Main | March 2009 »

February 19, 2009

The Wayward Newspaper

I like the newspaper. I get a variety of information; I can turn the page back and forth whenever I want without worrying about the info disappearing off the page for some reason. I can compare articles side-by-side; I can see a spread of similar articles all at once. There’s just something practical about getting my news from something I can actually hold in my hands. And it’s a bonus when I don’t have dancing and/or flashing advertisements distracting me from reading the words.

I agree that newspapers dropped the ball regarding getting people to pay for articles on their Web sites. We should be paying for the content. It’s not free to get the hard copy so why make it free online? But given the current choice between paying and not paying – yeah, people are just going to read the news online. Going from not paying to paying online is obviously going to be a hard transition. I don’t think Walter Isaacson’s micro-payments for reading articles is the way to go – and I don’t even know how much a micro-payment would be. Would they vary between newspapers? If I was presented with the a web page that asked me to pay before continuing on to the article, I’d probably decide not read it unless I absolutely needed it for something. It just seems like a very limiting concept to feel you have to be selective about what you want to read because you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

I wouldn’t mind paying for an online subscription in the same manner as paying for a hard copy subscription (or you can pay a subscription rate that gets you access to multiple papers or papers of your choice). Once you pay, you get access to the site. It’d save on paper and would save the company the cost of printing and delivering (or give us a choice?). All newspapers would have to do this though or the concept won’t work. But it’s better than deconstructing the newspaper as the commentators in the NY Times article about the battle plans for papers suggest. After reading the article, it felt like news subjects would get scattered all over the place with everyone specializing in something. And this means I’ll have to work harder at trying to track down the best place to read said subject (politics, science, local, etc.) and take more time to consume it, which is something I don’t have a lot of right now.

It would be advantageous for newspapers to figure out what they can offer that people can’t get elsewhere – or offer better – as a little extra incentive. I think investigative journalism is definitely an aspect. It’s sad that this is the first thing that’s been cut at most papers (because it costs a lot of money, I know). It’s odd, but nice though at this particular time, that news Web sites consisting of laid off reporters are popping up all over. It’s ironic that the Web site can pay for reporters based on donations and grants, but the big companies can’t manage it.

Our subscription to the Star Tribune was canceled a couple weeks ago because others in the household decided the subscription rate was too high. It’s making me see the paper more fondly. When I see it on the table, I want to read it. I’m having trouble reminding myself to go online.

Spot Us though, while a nice idea, has drawbacks. I’m not sure I want to give editorial power to the public. Finding stories and figuring out if they are worth pursing is included in reporters’ training. In the traditional role, reporters are supposed to find out what I should know about. Now the reporters will be relying on the public to figure this out. Since stories are only pursued with the money, there will be discrimination between the interests of those who can afford to pay and those who can’t. All issues should have equal power or how can those problems ever be fixed if the public isn’t made aware of them? That’s what journalists do. It’s worth trying though. I am a little doubtful about getting people to pay. The site would probably have to convince them that the results of the story would affect them in some way. Or will there be aggressive tactics taking place to raise the money? Like spamming people asking for donations. Or will it just fall to the wayside because of all the other information out there that’s still free?

On The Cult of the Amateur

The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen has its hits and misses. One thing I had to star and underline is that the resource being challenged by all this amateur content is our time. There is not enough time in a day to try to consume the content available – even the content you want. I also agree that there are downsides to Web 2.0 that are acting like a thorn in our collective side (i.e. identity theft, false information and lack of credibility, any form of spam and scams, lies and rumors about someone, misrepresentation, etc.). But not every aspect of the Web 2.0 technology is useless and evil.

I think it’s unfortunate that after citing some drawbacks, Keen automatically dismisses an application for user-generated content. Maybe society is still trying to weed successfully through the best way to use these applications, but right now, while they’re new and exciting, everyone wants to try them. Perhaps in having everyone try them, we can find the flaws. I don’t think there’s anyway around the fact that someone somewhere is going to use an application in an unintended way that stinks for the rest of us so nothing is ever going to be perfect. You can only hope the benefits to society outweigh the bad and figure out how to negate the bad best you can.

Of the applications he talks about, I pick blogs. I do not agree that all blogs are just piles of unedited, misinformed, and useless information. It’s not fair to make generalized judgments like this and apply them to every blog. Are all blogs relevant? No, probably not. I think a blog is simply someone’s opinion, an opinion that the blogger is entitled too. I’m entitled to ignore it. It’s not like we’re being chained to our computers and being forced to read blog after blog until we believe what they say to be true. Regarding political blogs – I read some on occasion and they always seem to be about the blogger’s opinion on some particular news story, not that the blogger is trying to replace his/her blog with mainstream media. More often than not, the blogger offers a perspective that wasn’t covered in the news article and can help to make connections between different facts because they take the time to stay on top of that. And I find Keen’s notion that we’re all going to turn to blogs for stories and facts absurd. There’s no way I would substitute a blog for the detailed news story at the New York Times. Blogs are only supplemental.

Secondly, we do not have to rely solely on gatekeepers to lead us through the swamp of information and tell us what is useful and credible and what is not. Many of us can figure this out on our own, but to be safe, many college classes (high school?) are now teaching students how to make these distinctions on their own. We don’t have to sit passively by waiting for some gatekeeper to put some information in front of us. So how is Keen able to assume that most of us trust the information in Wikipedia (page 46)?

There are a couple other things I read that stuck with me about books (but aren’t totally about the new media we focus on in class) so read on if you like.

What is wrong with writing a review at We the consumers bought the book or movie so why can’t we be allowed to say what we think of the material? We ought to be considered “experts” on the book/movie. We read or watched it so why is it incomprehensible that a sensible, thoughtful review can be written? Yes, some reviews aren’t helpful (and some may be written by someone involved with the material), so you skip it and go to the next one. I look at reviews if I’m unsure of buying a book or movie to gauge whether or not it’s something I’d be interested in. It’s not like we’re saying the New York Times should be printing what we say, but the reviews are there to help others.

Keen is also quick to lump all self-published books as untalented and a waste of paper (or space). There are books that have been self-published and have managed to generate enough of a following through word-of-mouth that a major publishing house has sat up and re-published the book. And some of these people slaved over their manuscript as much as a published author, but they still can’t get their book published. Is it because they’re untalented and don’t deserve to see their work in print? I doubt it. Others decide to self-publish because they don’t want to go through the rigorous process of publishing with a major house and losing some creative control. Keen is also giving too much credit to editors in choosing the best books to publish or accomplishing their gatekeeping role to the best of their ability in making manuscripts the best book they can be. See Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. Many reviewers thought the book was terrible despite the popularity of the series and wondered where the editors were in making that plot coherent.

Last, but not least, the “liquid version” of the book (library) sounds incredibly…dumb. So I agree with Keen there. The annotating, indexing, extracting, citing, cross-linked, remixed – ugh, I’m getting a headache just thinking about it. If you want to dedicate a site to something like this and wait for people to offer their work to be remashed, fine. But to take everything ever published? No. It sounds like a hellacious experience to try to make sense of book – especially if it’s fiction. Ick.