Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Daily Show and blogs

Jon Stewart pokes fun at CNN and MSNBC's blog reports.

Windows version
Quicktime version

It seems to be a favourite topic with the show.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Deakin Lectures - one not to miss

Jay Rosen is speaking in Melbourne later this week as part of this year's Deakin Lecture series.

Jay is Associate Professor of Journalism at NYU and one of the best thinkers about online journalism. Don't miss this lecture.

Here's a preview of what he plans to say:

That each nation has its own press has always been true. But it is a fact of special importance today because, due to changes in the world that an honest lecturer must call "historic," (even though he is wary of a term of hype like that one) each nation will shortly have a chance to re-establish or overhaul its own press. Or to create one anew. And that is a moment for careful thought.

More hoopla on blogs

Adam Cohen hops into blogs over the less than adequate ethical approaches he says define the blogosphere:
“Many bloggers make little effort to check their information, and think nothing of posting a personal attack without calling the target first - or calling the target at all. They rarely have procedures for running a correction. The wall between their editorial content and advertising is often nonexistent… And bloggers rarely disclose whether they are receiving money from the people or causes they write about.”
Elsewhere, the Times looks at Nick Denton's much pored over blog business, Gawker. The business of blogs, their viability and they may produce, is of great interest. But Denton will not be sucked into hyperbole.

Critics of the blog movement wonder whether the hoopla over the commercial viability of blogs - particularly as publishing ventures - is overstated. "Blogs primarily excel at marketing and promotion for companies or individuals," Mr. Phillips of I Want Media said. "I think blogging can catapult unknown writers, and it can give them a platform if they're talented. But as a stand-alone business, I think the jury is still out on that."

Friday, May 06, 2005

Camera phones as story telling tools

Travelling from Sicily to Malta by ferry last year on a family holiday I got talking to a young Maltese chef who invited us to his restaurant. We were only on Malta for a couple of days but he was insistent. He described the menu he cooks, mostly seafood. It certainly sounded wonderful and to illustrate his point he took out his mobile phone and showed us pictures of the restaurant and some of his favourite dishes. On our last day in Malta we went and had one of the most delicious meals of our whole trip.

Howard Rheingold would recognise this form of communication immediately. The way he puts it, though, "the cameraphone exists at this moment in that ephemeral, potent and confusing phase of its adoption cycle where people are still deciding what kind of social medium it is".

Newspapers and online auctions

As circulations continue to plummet and classifieds move online newspapers are hard up to develop business strategies that can ensure continuing investment in quality journalism.

But a Canadian company has come up with an idea that could help. CityXpress works with newspapers in the United States, Canada and Europe to stage online marketplace initiatives through its hosted software and on-site sales and customer support services.

According to Poynter the model works like this:
Local advertisers provide goods or services in trade for newspaper advertising. If a product sells in the auction - that is, meets a reserve price set in advance by the newspaper - the advertiser earns an ad credit equal to the product's retail value. The newspaper keeps the cash received from the bidder as payment for the ad credit. Event auctions are conducted online and supported by a print advertising campaign, and in some cases via a dedicated print supplement. Readers bid on auction items online or by telephone; the highest bidder whose bid meets or exceeds the reserve price wins the item or service.

The first European paper to run an auction was the Berner Zeiting, which brought in €230,000, and the combined result of four auctions that have been run to an audience of 800,000 subscribers resulted in €1.4 million in revenues.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Blogging at The Age

The Age's media blog is live. Finally.

Google eyes new patent

The mystery of Google's algorithms has occupied us before, but now they are seeking to patent a technology meant to help Google News sort stories based on their overall quality, which could augment the current methods of ranking results by date and relevance to search terms.

CNET reports:

At present, Google generates results based on the search engine's perceived relevance of content to a particular term and the time at which any particular piece of data or story is first published online. In the patent filings, Google concedes that while its existing system often generates thousands of results in response to individual search terms, the stories it unearths have no degree of worth assigned to them and may not come from reputable publishers.

"While each of the hits in (a list of search results) may relate to (a) desired topic, the news sources associated with these hits, however, may not be of uniform quality," Google said in the filing. "Therefore, there exists a need for systems and methods for improving the ranking of news articles based on the quality of the news source with which the articles are associated."

The company goes on to describe how content published by news outlets such as CNN and BBC, or companies that are "widely regarded as high quality sources of accuracy of reporting, professionalism in writing," may be of greater interest to its customers, and therefore should top news search results.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The media's war in (and out of) Iraq

Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian uses the kidnappping of Douglas Wood to lay into the media for supporting the insurgents' cause.

It's a fairly well-worn line, and the nut of it is this:

"The terrorists want US, Australian and British troops out of Iraq and will rely on a media-fuelled compassion campaign to achieve that goal. And driven by daily deadlines, ratings and its instinctive objection to the Iraq war, the media will no doubt comply."
Albrechtsen picks up on the use of the word "quagmire" in various media reports and links it to the way the Vietnam war was characterised accusing the media of hitting the "replay button".

Sure, Vietnam was a link that the media made early and often during the Iraq occupation. It's hardly surprising that this was the case, but now things have changed. In the current New York Times magazine Peter Maas writes: "The template for Iraq today is not Vietnam, to which it has often been compared, but El Salvador, where a right-wing government backed by the United States fought a leftist insurgency in a 12-year war beginning in 1980."

I don't image the Times is a favourite read of Ms Albrechtsen's but Maas goes to great lengths to do what she asks, namely report "not just the daily horrors of war, but also stories that provide for a longer view". And the longer view is not pretty.

But Albrechtsen has a counter-strategy. "The bad news angle is too seductive. Even when the Iraqi parliament approved a new cabinet last week, much of the media's tone was bleak. For The Sydney Morning Herald's Paul McGeough, it was a case of the 'war-weary Iraqis' heaving a 'sigh of relief' over the endorsement of a 'government of sorts'."

The bad news angle is too seductive? Well, yes it is. In Iraq. It might suit wsj.com's interests to have a good news page about Iraq, but the idea hasn't caught on elsewhere. For the rest McGeough's characterisation of the new democracy in Iraq is hardly gratuitous.

Last weekend McGeough wrote: "The democratisation process imposed on Iraq by the Americans has involved a series of short-term appointed or elected administrations, in which most of the players have had more of an eye on surviving into the next round than on the needs of their economically crippled and insurgency-bloodied nation."

That sounds like a little more than "the usual haggle-fest that goes on in democracies when positions of power are up for grabs" as Albrechtsen would have us believe.

Albrechtsen's accusation that the media is doing the insurgents' work by running a "compassion campaign" on behalf of Douglas Woods is clearly calculated but nevertheless odd. Is she suggesting that the media should do the opposite? The Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister are already doing that.

It's her job to provoke reactions with her opinions so here are a few facts in response, a few things worth knowing about the US government (borrowed from Eric Alterman's MSNBC blog):

Sometimes they do their own torturing, here.
Sometimes they like to get others to do their torturing for them, here.
They fight dirty wars, involving terrorist tactics, here.
And they are weakening the military, here, making it impossible to face up to genuine threats here, like this one, here, making the country less safe, here.

The minimum effect of this sort of information is to raise serious questions about the conduct of the war in Iraq. But it's also evidence of good reporting with a view to the longer term value of journalism as the first draft of history.