Archive for the 'stepnoStories' Category

Offering Alternatives to Disinfotainment

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Howard Rheingold was in Cambridge last week and shared some of his thoughts about
the present and future of civic networking, art and journalism, over
lunch at Berkman. I took some notes, but Dave Winer actually caught the whole session on audio, 25 MB worth of MP3 file.

Those with less bandwidth available can read a summary of Howard’s commencement address to Stanford communication and journalism students last weekend, which covered some of the same ground.

Offering Alternatives to Disinfotainment …

For Some, Reading The Times Never Stops

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with apologies to Katie Hafner and the New York Times
(read her story before this one, or see the red disclamer at the bottom)

TO celebrate four years of marriage, John Smith and his wife, Jane
Jones, recently spent a week in Key West, Fla. Early on the morning of
their anniversary, Ms. Jones heard her husband get up and go into the
bathroom. He stayed there for a long time.

“I didn’t hear any water running, so I wondered what was going on,” Ms.
Jones said. When she knocked on the door, she found him seated with a
copy of The New York Times balanced on his knees, reading a collection
of observations about the world from a printed page.

Newspaper reading is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few.
For some, it becomes an obsession. Such readers often feel compelled to
read several times daily and feel anxious if they don’t keep up. As
they spend more time hunkered over their papers, they neglect family,
friends and jobs. They read at home, at work and on the road. They read
openly or sometimes, like Mr. Smith, quietly so as not to call
attention to their habit.

“It seems as if his paper is glued to his hands 24/7,” Ms. Jones said of her husband.

The number of Times readers may even have grown thanks to sites like
 nytimes.com, which makes it easy to read without actually paying for
the paper or killing trees.

Of course, even most of those paid subscriptions “papers” are abandoned
at Starbucks, thrown in the trash, recycled or, at best, read
infrequently. For many readers, the novelty soon wears off and their
persistence fades.

Sometimes, too, the realization that the reader is not thinking
critically about what they read sets in. The Times may have
thousands of readers, but never have so many people read so much and
done so little with the information. By U.S. Census estimate, fewer
than 50 percent of New Yorkers voted in the last presidential election,
compared to greater than 60 percent in states outside the Times
immediate circulation area, such as Minnesota, Arkansas, Montana,
Iowa, Oregon and North Dakota.

“I’m just getting the news,” Mr. Smith said.

Nor is he deterred by the fact that he toils for hours at a time at his
reading for no money. He gets satisfaction in other ways.

“Sometimes
there’s an ‘I told you so’ aspect to it,” he said.  Mr. Smith
points with pride to Times stories that agree with his prior
assumptions, such as a recent Katie Hafner story that portrayed webloggers as obsessive
geeks
, or two years of “problematic articles” about Iraq “weapons of mass destruction” that The Times has belatedly admitted were sometimes inadequately supported by
facts.

Bob Brown started reading the paper three years ago while in search of
a distraction after breaking up with a girlfriend. “In three years, I
don’t think I’ve missed a day,” he said.  

Where some frequent readers might label themselves merely ardent,
Mr. Smith is more realistic. “I wouldn’t call it dedicated, I would
call it
a problem,” he said. “If this were beer, I’d be an alcoholic.”

Mr. Brown, who lives in Hollywood and works as a scheduler in the
entertainment industry, said reading began to feel like an addiction
when he noticed that he would rather be with his paper than with his
girlfriend – for technical reasons.

“She’s got a very small breakfast table that only holds magazines or
tabloids,” Mr. Brown said. When he is at his girlfriend’s house, he
feels “antsy.” “We have little fights because I want to go home and
read my Times,” he said.

Mr. Brown described the rush he gets from what he called “the fix”
provided by his paper. “The pleasure response is twofold,” he said. “You
can have instant gratification; you’re going to hear about something
really good or bad instantly. And if I feel like I’ve read something
good, it’s enjoyable to go back and read it again.”

And, he said, “like most addictions, those feelings go away quickly. So I have to do it again and again.”

John Q. Public, 26, a graduate student at the School of Information
Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley who
has studied newspaper readers, said that for some people reading has
supplanted e-mail as a way to procrastinate at work.

People like Mr. Brown, who devote much of their free time to the newspaper, do so
largely because it makes them feel productive even if it is not a
paying job.

The procrastination, said J. Fred Muggs, 31, a fellow graduate student
with Mr. Public, has a collective feel to it. “You feel like you’re
participating in something important, because we’re all doing it
together,” he said.

(The two graduate students’ actual research may be available somewhere
in print or online or  may be published in a dissertation years
from now… You’ll have to trust them. Or trust us.  Or go use
Google to find out what they actually studied, and how they reached
their conclusions. We don’t want to bother you with details or weblinks
to them.)

Others find they are distracted to the point of neglectfulness. Bob
Stepno, when teaching at a college in Boston, admits he
occasionally showed up “considerably late” for events and put off more
than a few work-related calls to tend to his newspaper.

He characterizes the newspaper way of life as a routine rather than an
obsession. “It’s a habit,” he said. “What you’re really doing is
searching for something that you might find interesting. When that
becomes part of your life, when you start thinking in ‘news,’ it
becomes part of you.”

Suffering from a form of “news fatigue,” Mr. Stepno simply stopped
altogether after four years of nearly constant newspaper reading.

“It was starting to feel like work, and it was never supposed to be a
job,” Mr. Stepno said. “It was supposed to be an anti-job.”

Even with some 200 papers stacked in his living room, he has not opened one since last Tuesday.

Still, Mr. Stepno said, he does not rule out a return to reading someday.

“There is this seductive thing that happens, this kind of
snowball-rolling-down-a-hill thing, where the sheer momentum becomes
very keenly felt,” he said. “And the absence of reading feels like – I
don’t know, laziness or something.”


Please don’t believe everything you read on the Web or in the newspaper.

The names have
been changed to mostly fictitious ones and quotes have been adjusted
slightly to make people laugh at the preconceived notions, unscientific
generalizations and lack of rigorous  research by Ms. Hafner in
her May 27, 2004, story “For Some, the Blogging Never Stops.”

It’s probably unfair to suggest too much of a parallel between the lazy
sourcing (two grad students as expert researchers) in her generally
amusing story about bloggers and the less amusing Iraq stories The Times is now scrutinizing to see when and where they went wrong. For more opinions on where Ms. Hafner went wrong, see Bloglines collection of links referring to her story.

Blogging a Family Disaster

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Jay McCarthy has been part of the Harvard blogging scene for the past
year and coordinated a lot of the community networking (WiFi, webcast,
etc.) for the Bloggercon convention this spring. 

His family home burned down this weekend. All family members got out
OK, as did  Jay and the laptop he blogs with… So of course he
blogged about the experience while watching the fire:

It is 7:08 AM on Sunday, May 23rd 2004. I am sitting in my car behind my burning house…

Lisa Williams, another Thursday night regular, has started a fund-raising campaign online, complete with PayPal contributions.

I’m not sure what I think of the automated Google ads for fire alarms
and smoke detectors that pop up at the bottom of J’s weblog item.

Blogging a Family Disaster …

May 20 Thursday at Berkman

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We had a relatively low-tech Thursday night at Berkman Center, with no
webcast or IRC, but with some new bloggers, new sites to look at, and a
discussion of aggregators and RSS features led by Andrew Grumet.

Newcomers  included Jill Fallon (Legacy Matters) and Bill Ives (Portals and KM), who were both curious about ways to incorporate RSS feeds and aggregators in their special-topic blogs.

Lisa Williams said reading other blogs in an aggregator has become a central part of writing her own blog, while blogrolling.com serves up her site’s list of more than 100 favorite blogs.

Along with an overview of RSS aggregators as a quick way to keep up
with dozens of constantly-changing blogs, Andrew showed how he uses a Radio aggregator to not only read news, but poll an uptime monitor for grumet.net. He also demonstrated the Share Your OPML services he has created, including find that feed, and pointed to Syndic8 as a place to track down even more feeds.

On the subject of building and extending blogging tools, Shimon Rura demonstrated his Frassle site’s menu and outlining, and Lisa pointed to several tools she uses.

Other sites and blogging tools that added to the discussion:

http://bloglines.com


 

 

 

 
http://watchblog.org


 

 
myself during the meeting, but
recovering some lost notes and typing this post are about all I 
have time for tonight. Comments, corrections, annotations for the link list and other additions greatly appreciated… 

First update: That’s right, I did contribute something to the meeting — the Democrat National Convention blogger-credential information that I’d blogged about two weeks ago, since it was on this week’s meeting agenda.

May 20 Thursday at Berkman …

Bloggers, the Press and the Democrats’ Convention

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Monday’s Boston Globe covered the topic of summer Democratic convention coverage under the headline, “Blogs colliding with traditional media,” but the actual “colliding” mentioned in Joanna Weiss’s article is between the bloggers and the “old-hand political structures” that give out press credentials. The Globe’s online story didn’t provide much in the way of Web links, but I dug up a few.

Bloggers, the Press and the Democrats’ Convention …

Rename RSS “FRED”?

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No, I’m not serious. Just spring fever, whimsy, or my brain crashing
after deadline.  Call it aggregated giddiness… I was trying
Bloglines, the online RSS aggregator, and subscribed to a few too many
feeds… “Bloglines Notifier” popped up yesterday and told me I had
24,992 messages waiting, just as three friends’ blogs and a couple of
e-mails arrived concerning a silly contest to “rename” RSS.

It doesn’t need to be renamed… It needs to be SUPPRESSED, and the
sooner the better. As one of my favorite philosophers would say, “Yow.”

Tomorrow I’ll avoid the computer altogether.

Rename RSS “FRED”? …

Blog Reporting Questions: Who Said What and in What Voice?

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We started a good discussion at Berkman last night about ways bloggers might give readers more clues about whether they are “doing journalism” or expressing opinions, or quoting someone else’s blog, or perhaps writing outright fiction… My afterthoughts are on my more verbose blog.

The “doing journalism” link in that last paragraph goes to a related story in the Melrose Mirror, one of the MIT Silver Stringers
projects I pointed to last night when the idea of getting seniors
into blogging came up. Also relevant to the discussion: Check out the journalism tutorials the project created a few years ago, full of good advice from “old pros” Jack Driscoll and Don Murray.

One thing Silver Stringers may have lacked is blogging’s emphasis on
linkage. That Melrose Mirror item, for instance, really could use
links to more information about Ellen Hume and Seth Effron… who, it sounds like, are planning some Democratic National Convention coverage — another topic that came up last night.

(My hobbies are stumbling into coincidences and making connections.)

Blog Reporting Questions: Who Said What and in What Voice? …

“It’s not sinful, it’s Syndication!”

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I think I’ve come up with a new motto just in time for Bloggercon — and my deadline for an article on RSS aggregators. Enough of my guilt-tripping about not having time to read the Times
plus 1,001 online news items before lunch like some younger bloggers
with healthier eyes and perhaps better histories with Ritalin. I’ll get
around to the things I want to read eventually. Perhaps instead of
grazing on blogs, I’ll disappear to the woods by that pond in Concord
with a leather-covered copy of something by Ralph or Henry, or at least
the Sunday paper…

Actually, sitting down with the dead-tree edition of the Times
at a non-WiFi coffeeshop yesterday, instead of reading the online
edition, I was reminded of the great use the paper makes of large-scale
graphics and full-page photo layouts — while I’ve been reading the
same stories on a 12-inch laptop screen. Sounds like a few master’s
thesis projects to me! Add a comment if you’ve seen any published
research on “big page formats” versus “small screen formats” for
presenting the same stories…

“It’s not sinful, it’s Syndication!” …

Bofton Marks 300 Years of News-Aggregating!

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“>
Larger
image,  source:
American Antiquarian
Society
.

More about how it was really simple syndication back then…
 

Back in the present, for what’s shaping up to be a great discussion of weblogs and journalism, see Jay Rosen’s notes for  Bloggercon, coincidentally on April 17, 2004, the 300th anniversary of that Boston News-Letter.

Bofton Marks 300 Years of News-Aggregating! …

Be prepared for April 1st

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I wish I had something wildly amusing to go with this… but maybe someone else will find it useful at Thursday’s Berkman-bloggers meeting…

The thought of inverting this shield has crossed my mind at every Harvard conference or Memorial Hall concert I’ve attended, so I assume something like it exists in doodles on hundreds of satiric or dyslexic students’ notebooks.