Cutting-Edge Technology

I attended a very interesting panel discussion and lecture yesterday at Google’s headquarters in Chelsea, hosted by the New York Technology Council (NYTECH): “Cutting-Edge Technology Showcase” by tech enthusiasts, artists and “white hat” hackers.

The five speakers represented growing fields in consumer technology: From interactive gaming platforms (“mobile augmented reality” presented by Ogmento), 3D visualizations of the human body (by BioDigital Systems in collaboration with New York Hospital) that run on an ordinary web browser with stunning results, to 3D printing (by Shapeways) and of course camera- and voice activated searches by Google (“Google Goggle” and “Search by Voice”). Senior Google Research Scientist Johan Schalkwyk called the latter “augmenting your own intelligence,” by using speech recognition to translate, navigate and understand data pulled from the cloud to make the world accessible.

From mobile to social to location-based and now augmented, I am less interested in virtually throwing rings on a bottle of beer that I’ve photographed with my smart phone (even though the sounds and shapes are life-like), but I guess there is a huge market for that. But what I found intriguing is our ability to use gadgets to dig ever deeper into our research, to come up with even more information, to be able to customize what we’re looking for (and maybe losing sight of what we really ought to know?).

As a writer, ahem, forgive me, as a “content creator,” I was especially intrigued by “Google Goggle” that lets you take a picture with your smartphone of a paragraph in a book or a newspaper/magazine article and Google will find within seconds the source: be it in a book (via “Google books” or via Google search of online publications, including PDFs and databases). My silver-haired seat neighbor drily remarked: “that’ll be the end of plagiarism.” And of quotes taken out of context. Good times indeed for, what keynote speaker Rick Karr of PBS referred to as “dead tree media.” Bad times for German politicians. But I regress.

The 3D printing was truly stunning: Case in point, a workable propeller  with 70 moving parts (at left) that got printed in one take using a malleable, white plastic material. The printers are still as large as refrigerators, but they will soon shrink and their price will fall. The possibilities are endless: cheaply and quickly mass-produced stuff or designer products on the go — from the individual creator to the market.

Scientists are already working on printing organs by using human cells: They’ve already created a human kidney prototype. But can it be implanted using augmented reality and Google goggles, Search by Voice and 3D visualization to guide the scalpel?

It still needs another remarkable gadget: us.

2012 Previews and 2011 Reviews

At year’s end and the new year’s beginning, I suppose it is inevitable to look back to forge ahead. Here are some interesting takes on the past, present and future. Expect longer blog posts about some of those trends throughout the next months. Let me know which topics interest you most.

  • Here is Time Magazine’s list of the 50 Best Websites of 2011.
  • A list of The Best of TedGlobal 2011.
  • Poynter discusses 3 trends from 2011 that will reshape digital news in 2012: “Storytelling is more than an author’s words; Facebook means news and e-readers and tablets go mainstream.”
    …Now, if impoverished editors and writers only could afford those…
  • The Nieman Journalism Lab‘s Predictions for Journalism 2012: Numerous renowned authors and media analysts predict that social media will get boring and its bubble will burst, the dawn of “appification media,”  the control of free-flow information, credibility will be back, pay walls will increase, streaming home pages will be the norm, the rise of the tablets will bring about personalized platforms, mobile payments and big data will be the next big thing and the focus will return to the writer (!!). Good times.
  • Some good news about the future of news in 2011 offers the Canadian Journalism Project: “It’s possible that 2011 will come to be seen as a watershed year; the year that saw the emergence of a business model that might actually allow risky, time-consuming and expensive journalism to be pursued, allow journalists to get paid a living wage, and allow media companies to make a reasonable return on their investment.”
    …Pinch me, I’m dreaming…
  • CNET‘s 2012 predictions: “News readers” — “It’s a long way from 3D printers and Kinects to tablet and smartphone-based news readers, but in the world of tech culture, aggregators [and apps] like Flipboard, Zite, and Pulse are growing in importance every day.”
More to come.

Long Live Long Form

In a Mediabeat Interview (click image to view) with Michael Wolff, founder of Newser (“Read Less, Know More”), a news aggregator, Wolff explains: “We take lots of content and make it short, without ripping of someone’s headline or lead. We take a full story and very carefully reduce it to 65-200 words, using editorial skills. People have a need for shorter, faster information. We have to absorb more. The New York Times is a bore; they write for an older world.”

I agree that there is a need for places to get news fast and as a quick, easily digestible read. But reading long-form journalism is not “a bore” or meant for an “older world” (whatever that means) and far from obsolete. And I am sure, Mr. Wolff, that many of the articles that you reduce are written by these “old-world” journalists.

Want proof that long-form journalism is on the rise? Take as an example the news site ProPublica. Its readers like to read long stories, according to the results of ProPublica’s 2011 Reader Survey. Steve Meyers concludes in Poynter that “ProPublica’s not alone here. Long-form journalism is benefiting from new technologies (the iPad) and Web services (Instapaper, Read It Later), curating services (Longreads, Longform) and products (Kindle Singles, Byliner, The Atavist).”

So, Newser, your days might be numbered. Just skimming the surface is becoming the new bore.

We increasingly chose to read content, not just snippets, online. And tablets are exhilarating that pace. Not only do they entice online readers to read longer articles, but they also have an ever-growing impact on users’ willingness to pay for that content.

On that bright note, Happy New Year!

180,000 Crazy Twitter Users

Had to get this off my chest!

What do you make of this stunt? Does this bother you as much as it bothers me?

Social Media are great, but I think some people are slowly losing sight of the gist of it all: Providing meaningful content/context and engaging with others. Learning or offering new insights and giving some productive feedback.

Too hard? Then leave the field to people who are serious about communication and connecting with their peers.

Just go away and find another venue to bother us. May I suggest link harvesting, engaging in dubious SEO practices (the New York Times has a few suggestions here), spamming or phishing? You’d be good at it.

Digital Natives

PBS Newshour aired a fascinating segment yesterday by Miles O’Brien about the effects of multitasking and addiction to digital technology on adolescents’ brains. The gist: multi-tasking is possible and the constant, simultaneous use of technologies will rewire our brains over time. But it is very inefficient and a constant give and take.

I wrote a while ago about “Our Brains Online.” Now, here’s another take on the story: How kids and “technology addicts” may alter their brains  — for better or for worse. “The prime time for pruning is adolescence,” says O’Brien.“Connections that are used are strengthened. Those that aren’t are disconnected.”

“This is the time when human beings learn to live independently in their environment — 10,000 years ago, teens would have been learning how to stay warm, what berries to eat, or how to hunt. Today, they are learning how to drink from a technological fire hose. And, in fact, in their adult jobs, they may be doing a lot of multitasking. But the other side of that coin is, will they become less good at focusing on one task, of being able to do one thing really well?”

In a recent article in Nieman ReportsDistracted: The New News World and the Fate of Attention,” Maggie Jackson went even further:

“In our rapid-fire, split-focus era, are we able to process, filter and reflect well on the tsunamis of information barraging us daily? Are we hearing, but not listening? If this continues to be the way we work, learn and report, could we be collectively nurturing new forms of ignorance, born not from a dearth of information as in the past, but from an inability or an unwillingness to do the difficult work of forging knowledge from the data flooding our world?”

Adults, who have been using new technologies from the start, show the same brain-changes. “I can feel it, too” admits Nicholas Karr in his December 2010 article in The Atlantic Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

And it all started so promising. In 1982, The Atlantic published a very entertaining piece “Living with a computer” by James Fallows, who describes the positive and time-saving experience of working, and slowly coming to love his first computer (with a 48K memory). At the end of his story, Fallows expressed his hope “for a world in which my sons can grow up to have a better computer than their father had.”

They definitely have. But has that served them well?

Almost 30 years later, Karr is less enthusiastic than Fallows was back then: “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

Much ado about nothing? Maybe. It is up to parents and teachers to introduce kids to things that they wouldn’t look for themselves or are not aware of that they need. Choices are good once you make sure that you don’t get sucked into more of the same of what you already know.

O’Brien muses at the end of his piece for PBS: “I suppose cavemen parents worried about their kids playing with that newfangled fire.”

Fire? What fire? Many of us have lost the ability to really see the glow of the flames, hear them crackle, smell the burning sap of the logs and feel the heat on our faces even if the fire is right in front of us. We watch it on Vimeo, tweet about it, Digg it, Stumble Upon it, blog and text about it and find it on Google Maps or on our iPhone app. And then we immediately forget that it ever happened.

Still, my brain and I don’t want to go back to the time where we couldn’t choose what to read, watch, learn and listen to freely, wherever and whenever.

Hmm. What was I just talking about?

E-Publishing — A Revolution?

 

Got your Kindle/Nook/iPad? Happy?

I love gadgets. I am usually the first to try out a new electronic thingy. I bought a cell phone when they were still as large as a brick; my first PC was a DOS-based IBM XT computer with a floppy disk slot, a 10 MB hard disk drive and 56 KB of memory. Remember DIR [drive:][path][filename] [/P] [/W] [/A[[:]attributes]] [/O[[:]sortorder]] [/S] [/B] [/L] [/V]? I do. I built my first website when it wasn’t fashionable yet to promote one’s personal brand digitally (and not on a blogging-platform, mind you, where you copy and paste and that’s all there’s to it, but by painstakingly hand-coding.)

But using an e-reader? Hmpff.

I like the printed book too much. I like the smell of books. I like dedications in books, authors’ signatures and the memory where I bought the book or who gave it to me. I like to feel the weight of the book, see exactly how much more there is to go before I’m done, before I snap it shut to give it away; or before I write my name in it and put it on my shelf to re-read, where it awaits its turn next to the colorful spines of many other books. I like hardcover books that have their own sewn-in book mark. I like cheap paperbacks with stains, like the one from the memorable flight to Europe, when my daughter spilled Bloody Mary mix all over my bag. The book still smells like a cocktail shaker. Memories like that. And no e-reader can give me that.

But regardless of my nostalgic digging into old times, I am aware, and at awe, that the e-book revolution has arrived! This might be good news for print media in general. Fascinating.

U.S. e-book sales grew from $3 million in 2005 to $88.7 million in the second quarter of 2010. According to the International Digital Publishing Forum, by the end of the third quarter, it had reached $119.7 million. It’s a phenomenon that redefines the nature of reading itself. We are close to the tipping point of forever changing the publishing industry.

New York Women in Communications recently hosted a fascinating panel that gave a glimpse into what publishing will have in store for us. The panelists included Ray Pearce, vice-president, Circulation & Reader Applications at The New York Times; Lauren Indvik, assistant editor at Mashable.com; Matt DeVirgiliis, e-book manager, Digital Rights & Alliances at McGraw Hill Digital; and Sujata Gosalia, associate partner at Oliver Wyman. The moderator was Tim Carmody, a writer at Snarkmarket.com and the founder of Bookfuturism.com.

Now that the iPad and various simpler e-readers have become the must-have gadgets for the avid reader, Google launched its own cross-platform initiative “Google Editions” or simply Goggle eBooks — a hub for purchasing and accessing more than 3 million e-books on various platforms (computer, mobile, e-reader and tablet), giving consumers a choice where, on what platform they read and at what expense. Their initiative is shaping up to be, according to MediaBeat, “the world’s largest library of titles.”

With Google introducing the new purchasing model, there is no more device-restricted downloading; readers freely share content and read it on any device they own in the “cloud,” or pay for downloads in one centralized marketplace, thus taking control away from the e-reader manufacturers that are still vying to curb the distribution of free content.

“For newspapers, Google is ‘very interesting’,” admits Ray. Still, he says, “we, at the newspaper, decide what we want to keep control of, namely our customer care. We want you as a New York Times reader; we want to know who you are. We want to determine a consistent pricing model, no matter the device you read the newspaper on. We need to structure the payment that meets our needs.” And newspaper content online, after the reader exceeds a pre-set amount of downloads will soon disappear behind a pay wall.

Google’s arrival at the e-publishing forefront, “shows how important search is to finding content,” adds Sujata. “They’re a lot of players to influence what users see first and respond to. Now, the end consumer owns the content and thus takes the power away from the manufacturers of the devices.”

But in the new world of publishing and sharing, who has the rights to the content? “We need to find the happy middle,” says Matt. “Keep your customers and your clients in mind and strike a balance; be also careful to safeguard the content for the author.” Adds Ray: “Publishers start to bundle in packages to meet the customers’ needs, like “buy once — access anywhere” wherever it fits me at the time. Most publishers are on that track.”

The publishing industry is met with a growing consumer demand that content ought to be customized to a specific platform. Reading is not a one-size-fits-all experience any longer; depending on the device, readers expect the content, the level of interaction and the ease of accessibility to change across the various platforms.

The average consumer has now changed dramatically: “When the first e-readers hit the market, about 75% of the average readers were young and female,” says Lauren. “The e-publishing market has grown to a billion readers [worldwide, who access content electronically]. Now, the split is even, with shiny devices preferred by men.” But interestingly, readers who use their iPad to access newspapers use these devices almost as they would use their print newspapers: they tend to use their gadgets early in the morning, in the evening and on weekends. According to Ray, during the day, mobile devices and computers are used more frequently to access The New York Times. “E-readers are in between mobile and computers. And size matters: The e-reader wants to conquer your bag; the mobile wants to conquer your pocket and the iPad wants to sit on your coffee table.”

What’s next in e-publishing? “Screen sizes!” predicts Matt. “TVs will use the same apps that are on your mobile. Everything that’s electronic will soon be talking to each other.” “The line of what is publishing, media and technology will blur and interact,” believes Sujata. “For consumer technology and content creators, this is scary but exciting!”

Book authors will rethink their works to fit a certain digital platform. “The criteria for how to judge a ‘good’ novel will change to ‘is it interactive?’” adds Lauren. “Not only how the book is written but how engaging it is. Authors will rethink what they can do with content to reach more consumers.”

Traditional publishers will have to assess how they produce their content and what kind of interactivity and freedom they want to give the reader. “We still need to understand the brand process and how it is accessed, where and by whom,” says Sujata. “How do we rethink the workflow of content creation, layout and how it looks on the various screens and screen sizes?”

In the end, however, all agreed that there will always be a place for printed books, magazines and newspapers in the world. “Overnight, the idea that you cannot charge for digital content evaporated when it became clear that there is no ad revenue online,” concludes Ray. “Customers now expect to pay for content on their gadgets. No more free for all.”

 

Print to Pixel: Mobile E-Readers

Since the introduction of Apple’s iPad, the publishing industry has been on edge. Blamed for the demise of book publishing and at the same time hailed as a savior of print media, Apple’s shiny gadget and its alternatives — smaller, cheaper e-readers — are everywhere: e-book sales jumped 183 percent in the first half of 2010, and Amazon now sells more e-books than hardcovers. And Google just announced its initiative to launch an e-book store Google Editions with an open, in the cloud purchasing and reading model, where all you need is an internet browser to buy any e-book from any platform.

TechCrunch has this to say about Google’s entrance into the e-book market:

“The advantages of not having to go through, for instance, Amazon, when selling your book, are hard to quantify. But the notion that an author will be able to place a widget on their own page, and have the book-buying transaction be self-contained rather than being transferred to Amazon, is significant.”

Hitching a ride on the iPad’s appeal, print media are scrambling to churn out iPad apps with the goal of erecting pay walls for electronic content across all mobile platforms. We will actually have to pay for what we read online.

In addition, people who own or plan to buy an e-reader  are a ready-made audience for newspapers, according to a study released by Scarborough Research. “E-reader devices are becoming an important technology for millions of Americans and our data confirms their emergence as a natural companion to newspapers,” said Gary Meo, senior vice president of digital media and newspaper services for Scarborough Research. “At this point, many newspaper publishers are determining strategies for making their content available on e-reader devices, and this is creating a new opportunity to monetize content and increase readership.”

And that’s not all: According to a study released by the Harrison Group and digital newsstand provider Zinio, digital tablet and e-reader owners read more newspaper articles and books, and they are more likely than non-owners to pay for digital content.

The iPad has raised the bar, but to be fair, it is a full-fledged tablet and not an e-reader. It has a huge, and therefore heavy, full-color, backlit LCD screen, and it only supports Apple formats. It has no free 3G and is the most expensive mobile reader on the market. But it does look gorgeous, and it is especially suited to reading texts with graphics.

For simply consuming e-books, however, e-readers are just fine. Most devices use crisp, monochrome e-ink screen technology that resembles old-fashioned ink; they can be read even in direct light without eyestrain (but not in the dark). New color e-ink screens will enter the U.S. market very soon.

Before buying one of these devices, you need to consider several things: the weight, screen size and price of the reader; your reading habits and your need for free Wi-Fi or access to AT&T’s 3G cellular network, Bluetooth or an USB port; and whether you plan to download various e-book formats, borrow library books in EPUB format (books stored in online library catalogues) or read PDF files.

The following e-readers are currently considered front-runners:

Kindle (Amazon): Often referred to as “the iPod of books,” the Kindle gets glowing reviews; it uses e-ink, is roughly the size of a paperback, and is lightweight and thin. It holds 1,500 books and has a battery life of two weeks. However, it only supports Amazon’s e-books and is the only reader that doesn’t support Goggle Editions or EPUB. It comes with optional free Wi-Fi/3G and a full keypad and offers magazine and newspaper subscriptions (take that, iPad!). The newest edition, the KindleDX, can store more than 3,500 books and has a 9.7-inch screen that can be read both horizontally and vertically.

Nook (Barnes & Noble): Supporting almost all platforms, including e-books in the public domain and EPUB, Nook has an e-ink screen and free Wi-Fi/3G. The recently released Nook Color has a 7-inch color screen. You can “loan” downloads to a friend for up to two weeks and read e-books for free in B&N stores. Nook shows page numbers that differ from the print editions, but many e-readers don’t display pagination at all or only show the portion of the book already read. One drawback is Nook’s baffling navigation system.

Daily Edition (Sony): The first to introduce an e-reader in 2006, Sony uses e-ink with infrared touch-screen technology that allows you to turn pages with a swipe of the finger instead of pushing buttons. The device’s large 7-inch screen makes it bulkier, heavier and more expensive than most e-readers, but it does come with free Wi-Fi/3G.

The Huffington Post has 13 suggestions for iPad alternative tablet PCs.

WikiLeaks to Old Media’s Rescue!

The implications for journalism could be immense. After WikiLeaks unveiled yet another batch of secret and not so secret documents — this time revealing the State Department’s pretty tame musings about foreign dignitaries — the public led out a collective cyber-gasp (at left, the cover of the German news-magazine Der Spiegel with its headline “Revealed: How America Sees the World”).

Was this just a tempest in the usually rather tepid teapot or a poisonous arrow in the quiver of new media enthusiasts aimed at top-down journalism? It may have been both.

The fact that we can upload everything, anytime and anywhere onto the web has stark repercussions for all media, old and new: Now, more than ever, we need old-time editors and investigative journalists, who can weed through the vast amount of data and hunt for the relevant among the irrelevant, filter the important scraps from the noise and the fluff. The ability to find any type of data, classified or not, on the internet and to dump every piece of information into cyberspace still doesn’t make it factual. That’s why the New York Times, the only U.S. newspaper, and four other foreign print publications, among them the British Guardian, were given first-access to the more than 250,000 documents, maybe in an attempt to give the data credibility. Not the blogs, or the ever-present Huffington Post, but old-fashioned print media were the first to have a go at the information. How ironic.

The New York Times explained why it decided to publish the secret diplomatic documents (under the headline State’s Secrets), saying that they represent “a mammoth cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the last three years [that] provides an unprecedented look at bargaining by embassies, candid views of foreign leaders and assessments of threats”. The Times also devoted a page on its website to answering readers’ questions about the publication. And it went on:

“The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.”

Investigative journalism is back with a vengeance, and sites like WikiLeaks are a new, cheap and increasingly important tool in its tool box. Seems the watchdogs that were asleep at the wheel are barking again. The Genie is out of its classified bottle, and as long as no lives are endangered or people are put at risk, I believe that is a good thing. But what does that mean for the free flow of information?

The limitless dumping of information and data will make old-school journalists and old-time journalism ethics relevant again. We still need someone who is trained to dissect the truth from the lies, the substantiated from the irrelevant. Nothing can stay secret, yes, but at what price? Is info-dumping good for a democracy and a society or could it backfire? Will soon all news stem from hearsay and gossip, from pieces of documents that someone secretly scanned, faxed or uploaded? Someone who may have a hidden agenda? How will that affect the exchange of information in the future and people’s willingness to be named a source or to give an eye-witness account? How do you assess what is true and what is manipulation in this free-for-all? How do you verify sources? And should we care, as long as it is entertaining?

I am all for revealing the truth. But I want to cut through the hype and the sensation and be sure that what I read is authentic. I don’t like to be manipulated. As a journalist, I like to do the editing and fact-checking myself. But others may not be able or willing to do so. Should they be protected from the information overload? By whom? And when does censorship really begin? With a government’s calculated release of data to the press corps — or with an editor’s decision to run a story or not? Too many readers or bloggers still don’t see the difference. Many are indifferent, but established journalists and many bloggers and pundits are not. Let’s use their knowledge and skills and get to the point.

That said, I think the following viewpoint given by Huffington Post contributor Derrick Ashong has merit:

“The saddest thing to me about this latest WikiLeaks disclosure is that it diminishes the value of “whistle-blowing” itself. As I tweeted yesterday “you blow the whistle to spread the truth, not to hear the sound.” By publishing these emails not only has WikiLeaks compromised the privacy of state department officials and the trust within important diplomatic networks, it has also undermined its own credibility as a resource for people who have genuinely important information to share with the global community. There is a distinction between truth tellers and high-tech gossip-peddlers. Unfortunately, it looks like this time WikiLeaks has crossed that line too.”

Good point. I agree. WikiLeaks will have to learn that crying “wolf” each time someone somewhere spills something is getting us nowhere.

In July 2010, when WikiLeaks published classified military data on the Afghanistan war, Mashable.com gathered the opinions of journalists under the headline The WikiLeaks Debate: Journalists Weigh In:

“We need people to leak and people to dig and people to consume and explain, and people who care enough to find the documents and bring them to light,” Mike Sager, a respected writer for Esquire, Rolling Stone and The Washington Post was quoted. “WikiLeaks, like most other Internet “news” organizations, doesn’t provide the perspective and understanding the public actually needs,” according to author and University of Chicago and Northwestern University writer-in-residence Alex Kotlowitz. “We need to be careful that we don’t confuse platform with content,” Kotlowitz said.

A bit condescending, but basically I agree.

Mashable also published another article that same month with a similar topic: Why WikiLeaks and the Mainstream Media Still Need Each Other. The gist:

“These leaks signal a seminal change for investigative journalism. The new collaboration model between prominent publications and WikiLeaks is a tactical marriage. WikiLeaks needs the press so that its leaks can rise to the top of public conversation. The press can use WikiLeaks for its unparalleled scoops. Furthermore, because WikiLeaks isn’t entirely understood or trusted by the public, a partnership with established news sources like The New York Times gives its leaks legitimacy. This “asymmetrical journalism,” as David Carr calls it, is a natural evolution for WikiLeaks. […] [A]ssuming there is news to be broken — it’s best if WikiLeaks and the press are on good terms.”

The German writer Rudolf Arnheim wrote in the 1930s: “Human beings will come to confuse the world perceived by their senses and the world interpreted by thought. They will believe that seeing is understanding.”

It seems like his predictions were right. WikiLeaks as media’s wake-up call? You bet.

=============================================================================

The Guardian has a very informative infographic, showing where the diplomatic cables were sent from (click picture to enlarge).

Gay Talese: Get Out and See The World!

Gay Talese about New Media:

“Get rid of your laptops. Go out and see the world. […] Technology makes journalism quick but not enriching. It
turns journalism into a clerical profession, not an art form.”

And he has more tips for young journalists:

“Be well dressed; indulge your curiosity; unplug.”

Seems so obvious, right? But apparently, it still needs to be said.

 

Summer Laziness and Mob Mentality

For this one lone August post, I can blame summer laziness, not media fatigue, even though I have many times come close to just giving up on the state of the media and where we’re headed.

My tagline reads “Old Media and New Media Meet”, and that is sometimes hard to come by. Old and new are still behaving like third graders who compare the size of their ice cream cones. It’s not either-or; neither will get far without the other. So, here is a small list of the positive things that each side will bring to the table. Merging these will lead to better communications, no matter the platform.

Old media bring depth, when needed, tight control over the quality of the writing (editors, copy editors, proof readers), sincere fact checking and an army (or what was once an army) of investigative reporters and writers who know their beat, have the right connections and get out there to cover the news. Oh, yes, and they get paid and have the resources to follow their noses. Old media still adhere mostly to the rule that one needs more than one source to get the story right and that you draw a distinctive line between reporting, commentary and advertising. Old media raise issues that readers are not always aware of, or don’t think they need to know but should.

New media bring immediacy, the collaboration of many to a story, the interaction with the readers, the ability to constantly update and supplement a story with new facts, links, info graphics, audio and video. It is a many-to-many approach, and as such rather democratic: no matter where you are and who you are, your voice is part of the whole. You can decide what you want to read and customize your daily media intake. You become the editor.

I, for one, need both, the old and the new.

Many of us in media, however, see only doom and gloom lurking around us. We’ve lost our jobs, our self-esteem and careers, and our work is being taken for granted by young web editors, who crash with their parents but then tell us our hour’s work of writing should be worth less than what they get babysitting their neighbor’s kid to supplement their own meager income. Now, they say, everyone is a journalist, a photographer, an editor and writer, or so it seems. Content should be free, they beam, and they advise us old timers to be happy to get a byline and a thumbs up on Digg.

I want to share with you a moving blog post from the blog Headlines and Deadlines. The writer muses about her “blogging breakdown” amid the state of old media:

“Lately I haven’t had many thoughts about journalism or newspapers, at least not any that would stand sharing. Because recently, Blog, I have found it increasingly hard to negotiate the choppy waters of ‘changing times’; I have, if you like, lost my compass. I have striven to be optimistic about newspapers and the future but sometimes the words rang very hollow indeed.”

I hear you. But no, it’s not all downhill from here. One way or another, people will come to realize that words and content still matter. They will miss getting lost in a story, once they’re left with only snippets of bullet-pointed search-engine-friendly written content; “voices drowning one another out”, as Jaron Lanier wrote in an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “World Wide Mush.” And he continues: “When you have everyone collaborate on everything, you generate a dull, average outcome in all things. You don’t get innovation […] creativity and excellence.”

Admit it, new and social media by themselves are not enough to get the whole picture. Surely you’ve come to the same conclusion, when you got lost in a Google search the other day and ended up spending hours on Facebook before you picked up a magazine or a paper.

I believe, we still have a choice: to become a numb collective with a short attention span, that regurgitates what advertisers, public relations people or celebrities want us to talk about. Or we could merge old media’s values with new media’s possibilities and not get lost in the crowd.