narratives. It’s essentially an gallery of good multimedia journalism, posted wiki-style by members of the Online News Association [conflict of interest note: I attended one of their parties once, but only coughed up membership dues a few weeks ago].

Even though it’s just launched, it’s already full of interesting stuff that demonstrates that at least some journalists have quit whining and are learning to tell stories with something other than 26 letters.

But this effort doesn’t suffer from the precious self-love of a juried competititon. These aren’t proclaimed the best of anything (though some have won various awards). Many are just pretty good examples that show what multimedia journalists are producing these days.

Take, for instance, Strange Genius: Tesla + New York, by the public radio station WNYC. It arranges on a Google map a collection of photos and sound clips that describe the electricity pioneer’s adventures around Manhattan. This is not prize-worthy stuff, but that’s the point. It’s workmanlike multimedia journalism, the digital eqiuvalent of the not-bad 45-inch feature story.

On the other hand, some stuff is so outre it’s hard to describe with mere words.

Take The Whale Hunt, for instance. It appears to be a week-in-the-life gallery over over 3,000 photos documenting a whale hunt. But it presents one of the most dynamic and intellectually demanding navigations I’ve seen. The photography is world-class. The design is remarkable. But the framework is so high-concept that you nearly get a nosebleed just trying to find a picture of a stinkin’ whale.

Perfect work? Once again, no. But a striking example of what happens when interesting minds interact with something other than words and paper.

Is the Andina [of Peru] multimedia package a winner? Hard for me to tell, since it’s in Spanish. But just clicking around, I’m guessing it’s a more culturally sophisticated and richly nuanced tribute to the potato than you’ll find in your daily paper.

Anyway, as the bad news mounts about pulp-and-petroleum journalism, it’s bracing to see the creative approaches to story-telling that are taking shape elsewhere.

Meantime, with so many journalists newly on the job market, it’s worth noting that the Online News Association is hiring.

Coincidence?

Live Blog: Yahoo News at Digital Media Conference

26, June, 2008

Alam Warms, head of Yahoo News

Election ’08 news: 50 percent of public getting info online, end of 3-network, major media election. Candidates working on SEO, comment moderation, etc.

“Credible aggregation” is key to draw audience. [Yahoo has biggest online news audience? Note to self: Fact-check later]

Question: Blogs have no fact-checking, little credibility. A: Blogs *can* do important work, fact-checking, etc. Blogs exposed CBS/MSM misreport on GWBush military service.

There is a role for editorial decision at Yahoo News: We have pulled down non-credible stories, make editorial judgments. [Note to self fact-check that one too.]

Yahoo plan–multimedia aggregation with multiple, quality partners. We do lots of A/B testing, usability, simplicity of use. We don’t believe in video ghettos, says Warms.

We can include exclusive content where we think there are gaps.

Did a web-exclusive interview with sitting President, in partnership with Politico, in May.

Good Morning Yahoo, sponsored by Dunkin Donuts, every day. An aggregation of morning content.

No audience quetions? What’s up with that?