Tag Archives: media

yesterday’s newspapers = tomorrow’s geosocial community builders?

It’s no secret the entities once known as newspapers continue to transform into multimedia, multipurpose organizations. But can they also use new tools — especially geosocial media — to lead the process of online community-building? The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s score! app raises such intriguing possibilities.

While the company did not return an interview request from this lowly blogger, this interview on WXXI and this Nieman Journalism Lab story provide interesting context — the project started as an alternate-reality partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology, then had another short civic-engagement run around the midterm elections. It relaunched a few months ago as a full-fledged social gaming site with location-based challenges.

“[T]here’s this huge community in Rochester that we can send people to all these cool places they don’t know about,” project developer Mark Newell told WXXI. “We have reporters and contributors that are trying to get more stuff out there. … We have this amazing cache of knowledge that I think we’re trying to get out in more ways than just writing newspaper articles.”

Sign-up takes less than a minute if you connect via your Facebook ID, and the site is pretty easy to navigate. You can pursue missions, which may include logging onto the score! mobile site for checkins like any geosocial app. Missions point users to both known places and hidden gems, such as New In Town with Driardonna Roland by the D&C’s young professionals beat reporter or Ashish’s Sport and Spice by an intern on local spicy food and sports hangouts.

And score! represents a merging of user with content and, for the D&C, revenue potential. The missions tie in advertisers as destinations, while giving users a chance to discover local flavor (perhaps literally), all the while promoting Rochester as a vibrant community. Quite a brilliant concept, really. User activity seems decent, albeit not overwhelming, and it’s hard to predict a development curve.

The question at the heart of this is: Could colleges or other businesses create a similar homegrown solution? (By which I DON’T mean: Drop a huge chunk of change to an app developer.) The D&C benefits from economies of scale — they already have a large staff of content providers, backend development support for their website and a well-used communication vehicle. Some colleges have those advantages as well.

Colleges establishing their own rich geosocial applications and networks — to better connect students to each other and their institutions — would require not just resources, but a paradigm shift in some traditional roles and expectations. But hey, if print media, (erroneously) considered dinosaurs by some, can jump on this kind of innovation, why shouldn’t other industries consider it too?

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rumours of gordon lightfoot’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Despite what many Canadian and U.S. press outlets said Thursday, singer Gordon Lightfoot is very much alive. What’s dead, apparently, is fundamental journalism practices.

Upon learning that rumours of Gordon Lightfoot’s death had been greatly exaggerated, most media sites pulled down their stories, but failed to leave a correction in place. The main spinning reaction blamed a Twitter prank for the misunderstanding. Maybe this is what started it, but placing the blame there is a cowardly act of misdirection.

In my journalism classes, the top two rules I learned were:

– Rule #1: Always verify something with a reliable source before publishing.
– Rule #2: When in doubt, see Rule #1.

This is where the media failed. In a culture where getting it first trumps getting it right, too many media outlets follow the fallacy that if it’s on the Internet, it must be true. Forget how unreliable or unverified the source may be, the last thing they’d want is to miss out on something else the world is reporting. But haste, as the old saying goes, makes waste.

As the CBC’s Sarah Liss, who copped to helping spread the word informally but not via her news outlet, accurately summarized:

… you could argue that the real problem may have something to do with the eagerness of mainstream media outlets to compete with social media networks and be seen as the first to post breaking news stores. As Toronto-based social media ace Justin Stayshyn rightly noted, “Twitter just spread it. Rumour began in the hallowed halls of dead tree MSM [mainstream media] journalism.”

Personally, I’m quite relieved to know that the Canadian icon has not seen his final sundown. But that journalism standards have sunk as low as the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald should concern us all.

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just because it’s there, should you use it?

The emergence of new forms of communication reminds me of the spread of desktop publishing in the 1990s. Back then, anyone who had a layout program suddenly thought they were a designer; today, does a YouTube channel make everybody a programming mogul? As always, whether technology means anyone and everyone should use these tools is a different question.

Without going into too much detail (because it involved people I like), a college entity sent a newsletter last week that linked to an outside YouTube video. That well-intended video’s linked related content (albeit not really related) could be seen as offensive, or that’s the way an alum found it when he sent an email to our college president, among others. One of our team members quickly took care of the issue (on a Saturday morning), but the usual questions over use of social media arose.

One of the simplest ways to prevent this is knowing YouTube and its embed settings that keep videos from showing related (or what YouTube thinks of as related) content … or posting it within an edu partner account. It’s not a very obvious setting, but it’s the kind of detail you need to attend. Such an incident, of course, leads into policy discussions about who should or shouldn’t post and disseminate official content on behalf of an institution, and what “official” means — a potentially serpentine process.

But more broadly and basically, the more important lesson ties to a key plank of communicating via social media: Get to know the medium, its capabilities and its community as well as you can. Sure, we all know the guy who hops straight on The Twitters, tweets about a new weight-loss pill, follows 4,000 people via keyword search and auto DMs any chump lazy enough to follow them is, clearly, doing it wrong. But plenty of hard-working, well-meaning individuals encounter mines while jumping into terra incognita.

I signed up for Facebook and Twitter and explored them for months before launching anything in these media representing the college. And just as you’ll find people using media poorly, you can find those using media really well who can serve as examples, perhaps even role models. And since these people use social media, they are easy to reach and — in my experience — very helpful with any questions. We all learn about so much of this stuff as we go along.

Another worthy consideration is: Just because it’s there, should you use it? In just a couple years, I’ve had to learn about communicating via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, UStream, Watershed and other options I’ve already forgotten. And there’s always a new platform or community emerging that warrants consideration. But that doesn’t mean we should use all of these outlets for everything. You should get to know — emphasis on the word know — these media and then employ those that work well for what you’re trying to do and the audience you’re trying to reach. Missteps, in the realm of social media, are magnified in reach and immediacy … so it’s always important to learn how to watch your steps.

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black and white, still read all over?

Imagine two restaurants sitting next to each other on a downtown street.

The first has a large, attentive staff. Items on the menu are new and exotic. The food is fresh and in ample portions.

The second is barely staffed. The menu lists items you can find anywhere. The portions are small and uninspiring. When the waiter finally visits your table for the check, you comment about the service. Oh, sniffs the waiter, it’s the Internet’s fault. Everyone orders food online now.

This analogy comes to you courtesy of the current state of the newspaper industry. I live in Upstate New York, a fairly blue-collar, economically challenged region where any paper could blame the economy for paltry readership. Except it’s not true. Rochester rates first in the country for adult readership rate with 87 percent, Buffalo third with 86 percent, Syracuse fifth at 85 percent. Mathematically, that means if you passed 6 adults on a street in those cities, 5 of them read the local daily. Admittedly, that includes those perusing Web sites, but that still denoted devoted readership and flies in the face of the rush to call papers (Webbers?) a dying medium.

But some news organizations are dying from the inside, as corporate ownership continues to phase out positions and present aggressive buyouts. Through consolidating staff, one local paper has virtually eliminated all the interesting reasons people read it, whittling down to basic cops and courts, rewritten news releases and lots of wire copy. Gone or reduced are specialty columns (its differentiation), long and probing articles, community coverage of any depth. The blame falls on the Internet, the economy, demographics … but some papers still exist that didn’t gut staffs but retained unique and interesting features, thus continuing to stay vital. If you get rid of your best reporters and editors, your product will suffer just as much as if a restaurant eliminates its serving staff.

I’m not saying newspapers don’t have challenges. I AM saying that just repeating doom and gloom, and corporate policies that cut, cut, cut are not the answer. If you had a product that reached 5 out of 6 people in your market, would you be trying to kill it? Instead, creative solutions and investments — such as former employees of the shuttered Seattle Post-Intelligencer banding together to create the new online Post-Globe — are needed to sustain a new brand of journalism. Just food for thought.

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less news than we bargained for.

Earlier today came the official announcement of the end of an era, on Syracuse’s WTVH-5 ceasing news operations and laying off 40 loyal employees. This hits home for me, because 5 is the TV news I’ve watched since I was a young boy, an outlet that helped interest me in journalism and where I had my most influential internship.

The announcement tries to position it as 5’s newsroom merging with that of neighbor and former rival WSTM-3, but it essentially ends an institution with a proud tradition. TV5 was SUNY Oswego grad Al Roker’s first professional weatherman gig. When I interned there, one of the nicest guys was Mike Tirico, now well known as a lead announcer for ABC Sports and ESPN. Other TV5 alumni are working jobs all over the country, thankful for the small-market start.

This news came on the heels of the Rocky Mountain News’ abrupt shuttering by parent company Scripps Howard. If you happen to have 20 minutes to spare, the video on the ghost paper’s home page is an engaging yet devastating documentation of the end of a proud and important paper. And the sad thing is that more TV5s and Rockys will join the club of former journalism outlets.

One part where I disagree with the RMN video, and other pundits on this subject, is in the anger and blame directed at bloggers for the demise of journalism. This is misplaced, albeit trendy: While there are some rogue bloggers trying to supplant journalists, most bloggers (and Twitters and Facebookers) trafficking in current events post links to newspaper articles. It’s just a different distribution method, as I don’t know a single blogger who wants to see newsrooms close, or is working toward putting journalists out of work.

If you’re looking for blame, try corporate boardrooms that have bought up all these journalism outlets and see them as lines on a balance sheet … not as the community resources they are. When Scripps Howard gives up after a mere month of trying to find a buyer for the Rocky Mountain News, when Granite Broadcasting decides to phase out 5’s news function, they are merely redlining an expense to keep shareholders happy. That a community with fewer journalism checks on power is a disservice to everyone, that cities shedding jobs now losing news sources they’ve come to trust like friends is one more kick in the gut … these human costs do not fit into the equation. No film at 11, no special edition, just a fade to black.

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tackling dummies.

On the eve of the Super Bowl™, the annual showcase where advertisers pay just under $3 million per 30-second spot, some group called Common Sense Media announced it somehow logged more than 5,000 ads during 50 NFL games this season and came to a shocking conclusion. I hope you’re sitting down for it.

Here goes: Ads during football games feature lots of sex, violence and alcohol. Should I get the smelling salts?

Are you shocked *SHOCKED*? Not so much? As an advertising professor, I know there are a lot of bad commercials — in strategy and execution, as well as content. But since football games are the most likely programs holding the attention of the young male viewers advertisers covet, why shouldn’t we expect ad agencies chase the lowest common denominator?

The study found erectile dysfunction ads appeared on 40 percent of games and that 46.5 percent of what the group deemed sexual or violent spots — although we don’t know their judging criteria — were network promos for their own shows (CSI: Jacksonville, Law & Order Titillating Crime Unit, etc.). Again, not surprising.

But wait, let’s check those statistics again. The CSM screams that at least one ad during half the commercial breaks contain the above content. OK, most stopsets are four ads, so that’s 1,250 breaks. Half the breaks are 625. Estimating high, let’s say 1.25 ads per break have this kind of content, and round it up to 800. That’s about 16 percent of all commercials which is … not headline-grabbing. And if 46.5 of those are network promos, that means about 8.6 percent [428] would be buyer content CSM finds offensive.

Let’s be serious though: Have you seen the TV programs themselves? Do you think more than 16 percent of prime-time network shows feature violence, sex or alcohol/drugs? Sure. More than 16 percent, I’d say. Just like the football games themselves feature violent collisions, scantily clad cheerleaders and huge beer banners and/or shots of fans consuming alcohol.

What really offends me is this quote from CSM founder and CEO James Steyer (a Stanford law professor), who says he’s talked to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, then adds: We’re starting with the NFL but trust me, we’ll ask our friends at the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission and in Congress to look at the other leagues if they don’t clean up their act.

Um … what? The use of my tax dollars to enforce someone’s standards of decency notwithstanding, Steyer misses the phallic-shaped boat on this one: Who sells advertising? Whose promos represented 46.5 of their naughty content? The TV networks. So why the CSM is pilloring sports leagues — who have less control over advertising content than the networks who sell commercial time — seems fishy.

Or maybe they just know how to find a lazy media horde looking for any football-related news peg. Waving a sports-seeming story about sex and violence in front of reporters on Super Bowl™ week is as sure to get a Pavlovian response as flashing images of half-naked women in front of an amped-up football fan.

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an innocent surveys the vast wasteland.

Since most people I know are immersed in mass media, it’s always interesting to get an outsider’s perspective. This tends to come from my mother. And her view of modern media is not so rosy.

Mom was unable to sleep when 2009 came calling, so she decided to watch what ABC still calls Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve (albeit hosted by Ryan Seacrest). And she was appalled. While most of us are familiar with the wretched dreck that is infotainment, Mom was unprepared with the parade of vacuous so-called celebrities, the tuneless so-called musical performances, the celebrations of excess in a down economy. And seeing a post-stroke Dick Clark was, she said, downright depressing. (She wondered if he’d been replaced with a robot, and not a very good one.)

Moreover, she was repulsed with commentators gushing over the super-expensive Waterford Crystal Ball and its 2,668 crystals, all 12,000 pounds of it, descending for a mere few seconds of visibility. How many of those revelers are out of work or struggling to get by while millions of dollars are lavished on this sphere’s brief appearance? And the gaudy Times Square plastered with wall-to-wall enormous glowing advertisements looked nothing like the district she remembered from living in the city.

I found the phone conversation quite interesting and enlightening. Those of us who have watched the (de-)evolution of modern mass media wonder if it has become a vast wasteland. But those suddenly thrown into the 2009 media landscape *know* that it is.

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