Archive for the 'media' Category

Web as scandal monger

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Here’s an email I received from Kevin Donovan, posted with Kevin’s permission:

 Hey David,

I’m an undergraduate at Georgetown but have been following the class blog closely. I just found this article from a month ago about political scandal/gossip on the web which might be of interest even if the course is winding down: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/13/AR2008031304354.html?nav=rss_technology . The speed of dissemination for news is increasingly too fast for politicians to respond and the archival and searchable nature makes escaping the past more difficult.

Thanks for making the course open so I could follow the fascinating discussions this semester.

Best,
Kevin


Is the Web different? And should teaching be objective?

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I’m in the slightly awkward position of having blogged some thoughts about the overall question of whether the Web is different, and about how we might talk about this during the last class. It’s awkward because I haven’t talked about this with JP and he may have a very different (and, inevitably, better) idea. As might you. Plus, I’ve tipped my hand about where I stand on the issue, in case you hadn’t guessed already.

At the meta level, this is reminiscent of the debate about journalistic neutrality, balance, and objectivity (which are, of course, three different things). Would it be best for a teacher to keep her personal views on such topics hidden from the class? Or is transparency the right approach?

For journalism, I personally tend to think transparency is usually best, although that may take the form of maximally neutral reporting along with a blog (or something else) that makes the reporter’s background, values, and biases apparent. That way, we can check out the biases we may suspect are at play.

But it’s different with teaching. For one thing, teachers and students are in a power relationship. This is formalized in the grading system (stupid, stupid grading system … a rant for another time) but is likely to exist even outside of that system because the teacher is the one who sits at the front of the classroom. Obviously, the student-teacher relationship isn’t only about power, but it seems to me to be an almost inevitable component of that relationship. (Exceptions exist, modalities and degrees exist.)  So, there’s less at risk if you disagree with a reporter’s stances and values than if you disagree with your teacher’s.

I’m not saying that that power imbalance can’t be overcome. Every (?) teacher hopes that her students feel genuinely free to disagree, even and especially fundamentally. But when students enter a classroom, they take the measure of the teacher and quickly gauge the extent to which they are free to argue back, to reason differently, to engage outside the day’s topic. Don’t you? That’s different with our relationship to reporters.

I apparently have taken a stand on this meta issue as well, by posting about the Web difference (the topic and the class) on my personal blog. I did so on the grounds of transparency, because you could always google me and get a pretty good idea of where I stand anyway, and to get pushback from my readers. I’m just not 100% comfortable with having done so.

Spoofs and Citizen Journalism

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This story raises one interesting concern about the media relying on citizen journalists to provide them with pictures and video of news events – the possibility of people sending intentional spoofs. This time, someone inserted the Grim Reaper into the background of a picture of a marathon and then sent it to Sky News. News organizations have rightly recognized that inviting the public in can be a valuable tool, but as more and more get on the citizen journalist bandwagon (CBS just launched their version) , they have to be aware that not everyone is trying to be helpful.

Book Publishing

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This article in the Times today is pretty interesting. An author (and management professor) is using computer algorithms to generate books from information publicly available online. The web also changes the way the books are sold – many are printed only when a customer orders a copy on Amazon. At least one customer has complained the books aren’t that great – so maybe this isn’t that big a change for right now. But this seems like it could be a big deal as the algorithms improve.

Whether Internet has fundamentally changed newspapers

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Here is an interesting follow-up to last week’s discussion. An article notes how the expectation that the internet will democratize the nature of news and give room to alternative voices is not really being fulfilled. Instead, a study shows that the news agenda on online newspapers is narrowing; that many sites simply package news produced elsewhere; and that a few stories (war on Iraq and Presidential campaign) occupy 1/4 of total news.

Seems to suggest that online news sites are simply changing their model in peripheral ways (changing presentation of news by providing links to other sites, incorporating blogs and comments into websites etc) and they are ultimately catering to the demands of majority of readers. The power law distribution in the offline world appears to be replicated on the web. The article also notes that there is an another impact of accessing news online: it is increasing difficult for readers to find what they want without being distracted by ads.

Discussion of the future of newspapers

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There’s an ongoing discussion this week on the blog of the Encyclopædia Britannica about whether newspapers are doomed and whether we should care. Among the topics are new business models, the importance of experimentation, foreign affairs reporting, and citizen journalism. It’s all available at this link.

Class Blog – April 8

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1:00 Our guest today is Ethan Zuckerman. As is traditional when we have guests, we are going around to introduce ourselves. (But don’t think this means that I’m going to give you credit for any comments!) Andres is back again today as well. Ethan works at the Berkman Center on the Global Voices project. He is a “geek,” says JP.

1:10 JP wonders whether we are making a difference in the reshaping of the media environment. We want to take a skeptical look at whether the changes in media are also changing the world. Often we have a habit of saying there is a difference in the media, but not looking at whether this causes is a difference in the world. Perhaps the new media is just replacing the old media, with the outside world remaining the same. So how much of a difference is the Web and new media actually making?

1:15 Ethan shows us a video of Alisa Miller giving a talk on Global News. The video began with a graphic showing how US-centric the US media is (though there is a lot of news from Iraq, for obvious reasons). The video looked at why we don’t hear as much about the outside world. US media has cut back on its foreign bureaus – a factor of economics primarily. Alisa Miller works at PRI (public radio international). Like Miller, Ethan likes to map the content of information on the web – he looks at how many stories are about each country, and uses Google News to do this to get a rough count. Once he gets this rough counts, he considers other demographics about the countries. For example, he may compare how much trading we have with a country to how much media attention it receives. A nations income is the strongest indicator of how much media it will get, along with whether the US is militarily involved in that country.

1:20 Would we get the same distortion results from media outlets in other countries? We do see some distortions, everyone is parochial. A question arises though, what would news look like if it were fair? Do we need to know so much about Britney Spears? Is this helping us function in the global economy? This is the background of Ethan’s work: does the Web change this discussion? Does it change what newspapers do and don’t cover? Does it even matter?

1:25 This brings us to Global Voices. So many people put information on the Web. Does anyone bother reading it? We recall the Shirky graph, showing us that it is very few sites that get most of the attention. JP interrupts – are we just replacing an old hegemony with a new one? Answers seem to take the form of “it depends.” The turnover rate is higher, the number of alternate voices is higher, the information presented is broader but blending of soft and hard news – but with all of this information, does anyone even bother to find it? The barrier to entry is so low, but does anyone cross the line?

1:30 The question then goes to whether there is value is just knowing that the information is out there, even if we don’t read it. How do we get people to want to read the information that is out there? How to we get people to be engaged?

1:40 Global media has a collection layer and a distribution layer. The collection layer, made up partially by AP and Reuters, are very international in their design, but it is very difficult to get an organization to break away from the stories that these agencies deem to be the most important. Ethan’s point is that the blogosphere is essentially the same. They mirror the stories in mainstream media, with a few exceptions. Is there a possibility of changing the agenda through the internet as it relates to the mainstream media?

1:45 A point is made that we are trained early to be western centric – our history classes are taught with a US and Western Europe focus. Right now, in the blogosphere, the three big topics are technology, politics, and beautiful women. There is no problem in getting people to pay attention to this, but how do we get people to pay attention to other things?

1:50 JP wonders what the agenda of the blogosphere is. In the Iran paper, one thing that was clear was the clusters of people that talked about specific topics in Iran, and that they were different than what we expected. There were a large number dealing with high cultural things.

1:55 The interesting thing is that the secular/reformist voices became very popular within the right wing American blogosphere. This was because there is a belief that the opening of the Internet would bring a flourishing of democracy. The Iranian study kind of showed that that was wrong – and that we perhaps have that viewpoint because we have a distorted view (based on mainstream media) of the Iranian blogosphere. The other parts of the Iranian blogosphere are the more interesting parts.

2:00 Global Voices is designed to give a lot of information about parts of the world that don’t get a lot of attention in US mainstream media. However, it’s hard to get people to pay attention to it, and it’s even harder to get mainstream media to pay attention to it. People in our class who looked at different countries on the GV website were surprised by how little they knew about other countries.

2:10 How is GV doing with its mission? Its loved by journalists who want to change the media. Technologists have a problem with it because it is edited on so many levels – by choosing the people who report, by them choosing the blogs to report on, etc. They claim this isn’t “web 2.0.” But do things like Digg and Reddit make the problem of US-centric fluff news worse?

2:20 GV, though it doesn’t have a large audience, tends to reach more journalists and intelligence officials. Does quality matter more over quantity? Should GV be targeting the general public or a small segment of the world who can then reach more people? The press is given special protections because we recognize that they serve a specific function, and have a responsibility to serve us broccoli (the news we should want to get news about).

2:25 We see a video produced about the riots in Nepal, and the western media’s portrayal of the riots. Interesting to see the comments. Right now, the BBC is reporting on anti-BBC sentiment in China, saying they must be being directed by the Chinese government. But maybe there is legitimate anger at the BBC for the way they portray China and the Chinese people. Western media has a hard time picking up news that is contrary to the mainstream viewpoints. So a challenge exists to bring different stories and perspectives to western media.

2:30 JP’s last words – what’s the right question to be asking within the Internet democracy framework within our last few weeks of class? Ethan suggests we look at which Web we’re talking about when we discuss the changes its bringing, because there are other Webs beyond the western web.

‘The Good News about Newsroom Buyouts’

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There’s an article on Slate that argues there are some advantages of the buyouts of veteran reporters at newspapers – new blood on old beats, changes in the ways newsrooms operate to make them more efficient, and even giving old journalists a chance to reinvent themselves.  I’m not sure I agree with everything said, or that the negatives don’t still outweigh any positives, but thought the article was presenting some interesting ideas.

Yahoo’s New Ad Initiative

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This morning Yahoo released some additional details on their new ad program, AMP!, formerly known as Project Apex. The specs are still a bit fuzzy, but the basic idea is that Yahoo has recruited a network of approximately 600 websites, mostly news media sites, and plans to offer the ability to purchase targeted ads from any of them through a single interface. It’s supposed to make it easier for ad sellers and ad purchasers to determine availability and target advertisements. Yahoo reports that the system, which is already in testing form, will be launched this summer. Yahoo has posted a video preview of the service, which you can watch here. Obviously, it’s not a coincidence that Yahoo made this announcement just days after Microsoft threatened a proxy fight in the ongoing struggle for control of the company.

Jay-Z sees the Web Difference

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NYTimes.com article states that Jay-Z is in the midsts of inking a deal that would make him the third major star to sign with Live Nation lately (w/ Madonna and U2 being the others). The article mentions the drop in CD revenues that we have discussed in class as a possible explanation for the sucess of Live Nation:

As CD sales plunge, an array of players — including record labels, promoters and advertisers — are racing to secure deals that cut them in on a larger share of an artist’s overall revenue… pressured record-label executives [must] rewrite the economics of their business and step beyond the sale of albums in an attempt to wring revenue out of everything from ring tones to artist fan clubs.

Live Nation’s core business has revolved around major rock and country tours, and with Jay-Z it is making an unexpected foray into hip-hop. The company is also placing an enormous wager on a performer who, like many others, has experienced declining record sales.

Because everyone in the business is trying to find ways to capitalize on the musics industry in new ways, the deal has a host of other benefits that Live Nation hopes may augment lackluster CD sales:

[T]he arrangement would also position Live Nation to participate in a range of new deals with Jay-Z, one of music’s most entrepreneurial stars, whose past ventures have included the Rocawear clothing line, which he sold last year for $204 million, and the chain of 40/40 nightclubs . . . As part of the arrangement, Live Nation would finance the start-up of a venture that would be an umbrella for his outside projects, which are expected to include his own label, music publishing, and talent consulting and managing. Live Nation is expected to contribute $5 million a year in overhead for five years, with another $25 million available to finance Jay-Z’s acquisitions or investments, according to people in the music industry briefed on the agreement. The venture, to be called Roc Nation, will split profits with Live Nation.

The overall package for Jay-Z also includes an upfront payment of $25 million, a general advance of $25 million that includes fees for his current tour, and advance payment of $10 million an album for a minimum of three albums during the deal’s 10-year term, these people said. A series of other payments adding up to about $20 million is included in exchange for certain publishing, licensing and other rights. Jay-Z said Live Nation’s consolidated approach was in sync with the emerging potential “to reach the consumer in so many different ways right now.” He added: “Everyone’s trying to figure it out. I want to be on the front lines in that fight.”

“I’ve turned into the Rolling Stones of hip-hop,” Jay-Z said in a recent telephone interview.

Will the new business model work for the Rolling Stones of hip-hop?