The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Measuring the landscape

Last week at the AEJMC Convention in Chicago offered me a unique chance to get a feel for how new media is working its way into college program offerings. Because I am entering the final phase of my PhD program here at Missouri, I spent four-plus days during the convention interviewing for a number of jobs teaching new media. I purposely interviewed with programs of all shapes and sizes because I wanted the opportunity to see for myself where we are with all of this new media and journalism.

And the answer is: All over the place, and size doesn’t necessarily matter.

I talked with recruiters and professors from small schools who wanted a person who can innovate, big schools who wanted a person to teach entire courses on Dreamweaver, liberal arts colleges that were clinging to a model that saw the town newspaper as the big pipeline for students, and large research schools looking to blow up the model.

Some thoughts I take away:

Silos are still in: I was surprised to see the number of programs that still do convergence as a standalone program. I think I expected it to be more integrated across different platforms, especially at the smaller schools that require more versatile faculty. In talking about it with a faculty member at MU here today, they made a good point that I hadn’t considered: The industry hasn’t figured out what it needs or wants, so it’s tough to expect colleges to know what they need to do.

Skills vs. storytelling: The tension I saw over and over again was where the need to teach technology skills fits into the need for basic storytelling. One school wanted to teach all the hot tech things such as Flash, with little mention of how the journalism fits in. Regular readers of this blog probably know where I come down on this one, but I don’t see how teaching technology benefits students in the long run if it isn’t connected to storytelling. Technology still is merely a tool for storytelling in the hands of the journalist, and I’d rather teach students to think like journalists in relation to these tools so that they can focus on what is important when times change.

To blog or not to blog?: People who do curriculum are not always sure what to do with blogs in their program, whether to teach them as a publishing platform for the entrepreneurial journalist or as an outlet for news writing. My view is to do whatever you can with them, but make sure your students are blogging in every class. Blogging teaches so many good things (writing, editing, how hard it is to build an audience, etc.) that you literally could tap into different strengths with each course and still not cover them all.

College newspapers: Some of the smaller schools especially that have independent newspapers not part of the curriculum are having trouble convincing student editors of the need to get on the convergence train. So it is difficult for them to push innovation when they have no control over what the newspaper does and the platform it pursues. In makes me realize how lucky MU students here are because there are professional leaders in the newsroom to set the agenda for them.

All in all, an interesting week. I came away encouraged that schools on the whole are really thinking about this stuff, and I’m more encouraged when they’re wrestling with it rather than waiting around for the industry to solve the problem

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August 12, 2008 Posted by | Jeremy Littau | 1 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

Upgrading the old OS

“You must unlearn what you have learned”
Yoda

I’ve been conducting something of a study in individual change this summer, and somewhat by accident. Students in online MU’s masters program have been asking for a Web course version of Online Journalism, the course we teach here at MU. In our brick-and-mortar version, we teach social and participatory media, and as far as we know we’re still the only school in the country that teaches citizen media in the classroom.

For the online masters class, that wasn’t as possible. The program is stocked with working professionals trying to further their education and get a little more current on what’s driving the changes in the industry. We still do the theory-and-practice thing that is the Missouri Method, but rather than make them practice it we instead stress integration in their current work practice. Continue reading

July 27, 2008 Posted by | Jeremy Littau | Leave a comment

A prophecy fulfilled

While reviewing Dan Gillmor’s We The Media for my comprehensive exams, I came across an interesting prediction about the 2008 campaign.

Gillmor had just spent pages talking about the 2004 Howard Dean campaign, how his choice to open up the lines of conversation using Web tools helped fuel his rise from a nobody to the front runner by the end of 2003. The grassroots organization that happened via social networking became an engine for activism, volunteerism, and fund-raising.

While many looked at Dean’s subsequent implosion as a sign that all of the Web activity was merely a bubble, Gillmor rightly said those critics are off base. His fall from the top of the heap isn’t a sign the movement wasn’t sustainable; it was a sign that using interactivity on the Web can turn an unknown into a contender. What Gillmor noted is it takes the right kind of candidate to lead that kind of a movement. Dean wasn’t it, but they do exist.

Then he closes the discussion with this, written in 2005:

Open-source politics is about participation – financial as well as on the issues of policy and governance – from people on the edges. People all over the world work on small parts of big open-source software projects that create some of the most important and reliable components on the Internet; people everywhere can work on similarly stable components for a participatory political life in much more efficient ways than in the past. … A safe prediction: Net-savvy campaigning will be the rule by 2008, and it will be lower-level candidates who do the next wave of innovating.

Sound like anyone we know? It’s hard to believe, but a year ago Barack Obama was given no chance at the Democratic Party nomination. But I continue to believe one big reason for his success is he understood the Internet better than any other candidate. It isn’t just fundraising; his Web site is fully interactive and implements social networking tools that allow people to connect to one another. This allowed people “on the edges” (as composed to people at “power centers” who control all decisions; this is a big concept in Gillmor’s book) to get his message out. Eight years ago, it’s hard to imagine Obama finding success using the old template.

Crossposted at Creative Destruction

July 18, 2008 Posted by | Jeremy Littau | Leave a comment

Leading, not following

Jeremy LittauMark Cuban had an interesting post pertaining to the news media and blogging this past week. Cuban’s a sharp guy, he’s an entrepreneur who “gets it” when it comes to striking that balance between technology and content distribution. Plus he remade the Dallas Mavericks, maybe he can take over the LA Times next and make that thing work too.

He correctly diagnoses a big problem with media sites and blogs, in that they don’t seem to have a direction:

“Why. Why ? Why do you do what you do. Is it because:

  • You get paid to do it ?
  • Because you want to promote something or to promote yourself ?
  • Because you want to start a discussion ?
  • Because you want to communicate with customers, fans or ??
  • Because its a way to say whats on your mind ?
  • Because you want to make money from it ?
  • I’m sure there are other reasons to communicate on the web. What software you use, even whether you use video, text and/or pictures, really doesn’t matter.

What matters is why you do what you do.

I see this over and over again, both on content sites and in newsrooms I’ve been in (past and present). They tell a reporter one day they’re blogging, then leave them to figure out what that means. Oh, the technology is set up by the company, but determining the content? On your own, dude.

Clyde has already said before on this blog that journalists are afraid of too much commentary on their blogs, because having strong opinions might bump up too much against their strained notions of objectivity, and he’s right on that point. Many newspaper blogs I’ve read seem to be extensions of a reporter’s own reporting, stuff that doesn’t make it into the story. In doing this, news sites are falling into a trap, churning out blog material that pretty much mirrors what non-legacy media already are producting. Cuban sums it up nicely:

“If you are a blogger, and you work for a major media company, you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth. You are granted a platform with traffic. Thats the good news. The bad news is that you also have ratings. If you can’t hold your traffic or build upon it, you better hope you generate sufficient value in other places, or your days of publishing on the web may be numbered. For those of you who haven’t noticed, paid bloggers do come and go from media websites if they don’t produce. But wait, there is worse news.

The media companies that have traffic foundations and can dual purpose people so that they can publish off line and online come with their own set of problems. They are paddling as fast as they can to retain their offline businesses. Newspapers, to continue to use them as an example, are pushing as hard as they can to sell papers and retain advertisers. For those who think that a newspaper is just like a newsletter, you have never been a paperboy.”

And later …

“That is the endgame I see for newspapers that publish complimentary content on their website. You can call it blogging. You can even call it something else. The point I didnt make clear enough in my previous post, is that it has to be something else. No matter the quality of the writer, its just another stab at an audience in a medium where there are no barriers to entry. Its just one more example of the newspaper business following everyone else onto the web and doing exactly what everyone else is doing, but expecting they will be better because they are “The big paper”. Thats a huge mistake.”

Cuban’s post is worth reading, I just gave you the highlights. But by trying to keep a foot in both camps, a lot of people are starting to wonder if journalists are degrading the product. Just producing news content on a blog won’t cut it; that is being done by everyone else.

When I teach students here about how to blog for their job, I tell them to get out of the concept of reporting the news. And don’t do the “check out today’s issue for a story on such-and-such” posts either. Instead, consider the other things related to your beat (or even NOT related to your beat) that you can talk about:

  • The process of making the news. Apply some transparancy to enhance the story a person reads. What was it like to gather info for this behind the scenes?
  • Color material. What is a source like during an interview? Tell them details that are irrelevant to the story
  • Blog about things off your beat. What has your attention these days? What’s in your CD player? Doing this kind of thing humanizes the reporter (and this CAN’T be worse for credibility than the ivory tower mentality, could it?). It also is exactly the kind of commentary that makes blogs interesting.

The key seems to be to find a way to have your blogging job not cannibalize content the content from your regular job, but also to do it in a way that enhances your reporting, making the NEWS more valuable. In this manner, the blog is there to grab eyeballs and keep them there so they read the news, sort of a gateway drug for news use.

That would be my idea. I am curious what others think about Cuban’s post and how we can reimagine this thing.

March 22, 2008 Posted by | Jeremy Littau | 3 Comments

True citizen journalism

We had an interesting email come in the Powers That Be here at Mizzou the other day. It was from Vadim Gorelik, one of the people run the citizen journalism Web site Neaju, promoting the site’s work and some of their activities. A couple lines from an email exchange caught my attention (and emphasis is mine):

As a mentor to future journalists, I am certain you are aware of increasing profiteering and sensationalism that is increasingly dominating American journalism, often at the expense of the value we all hold near and dear to our hearts – journalistic integrity. It is for that reason that we’ve created the first true citizen journalism site on the Internet – http://www.Neaju.com.

The first “true” cit-j site. When our own Clyde Bentley wrote back and pointed out that OhMyNews has been online for, like, the whole millenium so far and that others (including MyMissourian) had been up since 2004 and beyond, the response was even more interesting.

I will take an issue with your reference to OhMyNews as a true citizen journalism site. Although they have been around for a long time, and is probably one of the most successful CJ efforts, they do exercise editorial control over their submissions, which I believe is stepping away from being true to the ideals of citizen journalism.

This is not meant to criticize those doing what they’re doing over at Neaju, but I believe that the sentiments expressed by Vadim get to the heart of a lot of debates we’re having in both the industry and academia about the citizen journalism phenomenon. Is it journalism? Is it news? Are they journalists or citizens doing journalism? What makes Timmy’s art class drawing journalism and not the latest refrigerator-magnet fare?

If anything, Vadim’s response misses the point: the rise of cit-j has led to a really cool discussion within the industry, and that is the question of what true journalism is. Four years ago I would have had a pretty unequivocally narrow definition; today, I am not nearly as easy to pin down. Thus, I’m not sure anyone really has the right to claim what “true” citizen journalism is, because we can’t even agree anymore on what real journalism is. Except in the j-schools of America, of course. But no amount of navel gazing is substitute for an honest-to-goodness public discussion on the issue.

The definition of citizen journalism is so diverse and hard to capture that any definition from a cit-j practitioner that excludes a large class of what currently constitutes cit-j is bordering dangerously close on Web bigotry 2.0 (e.g. the “YouTube is so last year” crowd). And by overemphasizing the notion of control, I believe Vadim mistakes the process of individual self-publishing for that of a large group. If an individual self-publishes, they are wholly responsible for what is printed. If someone submits to a site, the law is still a little fuzzy on who is responsible for what when all hell breaks loose. Control is not a mechanism for shutting down viewpoints, but rather a mechanism to make sure the site that publishes those viewpoints isn’t shut down.

Truthfully, it makes no sense for any cit-j publication to shutLe but de poker game. out those who submit. Contributors are the lifeblood of a cit-j publication just as subscribers are for a traditional publication. If you try to weed people out, all you’ll do is discourage people from submitting.

In addition, a quick perusal of Neaju shows there is some editorial control happening. The very notion of a “Highest Ranked News Stories” or “Top 10 Reporters” automatically elevates some stories and writers to the front page. This is editorial function (helllloooo, gatekeeping!). My guess is it’s based on user ratings and Web stats, but it is gatekeeping nonetheless whether it is done by a computer or done by the mob.

The point, of course, is that we can play semantic games all day about what constitutes “true” citizen journalism, but it really misses the point. The conversation is new, growing, and exciting. And it is diverse. Let the people decide how much control they want by whom they choose to write for; you’d be surprised how many of our submitters appreciate a light editorial touch now and again.

February 18, 2008 Posted by | Jeremy Littau | 19 Comments

Citizen … advertising?

I suppose we’ve been talking about citizen journalism for so long that citizen advertising was inevitable.

The news is a bit late for some of you Applephiles, but I just picked up on it today that Apple’s latest commercial for its iPod Touch is actually a YouTube remake. Apparently a guy named Nick Haley liked his Touch so much he posted an online tribute on YouTube, and Apple took the concept and made it their latest commercial (it’s the one that goes “Music is my boyfriend …” and you’re welcome for me planting that song in your head for the rest of the day). I’ve seen the original and the actual commercial, and while there are some visual differences in terms of media, the concept remains intact and there really is no difference between them if you ask me (other than the inclusion of Dave Grohl, which is many degrees of awesome). I’m assuming most of what Apple did was for the purpose of getting the resolution needed for television.

Anyhow, fake commercials of this kind have been around on YouTube for a while, but this is the first time I have seen a company pick it up and use it for a wider marketing campaign. I’m not claiming it’s the first time, but it’s the first I’ve run into. And perhaps there is a legitimizing influence that happens, similar to what happens when CNN gives citizen journalism reportage via iReport some credibility by running it on the air. And there’s a cultural critique to be had here somewhere when the consumer is now savvy enough to design what has turned out to be a hit commercial.

And as Wired’s “Epicenter” blog pointed out a couple weeks ago, this is yet another example of how Apple gets it. “Rather than send him a cease-and-desist letter, they bought his ad, flew him out to Los Angeles to reshoot it in high def, and will be broadcasting it during the World Series this weekend. THAT’S how you love your customers, people!”

By the way, I did not find this through news media online (as if this post hasn’t been depressing enough, right?). I actually was googling the lyrics because we here at the Littau homestead have been trying to figure out if the lyrics are as innuendo-loaded as they sound (um, yeah they are). And in the Google search I found the NYT story.

November 14, 2007 Posted by | Jeremy Littau | Leave a comment

Web aggregation and no context

A story you might have seen, but maybe not: The Columbia Missourian has dropped professor emeritus John Merrill’s column because it was discovered that he had some information that was unattributed that turned out to be direct lifts from the school’s student-run newspaper, the Maneater. The above link has a look at editor Tom Warhover’s explanation of what went down, but basically Merrill says he forgot to attribute the information and that while it was plagiarism, it was unintentional (read Merrill’s column and compare to the Maneater story).

Obviously, Warhover made the right call, even if it was the tough one. Unless you are a Mizzou person you might not realize how big a figure Merrill is here. He wrote such journalism classics as The Imperative of Freedom and is highly respected both at MU and outside of it.

Being a Web news hound, I immediately went to Google to see if anyone outside of here had picked the story up, and thanks to AP I got 88 hits. The posting on the San Francisco Chronicle site caught my eye because it had a discussion attached to it, mostly people who were disgusted with the situation and demanded he be fired, etc.

Continue reading

November 12, 2007 Posted by | Jeremy Littau | Leave a comment

A journalist’s duty

Jeremy LittauRoy Peter Clark has an interesting post on Poynter’s web site declaring that it is the journalist’s duty to read the newspaper (“…emphasis on paper, not pixels,” he adds) while we for business models to make online news solvent. The thinking, as it goes, is that journalists need to use their own product more to keep the newspaper viable, presumably while we transition to online news. The calculus seems pretty straightforward: if newspapers go away and online news isn’t profitable, then professional news goes away.

While his conclusion might be true (and that’s a mighty big “might”), the premise is all wrong. Steve Yelvington had a fantastic piece on his blog that the problem is not economic viability, but rather that news has become irrelevant because it has essentially locked itself in an ivory tower. I won’t duplicate his thinking on the subject because it is pretty clear, but there are other issues to discuss here anyhow.

Clark is not talking about saving journalism, he is talking about saving newspapers. This is an important distinction.

What Clark is trying to head off is Joseph Schumpeter’s process of creative destruction, which posits that entrepreneurial success necessarily means that established institutions unable to adapt in the new environment suffer. This is a reality in the era of globalization (ref. Thomas Friedman’s excellent “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” in part to see his account of how such giants as IBM were not able to adapt to an era of consumer choice; the company lost almost everything).

In the era of globalization, where creative destruction is the norm, you cannot just throw money blindly at the status quo. It won’t work. Change is not only the driving force of this new economic era, it is a necessity. Newspapers have been slow to change, soaking in their 35% profit margins and not preparing for what is next. Now they’re suffering the consequences, and the way a journalist is supposed to show they give a damn is by feeding the lead-footed beast (even though the beast is still unwilling to give up those lofty profit margins in the face of fierce competition)?

Forget it.

I prefer to answer that Clark has forgotten his Elements of Journalism

“Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.”

If you believe in this institution called the press, you should be ready to adapt to whatever form the media take. It’s not about the medium, stupid. It’s about the journalism. Maybe newspapers need to go away if they can’t adapt, and the person who wants to do journalism and believes in it will find (or create!) another medium.

Yes, this stuff is scary. But as long as people are interested in the truth and want to see that truth in the public discussion, there will always be journalism in some form or another. Always. It might be restricted in authoritarian societies where telling the truth might be more difficult, but it will not go away.

And, as Yelvington notes, there is a market for this stuff. We just have to come down from the ivory tower and rediscover how to be partners with our communities in the process of news.

October 12, 2007 Posted by | Jeremy Littau | 2 Comments

The Starbucks model

Jeremy LittauMy wife and I had an interesting conversation today about the “Starbucks way” of doing things. I know there are Starbucks haters out there who accuse it of going into towns and driving local business into bankruptcy, but they are a different kind of company. They don’t go in and slash prices like Wal-Mart, making it impossible for companies to compete. In most places I have lived, Starbucks coffee actually costs more than most others in the community.

How can you charge more and succeed? By offering a superior product, and by that I am not just talking about the coffee. Continue reading

September 3, 2007 Posted by | Jeremy Littau | Leave a comment