Posted tagged ‘news’

Rick Sanchez Direct: CNN ADD!

8, September, 2008

Well, Rick Sanchez Direct was unloosed this afternoon onto an unsuspecting world. The CNN program appears to be the first head-on, full-frontal attempt by a mainstream media organization to harness the social web, live and on the air, to report the news.

Promoted on Sanchez’s own Twitter feed as a “Twitter show,” the production turned out to be more like a FriendFeed Gone Wild.

While Sanchez presented the news of the day, he harvested real-time viewer comments streaming in via Twitter, Facebook and MySpace [what, dude, you’re like 15?]. Raw news came in via cell phone images, mobile phone calls and user-generated video. There was even a multi-culti touch, with a flamboyantly Spanish speaking correspondent from CNN Espanol.

Sanchez is full of himself as a broadcaster and 2.0h geek–a brunette Anderson Cooper with ADD and thousands of online friends. His patter was peppered with references to the whiz-bangery by which he was presenting things: “…here’s something from Twitter coming in now, just seconds ago…this is an interactive news broadcast, it’s your show…and this, from Facebook…tell us what you think, we want to hear from you….”

Sanchez clearly relished his role as info-hero, manfully maintaining control of the real-time news battlefield while taking incoming data from all sides. At the end of the broadcast he thanked people for their “openness to Twitter, Facebook”–and indeed, one suspects, to human interaction itself. It was that kind of performance.

It’s easy to ridicule Rick Sanchez Direct as hyperspeed slapdash news-spatter. But truth told I found myself sort of liking it–the hour went fast, I got quick licks of the headlines-of-the-day, and heard the [alas, predictable] voices of my fellow Americans chattering about it all. There are worse news shows, and many that are more boring.

Which is not to say RSD is substantial or of great public value. But let’s consider the context before we bemoan the shameful intellectual decay of cable news–the domain of Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hannity and those blonde women on Fox–wrought by Twitter and Facebook.

Network TV news as it is widely practiced is highly mannered, with carefully staged standups, scripted stories, well-spoken talking heads and press conference snippets, all presented with assertive declamations by people who, as they say outside major media markets, clean up real good.

The thought that this somehow constitutes “news” in its pure form is ridiculous.

The thought that adding social media to the mix could wreck it is fatuous.

News is stuff that happens that someone finds interesting. There are infinite ways to present it. As the culture changes, so does the way it’s delivered.

My biggest complaint with RSD is that the need to generate a constant stream of real-time apoplexy to fill that Twitter screen, Sanchez & Co. will have to keep baiting the hook with red meat.

In today’s Episode One, the topics included “hard to watch” cell phone video of dead civilians in Afghanistan, a bunch of loony pastors who plan to take “all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary” their God-given right to endorse Republic–er, various candidates for public office, user videos of ginormous waves crushing the coastline of Cuba, the Government Bailout of Freddie and Fannie with Your Tax Dollars, etc.

And through Twitter and Facebook and god help us MySpace the people expressed their shock and disgust and dismay!

Sure, this is phony populism–“the issues that America really cares about,” overheated for the purposes of sensation. But welcome to our century. Later in the day, World News Tonight, Fox News and even NPR covered the very same stories, but without the public feedback.

As they say in the eye doctor’s office: Worse? Or better?

Is Rick Sanchez Direct a smart move for CNN? The 3 p.m. weekday time slot isn’t particularly valuable broadcast real estate. Why not turn it into a faddish, hyperkinetic, multi-screen, multi-media playground and see what happens?

Besides, think of the sponsorship opportunities.

For CNN sales reps, I have just two words: Red Bull.

* * * *

For more, see my previous entry previewing the program.


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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?

Two News”paper” Site Re-do’s: Washington Times, SFGate

4, June, 2008

Two major news-related websites have debuted redesigns.

One of them serves the most sophisticated, affluent digital market in the country and is backed by a strong, tenured publishing brand.

The other is funded by a company controlled by a mephistophelian international cult leader that serves second-rate content to one of the most blockheaded audiences in the nation.

You can guess which has debuted the better site.

It’s the Washington Times, funded by the Unification Church of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and the sweetly obedient house organ of the Bush administration and those who feed off it. If ever you’ve wondered who those 23 percent of American are who think Bush is going a good job, the answer is “people who read the Washington Times.”

The new Washington Times homepage is far superior to the updated sfgate.com, the site operated by the Hearst Corporation and serving the San Francisco and greater Silicon Valley area.

The Washington Times homepage is — I use this word carefully and rarely — groundbreaking in its presentation of information, at least in a popular medium like news. More than any newspaper-born site I have seen, it has disposed of the idea that a news written for a daily newspaper should be presented facefirst on the web. The project leaders seem to have started with a slate clean of many of the assumptions that have held back newspaper sites for over a decade.

Have a look:

New Washington Times Website

A quick glance reveals how different this is from most news”paper” sites (I may punctuate it that way from now on). One big story given billboard play, a big headline and enough text to let you know whether you want to click in or not. The two bigger stories topping the second column attract more attention and top a column of crisp headlines.

This is all smart and satisfying stuff. But the money shot here is the semitransparent Dig Deeper thingbat that lies over the main image. Click on it and the entire main image flips over like a playing card. On the “other side” you’ll find either related media (pictures, videos), themes (topics) or stories.

Washington Times DigDeeper feature

Sure, lots of news sites do that sort of layered aggregation. And the Washington Times isn’t doing a very good job curating or automating the content so far. (The site almost operates as a beta at this point. Bully for them launching it anyway, I say. Meeker minds would have left it aging in the shop until it was “ready.”)

But the Dig Deeper tool itself is a joy — once again, a term I use rarely and carefully. When you flop back and forth the WT square spins like a die, and the whole flip-over motion provides the sort of brainpie satisfaction you get from any inherently entertaining interface, like the endless procession of currently viewed videos rising over the horizon on YouTube.

Meanwhile, on the Left Coast, the folks at Hearst have debuted an iteration of the news”paper”‘s (ok, last time, I’m tired of that already) home page. SFGate.com renovation

It manages to integrate just about every commodity-level news web design feature that has appeared over the past three years. I couldn’t find anything I hadn’t seen done many times, and better: you’ve got your blogsphotogalleriesyourcommentsmostreadtopicpagesmashupssocialmediasortastuff, in all their tepid familiarity.

News editor Vlae Kershner’s announcement has a bit of the involuntary cringe familiar to all editors who introduce changes that some readers are certain to hate. [“Our talented staff of online editors is still learning the new programming tools and figuring out where to best place content, so please bear with us.”]

Even the site’s “annotated tour” seems to have a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for itself.

To be plain, there’s nothing bad about the renovated sfgate homepage. It’s just the newspaper of the leading technology community in the nation catching up to, oh, mid-2007. (In its previous re-do, last year, sfgate.com had essentially updated to 2005, in my estimation.)

The current re-do will do nothing to forestall the paper’s death or expedite its transformation. It’s just keeping pace with what the other folks do, though without much energy. Which is what newspapers have done for decades. Why start innovating now?

Which brings us back to our friends at The Washington Times. Why indeed start innovating now?

The paper has just undergone another of its major upheavals. [The history of the Times is a comic operetta of steadfastly conservative editors denying the Unification Church has any influence, and ultimately being ousted or quitting due to excessive church influence. In the background, a solemn chorus of Washington conservatives weeps, rends it garments and gnashes its teeth over the fact that the nation’s capital doesn’t have a legitimate answer to the Pinko Post. Like the Fantastiks in New York, it’s a Washington show that plays for decades.]

A site redesign cannot solve the fundamental problem of the Washington Times–that it is, politely put, rotten at the core.

But the folks who redid the Washington Times site were able somehow to engage with one fundamental problem of web news presentation by disposing of the “paper” and working directly with the news and how users interact with it. They ignored their peers’ habits. Along the way they’ve brought some new energy and ideas to web news design.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if a San Francisco news source took up a similar challenge?

On the Dangers of News Metastasis

6, May, 2008

Scott Karp, CEO of the news aggregation/journalists’ social bookmarking service Publish2, has a post on his blog that has finally allowed me to identify the disease that is killing mainstream journalism.

Karp reproduces a horrifically detailed snapshot of the volume of news stories generated after the Microsoft/Yahoo talks fell apart. Karp reports a total of 2,000 stories and counting. Suffice to say that the list appearing on his blog is about 40 screens deep and many items link out to yet more stories.

One look at the images and I made the diagnosis: The news business, due to both genetic and environmental factors, is dying as malign matter reproduces in an out-of-control way, destroying healthy tissues nearby and threatening the survival of the patient itself.

This is, of course, the definition of metastatic cancer. Let me belabor that metaphor just a bit.

The malign matter is poor and mediocre news.

The genetic factors are the deeply imprinted DNA of the news business; the environmental factors are obvious.

The reproduction of the diseased matter is out of control because people who run news organizations believe they need to create “their” “branded” versions of news events for “their (!)” readers. (They also operate in packs and lack the courage to ignore what the competition is doing and try to find something more important to do.)

The disease process is destroying healthy tissues nearby and threatening the patient’s life. If the reduced number of writers and editors who truly can add value to a particular news event–and can be economically sustained by emerging business models–are all sent lurching after the same big stories, the institution of journalism becomes weaker and loses value. Who would fight to sustain such a low quality of life?

Karp lays out the case against undifferentiated news content fully, so read his entry for a master class on the matter.

His recommended treatment: What he calls “link journalism”–having writers and editors curate the best content on a topic regardless of source, and focus their energies on the few stories where they can make important contributions.

But that, unfortunately, is what might be called “alternative medicine”–a technique so far out of mainstream practice that it is ridiculed and dismissed by conventional practitioners. [If you doubt this, ask any mainstream journalist sititng nearby what he or she thinks of curating the best links for most stories and pursuing the few stories they can do their best work on.] No, the conventional practioners prefer the protocol they are currently pursuing: surgery, poison and radiation.

You know: Killing the patient in order to save him.

Number of Unpaid Journalists Increasing

16, April, 2008

I love I WANT MEDIA. Sure, it’s very old-school: A simple website with an e-mail newsletter supported by ads. No RSS feed, nothing fancy. Just a daily baleen-filter of news about the media industry, curated by New York media guy Patrick Phillips.

Today I thought I’d share a game I play with I WANT MEDIA. The larger story about the media business is pretty well known: Traditional media wallows in a sinking tarpit, new media of suspect intent and value scramble for traction. Essentially this story is told over and over in I WANT MEDIA, often on the same day. Only the details change.

To take one easy example from today:

Link 1: CBS Launches Site For Citizen Journalists

CBS is opening a citizen journalism Web site, CBSEyeMobile.com, where users can upload video and images of news events from their mobile phones.

http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/2008/04/15/cbs-trying-hand-at-citizen-journalism

Link 2: NY Times Expects to Cut Newsroom Jobs

The New York Times is informing the newsroom that it will probably resort to layoffs to reduce head count, as the deadline for voluntary buyouts looms.

http://www.observer.com/2008/times-we-expect-layoffs

See what I mean? Different victims, different perps, same story.

Now here’s the challenge: To write a single headline that could sit on top of either story. My suggestion for today is the headline I used for this blog entry.

The game’s a sort of dark-humor version of a funny caption contest. Call it a not-funny caption contest.

A waste of time? Sure. But no worse than Twitter.

Plus, it gives unpaid journalists something to do.