Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘new media’

The Humans are Dead

September 18, 2008 · Leave a Comment

I realize there are probably more interesting/scary market developments going on right now, but I wanted to take a moment to discuss a news story that kind of got brushed aside by Freddie/Fannie/Lehman/Merryl/AIG.

Last week, through a series of errors, a story which was published in 2002 about United Airlines filing for bankruptcy somehow got re-hashed in the “most-viewed” box of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.  Google News, which aggregates top news stories, picked up on the story, and an analyst for Bloomberg News sent the headline around its own news network, which is used exclusively by financial industry professionals.

Within minutes, United Shares crashed. The company lost $1 BILLION dollars in value in a matter of moments.  All on false information, two steps removed.  Presumbably, two mistakes made by two careless idiots led to thousands of investors losing a billion dollars. Let the finger pointing begin:

Tribune said in a statement that its archived bankruptcy article had simply been there online all along. The statement blamed “the inability of Google’s automated search agent ‘Googlebot’ to differentiate between breaking news and frequently viewed stories on the Web sites of its newspapers” for the problem. Tribune also said that a single click on the archived article would have been sufficient to place it on the “most viewed” section because the click came in the middle of the night on a weekend. … “This is what happens when everything goes on autopilot and there are no human controls in place or those controls fail,” said Scott Moore, who as Yahoo’s head of media oversees Yahoo News, the most popular news site on the Web.

Ya think?  Not only did a robot fail to differentiate between breaking/most viewed news, all of the robot traders that are set to dump if a stock passes its 52 week low went on auto-pilot.

You think the traders who bought back the stock once the mistake was realized were happy?  How’s a 100% increase in an hours time sound to you?  Would that be something you might be interested in?

Whenever I hear that “financial instruments are extremely complicated” and that “their is still substantial systemic exposure to risk” I just hear “Wall Street isn’t as smart as it thinks it is” and “we’re all fucked.”

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The Blogger’s Imperative: Always Consider the Alternative

November 16, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Reader’s Note:  I intended to post this on the Huffington Post but in retrospect it’s probably too meta.  I do think that there is a place for ombudsman-like impartial eye for bloggers, especially as blogging sites become primary destinations for news and information.

The Huffington Post’s recent admission of first-time profitability marks an important occasion in today’s media landscape. 

More than any other outlet, the Huffington Post represents what Al Gore terms “the Marketplace of Ideas.”  The web-site’s only compensatory incentive to its contributing bloggers is the platform itself, a conduit through which competitive voices can be heard and considered.  The opinions that most resonate with the readership rise to front-page prominence, while lesser viewpoints simply fall by the wayside. 

A general imperative for consumers of information is to “always consider the source.”  In this sense, the Huffington Post holds a powerful comparative advantage over established media outlets, which are increasingly characterized by thinly veiled ideological slants or biases, or are otherwise beholden to the advertising interests that sustain their business models.  That is to say, opinions on the Huffington Post can be evaluated on their face, with a lesser degree of suspicion as to the vested interests or motivations of the authorship.

The successful “networked democracy” that the Huffington Post has achieved is certainly a worthy cause for celebration.  However, as the outlet gains prominence and increased readership, the very model which has made it a success threatens to dilute its cause and purpose.  Let us consider future challenges to the web-site:

  1. First, the extremely low entry-barriers for contribution arouse cause for concern as to the quality of the product, and a super-saturation in the “marketplace.”
  2. Second, the powerful reach of the outlet provides opportunities to amplify and distort opinions and ideas that are simply bad or ill-informed. 
  3. Third, the insular debates of the community may devolve into an in-group dynamic that threatens the logical norms by which arguments are framed.
  4. Fourth, the “publish or perish” cycle accelerates the process of due-consideration of important ideas and arguments.  1,800 writers are constantly competing for the advancement of issues to “the next topic.”
  5. Fifth, and most importantly, the high number of contributers and low-entry barriers for contribution diminish the accountability of each individual to provide responsible, well-reasoned opinions.  A democratic exchange of ideas shouldn’t be throwing things against the wall to see what sticks.  It should be at once a constructive and critical exercise. 

With respect to the fifth point, let us remember and consider the words of the late Norman Mailer, who explained its danger to Charlie Rose:

“Democracy is noble, and because it’s noble it’s always in danger.  Nobility is always in danger.  Democracy is perishable.  I think the natural government for most people, given the perversities and the depths of human nature, the ugly depths, is facism.  Facism is a natural state.  Because it’s easier.  It’s easier, and if you have any resentment, your resentment can be focused.  The hardest thing in a democracy is knowing whether your resentment has any point to it or not.”

Mailer’s words ring true posthumously in the current context if we consider this web-site to be a “networked democracy.”  It is far easier to focus our opinions and resentments around polar arguments than it is to find a constructive point of departure from these criticisms.

If then it is the imperative of the informed consumer of information is to “always consider the source,” it seems the imperative of the blogger is to “always consider the alternative.”  The strength of any democratic exercise lies in the extent to which all parties recognize their rights and responsibilities to maintain the integrity of the democratic structure.  Mediocrity, group-think, laziness, distrust, subterfuge, and a lack of comity – or reciprocity in constructive arguments – threaten to degrade that structure. 

The expansion of the blogger’s legitimacy therefore must be accompanied by a self-disciplined commitment to provide high-quality, progressive, and well-reasoned opinions.  Although we are all entitled to our own opinions, and assured the right to express them, we must also recognize our responsibility to do so constructively, lest our “networked democracy” degrade into “networked facism.”

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The Washington Post Either Doesn’t Know What News Is Anymore, or Doesn’t Care

July 31, 2007 · 3 Comments

Yesterday my boss directed me to an article she read online at WaPo titled “For the ‘I Like Turtles’ Boy, 17 Seconds of Fame.”

I didn’t get it.

Although the kid did remind me of an child I saw recently at Cracker Barrell who stared at me throughout my meal, making pterodactyl noises.

My boss admitted to me that she couldn’t identify just what exactly compelled her to send me the link, other than (maybe) to confirm that this actually constituted “news” worthy of being covered by the Washington Post. In the ensuing conversation, we decided the following:

  1. 1.) It’s not, in any stretch of the imagination, news.
  1. 2.) The fact that WaPo reported it as news is an indication of how muddled and directionless print media’s response has been to the Age of Information. Instead of leveraging the brand to harness the public’s wanderlust in an internet over-abundant with breaking news and information, the old-guard media is entering the fray of the unwashed. Hey WaPo! I don’t want a snarky blogger on staff, ironically dismissing important issues! I can already get that, (much better in fact), from The Onion, or The Daily Show. You know what I want from you? News and analysis! It’s not that f-ing hard!
  1. 3.) Online news-reporters, as a profession, are the worst kind of hacks. They are consumed by information overload because, unlike 95% of the rest of the population (myself excluded), their job entails endless surfing of the internet. This reality wouldn’t be so dangerous if the writers didn’t assume that their readership base engaged in the same idle web exploratory habits. [See my previous post on news "bloggers." Or don't. See if I care.] Online news-reporters may be “linked” in to the early-adopters, but they’re still neglecting the lemmings and luddites.
  1. 4.) It’s also painfully obvious that online news-reporters are held to a lower standard of editorial review. This is partially a result of information overload, but mainly seems due to the fact that online writers don’t need to “fill inches” for a layout editor. They run with “all the news that’s fit to print… and then some.”

Frankly, this kind of online reporting is like adding a buffet table to a five star restaurant. Sure, it might get more people in the door. But, do you really want them there?

Before you know it, your classy establishment is Reno, Nevada. And your WSJ is being bought out by Fox News Corp.

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Subscribing to the feed using a reader

July 26, 2007 · Leave a Comment

One of the major parts of my current job is tracking media impressions and reactions to data releases in the realm of education. In fact, I’ve unofficially become the office trainer of how to best use online technology to track media for our clients. The below includes some snippets of slides I use in the training:

There was a time when we (and by “we” I mean the industry standard) used to have newspaper articles physically “clipped” and mailed to us, (provided by a service called Burrelles). Then came Google News, which allowed you to get a daily recap via e-mail to the search term or query of your design. And today, we have Really Simple Syndication feeds that provide search-term news on demand. It’s incredibly efficient.

Using a “reader” to track my news and interests has drastically improved my life so much, that I can’t remember what life was like before. No joke. It’s the difference between dial-up and broad-band.

Which is why I’m always shocked to learn how few people have actually adopted this method. The expectations of the internet as a tool are: e-mail (g-mail), maybe some social-networking (facebook), and search (google). These are the lowest common denominators.

I would add to that, as the “must-knows” of the internet: real-time syndication (RSS feeds or Live Bookmarks), collaborative desktops (the Google Docs and Spreadsheets) and user-powered content (i.e. Digg, Youtube, Reddit, etc.). These are tools that, if you haven’t already adopted, you should.

Anyone who’s made the switch over from yahoo or hotmail to G-mail knows what I’m talking about. The Google suite of online tools is amazing. If you’re not already using their reader, I suggest you do so, and subscribe to my feed.

And for those who already do, keep on truckin’.

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Digging Up a Story

July 11, 2007 · 1 Comment


There is a term within (and somewhat recognizably without) the public relations industry called “earned media.”

Media is earned when a professional manages to pitch a product, brand, quote, idea or concept to a journalist of an established outlet, who then integrates that product, brand, quote, idea or concept into an informational article.

On the whole, “earned media” is somewhere between 10 and 100 times more valuable to a given company than a paid-advertisement. You read that right. (Keep in mind 87% of all statistics are made up on the spot).

:) Seriously though, earned media is gold. Paid media is crap.

You see, readers are trained to avoid paid-advertisements. And when they do read them, readers are trained to practice restraint and skepticism.

Readers are not trained to suspect that the stories themselves are embedded with advertisements; that a “press release” is just that; a ghost-written news-vertisement that PR firms write on behalf of health and tech companies looking to hawk their wares to sometimes lazy journalists with tight deadlines at TIME, USA Today, and all the rest of the major outlets.

[Aside: I could write a whole other post about how public relations firms cover everyone's asses but their own, and how, in an age of increasing transparency, that particular industry is at risk of losing credibility (and therefore relevance) if it doesn't start doing a better job of explaining itself.]

Anyway, one of the unintended consequences of paying a PR middle-man to write the story that the established journalist gets credit for, is that the compensation stream never fully reaches the publication that runs the earned media. That is to say: because companies don’t see a worthwhile ROI on paid media, they’ll pay just enough in job-postings to keep classifieds going, and just enough in print-advertisement to keep the publication afloat (and help maintain their brand’s reputation as an added benefit).

But, the big bucks are going to the PR guy hawking the product, not to the publication that runs the story. This is especially the case in trade publications (weekly/monthly magazines like Car and Driver or PC World Magazine). Companies really only get the bang for their buck when these publication includes a feature article on their products.

Thus, in some sort of asymmetrically symbiotic relationship (if that makes sense), companies leach off of established publications as outlets of dissemination for their products and services, without actually fairly paying them for featuring their content. Of course, specialty or trade publications are dependent on scooping and reporting on items new to the market (like the iPhone), so what leverage do they really have? Not much.

Why does this matter?

It always amuses me when old media reports on new media. It’s like a Baskin Robbins employee telling a customer: “did you know Ben and Jerry’s is giving away free ice-cream all week? They are! And it’s glorious!”

Well, the New York Times continues to do just that by reporting its man-crush on The Huffington Post. (Yes…in my head, these publications are male-gender specific. The NYT is an effeminate Yankee, and the Huffington Post is Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Arianna on HGH. I can’t explain why, so don’t ask.)

This matters because the Huffington Post, as a collection of small “i” independent bloggers, is not limited by the same content-restrictions as is the Times. Most notably, they can mix news and opinion. And whereas the Times keeps a “top 10 most e-mailed list” to aggregate stories based on popularity, the Post continually shuffles popular stories to the top of its home-page. This makes that page EXTREMELY more valuable in terms of advertising space, because the eyeballs are concentrated on one space, and not shifting, sorting and scanning through articles.

Great, right? Articles ranked on popularity cut out the necessity of a PR-middle man to “pitch” ideas, because the cream will rise to the top, right?

Well, not exactly.

Have you looked at Digg.com? The articles that “rise” are still only indicative of the users that actually either read certain publications or are technologically saavy enough to use news-aggregators. The biggest “diggers” are un/under-employed techies who live second lives and exploit polygons.

So as the tail of news consumption grows longer, what new conduits will companies use to reach a diversified audience? Will they continue to explicitly rely on PR professionals? Will they start pitching to diggers themselves?*

Who knows?

This is actually already happening… I read an article about how companies have approached the most influential diggers, including 13-year old snot nose punks who sit on their computer all day. Makes… me… ang-ry.

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On Man Dates and Print Media

June 20, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Man Date Photo from New York Times.

NPR has a great podcast on the concerted effort of print/online media outlets to introduce “conceptual scoops” as conversation pieces in the public forum.

What is a conceptual scoop? Washington Post managing editor Phil Bennett describes it as the following:

“A smart story often does contain new facts, but just as often it takes facts that are lying in plain sight and synthesizes them, or arranges them in a way — sometimes in a narrative — that really exposes some new meaning on an important subject.

It’s another form of competitive journalism. People who can arrive first at the defining nature of a conceptual scoop — of telling you, ‘Here’s what these sets of facts mean’ — oftentimes control the agenda of the discussion of that subject.”

To me, this is freaking brilliant, even if it is just slapping a label on an emerging trend. Let me explain through a brief history of what got us here:

Cable news networks changed the concept of news reporting by disregarding objectivity and offering predigested news, packaged with opinion, bias and editorials. Newspapers couldn’t adopt this approach because their content has traditionally been segregated by sections (News, Metro, Op-Eds, Sports, etc.)

This left a tremendous void in the marketplace of print news-media (which blogs subsequently filled). Think about it this way:

  1. Americans work a longer week (in terms of hours) and year (in terms of days) than any other industrialized country.
  2. Therefore, they place a premium on convenience, at the expense of quality (see: McDonalds).
  3. Cable news networks recognized this preference, and adjusted accordingly: presenting not only the news, but its logical interpretation.
  4. Newspapers couldn’t adjust, because they are restricted (by design) to maintain traditional reporting standards, segregating news from opinion.
  5. Blogs assumed the reactionary role of unpacking and de-constructing the news as presented by cable networks, as well as interpreting another independent version of the news, as reported by the traditional print media.

So this is the situation we currently find ourselves in. We’ve all read about how major news outlets like the Washington Post and New York Times are hemorrhaging money. Their logical assumption– that online subscriptions would replace print subscriptions– was false. Turns out people don’t like paying for content when they can get it for free(?) File under: lessons not learned from the music industry.

To survive, newspapers can go one of three ways:

  1. Continue the status quo, attempting to adopt popular components of new media such as interactive feature content and web-logs.
  2. Merge with the cable news networks, leech off the AP for content and strictly hire news analysts over reporters.
  3. Leverage the brand to generate feature news stories via narratives… the so-called “conceptual scoop.”

Now, I’ve written before about my concern over option 1. Certainly, interactive content is a necessity (and the New York Times has adopted it fairly well). But it’s not sufficient, at least not in and of itself.

Option 2 requires picking a bias, which segregates your audience… a dangerous move when you’re already losing readership. Plus, I’ve also written (on a facebook post) why it’s a poor idea to ideologically align your brand with a political party (ahem, Republicans), which are subject to mercurial swings in popularity. This is why Nike doesn’t sponsor, say, Dick Cheney, who is the only person in the world right now with lower popularity ratings than Kobe Bryant.

Option 3 is what we’re talking about: stories like the “Man Date” , a feature in the Fashion section of the New York Times, can generate water-cooler chatter to rival LOST and Grey’s. These kinds of stories, which offer insightful thinking pieces and encapsulate a broad segment of the news environment, are what bloggers LIVE for.

There’s no blogger out there who has the leverage to start a conversation piece on the same scale as the established outlets. I know I certainly don’t!*

Option 3 is not a perfect solution: it makes reporters search for an entertainment angle in every story (which 90% of the time ends up negative or pessimistic). But as long as news is consumed as a for-profit enterprise, “conceptual scoops” seem like the wave of the future.

*Although my readership has gone up significantly, and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Thanks guys! Keep it coming!

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My Two Pennies: Mark Cuban

May 21, 2007 · 1 Comment

Mark Cuban loves New Media, except when it means camera phones at a strip club.

So I’m not going to link to him because I’d rather not get track-backed from his blog, but Mark Cuban continues to be my personal idol.

Cuban’s story is pretty well documented: he was a nerdy but ambitious frat guy who got involved in the tech-boom at the right time, sold internet broadcasting technologies to Yahoo! and cashed out before the dot.com market crash.

As owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Cuban has become somewhat of a household name for his outspoken criticisms of David Stern and the NBA. One might say he is the Alexander Hamilton to Stern’s Thomas Jefferson, using the internet and New Media to publish his own version of the Federalist Papers on his widely read website, “BlogMaverick.”

Even though he can be obnoxious and overbearing, I respect Cuban’s passion, vision and transparency. And he does an excellent job of floating out conversation starters:

One of the biggest all time product branding blunders in any business is newspaper columnists and reporters calling what they write on the web a blog. When you have a reporter in the field offering online updates and you call it a blog, you define them as peers of the many unwashed masses who post on a blog, myself included. Suzy and Don on myspace have a blog, and so does your intrepid reporter. Its not too late to come up with a name to brand what professionals call their timely infield updates. Its the only way you are going to differentiate your news organization from user generated content.

I’ve had this conversation before: why on earth would a writer/editor working for an established news organization (Washington Post, I’m looking at you here) try to pass of what they write as “blogs”?

Blogs are inherently the opinion expressed of the individual who produces them.

I’m sorry… If you write “dude” in your column and post it on the net, it doesn’t make you a blogger. I’m not an idiot: I know you are still beholden to the same commercial interests, even if you have pathetically relaxed editorial standards.

It all just seems like an excuse to hire cheaper, less credentialed writers to populate news reporting.

The one thing that established news outlets have going for them is their credibility. Look at how successful the Post was in their investigative reporting of Walter Reed. There’s no blogger out there that could’ve broken that story: blogs are inherently reactionary or instigatory, not investigatory.

Why the Post would actively seek to weaken their own credibility by half-heartedly entering the online fray of “blogging”is beyond me.

(Note: I will give credit for the implementation of online chats. News organizations should do everything they can to maintain a stranglehold on “credible” figures and sources reaching the masses. And I’m not inherently against reporters having their own instant update pages: but there should be a clearly defined label of demarcation indicating the gradation of professionalism between your typical stream-of-consciousness bullshit web-log and web-published journalism.)

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