Friday, October 06, 2006

News Links

Jack Shafer profiles Bloomberg and lambasts newspapers: "As mature and graying industries, newspapers are mortified by the creative destruction of changing markets, so they take only tiny and confused steps—mostly backwards." Shafer appears to be suggesting that Bloomberg is the future of journalism or at least a significant part of it.

On a fairly unrelated note, the Washington Post has added the ability for people to comment on every story on its Web site, including opinion pieces. It's still a little rough around the edges, but pretty cool nonetheless. Here's the comments on a Krauthammer column.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Killing Trees

New media maven Jason Calcanis has a question: "Is it wrong to subscribe to the print edition of the New York Times if I have high-speed web access all day long?"

This is something that lots of newspaper readers are thinking about lately, I'd guess. And it puts newspapers in the uncomfortable position of creating a product that people feel bad about buying -- not a good business model. Should newspaper companies try to make people feel better about buying papers? How would they do that? Or should they just kill off (or massively scale back) print as some expect will happen within a decade or so?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Paul Salopek

Trib reporter Paul Salopek is sitting in a jail cell in Sudan charged with being a spy. Probably not news to any of us.

In today's Seattle Times, his former co-worker at the Trib Ken Armstrong has added his voice to the many in the journo world trying to explain to world at large why they really, really should care about this. He's done the best job I've seen so far.

Paul came to the Tribune in 1996 from National Geographic. I covered legal affairs and worked on investigative projects. We attended a meeting once, to discuss story ideas. Paul said he wanted to track a single shipment of illegal drugs — from point of production through sale after sale after sale — to learn what lives were touched or destroyed along the way.
How could anyone possibly pull off such a story? He's not just a writer, I thought. He's a dreamer, too.

Two weeks ago, The Seattle Times ran a four-part series excerpted from the Chicago Tribune, called "A tank of gas, a world of trouble." Paul wrote the story. He took the same idea — the same bold, brilliant idea that I had dismissed all too readily years before — but replaced drugs with oil.

He tracked crude shipments from across the world to a single gas station in South Elgin, Ill., and showed how the gasoline that gets pumped into some 10-miles-a-gallon Chevy Suburban has touched and sometimes devastated lives in Louisiana, where the wetlands have turned to mud; in Nigeria, where the oil industry's byproducts have included pollution, corruption and political thuggery; in Iraq and Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, where the demand for oil and all of its resulting riches and intrigue have contributed to global turmoil.

Some of us should only hope to get half as good as Salopek and that we one day have those we've worked wtih willing to say stuff like this about us.

On a side note, GW apparently sent a note to Sudan's president about the situation. It actually takes someone getting chucked in jail and charged with spying in a foreign country suspected of genocide to get this administration to decide press freedoms are a good thing? Gee, Mr. President....

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Where Do We Go From Here?

There's a very good article in The Economist this week about the newspaper industry and how the paid print part of it is slowly decaying. In its typically well-considered, even-handed way, The Economist cuts through the hysteria that seems to so often accompany this topic and looks at dozens of examples from around the globe to see what newspapers are doing to try to evolve. Interestingly it goes well beyond just having a Web site. Different papers have taken different approaches to providing content online, while others have embraced free dailies (as we've seen here in the US), and others have started or bought online properties that are only peripherally related to journalism.

Any thoughts on which opportunities seem most promising for the newspaper business? It's a pretty exciting time to be in the business even though many journalists prefer the doom and gloom scenario.

Also, not sure how long this article we be available online, so read it now or print it out.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Welcome to the Machine

Forget losing our jobs to outsourcing. Forget losing our jobs to citizen journalists. They ain't gonna need them either soon the way things are going because computers can now produce journalism (and do an ok job of it).

No, I did not read this in the Onion and get confused between real and fake news, before any of you ask. This lovely development was chronicled by The Financial Times -- and I'll thank Ms. Shiers on The News Hole's behalf for sending it along in an effort to keep our blog from dying here.

Anyway, for those to lazy to click the link, here's the top:

First it was the typewriter, then the teleprinter. Now a US news service has found a way to replace human beings in the newsroom and is instead using computers to write some of its stories.

Thomson Financial, the business information group, has been using computers to generate some stories since March and is so pleased with the results that it plans to expand the practice.

The computers work so fast that an earnings story can be released within 0.3 seconds of the company making results public.

By using previous results in Thomson’s database, the computer stories say whether a company has done better or worse than expected.

“This is not about cost but about delivering information to our customers at a speed at which they can make an almost immediate trading decision,” said Matthew Burkley, senior vice-president of strategy at Thomson Financial.

“This means we can free up reporters so they have more time to think.”

I'm not even gonna throw in my two cents.

(Insert dejected sigh and shake of head here)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

CNN's approach to citizen journalism

Courtesy an email from the Medill listserv and speaking of "citizen journalism", check out CNN's new site: CNN Exchange.

From what I can tell, they are soliciting readers for pictures and stories. They lay it out to make it easy for people to contribute and even include a toolkit to guide you.

They also include a list of stories the editors are interested in, from airport security ("Did you have to rearrange your luggage?") to the Middle East ("Do you have photos of buildings destroyed by rockets?") to the hurricane season ("How safe do you feel?")

First let me say that I think it's interesting, and an affective way to connect to readers and viewers. If citizen journalism is really taking off, then it makes sense for the news organizations to go out and solicit it from people and reap the benefits with a good looking online package.

And it seems like they are getting a really strong response with dozens of first-hand stories, photos and videos, allowing us to see parts of the world or particular incidents that might not otherwise be captured.

But something about it rubs me the wrong way. I haven't entirely put my finger on what it is - perhaps that it feels like they are taking the reporters out of the mix and the analysis is decidedly lacking. Perhaps it's that many of the contributions read like guided letters to the editor or people just mouthing off on a particular topic. Not sure, jury's still out. But it is an interesting approach, I'll give them that.


Monday, August 14, 2006

Taking Your Life In Your Hands

When I was reading the first installment of the Jill Carroll story today, I just couldn't get a rid of scary little persistent voice at the back of my head. She could be one of us - albeit it with a hell of a lot more nerve:

"Not that my life in Baghdad was easy. Freelance journalism is a tough business everywhere. But I didn't want to sit in a cubicle in the US and write, as I had, about the Department of Agriculture food pyramid. Here I was living my dream of being a foreign correspondent - even if that meant sometimes living in a hotel so seedy it was best to buy your own sheets."

A lot of us that left the country to report at some point did it for the sense of adventure and did it secure in the knowledge that somebody (and somebody with power) was there to lend a helping hand if and when something truly atrocious happened. Once the safety net was gone, we chose the cubicles for the time being, telling ourselves we'll make it there eventually. With the exception of our friend in Cairo and the other one headed back to Nairobi, we headed home rather than strike out on our own, without the support of a major organization behind us.

Lord knows plenty of aspiring foreign correspondents have always been willing to pay their dues. Michael Kelly did it on the proverbial shoestring in Iraq in the early 90s and kicked off a brilliant career that way. Although, tragically, even the resources he had behind him in Iraq weren't enough to keep him from paying the ultimate price this time around.

If any of my fellow globalites can remember all way back to September, we had a veteran foreign correspondent come speak to us in Paris. This woman had been to pretty much every major conflict over the past 20 years -- from Baghdad to Mogadishu and beyond. The thing she makes sure to take because it is the most useful in keeping her safe and getting things done?She said at least $10-20K in $100 bills (I think). That certainly presents a challenge for the likes of us, who had trouble paying for the shots and pills that are supposed to keep you from catching diseases that will make you hallucinate while there -- never mind even minimal security precautions. We'd probably have to leave with the change from the pack of gum we bought at the airport in our pockets and whatever meager cash advance we could strip from nearly full credit cards.

So, the Christian Science Monitor stepped up and did the right thing. They poured resources into finding the girl. Whether or not that made the difference in her making it home to take the staff position they gave her while she was missing (And, what the hell? If this is what it takes to get "staff" under your name now...), we'll probably never know. Will the next Jill Carroll be so lucky? How invested are those who sign the checks (and even those who assign the stories) really going to be in people they have never met? As more bureaus close and young freelancers trying to make a name for themselves go into danger zones for smaller and smaller outlets that pay less and less, the issue isn't going to disappear.

As the Monitor editor who penned the story with Carroll wrote:

"Jill herself, isolated by Islamist insurgents, did not envision such rallies to her cause. In the weeks to come she sometimes would avoid thinking about her family, because it made her sad; when she did, she imagined them apprehensive, waiting for some sort of word from the U.S. government. As for the Monitor, well, she was just a freelancer, and it wasn't a rich paper. She figured that following her kidnapping and the murder of her interpreter, its rotating Baghdad staff would have fled Iraq.
She was wrong."

How long before she's right?