Archive for the ‘NY Times’ category

So Simple. So Smart.

20, May, 2008

On Tuesday night, while results from the Kentucky and Oregon Democrat primaries were coming in, the New York Times had this wonderful tool above the fold on its home page.

NYTimes Delgate Slider

Meantime, the folks over at CNN.com offer the considerably more complicated (if subtle) calculator shown below.

CNN delegate counter

Making complex material simple but accurate is one of the highest callings of journalism. Both sites attack this particular complexity well. But I give the nod to nytimes.com.

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The 2.D’oh! Round-Up: Crowdsourcing Dead Bloggers, etc.

11, April, 2008

Amazing, amusing and alarming observations from the world of Web 2.0

Miller Analogies Test Item of the Week

Twitter is to Blogging what Telegrams were to . . .

a.) FedEx

b.) Airmail

c.) e-mail

d.) Strip-o-Grams

If you’d read Ted Rheingold’s Web Journal (via TechMeme), you’d know the correct answer is b. At least according to Ted.

Let’s Crowdsource Dead Blogger No. 3!

Veteran newshacks know that in order for lifestyle journalists to legitimately proclaim a trend, they need to find at least three (3) examples of the thing in question.

Inexplicably, the New York Times slipped its blogging-yourself-to-death story into print with only two actual dead bodies at the keyboard. Oh, sure, they found a few people on the edge, and a had a bunch of expert commentary and all that. But still. [Truth told, we are beginning to suspect the Gray Lady broke a hip when she moved into that fancy new nursing home on 8th Avenue. She hasn’t seemed her old self since.]

But remember what they say in Journalism 2.0: The story is a process, not a finished product. So let’s crowdsource that dead-blogger story to find that missing example. There must be another stiff in jammies out there. Drawing on the power of distributed network reporting, we’ll find it.

Just use the comment field below.

But please notify the authorities first.

And finally, from the Are You Sure This Isn’t from The Onion? Dept.

Via The Smoking Gun:

Perez Hilton Calls Blogger A Defamer: Gossip kingpin sues online rival over published sex claims

Freaky Dataviz: NYTimes’s “Ebb and Flow”

24, March, 2008

I confess an irrational love for dataviz. A properly done data visualization can be brilliant and beautiful–a graphic representation that does more than words, photos, videos or flat graphics to explain some aspect of “reality.”

An excellent web dataviz makes you say “Oh, I get it” after even a brief glance.

A perfect one also is so beautiful you want to spend time just clicking and admiring–and, as you do, your understanding deepens.

One of my favorite examples: Digg Labs’ “Stack” real-time visualizer of users’ diggs. Ignore the fact that Digg content and users have an unsavory quality. The point is the Tetris-like dataviz shows what content is being recommend, and how frequently, in real time. If you want to dig deep you can click through to the articles that are stacking up.

So it’s with a mixed sense of awe and bafflement I regard The New York Times’ “The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986-2007.”

nytimes-movies-small.jpg

It intends to show how hundreds of movies performed at the box office over 20 years. It’s gorgeous and unsettling, a thing to behold and ponder. It suggests the botanical metaphor for the male never seen in Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. Or a flayed trachea. Or maybe some  crustacean group housing complex you come across while snorkeling and flipper away from real fast.

She shame is, it’s hard to figure out.

Some movies that made less money are shown as peaks higher than those who made more. See “I am Legend” and “National Treasure.” This has to do with the difference between weekly and total box office revenue, but I had to work really hard to figure that one out.

There appears to be no logic to whether a movie is rendered above or below center, though the mind expects some connection.  It’s not quality of movie per the Times review; I checked.

To be fair, spend enough time with the Ebb and Flow and you come to understand, with visuals not words, a few worthy observations about box office behavior:

  • Blockbusters tend to hit hard and fade into a skinny long tail
  • Some movies that do poorly in total box office (Little Miss Sunshine) have more staying power than high-grossers (Evan Almighty, to use a Steve Carrell comparison, which peaked and petered).
  • Okay, it’s no surprise, but the movies that do the best box office around the time of their release are summer and holiday fare.

Anyway: Ebb and Flow is a beautiful and ambitious dataviz. It does remind me of a  phenomenon from my days in words-on-paper journalism, however, which makes it a good cautionary tale for those who undertake dataviz projects.
Back in the day, an editor and reporter would get all excited about a story, sell it around the newsroom, do lots of reporting, work all the sources, gather some slam-bang quotes and cool facts, craft a great narrative and then realize. . .well, there isn’t much story there.

It never stopped the words-and-paper journalists from publishing. It probably shouldn’t stop the datavisualists either.

Most-TV-Like Home Page. . .NYT?

10, February, 2008

It wasn’t Super Tuesday. It was Sad Sack Saturday, which is to say I was at the computer again after dark on a weekend. It happened to be the night Obama swept Washington, Louisiana and Nebraska (and the Virgin Islands, if that counts).

So I was poking around, avoiding my real work, looking for numbers–why were Washington’s GOP caucus results stuck at 37 percent? Will Huck pull it out and do a GOP sweep? I jumped from news site to news site looking for the most updated feeds.

And I noticed two things:

  • If you’re using the web to find news info in real time, even the most successful news sites’ home pages aren’t particularly good at this sort of “broadcast” display. The Washington Post, USA Today, MSNBC, FoxNews, AOL, Yahoo, even CNN–none had a real-time graphic leaderboard on their home pages. They published headlines and photos and, inside, one or two clicks deep, maps and charts with fresh-ish data.
  • The most successful example of a news homepage broadcasting real-time election results in graphic form was. . .The New York Times. The Times alone had an updated, easy-to-follow data graphic on its home page displaying the election results as they came in.

Times election results

I was surprised that CNN and USA Today–both veteran deviners of audience desire–whiffed on this easy pitch. (Both had links on their home pages that led to real time data inside).

If I’m programming a news home page on election night–a Saturday evening! With little else happening!–what “use case” am I anticipating? People out browsing for election results. Sticking the real-time results map on the front is sort of a no-brainer.

It’s striking to see that the New York Times appears to understand that on the web, even significant news should, when appropriate, be presented visually, quickly and accessibly.

There is time and a place for reasoned analysis and fuller explanation. It’s called tomorrow’s newspaper.

Viz This: Some More Great DataViz 08 Tools

13, December, 2007

As the political primary season grinds on–oh, no, wait, it hasn’t actually started yet–I’ve become a collector of interesting data visualization projects that various publications have created for the year in politics ahead.

I’ve previously publicly admired the New York Times Debate Analyzer, USA Today’s Candidate Match Game, and the Washington Post’s Issue Tracker.

Three other dataviz [data visualizations, in webbist jargon] projects have caught my attention recently:

The LA Times’ Primary Tracker. Want to see why “SuperDuper Tuesday,” 25 Jan., will have such extraordinary impact on who the candidates in the general election will be? One quick slider-push on this tool makes it clear in alarming detail.

MSNBC’s Candidate + Issues Matrix. My current favorite in the “deadly cool if slightly clunky in use” category.

GlassBooth.com: View how you stack up relative to the candidates. Less visually playful than the USA Today entry in this field, but quite elegant to use.

They say politics brings out the worst in people. This campaign season, it’s bringing out the best is some dataviz designers.

[In the spirit of full disclosure: I’m working on an ’08 dataviz project myself, which is why I’ve been watching. And I’m a former employee of the Washington Post.]

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NY Times to Readers: Drop Dead

20, November, 2007

The New York Times has opened a few of its stories–tentatively, selectively–to comments from the public. Between the public and these stories the Gray Lady has installed four part-time staffers whose job it is to uphold the quality of public discourse.

Quoted in Editor & Publisher, Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president for digital operations of The New York Times Company, said: “A pure free-for-all doesn’t, in my opinion, equal good. It can equal bad.”

In the same E&P story, Kate Phillips, editor of the Times’ Caucus blog: “I almost wish we could go back to the days when we never heard their [readers’] voices.”

NYT public editor Clark Hoyt told Editor & Publisher that the paper finds itself “struggling with a vexing problem. . . How does the august Times, which has long stood for dignified authority, come to terms with the fractious, democratic culture of the Internet, where readers expect to participate but sometimes do so in coarse, bullying and misinformed ways?”

To which I say, to adopt the sort of uncivil language Sulzberger & Co. would never permit on their site: Bite me, you LOSERS!!!!!

Ahem.

To recede back into reasoned discourse: the Times’ employees’ diction and thinking betray an institutional viewpoint that suits it very poorly, in the first instance, for the Internet: Get this: The new medium has obligated the Times to comes to term with a democratic culture! Far worse, it’s a . . . .fractious one! Oh, how vexatious! After all, the Times is “august,” and it stands for “dignified authority”!

Frankly, the Times also betrays an institutional self-infatuation that suits the paper very poorly for. . .well, just about anyone with self-respect.

Nisenholtz, Phillips, and Hoyt ooze supercilious condescension. Readers–unlike the staff members of the New York Times, except maybe Judith Miller, Jayson Blair, and. . .[you get the idea]–can be misinformed!

Readers can be coarse!

And the culture can be–absolutely unlike the Times, which has never used its power to beat up on a weaker opponent that can’t protect itself–full of bullies!

I have previously praised the Times for its sophisticated use of web technology: Its Debate Analyzer tool is a breakthrough product. Its My Times feature demonstrates advanced understanding of the need to provide user control of content in the digital age.

But its policy regarding reader comments reveals a very important way its current management is poorly prepared for the rising era of communication.

At a time when the newspaper is shedding veteran reporters, and in need of developing highly skilled multimedia journalists, devoting 2 slots to sweeping back the sea with a broom is a bad decision. It’s sort of sweet, or silly, or just plain batty. It’s the stockholders’ money, and if they’d rather spend it shielding reader comments from view rather than funding journalism, that’s their business.

But the paper’s motivation for vetting the comments, as summarized by Hoyt–to uphold the appearance of dignity or augustitude or whatever–betrays a withering contempt for readers.

It shows a lack of confidence in the very people the Times’ advertising group is always bragging about: the national intelligencia, the “thought leaders,” the discriminating cosmopolitans and patrons of the high arts.

It is a rather transparent form of censorship–the Fourth Estate squelching the voices of the undignified masses in the name of political and economic self-interest–and vanity.

It is a window into an institutional culture that is made ill, deep down, by the unpleasantness of contemporary public life.

It is, in the end, not an expression of dignity. It’s an expression of cowardice.

Reporters Are Not Doomed, But Their Habits Must Die

14, November, 2007

Back when John Kelly and I were friends. . .

No, just joking, of course! John and I have the sort of friendship that can easily withstand a strong professional disagreement, especially one in which he is so tragically wrong. [See this entry of mine in response to John’s entry on the whole are-reporters-doomed controvery.  John responds to my entry too. Clearly neither one of us gets out much.]

Here is why journalism must change far more than the conservative wing understands, and why the sentimentalists who protect the status quo actually do the future of journalism harm.

Today there was a major earthquake in Chile. The New York Times (just to pick on the big dumb kid at the back of the class) has a 16-graf news story on its Web site. It has a map, a photo and two hyperlinks, one to a Chile Travel Guide entry, one to a link explaining the U.S. Geological Survey. (There are utterly unwholesome motivations for providing these inline links, but I won’t get into that here.)

A skilled multimedia news editor would have quickly fired up the ol’ browser the moment the news crawled across the wire and tracked down some shaky-cell-phone video. She’d have posted a Google map of the affected area and put a fast-typing staffer on the task of harvesting the best UGC and geotagging it to the map. She’d have her most ferociously focussed, grizzled newshand craft 300 highly compressed and brilliant words, culled from news service reports and UGC, like those newsmagazine write-throughs but done in real time. She’d link to a flickr photo gallery that aggregates images in real time. She’d create a newsbox that updated all day with the latest facts, and have an editor from the South American desk scour for blog entries of the moment.

This is not radical: CNN, whose multimedia production work I’ve admired before, produced a solid multimedia package on the earthquake of the sort I describe.

But at the New York Times, some poor, habituated, hidebound, put-upon schweck in the  newsroom did what she and legions before her have done for decades: Order up a 15-graf ho-hum, put a postage stamp photo on the page and a dead .gif map, and be done with it.

If this is the baby, then I say pitch it out with the bathwater–and smack its shabby butt on the way down.

Editors and writers will continue to create these legacy news reports for as long as they can get away with it. Not because they are better, not because they’ve thought it through, but because. . .well, nobody’s told them they have to do it a new way. Or they don’t know how. Or they are tragically sentimental. Or they are suspicious of the frisky young-uns with the stylish eyewear who know how to do this stuff.  Nobody–nobody–would say that 16-graf wordstring is better journalism than the multimedia package our talented producer cited above would create. And the good one is probably cheaper to produce.

The multimedia production simply requires a different skill set than the one you find widely distributed in the Times’ and other conservative newsrooms. It also requires alert and flexible management by the folks in the big offices.

We can discuss the role of investigative journalism–how the essential reporting of public affairs and the vital task of holding power accountable can be funded and carried out in the digital age.

But I don’t think there is any justification to continue to produce single-color, one-dimensional news reports on a daily basis. No, not every story is worth the scramble-the-jets multimedia treatment. But those that are should get it. Every day. Not on special occasions. That’s how you’ll build the loyalty of intelligent and discriminating readers on the web.

Failing to embrace the new media tools as a matter of course, as a method of daily business, only continues to marginalize the very media institutions that need to survive if there is to be thoughtful, principled journalism in the digital age. Too many of these outfits seem to be riding their revenue curves to the bottom of the chart and complaining about how kids today don’t read newspapers.

To cite a famous quotation from, god help me, Lee Iococca: It’s time for top newsroom managers to lead, follow or get out of the way.