April 20, 2009

The Electronic Intifada and the Challenges of Online Journalism (Part 2 of 2)

Last Friday, we ran the first part of a piece I wrote about Maureen Murphy, Managing Editor of The Electronic Intifada (EI). The second part of this piece deals with the challenges journalism faces in a spreadable media environment. Murphy explains how being an online-only publication has forced EI to address issues of credibility, crediting, activism, and bias.

Though the internet allows EI to reach--and possibly enlighten--a very large audience, Murphy also has some frustrations when thinking about the internet as a medium. "I think people take web media a little less seriously," she says. This is especially frustrating because the brand of journalism EI offers readers is much more complex--and arguably more serious--than much of what's found in the mainstream press. Still, the internet as an aggregate isn't governed by standards as strict as EI's editorial policy, so the same Google search can direct a reader to EI as well as other sites with varying levels of journalistic credibility. Of course it can be argued that many major newsrooms may have questionable journalistic standards, but there is an implicit level of trust that comes with the colophon of say, the New York Times or the Washington Post.

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April 17, 2009

The Electronic Intifada and the Challenges of Online Journalism (Part 1 of 2)

With the recent announcement that the Boston Globe might fold if it can't cut $20 million in union costs, the state of print journalism seems to be in a state of flux. The print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer also folded to budget concerns, but the paper has continued to publish as an online-only news source. Are online editions the future of journalism? And how does online publishing differ from print journalism? As part of an assignment for Henry Jenkins's Theories and Methods class, I recently interviewed the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada, an online-only news source dedicated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to get her opinion on the state of online journalism. Below, you'll find portion of my report.

Maureen Murphy is the Managing Editor of The Electronic Intifada (EI), a nonprofit online publication--found at that features news, opinion, and analysis about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Disclosure: Maureen Murphy is also my cousin.) EI was founded in early 2001 by Ali Abunimah, Nigel Parry, Arjan El Fassed, and Laurie King--four activists who had never met in person. Murphy explains: "The Electronic Intifada project started as a reaction to the corporate media narration of the second Palestinian Intifada. It was started by a bunch of activists who didn't know each other, but who were able to find each other through the internet." EI was originally conceived as a supplement to the mainstream news media's coverage of the conflict, but it has quickly grown to a news source in its own right. EI averages 3000-5000 unique visitors daily, and they got as many as 30,000 visitors a day during the recent crisis in Gaza.

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June 13, 2008

More on Cultural Biases and Soaps

As many regular C3 blog readers know, I spend quite a bit of my research time focusing on soap opera related projects. At the moment, I'm working with C3 Consulting Researchers C. Lee Harrington and Abigail Derecho on a collection looking at this pivotal moment in the history of one of U.S. television's oldest genres.

So I'm interested to keep seeing references to the soap opera popping up in the news, notably in the columns of New York Times television critic Gina Bellafante.

I first wrote last month about my frustrations with Bellafante's tone when writing about Luke and Noah from As the World Turns fame. Rather than knocking aspects of the storytelling that she felt was poor, the article indicated that aspects of the story were scripted poorly because this was a soap opera, and there's simply no way for these shows to do anything else.

Well, good friend Lynn Liccardo contacted me recently to share this, Bellafante's latest piece. On the one hand, I was elated. Here was a glowing review of the magic of Friday Night Lights, a show whose merits I've emphasized here time and time again (and see more from Xiaochang Li here). On the other, the story included this line: "The obviousness of his looks -- soap-opera hair, soap-opera smile, soap-opera skin -- is incongruous with the refined style of his performance."

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April 22, 2008

Localization in a Web 2.0 World

Last month, I read an article in The New York Times from Brad Stone, looking at a "Risk-esque" game created for Ivy League schools called GoCrossCampus. The game, called GXC, is called by their site "a team-based locally social online sport that revolves around your connections, location and interests. The game is billed as "a massively multiplayer game built on your social networks.

This local angle to digital culture is what I've been writing about for some time now and one of my greatest interests in the potential of new technologies. This post is not really about this Ivy League game per say but rather how social networking sites and initiatives like this are proving just how localized the global adoption of online technologies can be.

In a Web 2.0 world, global really is local. Many of the earliest, most utopian writings about the Web were about how people could transcend the boundaries of where they are from, their local community, in an effort to reach out to others like them. In other words, we could defy geographical boundaries and make new connections, based not on proximity but on genuine compatibility. Online fan communities, matchmaking sites, and a plethora of other social gatherings are built on this principle.

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November 13, 2007

WWE Grapples with CNN Documentary: Smacking Down the News

Journalism is fundamentally altered in an age of convergence culture. This isn't particularly new news for my colleagues over at the Center for Future Civic Media here at MIT in the Program in Comparative Media Studies. Nor is it new news for many of the people I spent time with back at Western Kentucky University when I was a journalism student in the School of Journalism and Broadcasting.

It's not even new news for the folks in the trenches of rural weekly journalism, described as the cockroaches of the journalism world by my editor at The Ohio County Times-News.

But I was reminded how talking back to the official journalists is possible in new ways in a new media environment, as was evidenced by a recent controversy between the WWE and CNN.

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November 1, 2007

MIT Center for Future Civic Media Blog

Our cohorts over at MIT's new Center for Future Civic Media have been providing a lot of interesting and insightful pieces over on their new blog for the center, which is located here. The center is a collaboration between the Program in Comparative Media Studies and the Media Lab here at MIT, through a grant from the Knight Foundation. According to their Web site, the group will focus on creating the "technical and social systems for sharing, prioritizing, organizing, and acting on information. These include developing new technologies that support and foster civic media and political action; serving as an international resource for the study and analysis of civic media; and coordinating community-based test beds both in the United States and internationally."

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September 21, 2007

Kentucky Weatherman Controversy Raises Issues About Privacy, Copyright, Context, and Information Traces

An event that got a lot of people talking over the past few weeks back in Kentucky, and elsewhere, have--for some people--brought up the somewhat unsavory side of online video, user-generated content, and issues of privacy and context. The weatherman and morning television personality for a local news station in Kentucky, WBKO-13, had a short video clip released of him, off-the-air, waiting for a segment on breast milk donors.

Chris Allen, the news personality, was standing at a screen, juxtaposed against a quite large illustration of the female figure, with the figure's breast next to him. Allen, in an attempt at humor toward his fellow colleagues, started feigning that he was suckling at the breast of the figure, and then reached out to do a grab, complete with "honk, honk" noises.

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September 19, 2007

New York TImes Opens Archives--for Ad Revenue

An interesting piece of self-reflection from The New York Times yesterday. For those of you who are interested in the newspaper business, or just interested readers of The Times, you may have already seen that the site has decided to release most of its archives from behind the pay wall.

I'm intrigued anytime a newspaper decides to report on itself, but this piece, by journalist Richard Perez-Pena, is particularly open about the business rationale behind the decision. Rather than try to hide behind the facade of a good-hearted wish to make the archive open to the masses of students, researchers, and interested citizens, the article highlights the real reason: making the archives available openly is simply more profitable for the Times than keeping them as gated content in a pay-per-view model.

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August 4, 2007

The Importance of News Brands in a Convergence Culture

Earlier today, I was on a conference call espousing about how important a reminder it is to temper all this discussion about a transformation of journalism with the realization that the brand names of the most respected news, magazine, and industry publications still carry a lot of cultural cache, whether we want to proclaim the era of print as dead or not.

This was all driven by the news from a few news outlets recently that Second Life was losing steam and that it wasn't the business opportunity some thought it was. I wrote about those issues earlier today.

But this has been a longheld debate, whether it is Axel Bruns in Gatewatching or Dan Gillmor and his book, We the Media. I agree with both that there is something transformational in involving the collective intelligence of everyone by getting them involved with the news-gathering and reporting process and that it leads to a better information in the process. There has always been something a little murky about the intense "professionalization" of journalism, and it seems that the credentials of being a good journalism means that "the proof is in the pudding," so to speak. If we are to believe in a system where the best writing rises to the top, anyway, doesn't this mean that credibility still has to be gained on a micro-level, even in a much more decentralized news world?

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July 25, 2007

Does Peeking Spoil the Fun? (2 of 2)

In my view, there are a few observations, some echoing those made in Sam Ford's post last week that we can draw from the NY Times incident and fan behavior around the HP7 release more generally:

Reaction against spoilers aren't so much about the story as they are about community "codes." Looking at some of the fan sites and comments, I was struck by how often it was suggested that people who had a spoiler needed to warn others if they were going to share it. Even though some fans see spoilers as abhorrent, they seem to be acceptable if they are properly marked and the risk of stumbling upon them therefore reduced. That said, a great deal of objection also came from the "premature" presence of spoilers, before the book was officially released. And if the alleged copies of the book's text that were floating around the Internet were actually fan fiction, fan writing in the context of an impending and high-profile release does not seem to be acceptable. In this case, adherence and "respect" for the official release date was explained as what defined a "true" Harry Potter fan.

The teaser-spoiler distinction is one of perception. I have not read the book yet, so I am purposely staying away from reading reviews. However, as the debate on the NY Times blog demonstrated, any mention of a plot point could potentially be seen as a spoiler by some, a teaser by others.

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Does Peeking Spoil the Fun? (1 of 2)


Behind every wildly popular, episodic narrative stands the treat of of a spoiler. Harry Potter is definitely proof of the rule. Some of the reports and commentary online around the book's release and the presence of spoilers of various types provides some insight into fan culture.

The other day, I found a short blog entry on the New York Times website about Harry Potter fans who were camping out in front of a bookstore in Picadilly Circus. Curious about what would drive someone to voluntarily sleep on the pavement in downtown London, I read on. But what really caught my attention was not the post, but the comments after it. They weren't really about the story at all, but a debate about whether or not the New York Times review of the seventh Harry Potter Book, The Deathly Hallows, was a plot spoiler.

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July 17, 2007

How Much Have Industry Developments Changed in the Past Year?

While thinking today about how this issue between the Writer's Guild of America and television producers seems to have been stretching on for quite a while now, I began to realize that a lot of the issues I've been covering for the Consortium since we started our blog a little under two years ago, and especially since I've been the primary contributor to the blog since last summer have not changed that much.

So, while people talk sometimes about how fast change happens, it is important to realize that the falsity that nothing is ever going to change is often countered by an equally tall tale, that things are changing extremely quickly. The truth is that industry practices, corporate infrastructure, technological lagtime, and an endless variety of factors causes everything to move slowly.

I was told by an industry executive not too long ago that the upfronts this year didn't feel that much different, as if this person were somehow disappointed. I think that's how we all feel when we realize that the new environment feels only slightly removed from yesterday's...and that's because we as human beings can only move in steps. The first cars really did resemble horseless carriages, and the first mobile phones looked quite like landline phones. Change necessarily comes one step at a time.

That being the case, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the stories that were posted here on the blog during this same week last year. You'll see a few stories that have fallen by the wayside but a few more that could quite possibly be easily plugged into this week's headlines and still seem right at home.

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July 5, 2007

AOL Video/AOL News Relaunches Emphasize AOL's Continuing Emphasis on Content

The race for dominance in providing content and a viable site for online video has been very tight in the past year-and-a-half. As AOL tries to establish itself more and more as a content provider rather than a service provider, the company has continued giving a great deal of attention into improving both its content and its services in relation to video.

This week, AOL relaunched its video portal to improve the search functions, as well as to be able to increase access to non-AOL content online and to make the home page reflect such features. The new site allows for playing YouTube videos, among other things.

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October 12, 2006

Olbermann's Rising Fortunes & Transmedia Newsmaking

I just read this article about the rising ratings of Keith Olbermann's MSNBC program Countdown. Olbermann has emerged from his sportscaster past (he's still the best ESPN anchor of all time) to serve as an alternative to the conservative punditocracy popularized on Fox News (& cloned across the channel grid), offering the most strident and erudite critiques of the Bush Administration to be found on television. The article rightly suggests that one of Olbermann's strengths has been counter-programming, showing that when it comes to Fox News, the reverse logic of "if you can't join 'em, beat 'em" holds - as Olbermann says in the article, "The purpose of this is to get people to think and supply the marketplace of ideas with something at every fruit stand, something of every variety. As an industry, only half the fruit stand has been open the last four years." (Feel free to assign your own links between pundits and particular kinds of fruit...)

What is only alluded to in the article seems to be just as central of a factor in Olbermann's rising success, especially among "quality" demographics vs. Fox: Olbermann & MSNBC have been forward-thinking in embracing the transmedia distribution of the program and Olbermann's persona. For years, Olbermann blogged on MSNBC as Bloggermann, allowing for quick linking & dissemination of his stories, especially around potential voter fraud in the 2004 elections. MSNBC clips the best of each night's show into a brief daily audio podcast, as well as posting numerous video clips online to allow viewers to watch and share on demand. When he delivers one of his "special comments," they shoot to the top of YouTube charts and generate heat on lefty blogs like Crooks & Liars and Salon's VideoDog, rivalling only the online repurposing frenzy toward Daily Show and Colbert Report. MSNBC even allows him to moonlight as a cohost for ESPN Radio, teaming with his former Sportscenter partner Dan Patrick each day to talk sports & promote his nightly show.

This transmedia dissemination of an otherwise ephemeral nightly newscast suggests the importance of old media institutions allowing new forms to use & reuse content - it is gratifying that MSNBC is reaping rewards in the old ratings system in part due to its willingness to allow the web to generate attention for its program, rather than trying to control and restrict its intellectual property. Thus while many decry the demise of quality television journalism, the online circulation of such public affairs television guides our attention via a viewer-driven filtering process salvaging the specific moments that break through the facade and transcend the endless high-decibel monotony that typifies cable news.

July 3, 2006

The Plight of Weekly Newspapers

The majority of the people who visit our site may live in areas where these issues aren't quite as pressing because there are healthy daily newspapers available and vibrant alternative papers that push the underground of the journalism world. But, for anyone who is familiar with the weekly newspaper industry or who may have grown up in a rural area where the only paper of record is a local weekly, the plight of weekly newspapers is an important one.

In a lot of communities, these small-operation newspapers are the only major source of local history, the only form of accountability for local elected officials, and the only means of communication for major news stories that aren't so big that they get picked up by regional or national dailies.

In short, it's called the Wal-Martization of local communities that puts community journalism in danger. A lot of people know about the effects of Wal-Mart moving in on a lot of locally owned business that compete with the superstore, especially considering all the anti Wal-Mart documentaries that have been made about the phenomenon.

But few people acknowledge the effect Wal-Martization has had on community journalism. The local businesses that are either impoverished or slaughtered by the low-priced juggernaut are what formerly gave the newspapers the bulk of its revenue. Locally owned small-town newspapers are funded by advertising revenue from local businesses. And Wal-Mart does not run ads in newspapers, neither inserts nor paid ads on pages, except in rare cases.

While some growing communities have maintained ad support, the number of businesses that advertise are dwindling for many places...and the hopes of attracting businesses from bigger towns to advertise in the small papers of distant communities is getting more bleak when television, radio, billboard, direct mail, and other forms of advertising are joined by Web advertising. There's only so much of the advertising budget for these local businesses to give to the print media. I had a friend in the weekly newspaper business tell me recently of a prominent regional car dealer who was dropping all of his print ads for the rest of the year.

Many people are thinking about how to empower weekly journalists, such as former Society of Professional Journalists national president Al Cross at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues through the University of Kentucky.

As I've mentioned, I'm back in Kentucky working for a couple of weeklies this summer "getting back to my journalism roots," and I've been putting a lot of thought to how the long-term integrity of community journalism can be protected. And I think that, while the Web provides many potential dangers for the print media because of the emphasis it takes off the building of local community in favor of national communities built around common interests instead of geographical space, the Web also provides the potential saving grace for community journalism.

The Web may be a contributing factor to the diminished power of a sense of local community, but it also provides the only means for people in our increasingly mobile society to stay in touch with "where they are from." This phenomenon is one of the things that have fueled the popularity of sites like MySpace, as people use the social networking tool to stay in touch with friends back home.

Community journalism may be able to flourish by moving their operations increasingly into this online space and becoming a meeting place for people interested in their small town, not just among the local residents but among the so-called "diaspora" as well...those will are likely never to return to the area due to lack of good employment options but who care about what's happening in the area. Local newspapers can only gain so many readers in a small geographical space, but there are hundreds of kids moving out of these communities every year to college, many likely never to return as a resident. Sites that attract these former residents may be able to draw advertising revenue not just from local businesses but from regional or even national ones as well.

It's something worth looking into and something I'm contemplating spending significant more time researching and writing about. Do any readers have any thoughts while I'm still trying to conceptualize this?

May 30, 2006

ABC, NBC Further Expand Transmedia News

Both ABC and NBC are greatly expanding their news programs through online content, with new projects announced last week.

For NBC News, it will be a launch onto iTunes. According to an article from TelevisionWeek, NBC will be producing time capsule programs hosted by Brian Williams from NBC Nightly News, along with former episodes of Meet the Press.

NBC's news network is the first to launch onto iTunes. Could news potentially be something that people would be willing to watch on the run or in transit, thus making it appropriate for iTunes? It will be particularly interesting to see how the "time capsule" style programs do. News has been a type of content whose archives are incredibly hard to market, particularly because of the prolific output of news deparmtents of programming that is so time-specific. For the sake of archiving, all of this news content is kept, but there's been little attempt to capitalize off these products.

NBC, however, is farm from alone in launching into online content. While the "big three" networks have been accused for years now of shying further and further away from any comprehensive look at international news, ABC is hoping to rectify that--to some degree--by making short ad-supported clips from BBC News available through the ABC News Web site.

The newest project is a longstanding continuination of the relationship between ABC and the BBC, with ABC being announced, according to an article in TelevisionWeek, as "the exclusive reprentative for on-demand broadband and wireless in North America" for the BBC.

This particular conversation seems appropriate on the heels of our discussion of transmedia in the news environment that we have had with Aayush Iyer here on this site and on his own site. For NBC, iTunes is being mined as a place to market the expansive news archives, while ABC is hoping to expand its international coverage online. Will either, or both, be successful? The BBC clips may be of great benefit to those who don't have access to BBC America, and the NBC clips could draw well both with history buffs and with students doing research. Any thoughts?

May 13, 2006

What is Transmedia?

Aayush Iyer, a regular follower of our blog and who has an intriguing blog of his own called The Voice of A, has written the beginning of a primer on transmedia. Aayush comes from a publishing background, and, since I come from a journalism background, I found his emphasis on blogging, community journalism, and the importance of print media to find its place to be pretty useful.

In Aayush's case, his definition focuses strongly on the ways in which print media, visual media, and Web media should work together. In the case of journalism, each medium must realize its own strengths and weaknesses, and the use of transmedia in journalism allows each to augment the other to create a stronger whole.

The principles here apply pretty strongly to transmedia in the entertainment industry as well and even to transmedia storytelling where, in a perfect world, transmedia storytelling experiences would fully utilize the powers of each particular medium. As I'm sure Aayush would agree, professionals in the world of journalism and in the world of storytelling (aren't those two worlds pretty similar, though?) are only beginning to scratch the surface of using transmedia to its full potential, but activities like Aayush's--spending some time thinking of exactly what we mean when we say "transmedia"--are valuable steps in the right direction.

January 17, 2006

Grassroots Journalism and James Frey

As you all may have already picked up on, reading through the week's Entertainment Weekly has become one of my favorite activities. And this week I saw some news that I wouldn't generally expect to see on EW: Gilbert Cruz's brief story on a challenge to the veracity of James Frey's memoir, A Million Little Pieces.

As a journalism major in undergraduate at Western Kentucky University and as a working journalist for several years now, I've always been interested in the impact that new technologies have on a form of media integrated in our country's very fabric: the press. And Smoking Gun's expose accusing Frey of several fabrications in his book is as good of an example as any of grassroots media outlets gaining power.

The Smoking Gun Web site would hardly be considered a traditional journalism source, with its using open records to show arrest reports of celebrities and other major stories. The site is instead indicative of the trend that Dan Gillmor writes about in We the Media, as journalism becomes more and more open source, and the relationship between the traditional press and the readers is becoming murky with the development of the citizen/journalist or the grassroots journalist.

The James Frey episode is added to the list of ways that show how the American public as a whole, a body with collective intelligence, can do so much more than the small number of legitimate or professional journalists covering an area; journalists shouldn't see this as a threat but rather a way to challenge themselves and make themselves better and continue to be a guide as a seal of quality for what's true and what's not. But one thing is for sure--these reader-driven voices must be paid attention to because they are where most of the news stories of today begin.

December 9, 2005

Major Shakeups for VNU and DreamWorks?

Today's Wall Street Journal published two potential major stories that are developing for 2006--the potential change in ownership for both DreamWorks.

Henry Sender reports that Dutch company VNU, the media powerhouse that owns Nielsen Media Research, The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, Editor and Publisher, AdWeek, MediaWeek and BrandWeek, among other properties, is currently under consideration for buyout by two separate consortiums of international buyers.

Because of some recent frustration in company performance, some feel this will at least be the most successful attempt at a buyout in VNU's history.

Several of us from the consortium recently participated in VNU's "The Next Big Idea" conference in NYC. Seeing the power that VNU holds in the media industry through its various partners, it's still unclear as to what effect a buyout might have on the media industry as a whole. I'm sure, though, that everyone will have their eye on what's happening here as we enter 2006.

On the same page in today's WSJ, Merissa Marr reports that Viacom's Paramount Pictures is preparing to make a bid to buy DreamWorks, competing with General Electric's NBC Universal. DreamWorks, of course, is Steven Spielberg's company and has been part of many major films over the past several years.

What do you think are the implications if VNU is bought out or DreamWorks becomes part of yet another major media conglomerate, whether it joins the NBC camp or the Viacom camp?

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