~ Archive for Journalism & Media ~

Getting news from your social networks


About a week ago, I was telling my colleague about how we should do a study about how social network sites are increasingly becoming people’s initial (if not primary) news source. “Someone studying journalism has probably already done that,” she said. Not surprisingly, today Pew reported about how people receive news from people they follow on social network sites (the main report was about how the Internet is now an important platform for news). The three main points (3Ps) that Pew made were:

• Portable: 33% of cell phone owners now access news on their cell phones.
• Personal: 28% of internet users have customized their home page to include news from sources and on topics that particularly interest them.
• Participatory: 37% of internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated it via postings on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

I’m working on a theory which I’ve named “crystallization theory” which is an adaptation of cultivation theory (hopefully no one will steal this idea; I’m always torn between getting my ideas out there and waiting for the long turnaround of academic publication since by the time it’s published, the idea will probably be stale). Cultivation theory says that TV, as the main media, shapes what individuals perceive as being reality and creates a “mainstream” perception of reality. My crystallization theory is that the Internet (mainly social networks) shapes what individuals perceive as being reality, but since everyone has different networks and preferences that create strong homophily effects, this will result in different clusters of “crystal” realities in which everyone thinks they are mainstream, but there is no true mainstream. I’m trying to think of research designs that would empirically prove this.

But going back to the idea of getting your news from your social networks…this isn’t so much of a new idea, since old studies have already shown that people get their news from their friends or work colleagues (although in those days, they were referring to offline word-of-mouth, not the Internet). Last year, I remember David Weinberger also saying something to this effect: he said the emails were how people were getting their news. So what with emails, RSS feeds, Twitter, and services like Google Reader already in existance, I was extremely annoyed that Facebook got a patent for its newsfeed. Hopefully it will not abuse the patent, like Worlds.com has been doing. Having said that, perhaps I too should file a very general patent about technology and human behavior and retire early.

Meanwhile, I’m working on refining my paper on Tweeting About TV, which presents a nice method (if I may say so myself) of analyzing social message streams, although the main focus is how people are engaging in social television-viewing behavior. I will be presenting this paper at ICA in June.  Email me at yvettewohn[at gmail.com if you would like to see a draft.

Newspapers won’t die, but some should


The OJR posted an article that is by far the stupidest argument I’ve ever seen on why journalism is bound to fail. The gist of the argument is that people never paid for news, thus people will not pay for news. I believe only the former is correct, agreeing with Rupert Murdoch that people will be inclined to pay for quality information. I also believe that news and journalism are ENTIRELY different things and journalists should have some kind of bar or authorization process like attorneys and doctors, but that is another story. The reasoning that precedent predicts the future is a weak one because paradigms shift. For instance, a few years ago, the western world was skeptical about virtual goods. “Why would anyone want to pay to get something that’s not even real?” I remember one guy asking at the Virtual Worlds Conference a couple years ago. But lo and behold, it’s happening now. But to get back to my point…

So you ask, why aren’t people paying now for news? My answer is: duh, because they don’t have to. If it’s free on the Internet, you would have to be pretty darn stupid to pay for it. (Other reasons other than stupidity could be that you are full of yourself, have eye disorders and are unable to look at a monitor, or have some kind of paper fetish…). There is far too much information and much of it is the same. Newspapers initially died (and this was before the Internet came along and fanned the flames) when you couldn’t tell a NYT article from a Washington Post article. Think of the basic supply, demand, and cost graphs used in marketing. Excess of supply always results in low costs. Newspapers failed not because the industry solely relied on advertising revenues, but because they were ignorant of the exponential rising curve of supply.

We should be asking ourselves: do we really need to pay people to cover things a zillion other people are writing about? Maybe we should let the wires cover the hard news and focus on features. Maybe newspapers and broadcasting companies should merge. Fact of the matter is, there are too many reporters and god knows who is reliable. Amid all this cr** content, maybe it’s okay to let some newspapers die. Maybe it’s okay to let all newspapers die. It’s like when the walkman or phonograph died. That didn’t stop us from listening to music. If anything, we’re listening to more music than ever. Newspaper consumption does not equal news consumption.

Secondly, (and I’ve also talked about this before) is that it’s all about the convenience of financial transactions. Which is why people spend money on iPhone apps, or buy the NYT on the Kindle. People are willing to pay for content as long as it’s super-easy. So this changes the questions we should be asking. How do we make online payment easier? Adding everything to your mobile phone bill could be one example, like they do in Korea.

Thirdly, make it attractive. Visually. People are willing to pay for pretty stuff. Why would I subscribe to Wired when I can read all of its articles online? Because it’s aesthetically pleasing (and I don’t have a computer in my bathroom– at least, not yet). News is a product and I can’t believe how some ‘vendors’ (I dare not even categorize them as newspapers) think they can get away with selling an ugly product.

So, what happens with local news? Well, I’ve proposed before that hyperlocal news can work if it really engages its local readers. Really crappy “local” magazines are still running because people buy them for $5 on a quarterly or biannual basis for a copy, even if they have no special content. Why wouldn’t they pay $10 or $20 a year for a good quality local newspaper (sans the paper)? My hyperlocal news model involves two editors, a bunch of freelancers, and “community reporters.” Note that I say hyper local news– not newspaper! As much as I love paper– the grains, the weight, the colors– trees are a valuable resource and we should be cherishing them more for semi-permanent, beautiful things like scrapbooks and cards instead of throwing them out everyday and letting our dogs pee on them (one of the greater reasons my parents continued to subscribe to a physical paper was because the paper could be “recycled” for our house puppy).

To make a long rant short, my points are: 1) newspapers may die, but news will not. 2) People will be willing to pay if there is quality content with limited availability.3) Make it visually attractive (The pretty girl will always get more dates than the ugly one) and finally, the newspaper industry and the news industry are NOT the same, as journalism and news reporting is NOT the same.

Evolution of TV and disagreeing with David Pogue


<cross-posted on my personal ws>

I disagree with David Pogue’s blog post on streaming content that the past few years of stumbling attempts for streaming content were due to technological problems that were “solved” by Netflix.

Nonetheless, the industry has been trying to sell us on Internet movie downloads for years, and yet it’s remained a techie niche until now. It took Netflix to figure out how to crack the technology code, bringing us tantalizingly close to the “any movie, any time” future that’s surely just around the corner.

In the U.S., the reason streaming content didn’t take off until now was because of poor broadband infrastructure. I mean, even now, the fastest speed you can get through Comcast is not very fast. Business is less about ideas and more about being at the right place at the right time.

Last month, my op-edish paper for Harry Lewis‘ class on Life, Liberty and Happiness After the Digital Explosion was about how TV is evolving from broadcasting (a classic one-way communication) to downloading. I was lucky to have submitted my proposal last year before mainstream media made it huge issue, although the result, as you can see below “leaned towards the obvious” (which was the comment I received for the paper). I didn’t get into net neutrality or the dilemma of cable companies because that would open a casket of worms, but these issues really should be discussed.


It was New Year’s Eve. Outside, the snow was quickly piling on the sidewalks, but inside Hollywood Express, the tinkle of the bell hanging on the front door was frequent-boosting good cheer of the customers. Waddling around in huge coats and wrappings, they plucked out DVDs from the shelves and waited in a long line to check them out. It looked like business was good.

Ah, but there were better days, said Darren Buchanan, the 33-year old manager of the locally-owned video rental store. He admitted that the business wasn’t in deficit, but after 28 years, it was counting off the last minutes on its death clock. “Eventually, we’re going to liquidate. It’s a matter of trying to hang in there ‘til it does,” he said.

Having worked in the video rental business since he was 18, Buchanan has experienced changes in the industry first-hand. The first store he worked at only rented out VHS tapes; now, most of the videos are DVDs and some are Blu-ray discs. He claims business was good up until a few years ago, when profits made a sharp U-turn. “These video shops used to be a goldmine. You could open one anywhere and you could make a lot of money. Now, no one in their right mind would start a video store,” he said.

Buchanan said that he saw a massive drop in rentals about four years ago. “It happened when Netflix was advertising; it wasn’t because of Blockbuster or the Internet. Some people may have stopped going to video shops because they were downloading movies, but downloading would take a long time-you’d have to start downloading something before going to work in order to see it that night,” he recalled. “But now, the Internet is a threat. Downloading is so much easier and I think ultimately everything is going to go online.” He hasn’t started looking for another job yet (”because I love movies”) but he says he’s mentally-if not financially-preparing himself for the day the store closes. “The industry says it’s going to take five to six years but I think it’s going to come much sooner-maybe two to three years,” he said.

Changing Definition of TV
What is TV? Or rather, what is watching TV? Is TV still TV if you’re watching it on your laptop or your iPhone? One thing for certain is that television, while still a media, is no longer a medium.

Although the concept of Internet TV has been around for more than a decade, actual Internet TV is just starting to take shape. Now that more homes are being hooked up with broadband in the United States and connection speeds are getting faster, Americans are quickly changing how they watch TV and realizing that TV isn’t what it used to be. More people are watching television shows online or through some kind of video service that is connected to the Internet.

Matthew Shinners is one of those people. A student in his mid twenties, one of his joys in life is watching TV. He still owns a television set, but watches more on-line. “On the TV set, I usually watch Blu-ray movies and shows that are still airing that I follow,” he said.

For Ruth Abrams, an online religious community supervisor in her early 40s, watching things online is more about not watching it. She got rid of her TV set because “television represented a pure time drain.” Now, her son is growing up as an Internet TV user. “He mostly watches things on YouTube, he thinks videos are 10 minutes long,” she says. “So much as I would like to limit his screen time, I think watching online has a lot of advantages over the relative passivity of using a TV set.”

DK Kim, a woman in her thirties, still subscribes to cable but finds she is watching more shows online. “I go online when I miss a show, or if I want to watch something in bed,” she says. “The TV is in the living room but I have a roommate and in my room, it’s more private and I know I’m not bothering anyone.”

There may be hundreds of different reasons why people watch things online, but they are, and network companies are realizing this trend and trying to cater to viewers’ needs. After struggling with YouTube over copyrighted material that was being uploaded in short clips, network companies have only recently started to host entire episodes on their own web sites, or experimenting with sites such as Hulu.com, a joint venture between NBC and News Corp. ABC.com recently added a high definition viewing option for people watching on bigger screens.

Moving from Format to Distribution
The transition towards streaming video is happening at a pace much faster than it took the Video Home System (VHS) to switch to DVD. After mass retailer sales of DVD videos began in late 1997, it took several years for DVD rentals to outnumber VHS rentals. In 2007, JVC, the company that introduced the VHS format in 1977, said that it would no longer manufacture VHS recorders (It still produces hybrid VHS-DVD players).

All in all, VHS had a 20-year run before a worthy competitor arrived. The DVD was not as fortunate. TiVo-a digital video recorder in the form of a set top box that automatically records one’s favorite TV shows-was launched in 1999, just two years after the DVD’s commercial debut. In 2006, TiVo announced that it was adding a new “comprehensive broadband video delivery system” that would allow home movies to be sent over the Internet and automatically convert Web videos for display on TV sets. In TiVo’s world, there would be no need for any physical video product.

The move towards streaming content was also seen in Netflix. Netflix was founded in 1997 and began business under its current name in 2002 as a DVD mail delivery service. In 2007, however, it decided to start streaming video content. For a while, its “watch instantly” content was extremely limited-mostly old movies or B-rated films-but in the past year, it has aggressively expanded that content with television shows and more recent and popular movie releases. It also forged many partnerships with video players such as TiVo and Xbox360, and even released its own video streaming set-top box-the Roku-for those who wanted to watch on-demand Netflix videos on the big screen instead of their computer.

Service Providers v. Electronics makers, Boxes v. Displays
The high-tech market research firm In-Stat predicts that online video revenue will surpass $4.5 billion globally by the year 2012, up from $1.2 billion in 2008. It foresees that purchased and rented videos will account for the most growth in online video content in the short term and that ad-supported video from major TV networks will be making money with online videos by 2012.

Predicting that online video will grow is not so hard given the current trends, but the bigger question is who will get to deliver that content. With so many different parties trying to get a slice of the pie, it will be interesting to see whether or not people will choose enhanced set-top boxes or enhanced digital screens as the intermediary of their video streaming service and whether the ultimate decision will be more influenced by the content makers or the end users.

In the next few years, we will witness a fierce battle between service providers and electronics makers. Traditionally, the service providers were the ones who had control over the content. Content for cable television, for example, differed depending on what kind of subscription plan one had; different cable companies offered different channels (content). Because cable service providers controlled the content, they were able to secure a steady source of income and make sure viewers paid for the content they were viewing. Cellular phone service companies were the same in that they decided which content could be made available on cell phones and charged users according to usage.

The Internet, however, changed everything. Now, service providers are no longer in control over their content, enabling device makers to step into that position. With TiVo, Apple TV, or Roku, viewers may not see the need to subscribe to cable television anymore. That doesn’t mean that the content from cable TV will go away-only that the content will be delivered through arrangements between production companies and the video service companies, not Comcast.

Will companies like Comcast sit around and let that happen? That is where the debate over net neutrality steps in. This is a critical issue when it comes to the future of TV. If Internet service providers decide to take advantage of the situation that nothing can be done without Internet access, they may start to abuse their power.
At the same time, there will be competition between the set-top box makers and the display makers. Right now, set-top box makers are in the lead, because they have more contracts with production companies and film distributors, but display makers have the advantage of being a necessity. One can watch videos without a TiVo, but one can’t watch videos without some kind of screen. If display makers are savvy in inking deals with content developers, they will quickly overcome set-top box makers. In this respect, Xbox360 and PS3 have an advantage over Roku, TiVo, and Blockbuster Box in that the devices can do more than play videos.

Huge Market for Content Creators
Whether or not distribution takes place through the service providers or electronics makers, at the end of the day, the real benefactors will be the content generators. Falling costs of video production will enable more people to create content and make that content distributable on the Web. Like news, we will begin to see more specialized portals for online video. YouTube will no longer be the main source for online video because it is simply too generic. People will want sites or services that have quality content that caters to their interests. For instance, foodies will be going to Food.com or some other channel that compiles the best of food-related video content.

We will also see a rise in content aggregators, such as Netflix and more recently, Amazon’s video on demand. It will also be interesting to see if major studios will continue using these distributors or start hosting content on their own sites.

Now that actual tools allow viewers to become more engaged, will TV become more interactive? American Idol, for instance, was seen as a primitive model of user participation, but actual broadband connection will allow more interactive features. Some of these interactive features could include texting with friends while watching the same program or using object identification software to identify products featured on TV shows and then buying them with online banking tools. One of the key characteristics of TV as a media was its one-way communication function-if it becomes interactive, would we still call it TV?

On the other hand, many studies show that people actually like the passiveness of watching programmed TV, one of the reasons scholars give in explaining why Internet TV took so long to take off. That could open up opportunities for services that combine pre-programming with some element of customization.

Problems of Media Streaming
Despite all the rosy predictions we have for the future of television that relies heavily on the Internet, one of the biggest problems is that high Internet connection speed is a prerequisite in watching streamed material. This creates a problem because while broadband is a commodity for those living in urban areas, it is still a luxury for those in rural areas. Stephanie Pfeiffer, who lives in a remote area of Massachusetts, only has satellite as an option for Internet connection. Streaming videos is something she cannot imagine. Most of the time, she wakes up at four in the morning to read her email because less people are using the Internet at that hour. When told about streaming video sites such as Hulu, she said, “I didn’t know there were services like that but even if I did, I don’t think I would be able to use it.”

In the meantime, video shops like Hollywood Express are still in business. They may not be making as much as before, but they are making an effort to keep a competitive edge while they still can. For Hollywood Express, that is having an extensive movie library-one that includes foreign films and documentaries that are difficult to find on the Internet. It also helps (for now) that only about 50% of Americans currently have high-speed Internet access.

There are also people who remain optimistic that a small community of people who prefer a physical product will still remain. In a recent report, Gerry Kaufhold, an analyst at In-Stat, said that surveys show that half of consumers still prefer packaged goods over virtual ones. He also noted that the preference is not just with older generations. “Surprisingly, young people who regularly watch online were the group that expressed the highest interest in owing a package goods bundle that includes artwork and extra content,” he said.

A Pulitzer Prize for Global Journalism


The Pulitzer Prize is the shining medallion for journalists, one that is revered, flaunted, and used to prove one’s contribution to the industry. Yet it is only about America. In the journalism category, newspapers must be U.S. papers; in the letters category, publications must be those published in the US by American authors, the only exception being if you write about US history.

That’s fine. Certainly Pulitzer doesn’t have obligations to cover the entire world, and for literary works, there is the Nobel Prize although it would be nice and more along the lines of true journalism if it weren’t so nationalistic (The Nobel is incomparable to the Pulitzer- far less are given out every year).  I just think it’s very sad that the award that has become the staple of recognizing what is good journalism and not is only focusing on the United States. It’s even more disappointing that they are accepting online news but not global news.

You may argue that other countries have their own awards, but no award is internationally renowned as the Pulitzer. In Korea, there is a journalism award, but your publication has to be a member of the Newspaper Association in order for your article to be considered. That is not fair, because a newspaper’s alliance with a labor group is a political decision, which shouldn’t affect decisions in which articles are good or not. Forgive me if I am sour about this because the paper I used to work for was one of the three biggest national papers and we weren’t a part of association (actually seceded from the association but that’s another story).

It is true that journalistic standards, ethics, and such in other countries are in some cases, not on par with U.S. standards. But sometimes they are, and sometimes, there is a lot of excellent reporting. Those efforts should be acknowledged. Newspaper design, for instance, is acknowledged by the Society for News Design, and you can see that a lot of amazing designs come from all around the world.

There are a number of small prizes for a global community, like the Bastiat, Knight Awards, and numerous others, but they all cater to a specific topic or demographic.

It would be wonderful if some organization could begin a global journalism awards that is comprehensive like the Pulitzer. Especially now, with new media endangering quality journalism, such incentives are needed to inspire journalists. Journalists don’t work for money- they never have- all they want is to communicate to the public, hoping their efforts in seking truth will be respected. Journalists are being stripped of their honor and without honor, there is no reason to be a journalist.

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