The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

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March 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I never thought I would never think

As the digital clock clicked 10 p.m. last night, one of my African-American colleagues stared at the screen in open wonder.

Clyde Bentley in another life

Clyde Bentley in another life

“I never thought it would happen in my lifetime.”

Many of us shared that emotion when the networks declared it was all over and Barrack Obama would become America’s first president of color. But strangely, what flashed through my mind was how often I had heard that phrase.

I think the first time was when as a first-grader sat before a wood-cabineted-but-fuzzy B&W TV to watch the inauguration of the Boeing 707. I still remember a man who had traveled by covered wagon telling a reporter how amazed he was at what had happened in his lifetime.

And since then I’ve heard it again and again. Pocket-sized transistor radios. Man on the moon. Color TV. Cure for polio. A global communicator in every pocket or purse.

Technology moves so quickly now that we say “I never thought I would see that in my lifetime” with a grin and a perfunctory shake of the head. We simply expect technology to amaze.

But I’m saddened that people seldom realize that the breakthroughs in the social world spawn those technological wonders. We instead think of technology molding our society.

Would jet travel have become common without a commercial airline system in both executives and factory workers could share traveler’s impatience? Would we have put a man on the moon without universal education that freed the intellect of even the mechanic’s son? And that special drive to be so human – to be in constant contact with others. Gene Roddenberry recognized it; the cell phone pioneers made it so.
In my lifetime, the power of American justice gave Black students the right to study among people who looked like me. And often to show they were both brighter than me and better suited to lead. My soldier father – raised in a family of bigots — expressed his new norm – “All soldiers are just green.”
And that’s the beauty of today. Obama was not elected because or despite his color but because King’s dream that people will be judge by the content of their character is finally a normal expectation of American life.

Our “breakthroughs” will continue – changes in the definition of “private,” a re-evaluation of what constitutes “home” or “family” or “that one,” a new sense of “now.”

We tech watchers will follow with accolades with the resulting inventions. I may never have thought it would happen in my lifetime, but I certainly will not be surprised if it does.

November 5, 2008 Posted by | Clyde Bentley | Leave a comment

News, commentary and nightmares

My recurring nightmare is back. I’m in front of a large and irritable crowd trying to explain what “news” is. They keep talking about Bill O’Reilly. When I try to clarify the term, they bring up Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh.

I can’t take it! What is the world coming to?

Clyde Bentley

Clyde Bentley

But when the night sweats ended and the morning’s coffee cleared my head, I started to wonder if the world is just coming to new reality I helped create.

Tuesday I attended an interesting lecture by media watchdog Jennifer Pozner. Pozner is the passionate critic of the press who heads Women in Media and News. Although she could use an editor to keep her from wandering off the point, Pozner did a very good job of demonstrating how the talking heads on television have strayed even farther off track by turning the political debate into a trivial discussion of hair-dos, cleavage and how black is black.

I heartily agree with her observation and am an equally passionate advocate of media literacy education to help citizens sort the seed of news from the chaff of commentary. Continue reading

October 16, 2008 Posted by | Clyde Bentley | , , | Leave a comment

Research for the Newsroom 10.16.08

Clyde Bentley

Sports fans with cash, the unsuspected impact of broadband and words you can count (if not count on) head the research reports this fortnight. And then there is that rumor of bad news for Twitter…

– – –

Clyde Bentley
Print & Digital News
Missouri School of Journalism

Who’s on first: Media Life Research produced a fascinating profile of American sports fans this fall. Fans of any sport tend to have high levels of education – 29 percent have college degrees compared to 16 percent of non-fans. Predictably they are more likely male (53%), but have higher income than non-fans. They are more likely to be political moderates than non-fans, half are married, they are much more interested in international events and like to take risks and fix mechanical things.
The report also ranks various sports by demographics. Golf fans are oldest, hockey has the fewest minority fans. It is a good read for both editors and marketers.

Eyes on video: As with other online news content, the biggest challenge facing newspapers as they expand the use of video is finding a workable business model. Media economist Robert Picard, writing in INMA’s Ideas magazine, said news organization face a rising demand for video tempered by rapidly changing technology and a faltering ad-based budget.

Picard said 90 percent of newspapers now offer video on their sites and approximately two-thirds accept consumer-generated video. But Picard says news video has its best value if it is original rather thansyndicated. The primary value of video is not monetary, but an enhancement of the news business.

Continue reading

October 16, 2008 Posted by | Clyde Bentley | Leave a comment

NowPublic does citJ the right way

I probably should be more worried about NBC than I am, but I’m just happy someone noticed my little blog. I received a message the other day through Flickr that someone wanted to post my photo of Tina Fey posing as Sarah Palin on NowPublic. The photo is really just a screen capture from the SNL sketch. That’s why I’m a little worried, but as I told NowPublic, what could NBC possibly take from me?

The reason I’m most excited, however, is I learned about a new site that’s doing a lot of what I’m trying to preach in my research and in my classes. I probably should have known about NowPublic before. Time magazine named NowPublic one of its top 50 Web sites in 2007. It’s a world-wide citizen journalism venture based in Vancouver, B.C. and like NewsVine or Digg, it allows users to flag stories from the traditional media, blogs, or even Flickr accounts, they think are important.

What I think makes NowPublic different and what I appreciate about the site based on my brief experience, is the site seems to have a commitment to big J journalism. First off, NowPublic didn’t have to ask for permission to use my photo. It’s on Flickr, and I’m smart enough to know that everything on Flickr is fair game. Just ask the poor girl whose pictures became part of a Virgin Mobile ad campaign. The Creative Commons License only requires sites to give the author credit.

Second, and more importantly, NowPublic seems like it has found a way to convey the importance of factual reporting and dedication to hard work and fact-finding to the average person without the conceipt normally espoused by the professional journalist. I really like this page, that features the site’s editors top tips. I love how they start with “Reporting is an adventure,” and end with tips on interviewing. I think I’m going to have my students in online journalism click on the “If You Are Totally Stuck for a Story, Take a Walk” link because it’s such good advice for anyone.

In addition to the conversational nature of the site’s journalism “training”, its stated mission makes me want to contribute:

At NowPublic, we have a very simple definition of news: “News is new information on current events.” In our experience that’s what people look for when they’re looking for news – whether they’re buying a paper or searching the web. Your news will likely fit into one of three kinds of story:

  1. Your eyewitness account: Original, relevant information about a current event that you have actually witnessed, documented, or researched;
  2. New information: bits of information you have collected, arranged, tied together and put into a context in relation to a current event;
  3. Commentary: your advice or analysis directly related to a current event.

Students struggle so much with defining news. They seem to watch to attach value judgments, such as what’s important or what promotes democracy, to it, when really I think news is a lot closer to what NowPublic has described. I’m going to keep my eye on NowPublic, not just because the site asked to use my picture. I’m watching it because I’m hopeful the site can fulfill its mission of making the news more accessible to us all.

October 10, 2008 Posted by | Hans Meyer | | 1 Comment

Not the finest day

A false report on CNN’s iReport that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had been rushed to the hospital after a heart attack was taken down yesterday, but the damage was done. Apple’s stock dropped sharply on the “news” and now the SEC could potentially get involved to figure out if there was market manipulation here.

This is a good example of why you need editor gatekeepers in the process. They need to have a light touch, but on news this big you need verification. And it should have been easily verifiable. We preach that here at Missouri, and others in the industry do this as well.

What this should not be is “evidence” that citizen journalism doesn’t work. HIstory tells us that the early days of professional journalism encountered similar problems with inaccuracy or outright fraud. Any new enterprise requires some trial and error here, and it would be inaccurate to say that participatory media has no future because of the exploits of one fool.

October 3, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Research for the Newsroom 10.2.08

Cell phones are big, but the Blogosphere is bigger. While Technorati’s report on the Web’s wunderkind is enough to keep you reading for weeks, the fortnight’s useful reports ran the gamut from simple snooping to a phone that may change your TV to the not-so-funny papers. Clyde

Missouri School of Journalism

Clyde Bentley Missouri School of Journalism

State of the Blogosphere: Technorati released its eagerly awaited benchmark of the blogging world in a massive and highly detailed format for 2008. Posted in chapters over five days, it offers a compendium of Web research from the demographics of bloggers to the content they provide to the rise of commerce in the blogosphere. Some highlights:
• Technorati has indexed 133 million blogs since 2002. The 2008 count was in 81 languages from 66 countries.
• While not all blogs stay active, Technorati’s engines noted 7.4 million blogs that posted in the 120 before the study, 1.5 million that posted in the 7 days before and 900,000 that posted in the previous 24 hours.
• 48% of the bloggers are from North America, 27% from Europe and 13% from Asia.
• By surveying a sample of U.S., European and Asian bloggers, Technorati found 66% globally are male and half are 18-34. But in the U.S., 57% are male and only 42% are 18-34.
• 74% of surveyed U.S. bloggers have college degrees and half have incomes of more than $75,000. Professional blogs beat out corporate and personal blogs in both visitors and revenue.
• A stunning 52% of U.S. bloggers sampled reported they carry advertising on their blogs with median annual revenue of $200 and more than $75,000 for blogs with 100,000 or more visitors per month.
• While three quarters of bloggers globally cover three or more topics, personal/lifestyle content is most popular (54%). Technology takes second with 46%.
• For better or worse, news is the third most popular identifiable topic – 42% of blogs. Politics are discussed on 35% of blogs. Sincere and conversational writing styles are most popular, with confrontational/snarky at a minimum.
The report goes into detail on the time and monetary investment in blogging, the issue of anonymity and how revenue is generated, among other items. It’s a must-read for anyone who “lives” on the Web.

“Reporting” on Palin? – Hackers used a simple process known as social engineering to gain access to vice presidential candidate Sara Palin’s Yahoo Mail account. Social engineering is similar to some investigative reporting. Yahoo, like most e-mail services, allows you to recover a forgotten password by answering pre-determined questions about yourself. Social engineer hackers use Web sources to guess the answers.
It took 15 seconds to get Palin’s birthday on Wikipedia and there are only two ZIP codes in Wasilla, AK. The security question about where she met her spouse took a bit of searching and guessing by CNET testers, but “Wasilla High” worked.

Attack of the Droid – T-Mobile’s G-1 phone powered by Google and backed up by Amazon is hot news in the tech world. But the real significance for the media world is the software that powers the phone: Android.
The new Google operating system gives the G-1 most of the common smartphone capabilities, but its power is aimed more at the Web experience than e-mail or voice phone. Observers say the browser on the G-1 gives the iPhone a run for the money.
Android may also change the way all cell phones are marketed. Unlike Microsoft or Palm operating system, Android is compatible with all the major phones systems and chips. Android phones for other cell carriers are expected soon – while the iPhone is tied to a five-year exclusive with AT&T. The opportunity is there for the European marketing system that sells unlocked phones that let the user pick the carrier.

Continue reading

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Clyde Bentley | | Leave a comment

Twitter, funeral coverage can work together

I know I’m a little late on this one, but I had to say something because one of the hardest things

Hans K. Meyer

Hans K. Meyer

I was ever asked to do as a reporter was to cover a funeral. I covered plenty of them in my career, and I always worried that I was intruding on a private family moment. I even photographed the service of the former Mayor of Barstow who died young from cancer, and I felt so conspicuous standing at the back of the chapel, wielding a bulky digital camera with a large telephoto lens.

Despite my fears, however, I was always surprised at how well received and appreciated our coverage was. Families told me the newspaper helped the grieving process with their published tributes. Friends remarked how nice it was to know what happened even if they couldn’t be here. I came to realize that funeral coverage, especially of those people who had already been prominently featured, was a vital public service the newspaper should offer as long as it was done with respect.

I’m not sure what to think about the controversy surrounding the Rocky Mountain News’ decision to cover the funeral of a young boy who died when a truck smashed into an ice cream store. Too much of the criticism I think has been focused on the technology the reporter used to cover the service – Twitter – and not enough has been focused on its intent. Twitter should not be summarily dismissed as a viable tool for journalists, even for those covering funerals, but both journalists and audiences need to understand its advantages and limitations to use it most effectively. Continue reading

October 1, 2008 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

Research for the newsroom 9.25.08

For some time I have gathered research and technology reports and translated them into usable notes for the editors at the Columbia Missourian. I will start sharing them here so other may them useful. Look for the report about every two weeks.

Clyde Bentley

Them vs. them vs. us dominated the media research discussion lists in the past fortnight. Here’s a digest of research

and related information of use to the folks in the news trenches.

Mobile society: A seminar at the NAA Marketing Conference focused on the impact of cell phones on surveys, but there is news there for us also. Among the statistics:
• One-in-eight U.S. adults is cell-only
• The cell-only population is demographically different from landliners. While 12.6% of the general population is mobile-only, 29.1% of 18-29-year-olds are.
• 40% of landliners surveyed said they read a newspaper yesterday, but only 27% of cell phone folks did. On the flip side, 8% of landliners read a local Web newspaper, but 12% of the mobile did.
• You actually can call cell phones for a survey and even telemarket to them — but the law requires that you manually dial the number. That aces out most automated researchers and marketers – for now.

Check out the presentation and the report.
Also, Nielsen this week pegged the wireless household rate at 17% and predicted it would hit 20% by year-end. A curious link found by Nielsen: Cutting the cord and moving your household.
So much for multi-tasking: A Mediamark study challenges the common notion that newspaper are distracted by TV, radio, etc. The study indicated 55% of adults who read at home do so without the involvement of other media. It is 54% for magazines, 54% for Internet, 49% for TV and 28% for radio.
On the cover: The September Presstime from NAA cover feature is on journalism schools, focusing on Mizzou. The headline is “Mind the Gap” and the issue is the synchronization of what we teach and what the industry needs.
On the air: A number of papers are experimenting with CoverItLive, software that allows one to post live text, video and audio from the newsroom via computer or from the field via iPhone or Blackberry.

The Rochester Post-Bulletin archives show what the software can do.

Traditional vs. Online audiences: The Readership Audience reviewed the Pew study on audiences, noting that 46% of U.S. adults rely almost exclusively on traditional media, 23% use traditional as the main source but supplement it with online, 13 percent use the Web as the main source and 14% appear to live in caves. ‘Even after almost 15 years of online news, Traditionalists make up half the adult population. Those of us who fall into the Integrator or Net-Newser segments sometimes forget how many people still use news media the way they always have,” notes Rich Gordon of Northwestern. But, he said, those folks are unlikely to change their habits, so we can logically focus our new initiatives at the one-eighth of adults who are Web-centric. It’s a good read.

“Cutting” edge: Attempting to do to e-readers what the Razr did to cell phones, Plastic Logic introduced a black/white device about the thickness (and size) of a magazine.

Different Moms, different Web: Gen Y and Gen X mothers use the Web in significantly different child rearing ways, NewMediaMetrics found. The older Gen X (dob 1965-1981) uses the Web for task-oriented activities like uploading photos or shopping. The Millennial Gen Y (1982-1994) moms uses the Web to connect to other mothers (blogs, video-sharing, online communities). They also like to use their mobile phones to text message and send photos to friends.

On the smaller side: The Suburban Newspapers of America announced its 2008 Newspapers of the Year winners. This list is a good place to see what relatively well-funded smaller newspapers do. At a centennial workshop, the suburban and community papers said circulation was generally up and this year’s losses were only about 3%. They are looking at a profitable 2009.
• Non-Dailies, Up to 10,000 Circulation — The Riverdale Press, Richner Communications
• Non-Dailies, 10,001-22,500 Circulation — Coast Reporter, Madison Publishing, Ltd./Glacier Media Group
• Non-Dailies, 22,501-37,500 Circulation –The Chilliwack Progress, Black Press, Ltd.
• Non-Dailies, Over 37,500 Circulation –The Era Banner, Metroland Media Group, Ltd.
• Dailies, Under 30,000 Circulation — The Beacon News, Sun-Times News Group
• Dailies, Over 30,000 Circulation –Arizona Daily Star, Lee Enterprises, Inc.

The St. Louis American was second in non-dailies over 37,500. In the Missourian’s size, the Beacon News of the Chicago Sun-Times group ( ) has an interesting way of displaying blogs. One of the common traits of all the winners’ Web pages: Pictures of kids.

September 25, 2008 Posted by | Clyde Bentley | , | Leave a comment

Doctors, blogs and disasters

Ralph Kurtenbach makes a Doubting Thomas’ argument for blogging on his blog, A Box of Curtains.  He, like others in our profession, was suspicious of citizen jouralism.  But when doctors blogged from disaster sites, he revisited his notions.

September 10, 2008 Posted by | Clyde Bentley | Leave a comment