Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quick hits

  • Lots has been and will be written about the Project for Excellence in Journalism's latest report on the State of the News Media 2008. I've made it a point to refrain from extensive comment on these because they are massive and nuanced -- and I can't really grasp all of those nuances until I've read it three or four times. But the meme among the stories this time seems to be how this Internet thingy really hasn't democratized things like it should have. (Those of us running community news sites could have -- and based on research presented at AEJMC last year* -- did tell you that. The digiterati's original idea that this somehow would become a great sounding board where everyone would jump in and cover their communities was never realistic.) Go read the report and the stories. But the best words on it all may be in a comment by "tedshelton" on the Cnet story:
    • I read your article with interest and followed the link to the report. There I discovered an interesting thing, not obvious from your article -- the report, reasonably enough, is focused on this thing called "news" -- narrowly defined. It is, after all, a report on "the state of the news media" not just any old media.

      Digging deeper into the report, it looks like the authors are critical of citizens as reporters of foreign affairs or government, or crime... but the share of media time that we are devoting to reading all of this citizen created content (media, if not news) continues to increase.

      The democratization of media seems to be progressing just fine -- the report merely points out that NEWS as a subset of media, seems to still be dominated by the professionals. Which makes sense.
    • Never underestimate the power of someone in the public to get it right.
  • The constant conversation that suddenly has become hot in a lot of quarters is the hand-wringing about what to do with "those people." No, not Barack and Hillary, but all those great unwashed people commenting on news stories on news sites. Why, some of the things they say are downright hateful. (Uh, yep. Not been listening much to the world around you lately, huh?) So along comes Ed Wasserman, who says it's time to write "the rules." Here's why that won't work -- they're your rules, not mine or anyone else's. Wasserman's is a typical top down, C3 (well C2 -- command and control without communication) response. The key to successful, vibrant online communities on newspaper.com sites or anywhere else is not rules, but enlightened moderation that uses guidance, not pronouncements. Wasserman's is very reflective of the view of still too much of the industry toward online. It's a view born of the printing press mentality -- the idea that you set up the assembly line and make the product conform to it. It's a turnkey, static thing. You tend to it as little as possible (which, of course, helps the bottom line). But the Web is just the opposite -- it's a dynamic place, and that means a more expensive place (in some ways) to operate. So let's continue to converse about the best ways to deal with the challenges online has unleashed on our comment boards, but let's scrap the "rules" thing.
  • (Pointer from Martin Stabe) Yahoo takes a big step forward toward Tim Berners-Lee's vision of the "semantic Web." The search engine will now use such semantic data and microformats to refine and expand searches. Pay attention. While Wasserman et al. are worrying about barbarians at the gate, the guys who ate your lunch are about to have you for dinner and dessert. If every publishing house does not have a staff that understand what the semantic Web is and how it, along with the coming mobile computing/communications society, is going to revolutionize things once more ... well, what can I say?
  • That former "hotbed" of convergence, southern Florida, is still perking along. The Ernie Pyle scholars at Indiana U. are doing a convergence tour and blogging. Worth reading just to keep up with where much of this stuff started in this country.
  • Rant of the day: I can't understand why so many sites, especially media sites, do not have their articles set up so that when you print one, the stable URL is printed out as part of it. How quaint and cross-media of me to assume I or someone might want a hard copy of something digital, eh? The Wasserman article from the Miami Herald, for instance, comes out sans URL. I know this isn't hard to do because even the humble little Hartsville Today project we run on Drupal has it. The Wall Street Journal, Editor and Publisher and some others go farther by printing out, at your option, the list all URLs used in an online posting. Let's get it together; printing out the URL should be as close to a standard as you can have without having one. (Yes, I know you can set your browser to do it, but long URLs truncate, and not all browsers will do it in a Mac.)
*The paper is available online to AEJMC members. If you still want to see it, you can get an abstract by going here and searching for Littau. See this for more information on buying a copy. (Or if you really, really want it, you know where to find me ...)

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