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The Music Industry Doesn't Seem to be Able to Sell CDs Anymore

» New Media I: Plunge in CD Sales Shakes Up Big Labels details the record industry's decline and is notable for two things:

  1. Paul McCartney is releasing his next CD on the Starbucks Label, and released the first video for the album on YouTube. Sir Paul's explanation: "It's a new world."
  2. This piece: "[Music executives] ... add that the labels squandered years on failed attempts to restrict digital music instead of converting more fans into paying consumers. "They were so slow to react, and let things get totally out of hand," said Russ Crupnick, a senior entertainment industry analyst at NPD, the research company. "They just missed the boat."

I (and many others) have been making that exact point for the last 8 years. Add to their shortsightedness, the music industry's well-earned reputation for completely reaming anyone (particularly artists) who doesn't have the clout to withstand them. As I said to my husband the other night, it's hard to have sympathy for anyone who's both stupid and evil.   [ 06/04/07 ]

A New breed of Television Sponsor With Creative Input

» New Media Part II: How Ponds Shaped "The Starter Wife".

"We wanted to make sure [Debra Messing's character] would go through an evolution that would make her a Pond's woman," says Doug Scott, executive director of branded content and entertainment for Ogilvy North America. According to Scott, Pond's money bought it 1) a hand in shaping the story and character arcs; 2) some standard product placement; and 3) a few key "signature moments" in which an on-screen interaction with the Pond's brand triggers a thought or motivation in a character.

 (1) Comments  / [ 06/04/07 ]

The Knight Science Journalism Tracker

» The Knight Science Journalism Tracker is a new blog that bills itself as "peer review within science journalism". Science writer Charles Petit summarizes the science news stories of the day with a focus on how it was reported, good and bad. That's blogging in its most classic sense, and it's a really smart use of the form.  [ 04/26/07 ]

How professional writers and political hacks changed blogging for the worse

» In light of the recent resignation of the Edwards bloggers, Garret Vreeland offers a thoughtful perspective on the culture of blogging—both what it was and what has changed as partisans (for whom making a point matters more than being fair) and professional writers (for whom editing is writing) enter the stage. A good read, highly recommended.

A side comment: What are politicians to do? Thoughtful, evenhanded analysis simply doesn't drive traffic as effectively as outrageously stated opinions. It's unlikely that political campaigns will even be able to identify the bloggers who can provide them with good thinking, good writing, and comparatively inoffensive archives, since their more strident brethren will be the ones at the top of everyone's blogrolls.

Some of these standards will inevitably change. Too many people are living online now, and that means a paper trail. No one is always at their best. At the same time, I hope it will start to dawn on some of the newcomers that they are publishing, and lead them to moderate accordingly.

A second comment: Hiring these particular bloggers was the equivalent of hiring Molly Ivins to write for your campaign—except without her years of experience, and without the filter of the editors who taught her how to moderate even brash opinions to appeal to the broadest possible audience. You might have loved Molly Ivin's writing, but she was at her best speaking truth to power, not speaking on behalf of the powerful. (3) Comments  / [ 02/19/07 ]

John Foraker Swings, Misses

» I often speak to business audiences to help them understand the value of interacting with blogs and other online media. So I was happy to see John Foraker, CEO of Annie’s Homegrown, dive right into the fray in response to a recent Salon article which attacked one of his products.

And then I read what he wrote.

It's not that the letter he reposts in Megnut's comments is so filled with marketese. Sometimes old dogs can learn just one new trick at a time. It's that he appears to think blog readers are stupid:

On our product boxes we recommend using lowfat milk for the healthiest product that, when prepared, contains fewer calories (280), less total fat (4 g) and less sodium (550 mg) than Kraft, which can contain up to 380 calories, 15 grams of fat and 740 milligrams of sodium per serving.

"Can contain up to?" Eventually, one of Meg's commenters noticed that he had pulled a fast one:

John, let's be fair here. You are comparing Annie's made with low-fat milk to Kraft made with whole milk. The "light prep" on Kraft's is only 290 calories, 5g fat and 600mg sodium.

His response? "Shannon, you make some great points. Thanks." And then he goes on to talk about something else.

Sure, John Foraker's statement is accurate. But it's deliberately misleading, comparing a low-fat version of his product to a full-fat version of his competitor's. Falling back on "recommended preparations" doesn't cut it. His statement is designed to give the impression that, all things being equal, Annie's macaroni and cheese is noteably lower in calories, fat, and sodium than Kraft's.

It would have been so easy to say, "We believe our product is superior because it contains no artificial colors and no synthetic chemicals. We don't like to eat that stuff, and we've built our company on the idea that there are other people who don't want to, either. The high quality of our ingredients also makes our macaroni and cheese taste better, or at least we think so."

And that would have been enough.

I came away the Salon article reminded that "natural" doesn't actually mean very much when it comes to food, but also reminded that—for a convenience food— Annie's Mac and Cheese has a slight edge on Kraft because it contains fewer food additives. I came away from John Foraker's remarks knowing that he's willing to deliberately obfuscate the merits of his and his competitor's products in order to deflect criticism of his company. And he's willing to go out of his way to do that in a supposedly "transparent" form, on a blog.

I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth. And a markedly lower opinion of the Annie's brand.

John, whomever is advising you about the blogosphere, it's time to find someone who can do more than point you to the most prominent food bloggers. You need someone who can help you understand the idea of transparency and who can explain to you that on blogs, as in most of life, charm is no substitute for honesty. (7) Comments  / [ 02/06/07 ]

Why the American people no longer support the war in Iraq

» Streets running in blood—it's biblical in scale. This is why the American people no longer support the war in Iraq. It has nothing, I'm sad to say, to do with principle.

And poor CNN. The header on this story is "Iraq: Transition of Power". They were so, so with the program when it all began, and now they're stuck with this lamentable endorsement of Administration spin, while events spin completely out of control on the ground. At what point will the editors decide it's time to change the title of this particular "Special Report"? (5) Comments  / [ 01/16/07 ]

It's a topsy-turvy world

» It's so weird. I just received a press release from Time magazine detailing a feature in their magazine that apparently they want me to link. And with that, it seems to me we've crossed a line somewhere.  (4) Comments  / [ 11/06/06 ]

Pandering to the American public

» Its common practice for world editions of the same publication to run covers that correspond with local interests. So why is Newsweek doling out bad news to everyone in the whole wide world—but us? (via rc3(1) Comments  / [ 09/26/06 ]

Alfred Sirleaf, Liberia's Blackboard Blogger

» Liberia's Blackboard Blogger is a "self-taught newshound" who reads half-a-dozen newspapers every day and then summarizes the most important stories on a blackboard that hangs in front of his plywood shed. He puts up a painted "Breaking News" sign to signal a big story, he has recruited a set of stringers to send him scoops via text messages, and he's designed a system of symbols to convey the news to those who can't read. "I try to write it really clear and simple so people can read it far away, even if they are driving by. I like to write the way people talk so they can understand it well. You got to reach the common man." Alfred Sirleaf, the 33-year-old managing editor of The Daily Talk. (via Kevin Kelly's awesome new Street Use(1) Comments  / [ 08/17/06 ]

The hotter it is outside, the more global warming is in the news

» On the relationship between heat waves and news stories about global warming [ 07/27/06 ]

Rifftrax film commentary for iPod

» More film commentary released to iPod. This time, it's by the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Rifftrax. Now when will my favorite film directors start critiquing their favorite films? (via rw [ 07/26/06 ]

Al Jazeera goes global and reinvents the news

» Think Again: Al Jazeera demonstrates how erroneous the popular portrayal of the network really is. (FWIW, I've never found them to be particularly biased, just Arab-centric instead of American-centric.) But here's the part that is most interesting to me: they are planning to start global broadcasting, and it sounds like they really do have some innovative ideas about how to do that.

Although it has hired a large number of Western journalists, it won’t look much like CNN. The network’s coverage will “follow the sun” throughout the day, airing from Kuala Lumpur for 4 hours, Doha for 11 hours, London for 5, and Washington for the remaining 4. Reporters and editors in each locale will present news from their region’s perspective, and the entire world will watch the same satellite feed at the same time.

(via rc3oi [ 07/18/06 ]

Media Literacy: Illustrating the News

» Media Literacy Moment: In May, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, wrote the President a four-page letter warning him that the failure to disclose secret intelligence activities to Congress may be a violation of the law. The activities were disclosed to the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee by whistleblowers. But that's not why I called you here today.

I wanted to point out the photograph that accompanies the article (or did when I read it Sunday morning). It is typical of a photo selected to illustrate an article of this type: President Bush, caught in an uncomfortable moment, his back turned to photographers, head down, as if, perhaps, in shame.

But click through to the picture and you'll see that the caption reads "President Bush attends a Sunday morning church service in Washington, July 9, 2006". Now read the picture: President Bush, caught in a private moment, his back turned to photographers, head down, as if, perhaps, in prayer.

Context is everything in interpreting this photo, which was chosen—not to document the moment when Bush was confronted with his wrongdoing—but to illustrate a [repentant/wronged/uncommunicative/ashamed/angry/take your pick] response to the news.  [ 07/10/06 ]

Was the 2004 election stolen? Was too, was too.

» A Little Weekend Reading: Mark Crispin Miller responds to Farhad Manjoo's dismissal of the Rolling Stone article that alleges the 2004 election was stolen—and he's having none of it. Worth reading, particularly for his analysis of the media's response to the allegations. Interestingly, Salon refused to run his piece.

Bill Anthony, the Democratic chair of Franklin County's Board of Elections, has quietly contradicted what he said both to Manjoo and Baker, telling Bob Fitrakis, on the record, that he does believe Bush/Cheney stole Ohio, largely by fiddling with the numbers in the rural counties in the state's Southwest (a major vote-theft, as Kennedy explains in Rolling Stone). [...] Bob Hagan, a Democratic state senator from Youngstown, tells of having had his own e-vote for Kerry flip to Bush -- a glitch that wiped out Kerry votes throughout Ohio (and at least a dozen other states), and yet the Democrats told Hagan not to mention it: "The Kerry campaign said, 'Leave it alone. Don't talk about it. It's not something we want to get out.'"

(via rw(1) Comments  / [ 06/23/06 ]

VNR use is more widespread than thought

» Remember Karen Ryan? A media watchdog group tracked 36 Video News Releases for 10 months and found that 77 stations aired nearly 100 VNRs, without revealing they had been produced by PR agencies, and not by journalists. "I was stunned by the scope. The public has a right to know who is trying to persuade them." Jonathan Adelstein, FCC commissioner.  [ 05/05/06 ]

Is the US already in Iran?

» I sure hope this isn't true. Is Covert Military Action in Iran 'Under the CNN Line'?

COL. SAM GARDINER: Well, the evidence is beginning to accumulate that a decision has already been made to use military force in Iran. Now, let me do a historical thing, and then I’ll tell you what the current evidence is. We now know that the decision and the actual actions to bomb Iraq occurred in July of 2002, before we ever had a U.N. resolution or before the Congress ever authorized it. It was an operation called Southern Focus, and the only guidance that the military — or the guidance that the military had from Rumsfeld was keep it below the CNN line. His specific words. The evidence that we’ve already —
AMY GOODMAN: Keep it below what?
COL. SAM GARDINER: The CNN line. In other words, I don’t want this to appear on CNN, okay? That was his guidance to the military, you can begin to bomb Iraq, but don’t let it appear on CNN.

  [ 04/20/06 ]

More on Flickr-powered collaborative photojournalism

» Emily Turrettini notices the difference between the Flickr slideshow of the CPE protests I linked here last week, and other CPE photo compilations on the Web, which depict a much more peaceful event. She wonders whether the slideshow photos depicting vandalism were taken during the French riots in November, and then deliberately mis-tagged "CPE", but I don't think that's the case. The slideshow I linked was organized by "interestingness", which is likely to skew to the sensational. The "most recent" slideshow presents a much less dramatic series of images. Note that neither is a measure of "importance" or "fairness", values that will likely always require human editorial judgement.

Of course it would be easy to deliberately mis-tag photos as they were uploaded. I posted here about the inherent limitations of tagging back in January 2005. At the time, others joined me in commenting on the potential to game the system. But Flickr is still a relatively unknown phenomenon, and I would be surprised if, at this point, anyone is trying to game it for political gain. That will likely change once Flickr becomes more widely known. Perhaps the automatic inclusion of GPS and time/date information when photos are uploaded would provide enough information to allow viewers to make more accurate assessments.

Emily is correct when she says "Caution and good judgment must prevail, not only toward the traditional media, but with regard to collaborative citizen journalism as well" — but that applies equally to the other sites she links. Organizations that participate in an event will document just one version of the event: their own. This version might be carefully constructed to present a particular narrative of the event and of the organization's role (think of the narratives routinely presented by political parties). At its least contrived, organizational records will consist of of "our favorite moments" — the parts participants themselves most want to look back on. This is right and natural and how we all organize our personal memory-markers. It is one reason I've argued that narratives must be written by a third party in order to be classified as "journalism" instead of memoir.

People photograph that which they think is "interesting". Photographers then apply another filter of "worthness" before they upload their photos to the server — or show them to friends. Every photograph has a point of view. Every series of photos creates a narrative. It will never be complete, or unbiased. Even so, barring a large-scale misinformation campaign, Flickr photos of any event should, in aggregate, represent a relatively impartial account of what could be be captured on film.

That lack of editorial control provides some protection against any person or organization seeking to control the narrative of any given event. Everyone's photos are published, regardless of their political standing or intent. Given enough participants, Flickr's inclusive nature will work against anyone deliberately skewing coverage of an event.

We need to be on guard against fraud. We need to create technological systems that will support transparency and reduce distortion. But in the end, one of our best weapons against deliberate manipulation and misinformation may be the simple, non-technical principle of inclusion. In fact, the framers of our Constitution were onto this 200 years ago. It's a little thing they liked to call "a Free Press".  (7) Comments  / [ 04/17/06 ]

How Flickr single-handedly invented collaborative photojournalism

» What is collaborative journalism? I would define it as news reporting, enabled by the Internet, done by a dispersed, unorganized group of people — or a group that spontaneously (and temporarily) organizes around their interest in a particular event. It's a compelling idea, but unfortunately — and in spite of many millions of blogs and wikis and online forums — actual examples are few and far between.

I had believed that was because most people are just not that interested in reporting the news, but I was wrong. Most of us can't wait to "break" a story to our friends, whether we've just witnessed a car accident, a celebrity sighting, or discovered that friends who were dating have broken up.

I'm beginning to suspect that what citizen reporters lack is the proper tool. Because the Flickr slideshow of photos of the French employment riots [Flash required] amply demonstrates that, on Flickr at least, collaborative photojournalism is thriving. That success is at least as much a product of Flickr itself as it is a product of the contributing photographers.

For those who don't know, Flickr allows members to upload photos to a public viewing area, and then "tag" them to denote their subject matter. Flickr then rates each photo according to "interestingness", a quality that is based on the ways in which other users interact with that photo. No one (outside of the Flickr team) knows exactly what that algorithm is based on, but I would guess that it measures things like the number of times each photo is viewed, the number of times another member calls it a favorite, the number of times it's emailed to others — those sorts of things.

The above slideshow consists of all public photos with a certain tag. So the first thing Flickr is doing is aggregating them. Then they are arranged by "interestingness" which means that the best photos (as judged by the community) come first. It also means that as new photos are added to the stream, it will continue to change, and more interesting photos will percolate to the top. If you haven't looked at a Flickr stream before, you'll be astonished by the high quality of these photographs.

Now, with or without Flickr, there would be people out on the streets watching the riots. But I would judge that Flickr members are now more inclined to document what they see, knowing that they can share it with others when they get home. I don't know what tools could make it this easy for other kinds of journalists to assemble a compelling story in pieces, but clearly Flickr has made something possible for photographers that was not possible before. [Updated to more clearly distinguish between written journalism and photojournalism.] (via rw)

Update: More on Flickr-powered collaborative journalism(8) Comments  / [ 04/11/06 ]

The emerging field of Porn Studies

» Sex in the Syllabus. Academia's new "porn curriculum" casts a critical eye on the aesthetic, societal and philosophical properties of smut — and makes some students squirm in their chairs.  (1) Comments  / [ 03/30/06 ]

On covering Iraq

» Must-See TV: When Howard Kurtz accused Lara Logan of being among the journalists who concentrate on negative stories in Iraq at the expense of the positive, she gave him an earful, and you absolutely have to see it to believe it.   [ 03/29/06 ]

Halo as Talk Show

» Chris Burke is producing a talk show within the world of the computer game Halo 2. More evidence that, as in the offline world, software is most social as an unintended consequence of other activities, not something in and of itself. "The freewheeling conversations were split between highbrow theory and glitch-driven slapstick, peppered with armed ambushes by other players. More than 12 segments later, TSL has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, and it's easy to see why. When was the last time you saw Letterman come under small-arms fire during his monologue?" (thanks, kelly!)  [ 03/27/06 ]

It's all so Meta-tastic

» Scott Rosenberg responds to Monday's post The Real Threat of Blogging. I was not clear in that post about what I thought Rosenberg got wrong (his characterization of the evening's tenor). In fact, I agree with most of his thinking in that post and in today's. I've tried to clarify my own position in comments to his post today.  [ 03/22/06 ]

The real threat of blogging

» Salon's Scott Rosenberg recently attended a Berkeley CyberSalon on the topic of elitism in media and blogging and came away with the feeling that it was a rehash of the tired blogging vs. journalism argument that has been going on since 2003. But I think he has it wrong.

The dichotomy in the argument he describes isn't "blogs vs journalism". The unspoken premise underlying this argument is that books and articles are published commercially because they represent the best writing that is available. But that's not the way the publishing business works.

Publishers are interested in printing books and articles they can sell, nothing more, nothing less. When publishers evaluate a book proposal, they don't ask if the work is true or original or insightful or well-written. First and foremost, they ask themselves if they can sell it. If they don't think they can, they pass. If they believe there is a market and that they can effectively market the work, they buy it.

Magazine editors pass on well-written articles that don't fit with the focus of their publication. Editorial boards pass on well-written book manuscripts in genres they believe they cannot sell. Conversely, there are a lot of marginally-to-poorly written books on the shelves (The DaVinci Code, The Left Behind series, some genre fiction all come to mind). The Weekly World News is not noted for its superb journalism, but it apparently sells well enough to maintain a stable of advertisers.

So that's the false dichotomy. Blogs are threatening to a certain type of writer not because they allow mediocre writing to flourish — the commercial market already does that. They are threatening because they unequivocally demonstrate that commercial publishing does not necessarily represent the best writing that is available. (12) Comments  / [ 03/20/06 ]

$1 Indian Pirate Radio

» Fabulous. Read about the illiterate Indian mechanic who constructed a radio transmitter for $1, and now runs his village's only (illegal) FM radio station. "Since there's no phone-in facility, people send their requests for songs through couriers carrying handwritten messages and phone calls to a neighbouring public telephone office." (via rw [ 03/03/06 ]

Understanding WarioWare

» What WarioWare can teach us about game design. "In a sense, WarioWare is an Understanding Comics of video games: a text that uses the representational strategies of a medium to reflect upon that same medium. But where Understanding Comics is discourse on comics, written in the language of comics, Wario Ware is more like Chuck Jones's meta-cartoon Duck Amuck. WarioWare and Duck Amuck violate convention, and in doing so draw attention to how cartoons and games are both constructed and interpreted."  [ 03/01/06 ]

The rise of niche DVD clubs

» Further evidence of the balkanization of American culture: the rise of DVD clubs that cater to niche audiences. It works for book clubs, why not film? "Basically, we just noticed that within the [Conservative Book Club] we were selling more DVDs. [...] Our long-term goal is to sell product, but also to be a place where conservative filmmakers know that they can market their wares." Jeff Rubin, head of the Conservative DVD Club.  [ 02/27/06 ]

New KFC commercial rewards DVRs

» Brilliant. A new KFC commmercial rewards DVR users, who can only crack a hidden message if they play the spot back slowly on a digital video recorder or VCR. As it was and ever will be, businesses who can exploit opportunities inherent in new technology will thrive; businesses who spend their time trying to turn back the clock, not so much.  [ 02/27/06 ]

Tech industry: Make your own entertainment to share

» Why doesn't the tech industry create its own content and tell Hollywood to stuff their Digital Rights Management schemes?. It all makes sense to me except for the repeated use of the word "fab", which may mean a semiconductor plant [ 02/22/06 ]

Selling political agendas

» Holy.... During a commercial break in the counter-terrorism television thriller "24", viewers saw a commercial questioning the wisdom of "weakening" the Patriot Act. "The producers of this ad are playing off fictional fears to create pressure for their point of view on legislative reality. I think it's unique." Peter Hart, a Democratic-leaning pollster.

It's brilliant. It seems unethical. It certainly reduces an important and very complex problem to a simple marketing scheme. If I agreed with their position, I might be less troubled by this. And I'll bet it's the wave of the future. (1) Comments  / [ 02/17/06 ]

Bush New Media Rules

» PressThink: Dick Cheney Did Not Make a Mistake By Not Telling the Press He Shot a Guy. Rosen has this nailed.   [ 02/17/06 ]

Power Law Action in Hitmaking

» A new study suggests that social feedback has a profound effect on the popularity of a song.

Participants who could see how often a song had been downloaded tended to give higher ratings to songs that had been downloaded often, and were more likely to download those songs themselves. That created a snowball effect, catapulting a few songs to the top of the charts and leaving others languishing.
The researchers divided the socially influenced group (which could see the download information) into eight different "worlds", so that only the downloading decisions within that world were visible. [...I]n one world, a Milwaukee pop punk band called 52Metro were stars, reaching number 1 in the download charts. In another world they were losers, ranked 40 out of 48.

This, of course, is the complaint bloggers have always had about the "democratic" nature of blogging and the power of A-list popularity.  [ 02/10/06 ]

Artistshare lets fans finance the work

» Artistshare has developed a new music business model that allows artists to build and manage their fanbase, and to monetize their "creative process" by enlisting the help of their fans and involving them in the creative process. In 2005, ArtistShare produced the first Grammy-winning recording with internet-only distribution.

The creative process is delivered to the fans through the Participant Offers. These Participant Offers are specifically tailored to the Artist’s fan base and include unique opportunities for the fan to witness the creative process of their favorite artist. This creates a myriad of product possibilities for the Artist as well as a very personal experience for the fan.

Meta sells. (via c'ist [ 02/10/06 ]

Ads = Brain Control

» Researchers did MRIs of 5 subjects watching Superbowl ads and found that the best ones stimulate the brain’s empathy and reward centers. (via c'ist [ 02/08/06 ]

The right to be irresponsible

» Three quotes I agree with:

"What brings more prejudice against Islam? These caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?" Jihad Momani, editor of a Jordanian newspaper, responding to controversy surrounding the publication in Europe of 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
"The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let's see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons." Farid Mortazavi, the graphics editor for a Tehran newspaper, announcing an international cartoon contest about the Holocaust.
"Would Americans be no less outraged at a mocking cartoon of Martin Luther King (say, in some stereotyped Watermelon-eating pose) or Jesus as many Muslims around the world are at the Danish cartoons?" Josh Marshall, considering where he stands on the whole situation.

The Christian Science Monitor has a good timeline of the furor over the Danish cartoons, including Jyllands-Posten's rationale for commissioning them.

Me? Free speech, blah blah blah. Cultural sensitivity, blah blah blah. For me, the question comes down to editorial value. The editor at Jyllands-Posten had, in my opinion, a reasonable aim. However, reprints based on "my right to caricature God" and "my right to blaspheme" are childish at best. Why not defend your "right to further inflame an already explosive situation"? I call it irresponsible journalism.

Of course you have the right to be offensive. So what? Publish a hard-hitting investigative report that will put your relationship with those in power in jeopardy, and then come back and talk to me about the importance of this principle. (5) Comments  / [ 02/07/06 ]



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