The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

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

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

Newspapers don’t need Mariotti

Jay Mariotti is a genius! I don’t know how he did it, but he realized something no one else has figured out yet. News, and especially sports news, he said is moving to the INTERNET! Wow, why didn’t I realize that?

Oh wait, I did, along with hundreds of other people. But that’s not my big beef with Mariotti’s sudden departure from the Chicago Sun-Times. I hadn’t even heard about it until today when a good friend told me about it. (Thanks David!) What really gets me is Mariotti’s audacity in how he announced his resignation. Newspapers may not be the medium of the future, but if Mariotti really cared about sports journalism, I don’t think he’d be so eager to jump from a sinking ship. Continue reading

August 28, 2008 Posted by | Hans Meyer | , , , | Leave a comment

Keeping up with the bloggers

Thinking in the sunI have a confession to make, and I’m not proud to do it. My wife is a better blogger than me. Yes, my wife, who writes about how she hates blogging, posts far more frequently than I ever had, even when I had to blog for a class. In fact, I think my wife is exposing me for what I am – a cold intellectual who can talk the talk but not walk the walk.OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but she has definitely taught me two lessons about blogging that both I and media professionals need to hear. First, blogs thrive on constantly updated content, whether it’s a short blurb about your kids or a breaking news item. Second, we are naive if we think blog writing and reading are exclusively the domain of the pseudo-intellectual, politically active news junkie. Just looking at the blogroll on my wife’s blog alone shows that average people are making and renewing lasting connections through frequent online posts.For newspapers to truly embrace their audiences online, they could learn a thing or two from the vibrant community to which my wife now belongs.  Continue reading

August 3, 2008 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

The Web on a cell phone? A dialogue

The Cyberbrains had the following discussion over e-mail the last few days (I know, we are so old school.) It all started when Clyde asked how Web pages looked on an iPhone and evolved into a treatise on the viability of the mobile web. It included Cyberbrains Clyde Bentley, Joe Kokenge, Jeremy Littau, Deborah Mason, and me, Hans K. Meyer. It’s kind of long, but we thought it pretty profound and appropriate for this forum, so we’re posting it here in its entirety in a point-counterpoint format. We hope it makes sense, and more importantly makes you think about why people use their cell phones, the Internet and when they use them together.

CLYDE: AT&T seems to have increased the operating speed of its cellular Web connection recently. I’ve just started reading a few papers on my Treo because it is now fast and easy. Today I read the NY Times, the Columbia Tribune and the Missourian.

The Times is great. It is only slightly slower than reading on my laptop. The Trib has some layout problems, but eventually reformats and does a pretty good job with color photos and stories. The Missourian is problematic. It immediately tried to download 160 MB of homepage. That homepage started as a big block of headers and navigation links. When it reformatted, it put half the page in big black blocks with purple type.

I had not read our version of the Taser story, but had read Tom’s e-mail on my phone. I read the story on the home page, then it gave me a sidebar link the the “Captain says..”, but that turned out to be the same story.

When I scrolled down to the bottom of the page, the ads went a bit crazy. I’ll keep playing with this, partly because I’m now addicted. BTW, on the Treo the type reformats to one column wide and about 12 point, with 14-point bold headlines. Very readable. The photos have good color. Haven’t tried the video links.

Can someone tell me how the page looks on an iPhone?

JEREMY: Digmo surfs OK on my iPod Touch, not sure how similar the tech is to what the iPhone offers. The page does load slower than I expected though.

CLYDE: You are using WiFi. Most phones use cell web. We need to get more tests on that.

JEREMY: Ah, then yes, very different. I know very little about cell web, as I don’t sleep with my Blackberry like Hans. 🙂

HANS: Ok, I do not sleep with my Blackberry. Actually, I broke it, so thanks Jeremy for bringing up a very painful memory!

From what I understand, Blackberries and Treos have native software that truncates pages so they’ll fit on the smaller screen. Most of the major sites include code that interacts with this truncation software to make the sites look good. Smaller web pages do not. For example, I could see ESPN great on my Blackberry, but not MyMissourian or DigMo.

Apple uses entirely different software that tries to replicate the same page you’d see on your Apple desktop. It doesn’t truncate (whether connected on wifi or cellularly). The bugaboo I’ve heard on iPhones is sometimes the zooming feature doesn’t work, but all web pages should display fine.

Here’s an article that makes the distinctions better than I could.

By the way, I’d argue with you against young people using their cell phones to access the Internet. The old interfaces were so bad that all you could do was download a ringtone or see some news headlines. The only people I ever seen on the Internet have an iPhone, but that’s half the campus now.

JOE: Hans, I’m with you there. Surfing the net on a phone is really only worthwhile if you have an iPhone. Unless there’s some new fangled cellphone model out there that I don’t know about. It’s funny too, why can I get Internet almost everywhere on an iPhone but I still have to “find” wireless with my laptop. Ridiculous. If they can do it on a phone, they sure as heck could do it on my computer. And even if your download speeds are awesome, using an iPhone to actually do stuff on the Web is a pain. I mean how much can you actually do for how long on a screen the size of a tarot card. I want free wireless everywhere on my computer. That’s what I want.

CLYDE: Whoa! There are plenty of cell phones out there that are great Web platforms. Actually, the iPhone is a latecomer to that genre. Nokia, Sony-Erickson and Samsung have been turning out high-quality Web browsers for years. We don’t know about them because our phone system just reached the level that it can actually do the Web work.

We stayed 2G (second generation) long after Europe and Asia moved to 3G.

Now Asia is evolving into 4G, which allows good TV reception. The high speed that AT&T offered over the last two years was actually 2.5G. But 3G came up a few months ago, significantly increasing the speed of download.

IPhones get their Web reputation from using WiFi, which is also available from most other phone manufacturers. But WiFi is seldom available if you are mobile. It requires that you go to an identifiable place and keep there while you are connected. Not very handy.

Mobile Web, on the other hand, uses the telephone’s own system. It is far more predominate than mobile WiFi – even my $15 AT&T Go Phone could access the Web. I will bet a cup of coffee that your own phone has Web access, Joe.

My major use is to access Google Maps when I am on the road. Works great. I also look up products when I am shopping and read the Times while in waiting rooms.

Readability on phones is not bad, especially if the site is reformatted. Even the Missourian formats into one column for reading. One column on a phone is about the same width and type size as a column in the newspaper.

It’s pretty easy to read. It’s quite amazing how much you can do on that screen. The Treo has a stylus, which I find is much more accurate than my fat fingers.

The New York Times and others format so that the headlines, photos and sidebars are easily read. They go without the annoying design “button” text that take up so much space on the Missourian.

Your desire for universal wireless has some limitations, Joe. It would take WiMax to give you enough range to even walk around town. WiMax, however, does not use the same frequency as WiFi. I understand the next iPhone will have WiMax capacity, but so far you need to get a special modem for your computer to make it work. And buy a subscription (no free lunch with WiMax).

Don’t short those little phones. There are millions and millions of them out there and the phone companies are making a big push to get folks to use their Web browsers.

You can find out about 4G, WiMax, here.

Here is a review of 5 great phones. Here is a peek at what is happening in Asia:

And if you are still confused, here is an interesting piece on how mobile phones differ in the European and U.S. cultures.

HANS: This is a discussion we should be having on the Cyberbrains. I’m well aware of the phones that offer Internet. My free Motorola V70 offers Internet as well, but c’mon Clyde, can you use it?

You made the exact same point on your tryout of the Nokia N90. It’s just not functional enough for more than occasionally looking up directions, texting or downloading a ringtone. I don’t have any hard and fast research to back this up (and I think we should do some) but I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that Web use on ANY phone is limited. I remember when a certain professor got an iPhone last year about this time and I had to help her set most of it up.

I think what we are really talking about here is diffusal of innovations theory. No matter how many cool gizmos and capabilities phones offer, everyone except the early adopters will only use what they need it for. How many people actually need Internet 24/7, OK besides you and me.

Don’t know why I’m so fired up about this. I guess I just missed the other cool discussions you guys were having.

JEREMY: Another point is you have to pay for those super great phones. iPhones have some social cachet, I can’t even name another slick Web surfing phone. When in doubt, I want the free phone, and that usually doesn’t do all the big stuff of the others.

Truthfully, when I think of my phone, I don’t think of it as a web device. I don’t even text message that much with it. I know in other countries like South Korea the phone is more central, but I don’t see it being used for the Web a lot in everyday life here in Columbia unless it’s an iPhone.

JEREMY: I’ve heard you make a good point about South Korea in particular, that it is a commuter culture more suited for reading material in a mobile way. In the U.S., that has translated to newspaper use because our subways aren’t really great for being wired or getting phone reception all of the time. So perhaps if it takes off stateside, it could happen in commuter culture (of which we will all be members in two years when gas hits $20 per gallon).

The one caution I would make is that technology isn’t what changes society, it’s how we use it that changes society. The use of a killer app in one culture might have little use in another, or they might use it differently.

We saw with OhMyNews that citizen journalism as they experienced it was very, very different than ours. The web surfing technology looks damn cool (if my iPod is any indication), but there has to be cultural reasons to adopt it. I have surfed the web with my iPod something like 5 times in the six months I’ve had it. Four of those times were in the first two weeks after I got it. I have yet to figure out its utility for me (interestingly, it has little to do with finding a hotspot) even if the technology is pretty cool to me.

Apple seems to have found a way with the iPhone, combining a lot of essential features into one product. Maybe I’d surf more on my phone if I had one. But to be honest, beyond the cost I don’t want to shell out that much a month for service. To me, the latter (phone plus data monthly fees, according to /. those will run about $110 per month) is probably the big barrier for entry to me, and I’m sure it is to a lot other potential adopters. Oh my god, I think I’m a cheapskate.

But on a serious note, I agree there are a lot of research avenues here.

CLYDE: This is a good discussion and could lead to good research. I wonder what people do with their phones other than talk on them? Do they take photos? Do they listen to music (most new phones have some MP3)? Do they Web surf?

Part of what I was pointing out in that European article is that we “assume” a phone is not a Web tool. The Europeans and Asians do. Now we have 3G, we may also. It makes a BIG difference. But right now only Apple is taking advantage of that.

JOE: Clyde, thanks for the articles. I will check them out. Jeremy, I remember reading this article about cell phone novels in Japan. These become actual bestsellers, on paper even, but they start out pecked out on a cell phone. I thought of that as a fun example of the print/web intersection. And, it really argues against my complaining that I can’t do work on a mobile device, which I would love to do instead of driving. My phone is ancient, though, and maybe that’s the problem. If I had media money to invest, though, I would put as much as I could in a mobile browsing technologies and ways to get cool content on it.

Cross my fingers and hope for a house in Brentwood. It’s going there eventually. (As for me in Brentwood, that’s more of a long shot.)

CLYDE: By the way, if you push AT&T you can get a Web bargain. I pay $19.99 a month for unlimited Web and 200 messages a month. It is called Media Max 200 and is not advertised. I added it to get my MU e-mail via the Palm VersaMail program. All I do is hit “sync” and it updates my mail and calendar. But now I am using the Web more and more.

When I temporarily had another phone, I just used Webmail. I still do that with my G-mail account. Works like a charm.

Now the biggie:

How are we going to get this discussion onto our blog? Should we just copy the thread in order and plug it in? Or somehow summarize it. It is too good to leave behind in an inbox.

DEBRA: OK, I am a Mac snob but I will say that while there are many phones that offer web surfing, etc., there is a look and feel and “fun” element of the iphone that certainly was not matched by my highly utilitarian Blackberry. I can’t keep my kids away from my iphone. True, there will be imitators quick enough, but even though there are imitators to the ipod nothing comes close in sales. It’s not just the “fun” element of the Ipod, but it’s a combination w/ the easily accessible and reasonably priced content on the itunes stores. Content and device, I think.

So what is it about these devices that go beyond functionality to make the device part of the entertainment. That is what matters to my 15-year-old.

JOE: Debra, I agree. Not that this is about age, (and I don’t mean anything by that) I just realized that at my age and social position now, I feel the reason of practicality and the pull of the “shiny and slick.” I always would have liked to work from a mobile device but never thought about buying a Blackberry. But I would think about buying an iphone, when, it appears, the functionality is more or less the same.

But, there’s no reason why utilitarian shouldn’t be sexy and fun, other than the designers were too lazy to make “x” utilitarian, sexy and fun. And, newswise, I say that’s the bar that’s been set for any product. At least when it comes to young people. Like Slate.com is the New York Times for college age kids who actually read. And, sad to say, I think what makes something sexy and fun is marketing, at least in part. The iphone design is super-cool and slick. But so are those 80 foot billboards in Times Square and looming over the corner of Sunset and Vine. How does that slogan go, “Advertising is the fuel of a free press?”

JEREMY: One other thought I have is that Debra is describing a sense of cultural cachet that goes with owning one of these, but is that the realm of early adopters or something that drives the diffusion of innovation? To me it would seem that if you’re not dealing with the volatile teen/tween market, then cool and hip aren’t selling points so much as utility. I find myself thinking that if Apple will continueto have success with the iPhone, they’ll have to sell its features and uses more than its social hipness.

It’s the same reason I don’t own a riding mower; I think it’d be fun to own one and ride around, but I don’t have a lawn. And what’s thepoint of owning a Prius if you don’t drive very much? As much as I want to think these situations are classic laggard behavior, I think that’s more rooted in the rational self-interest of capitalistic market behavior. I think Hans is right that D of I theory has some anchors in this discussion.

By the way, it occurs to me that what Clyde has been posting on is the media dependency side of U&G theory, where I am more talkingabout the utility and needs gratified side of it. Theoretically speaking, we’re talking the same language even if we are disagreeing in plain terms.

This discussion is making me feel old. We need to stop that.

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Clyde Bentley, From The Cyberbrains, Hans Ibold, Hans Meyer, Jeremy Littau, Joe Kokenge | Leave a comment

The New York Times as a digital playground

I’ve always agreed the New York Times is the standard bearer for American Hans and the Timesjournalism. I’ve just never thought it lead the pack in online convergence. I remember some of the great old lady of journalism’s first online forays seemed amateurish. I worried that like, say Gannett, the Times’ editors were simply giving their reporters a digital video camera and audio recorder and telling them to go nuts.

But I must admit the multi-media offerings at the Times have certainly improved, and now that they have put TimesSelect out of it misery, access is universal. But a good friend and fellow cyberbrain made me realize how far the Times’ greatest online innovations may not have anything to do with Nicholas Kristof’s videos or David Pogue’s tech reviews.

Brian Hamman, who helped found MyMissourian when he was a Mizzou graduate student, now works in the Times’ new media department, and in a visit to his alma mater two weeks ago, he showed the Times not only is starting to get that people want something different than the print edition online, but also that its leaders are embracing openness and creativity in bringing the best information in the world to readers’ homes.

Continue reading

November 6, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

‘Sphere’ of Influence

Despite their increased popularity and use, news organizations still struggle with how to handle blogs. Do you ignore or embrace them? Do you make all your reporters write Thinking in the sunone or do you rely instead on the blogs that are already out there? The best approach that media critics and scholars have suggested is finding a way to bring them all together, and I was surprised to see that CNN.com has embraced the cause. (See what I’m talking about here.)  Using an application created by Sphere, a start-up that has been around for a little more than a year, CNN is aggregating blog entries that are related to its news stories on the same page.  CNN is just one of the more than 1 million content providers Sphere claims is has partnered with.

My first question is why I have just noticed this. It’s a great idea. In fact, it’s something I’ve been pushing for a long time. Interactivity theory is based on bringing the audience and the news providers together. But I also have to ask if Sphere isn’t typical of how the traditional media has responsed to citizen content. Continue reading

September 26, 2007 Posted by | From The Cyberbrains, Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

Don’t cry for the Times

For about a year, I felt like I was the sports king of the world. I had just won my newspaper’s fantasy football league. The Denver Broncos had just beaten the favored Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl, and I could follow it all with my newhans-mug.jpg subscription to ESPN.com’s Insider package. Actually, I don’t think it was called Insider back in 1998, but it still gave me access to all the top columnists, the trade rumor mills, and the fantasy sports tip sheet all for $5 a month.

I don’t remember exactly why I canceled my account. Maybe it was bitterness over not making the fantasy playoffs the next year. Maybe it was just a one-year trial offer. (I’m notorious for signing up for those.) But I do know I’ve never really missed it. In fact, every time I click on an ESPN column and am rudely taken instead to the Insider page, I curse ESPN and wonder what kind of idiots actually pay for that junk.

It came as no surprise to me then that the New York Times decided to cancel its Times Select service after less than a year. Continue reading

September 19, 2007 Posted by | From The Cyberbrains, Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

Mourning an online friend

It has been a while since I started this post but I just can’t seem to get Kasper ‘TaZz’ Kataoka Sorensen off my mind. I never met TaZz. I doubt that I ever even talked to him online. TazzBut I joined an online community hungry for any news about him at all a few weeks ago when he never returned from a rock climbing expedition in Tasmania. His story and the outpouring of support from other people he probably never met reinforced to me the power the Internet has to forge lasting real world relationships. Continue reading

August 21, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

Learning to practice what I research

The unlikely bloggers – the guys like Ronny Abrovitz and Josh Marshall – have fascinated new hans mugme for a long time. I’ve often wondered what motivates someone like them to go out on a limb and what it’s like to become a minor celebrity for it.

At this year’s AEJMC convention, I might have found those answers. Bill Moyers’ keynote address inspired me enough to record some to share here, and I fear I might become an unlikely Internet celebrity after sleeping through a panel discussion that CSPAN was broadcasting. Continue reading

August 14, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment