Tagged: Photoblog

RSF Social Finance: Relationships Matter | A Photofilm by Dan Seguin

Finance is one of those industries that, because of how negatively it has impacted so many people, it gets a pretty bad rap. Perhaps deservedly so.

But there are institutions out there that are leveraging the principles of finance and taking them to a grassroots and more human level.

My friend & colleague Dan Seguin is (among other things) a photojournalist who has put together a photofilm on RSF Social Finance – an organization that is looking at communal needs rather than personal gain, and puts finance into a different context.

Check it out.

RSF Social Finance – Relationship Matters from Daniel S├ęguin on Vimeo.

You can check out some of Dan’s other work on his site.

The Medium: Virginia Heffernan’s Final Column for NY Times Magazine

onward and upward

(Onward and upward for Virginia Heffernan)

Last week marked the final time that Virginia Heffernan’s The Medium column would run in the New York Times Magazine. I think it’s a shame that this column has been rendered obsolete by the magazine’s Secular Overlords (or whoever makes the decisions at the NYTimes).

In the four years that her technology column ran, Heffernan was always a moderate voice in an industry full of overblown hype and wide-brush lifestyle marketing. At once informed and curious, Heffernan’s column (along with Randy Cohen’s The Ethicist — also nixed by the mag last week) became a primary reason for me to read the magazine every week.

Heffernan’s final column for the NYT Magazine addressed the changes in the web over the last 2 years, where commercialized add-ons and targeted promotions have overrun genuine culture and idea exchanges. Heffernan presents the Kindle as an example of a consumer space aimed at the pleasures of culture, rather than the business of it.

Fittingly, I found Heffernan’s columns to be the same way – a lucid examination of the (often) ridiculous eccentricities of the net that increasingly come to define how we live and communicate. Heffernan’s columns were always respite from the histrionics that come with emerging digital culture, and while I mourn the loss of her column, I will enjoy reading its archives and following Virginia Heffernan’s upcoming work.

Happy 30th Birthday, Pac-Man

Thirty years ago today, Pac-Man was released in Japan. I would have been about 7 years old, I guess, and it would take a few years for the game to reach North America, but when it did, it caught on like no game before it had.

Pac-Man was a departure from the “shoot-your-way-out” games that existed at the time, and its cross-over appeal (for men and women, video game geeks and people who had sex) forever changed video games and by extension, our present digital world and how we interact with technology.

In my hometown, Ms Pac-Man was the preferred choice, and I lost many hours at the Mac’s or 7-11, drinking Dr. Pepper slurpies and playing Ms Pac to avoid the blistering, Dune-like levels of punishing, arid heat that my hometown is known for. In these conditions, Ms Pac was like a digital beacon to an air-conditioned refuge that shielded me from walking on the surface of the sun. Thanks, Ms Pac!

Weirdly, I found myself walking around yesterday with a little 8-bit MIDI tune in my head, knowing it was from a video game, but not remembering which one (I actually thought it was the opening theme to Donkey Kong). This morning, in honour of Pac-Man and his lovely bride-to-be, I downloaded Ms Pac to my iPod and was delighted to find out the tune was actually for Pac-Man. I guess I was musically channeling the little yellow dudes in advance of their anniversary.

The cultural impact of Pac-Man cannot be overstated.

Without the game’s ability to reach across cultures, ages and genders, or its skill at humanizing a digital experience, we would not be as comfortable with cell phones and iPods, game systems in our adult lives, or movie / game crossovers like Avatar.

Could we have Massively Multiplayer Online Games, or deeply immersive pseudo-lives (such as World of Warcraft, Secondlife, et al), without the head-to-head tabletop editions of Pac-Man, Ms Pac and others? I don’t think so.

To show the overall impact of Pac, Google has done something interesting to mark the anniversary. Rather than have the ever-changing Google logo a simple graphic that leads to info about the game, they’ve embedded the game into the logo.

Visit Google’s homepage, click “insert coin” and play the game in-banner. Also advised, drinking a Dr. Pepper slurpie while playing.

Evolving Multimedia Narratives and Storytelling

I see you...

Anyone with a scroll-mouse, or those technophiles that have harnessed the finer points of ‘page-up / page-down’ technology, can see that I haven’t posted to my beloved Fauna Corporation in quite a while.

There are a number of reasons for this, but what is most important is that I am resurfacing after a deep-thought hiatus.

Which is to say, after much consideration, I have decided to post to Fauna Corp again, but with a slightly expanded focus to the content I highlight, share and discuss.

Over the last several months of working in advertising, and gaining some distance from the harsh realities of freelance journalism in the midst of an economic downturn and an essential breakdown in the fabric of how media works, I have gained a little bit more perspective on multimedia content.

There is no need for someone like me to be wringing his hands about the future of journalism. I’m simply not plugged in enough now to really know what’s happening with the media giants, and far more attuned minds than my own could give you the 4-11 (or even the 9-11) on what’s happening.

Furthermore, at a certain level, I simply don’t care anymore. As countless experts discuss and debate, our digital culture moves forward. People upload their on-the-ground footage, others generate beautiful short films and slideshows, still more develop apps and widgets, while experts deliberate on a functioning media model in a shifting cultural landscape. It is not possible to know where we’re going, and I think my energy is best served elsewhere.

What I am plugged into (and seeing a lot of) these days is unique digital content deployed across the cultural spectrum. This has led me to think a great deal about digital narratives – the ways that we represent who we are (or who we aspire to be) through our digital ecosystem.

Sophisticated tools are becoming cheaper, average people are developing professional skills, and more and more people are using their creativity to represent their lives. It is becoming seamless, natural and, at times, deeply moving.

It is this, then, that I am going to focus Fauna Corporation on – the artists, journos and communities that document the people, places, products, ideas, stories and projects that matter most to them. The digital narratives we create and share, to connect, however briefly, with each other and those quiet parts of ourselves that represent who we truly are.

How this plays out will be shown in the next little while, but I just wanted to give you a heads-up about this shift to Fauna Corporation’s content, and thank all of you who have been regular readers despite a loooooong silence on this little blog.

I think you will enjoy where we are going…

Review: The Kodak Zi8 HD Video Camera

Super-Meta: digital image of a digital image of a digital image

I recently jumped into the shallow-end of the video camera market, picking up a Kodak Zi8 pocket-sized video camera. The Zi8 is similar to the flip cameras that journos were raving about a short time ago, except the Zi8 can record in full HD quality, has both macro and landscape settings, and has an external microphone jack – which is a major advantage for journalists using such a small piece of gear.

There are several reviews online that rave about the Zi8; however, my own experience with the camera has been mixed, and I’ve yet to see a review that mentions the issues I’ve come across.

For me, the biggest negative is that the Zi8 camera shoots in H264 (read: Quicktime’s .MOV format), which works seamlessly with Apple’s iMovie editing suite, but causes a complete horror show for most Windows users.

I have used Vegas Video on my PC for awhile now, but the raw files from the Zi8 wouldn’t work with Vegas unless they were format-converted first (to MP4 or AVI), and more often than not, this conversion would then cause Vegas to crash. I have heard this same story repeated online by many other Windows / Vegas users, and each has a ten-step workaround to just get the footage from their camera to work with Windows. Yikes.

This frustrating conversion-then-crash loop went on for a few weeks for me as well, but I recently switched from Sony’s Vegas to Avid’s Pinnacle software suite, and am happy to report that Pinnacle recognizes the raw files and works with .MOV files much like iMovie does – very simply and cleanly – just drag, drop and start editing.

This H264 compatibility issue is an important one for Windows users to know before they buy the Zi8: their usual editing software may not play nice with the Zi8, and they may have to deal with techno headaches to simply edit their videos.

The other important point to note is that the Zi8 ships with out-of-date firmware, and requires an upgrade to resolve tracking issues, low-light streaking, and a subtle (but bothersome) high-frequency sound in the audio recording. The firmware update is simple, but can not be done by just plugging the Zi8 into your PC – it requires a card reader (odd, given that the Zi8 has USB ports). So if your laptop does not have a built-in card reader, you’ll have to buy one to do the critical firmware upgrade and get the most out of your Zi8.

Having switched editing software, and upgraded the firmware, I was finally able to test the Zi8′s capabilities.

The footage is pretty impressive for a pocket-camera (and a budget one, at that). From the recommended distances, the image quality is sharp and the audio from the built-in mic is passable for web broadcast. The Zi8 only offers a 4x digital zoom, and the quality drops off noticeably with each interval. Also, like all pocket video-cameras, the low-light functionality is a little grainy.

One disadvantage of the Zi8, is that while there is an external microphone jack, there is no accompanying headphone jack on the unit. This means that audio levels have to be monitored via a little bar-chart indicator, or upon playback through the Zi8′s tiny speaker. Neither is ideal for checking levels, especially given that the Zi8′s microphone input is particularly “hot” and requires external mics to be carefully adjusted to find a balance between frequency response and outright digital clipping. So that’s a challenge for journos and media junkies alike, but with trial and error, good results can be captured.

Here are two videos I did to show the “macro” and “landscape” settings on the Zi8:

Macro Setting:

Kodak Zi8 Test: Macro Setting from scott w. gray on Vimeo.

Landscape Setting:

Kodak Zi8 Test: Landscape Setting from scott w. gray on Vimeo.

The Zi8 is pretty inexpensive – about $200 Canadian – and can shoot in full HD (720p, 720p/60 fps, and 1080p), and offers both a “macro” setting for close-up and arty filming, and a “landscape” setting that uses its fixed-focus lens. Coupled with the external mic jack and the high-quality footage, in the right hands it can be an attractive prosumer-level device.

I think as more people experiment with the unit, and work out DIY microphone rigs or DIY lens conversions, the results will improve and we’ll begin seeing some very cool multimedia pieces created with the Zi8. The price point and feature set is perfect for most citizen / freelance journos and cash-strapped media outlets to test drive the unit and see how it performs in a variety of settings.

PROS:
Inexpensive, small footprint, two lens settings, HD-quality, external microphone jack, image stabilization, face-recognition, pretty slick technology.

CONS:
H264 format problematic for Windows users, no headphone jack, firmware updates require card reader, less-than-ideal zoom & low-light features.

Final Analysis:
Ultimately, I would recommend the Kodak Zi8 for guerrilla multimedia journalists and / or digital storytellers because of its ease of use and image quality. There are a few hurdles to jump through to get your footage to an upload-ready state, but avoiding the format-conversion carousel and testing out the unit’s limitations can help you capture the events you want, cleanly and easily.

Recommended by Fauna Corporation!

Skill-Building: Mindy McAdams’ Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency

Feeling old and rusty? Maybe you need some new tools…

When the media machine spat me out at the start of the new year, “inviting” me to return to the world of freelancing, I spent a fair bit of time researching the resources available to journalists who were transitioning to multimedia skill-sets. I am certainly not a noob, but as many of my readers will attest, there’s always more to learn. In my searching, again and again, I came upon posts from Mindy McAdam’s blog.

In particular, her posts about portable digital audio recorders helped me sort through the gear to find the gems that were most applicable to my needs, and her pieces on visual journalism helped to confirm some things I already suspected to be true at news desks around the country.

McAdams also began a series of pieces aimed squarely at journos who were trying to come to terms with new tools and techniques that were previously foreign to the newsroom. The series was called the Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency, or RGMP, and McAdams has just collected the posts together in one PDF document, available for free download.

Visit Mindy McAdam’s site (http://mindymcadams.com/) to check out the depth of her work, and download the RGMP PDF while you are at it. McAdams has provided translations into Spanish and German as well for international audiences.

The RGMP guide is highly recommended by Fauna Corporation.

Looking Five Years into the Future of Journalism

When speaking about the future, it seems that 5 years is the most popular milestone for people. Not far enough off to suggest silver hover-cars and jet packs, yet distant enough that we’ll accept some fantastic possibilities (especially if we consider Moore’s Law and it’s rate of acceleration), the 5 year plan allows us to see the road immediately ahead and plan for it.

The unfathomable future – Suddenly Fathomable!

This past week I found two informative pieces about the future of journalism that suggested what trends will become important for the media in the next 5 years. While everyone can predict the future, and every megalomaniac can build a 5-year plan, I thought these pieces were great food for thought for multimedia journos.

The first piece comes from (the awesome) ReadWriteWeb site, and features a brief excerpt of an interview with Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google. The 6-minute segment discusses the role of video, non-English language communications, social media and bandwidth in the coming age, and also offers a fascinating look at how Google predicts media trends (non-separation between consumer and enterprise applications, for instance).

The excerpt on ReadWriteWeb is most pertinent, but I also watched the full 45 minute piece on YouTube and, while less relevant to journos, it was still informative. Check it out.

The second piece about the future of the web comes to my attention from Will Sullivan’s Journerdism site, and he draws it in from Noupe. Noupe’s piece asks “where will the web be in 5 years” and then presents 15 trends to consider. The Noupe article is pretty detailed, with examples, pundits (both pro- and con-), further reading and what I think are some pretty hilarious photos in support of their arguments.

Highlights include a prediction that consumers will gravitate toward web experience as the centre of their media world, where social media, net-based entertainment, mobile apps, and collaborative tools all become a core set of entertainment, education and creative tools for consumers. Essentially, the web (and its apps) will become stronger and we, in turn, will become more fluid in our integration of this experience into our lives.

While not Nostradamus or the Mayan Calendar (shout out to the 2012-ers out there!), the 5-years-into-the-future predictions are popular, and the two pieces cited above contain some excellent ideas to consider. Part of considering the future of journalism is intrinsically linked to considering the future of all consumer and enterprise media, and the articles in Noupe or ReadWriteWeb offer a great road map for next-gen-journos.

Mourning and Loss on Fauna Corporation – R.I.P.


On October 16th, I received word that my brother died, unexpectedly and accidentally. He was about a week shy of his 46th birthday.

I spent the better part of two weeks going through his belongings and, with others, trying to take care of his affairs. The whole experience was harrowing and overwhelming, and frankly, I’m still struggling with it all.

Many of Fauna Corporation’s readers have faced death, both professionally and personally, and know that the glib lines from movies and books ring hollow, yet strangely still provide a fitting shorthand for an otherwise devastating experience. We are still processing, there are stages we’re going through, and it does change the way I see things.

My brother and I had a shared love of the Boston Bruins, and I thought it fitting to both post a photo of his lighter here, and provide a link to my memorial to him over on Black, White and Gold, my blog about the Bruins. Please have a read.

I thank you all for your patience and understanding during this very difficult time.

Fauna Corporation’s regularly scheduled posts will resume this week, with a renewed commitment to the stories that highlight our shared humanity, but ultimately they’ll be written with a heavy heart.

Take good care of each other, and thank you for the support.

~SWG

Urban Audio on Montreal Sound Map

Van Horne Overpass with Crickets : Play Overpass with Crickets

I’ve been adding some audio up to the Montreal Sound Map lately.

I live in an area that is flanked by several overpasses, and I’m very interested in how they cut through Montreal and change the surrounding neighbourhoods. I also think they are an interesting audio source because they offer surprises – they are not just endless streams of cars – life has a way of reclaiming the space.

For example, I recorded the crickets you can hear above between waves of cars at rush hour on St-Laurent.

The Montreal Sound Map is worth spending some time with, as it presents the city in a way we seldom stop to appreciate. To hear my additions, click on the “Van Horne Overpass at St-Laurent”, and “Rockland Overpass” contributions (more to come, obviously).

Euro Journos Produce Original Content Online, But Train Themselves


In the media switch-up, journalists train themselves

Probably a surprise to no one, but a study cited today in Journalism.co.uk states that European Journalists are producing more original content online, but have mostly self-taught themselves the relevant skills to do so.

Fully 67% of those journalists polled from the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Spain and Sweden said they taught themselves digital skills, whereas only one-in-nine received training from their media organizations.

Despite the above statistics, and the fact that the journalists feel great pressure to produce more content while facing down concerns about job and industry security, 84% of the journos polled said they were “as happy or happier” in their current roles.

And this fact speaks to something I’ve been saying for awhile now – that innovative narrative and evolving multimedia pieces offer something to both the journalist and the audience, and that these mutual benefits create a feedback loop between the two.

New, layered pieces allow journalists to explore stories in new ways – through visuals, sound design, text, video, etc. – and audiences are, in turn, freshly engaged by these pieces in ways that they have not been (lately) with the usual text-on-page model. This engagement brings audiences back to multimedia pieces (and finds new, web-savvy audiences) and, again, engages these audiences for news outlets.

However, the fact that these journalists are forced to train themselves to create these new / stronger relationships, and the fact that so few traditional media outlets are participating in networked journalism, speaks volumes about traditional media’s role in the evolving media landscape.

Which is to say, traditional media is clearly benefiting from new ideas and storytelling forms in journalism, but it is not doing an especially good job of fostering, stewarding or seeking out these new journalistic techniques.

This report also shows a trend that my own research as shown – that journalists, by and large, have a good sense of where things are going and are trying to lead the way, and are not to blame for most of the turmoil in the industry.

The full survey can be viewed here.

Podcamp Montreal 2009 Coming Up This Weekend


We’re all tied to technology – even the dinosaurs we know

I’ll be attending my first Podcamp this coming weekend, and am excited about it, even if I am not really sure what I will be in for.

I’m not a regular podcaster, but as a multimedia journalist and (relatively) early adopter of web tools I feel like anything that bills itself as the New Media UnConference is worth looking into. I’ll head down with a bag full of gear and I guess we’ll see what comes of the whole experience.

I know that Montreal boasts of some very enterprising new media cats, and I guess I’m hoping to discuss some ideas with people and see if we have a similar sense of how technology will be evolving and what we’ll be doing with it in the coming weeks, months and years. One thing I’ve found in the new media landscape is that I often just have a gut-sense of things, and find colleagues often have a similar sense, even if there are few books, sites or experts espousing similar ideas.

Either way, I shall report back here on whatever I learn. If you are going to be at Podcamp Montreal too, leave a comment!

Adam Westbrook’s 6×6 Series for Multimedia Journalists


connecting skills to create emotionally moving vehicles is critical for multimedia journalists

I first found Adam Westbrook’s advice for multimedia journalists through the (awesome) Innovative Interactivity site, where he was posting about free tools available for multimedia journos.

A couple of days ago, I found a link on duckrabbit about Adam’s newest creation, a six part series on the skills that emerging multimedia journalists must have. Topics covered include branding, use of video (especially for web-use), storytelling techniques, business models and finding new markets, the importance of audio in engaging pieces, and finally, making things happen, which is about the ups and downs of being a freelance content producer.

I was especially struck by the audio and ‘making things happen‘ parts of the series. I think most multimedia journalists have a primary skillset and a few secondary skills they are employing to make media-rich pieces (ie: they are primarily videographers, who are honing writing skills, photographers who are transitioning to video, etc).

My own bank of skills puts writing and sound design as primary, with photography, video and web work as ascendant, which is a little more unusual than most journos. Therefore, it was gratifying to read Adam’s emphasis on the importance of audio (and his suggestions for best-practices) as sound design is often under used in multimedia journalism.

Also, every freelance journalist / content creator can use an energy boost during even the brightest of days. Reading Adam’s piece on making things happen is essential for anyone who is crafting content in this shifting media landscape, and struggles with the endless riptide of what-ifs that accompany being an independent entrepreneur.

In short, this six-part series offers every multimedia journalist advice and tips for our emerging craft, without employing a heavy-hand or extensive external reading. I recommend this series to anyone who is simply trying to make their good work great, or at least, more satisfying.

See Adam Westbrook’s full series here.

The Future of Journalism – Potential Business Models

blue sky in hidingwill blue skies emerge for the journalism industry?

The Future of Journalism – it’s a phrase that should come with onomatopoeic sound effects (preferably something like “Whooosh!” rather than “Plop!”), as it implies a bold future full of cutting edge techniques and narratives.

The reality is that despite the concerted efforts of experts, schools, industry leaders and journalists no one really knows what the future of journalism will be. I respect these people: I’m in the mix, too, of trying to predict (or is it decide?) what the future looks like.

Given that the jury is still out on the future of the music and film industries – two fields that have suffered through shifting business models for a longer period than journalism – I suspect it will be awhile before journalism finds its next true path. Rest assured the future of journalism will in some way be tied to the revenue models of whatever formats emerge.

In my reading, I’ve found several different models that all claim to show the future of journalism. Each has potential, in my opinion, but I’m not certain that any can truly and uniquely claim to be the future of the craft, at least at this nascent stage.

Either way, here is a sometimes baffling, sometimes inspiring, often contradictory list of potential ways forward for the journalism industry.

  • Community Funded Reporting: As represented by Spot.Us, the public can commission investigative pieces by journalists, which can then be re-purposed by other (ie: larger, mainstream) outlets. The community members make donations that, with reporter fund-raising, offset the costs of the investigative pieces. If pieces are purchased by larger outlets, the community payments are reimbursed, and if not they exists for wider distribution under a Creative Commons license. The public benefits from having topics of concern looked into, the journalists benefit by having the high cost of their investigations covered (ideally), and mainstream news outlets benefit by picking up pieces from a wide pool of proven freelancers.
  • Hyperlocal and Nichepaper sites: To offset the crazy glut of information that we are all drowning in, Hyperlocal and Nichepaper sites suggest a radical reduction in the amount of news received, through very deliberate filtering. Hyperlocal sites (such as EveryBlock, or Placeblogger) carry or aggregate the news of extremely specific locations, such as certain districts, neighbourhoods, or even street corners; Nichepaper sites (such as TalkingPointsMemo, the now-defunct Pharmalot, or even Huffington Post) create and filter content specific to certain topics, such as politics, entertainment, etc., and allow a more profitable advertising margin for parent companies due to targeting a more dedicated audience.
  • Online Only News Sources: As obvious as it may seem, the move to online-only news sources seems to be a relatively new model for news delivery (at least in terms of professional journalism goes). This could be a result of traditional (print, broadcast) media outlets not knowing how to heavily monetize the ‘net, or not trusting the web as news source without being complemented by more traditional delivery models. Online News Sources such as Global Post, the recently-shifted Seattle Post-Intelligencer, or Ground Report represent examples under this model.
  • Foundation-Funded News Sources: ProPublica comes up as an example of the newer breed of foundation-funded media outlets. Courtesy of the Sandler Foundation (and, to borrow a phrase, “viewers like you”) ProPublica uses its funding to focus on investigative journalism, which is usually the most respected but least funded area of any news outlet. Other outlets (such as Grist) are funded by a combination of foundation funds, advertising and donations – it is a similar model to PBS and NPR in the US.
  • Please Ignore the Dinosaurs: Sites such as Open Salon, NowPublic, and a great many others, bypass the top-down traditional media model entirely by carrying content written by the laymen (note: some of these laymen are actually experienced journalists). The model is gaining momentum, despite the obvious concerns about the veracity of information, sources and formal training, and could offer a way forward – especially if this flat business model is hybridized with other models, such as the hyperlocal example above or page-count-based model below.
  • Please Feed the Dinosaurs: This model suggests that citizen journalists feed stories into the more traditional news outlets, who can then run with the story. At its best, this model offers a hybrid of trained journalism and the immediacy of on-the-ground footage and opinion (an example being NewAssignment). This model offers hope for the future because it is based on the engagement of readers and (again, at its best) a conversation between a news outlet and its committed readership – an arrangement of interest to many advertisers, with potential for value-add branding opportunities – that also benefits from the standards of professional journalist involvement. (NOTE: Before everyone gets their hackles up about me calling print-based newspapers dinosaurs, rest assured that I am both a fan and subscriber to the old, flat trees.)
  • Page-Count-Based Journalism: A model that pulls straight from web analytics tracks the popularity of a journo’s piece and generates revenue for the writer based on the amount of advertising the page brings. Sites such as Newsvine even offers a leaderboard where you can see how popular contributors’ pieces are.
  • Underwritten Journalism: Finally, a model representing the Ol Skool (as in, the ol skool patronage of the Medici family) sees writers receive funding from companies for the content they write. One example would be Xconony, whose writers are not specifically journalists (rather, writers are presented as “experts” in their field), or Stephenville Dreams, where the corporate sponsor expects no specific mention of their products in the site they helped originate, fund, host and benefit from. Clearly there are some gray areas in these models that raise concerns about conflicts of interest (or the payola models of mainstream radio), but perhaps there are ways to operate inside these models with transparency.

The above is only a short list of ways that the journalism field is trying to revolutionize its business model. Each of these examples is in use now, and we’ll be able to assess the effectiveness of each one in the coming months and years, as more information becomes known and more writers experiment with different revenue structures.

As well, new models will emerge as technology changes and new tools become so widespread as to become ubiquitous – a recurring theme in the news media.

If you know of other models that I’ve overlooked, or have thoughts on the above, please leave a comment.

Where Journalism Is Going & Why There Should Be Optimism

lying in the weeds
is the answer for journalists simply lying in the weeds?

An interesting article by Katharine Mieszkowski for the Future of Journalism blog on Open Salon ponders what would happen if the top journalists for the New York Times left to form their own news outfit.

The idea is spawned by the idea that these writers carry niche / brand cachet that would translate to a credible value-add for related advertisers: advertise your product here and get access to a proven, committed audience (and, indeed, the NYT’s experiments with pay-walls suggests that they too recognize the potential profitability in these writers).

In a related move, many sites are commenting on AOL’s latest activities, which include hiring up journos from across the US (to the tune of 500 full-time and 1,000 freelance staffers) to staff an emerging journalism uber-pipeline.

Although it is unclear what AOL has to gain from doing this, given the market declines in the journalism industry as a whole, the move seems to be based on the Google-buys-YouTube or Yahoo-buys-Flickr models, which is: something, somehow, is going to happen with this industry and we want to be there when it does. In general, it seems the mega-companies are content to operate at a loss for several years on speculation that they’ll eventually corner a specific media market.

And in this, AOL may not be wrong. Despite the crushing defeats of traditional (print-based) media, the ubiquitous nature of the web and the growth of nifty little content delivery tools has brought a renaissance of sorts to journalism.

However, this growth is not just Citizen Journalism specific – since 2000 Journalism Programs have experienced a 4% annual growth at the undergrad level and a 5% annual growth at the graduate level despite the gloomy picture painted for the industry as a whole.

It seems that while publishers and prognosticators are wringing their hands about the future of the field (and, I would argue, rightly so), students, citizenry and major media outlets think there is enough potential in the emerging models to invest their effort, time and money.

While all this may not necessarily assuage the fears of full-time journalists (or dry the sweat from the brow of freelancers), it should offer some level of reassurance.

After all, given the difficulties journalists face in this shifting economy, even the most jaded journalists must feel that journalism is still something to believe in.

These recent developments suggest that others still believe in journalism, too.

Cross Post – Weird Bruins Trades & Play a Song In B-Flat Major

orange lilythe cross post helix as represented by tangled lily stamens

Just a heads-up that I posted about the Bruins’ recent trades, shipping Aaron Ward to the Hurricanes (for nobody, basically) and their pick-up of Derek Morris. You can read my analysis of these trades on Black, White & Gold.

I also put up a post on Urban Camouflage about the In B Flat project, which carries a series of YouTube videos (all tuned to B Flat Major) that allow users to create their own ambient musical pieces from triggering the videos in whatever order they choose.

Check them out!

Italian Bloggers Go On Strike Against Proposed Law

on strike or locked out
locking dissent out, or locking frustrations in?

Italian bloggers are striking in order to challenge a newly proposed law that would hold all bloggers financially liable for “offensive” comments in their posts, according to Global Post.

The law, dubbed the Alfano Proposal (after the Italian Minister of Justice, Angelino Alfano), would require bloggers to edit or delete any post that Government officials deemed to be inappropriate. Should the bloggers not comply they would face stiff penalties – they could be sued by any allegedly defamed citizen for as much as $18,000.

For their part, the striking bloggers maintain that in a country where the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, owns the three largest TV channels, the biggest publishing house, a major advertising agency and oversees all national public television, they require the full freedom of the press that bloggers in other countries enjoy in order to express any level of dissenting opinion.

There’s a good chance that striking bloggers – ostensibly refusing to post anything to their blogs during the strike – are exactly in keeping with the spirit of the Alfano Proposal. That is to say, the proposal ultimately aims to have the bloggers simply shut up, and by striking in reaction to it the bloggers are fulfilling the proposal’s intended goal.

However, while nobody seems particularly certain of where the convergence in media is taking us, or how we can navigate the thorny issues of defamation in cyberspace, those who believe in freedom of the press would do well to put their support behind the striking Italian bloggers.

To do so means that open communication and discussion in society is actively encouraged, and provides texture to any media palette dominated by large scale, mainstream media outlets – regardless of the country of origin.

As we stumble forward in this age of multimedia information overload, I maintain it is better to keep the gates wide open and make a few mistakes along the way (defamation and otherwise) rather than scale back and try to lock out the messiness of dissenting opinion.

By making it financially untenable for bloggers to deliver a differing opinion we do not dispel the spirit of dissent, we merely frustrate its most natural voice. But human nature dictates that this voice will find another vehicle for expression, and possibly with greater vehemence, due to earlier efforts to silence it.

And that expression can sometimes involve the sticks and stones that break our bones, rather than the names that really cannot hurt us.

Altered News – When Is Photo Manipulation Considered Acceptable?

the way forward?
is this the way forward? this photo has not been retouched.

Over the last several months I’ve been reading a lot of books about professional journalism, and the many-pronged battle that journalists and media outlets are fighting in the current media climate. Primarily due to several instances of fabricated news, the public’s trust of journalists, while rebounding slightly from early this decade, is still extremely low (only 49% of Canadians say they trust journalists, according to a 2006 Leger Marketing poll).

Also, citizen-generated media is evolving from random smatterings of photos and videos into a sophisticated journalism vehicle in its own right, competing for the public’s attention and destabilizing the foundation of traditional journalism which is largely still based on an “us-to-you” model, despite journos themselves calling for and seeking out updated models.

From all I’ve read, journalists and media outlets that have analyzed the current media landscape maintain they still represent a viable information source, in congress with citizen media, with journos finding stability primarily because of their professional training, adherence to ethics, and transparency in delivering the news.

Given this, I am struck by an interesting “convergence” of issues through the New York Times LENS Blog coming to light this week.

While the NYTimes Magazine is under fire for (unwittingly) carrying a photo essay that has been proven to be digitally manipulated – counter to their own, expressed, statement of journalist ethics – the newspaper’s LENS blog is carrying a rich slideshow of citizen-generated cellphone photos, with accompanying text about how the cameras on cellies alter the image with artful effect. Some of these photos were reworked using applications that mimic older cameras (such as Holgas, Poloroids and Leicas), and post-production photo software is almost a given in the digital realm now.

The differences between the two is subtle: the NYT Magazine piece is considered photojournalism and therefore meant to be above the slings and arrows of digital trickery, whereas the citizen-generated photos on the LENS Blog are (I guess) best considered Citizen Photojournalism and therefore held to a much lower standard.

As recent events have shown, however, Citizen Journalism is often more newsworthy than traditional media because of its immediacy, ubiquitousness, and ability to get stories from shadowy areas that journalists (despite best efforts) are not allowed access to.

On the whole, though, I have a great deal of respect for the New York Times in carrying both of these pieces on the LENS Blog, and see their actions as a great example of where traditional media can stake a claim as media models evolve.

Ironically, by highlighting the controversy facing the photo essay in their print magazine, and updating the public on their own and the photographer’s reaction to the public outcry about the manipulated photos, the NY TImes are displaying the transparency and ethics they must rely on to maintain public trust (ie: admitting to mistakes, however inadvertent they may have been, despite how this may further erode credibility).

To do so while also carrying the photo essay of citizen-generated cellphone photos on the LENS Blog, the Times are showing an openness to public reportage and highlighting their search for a hybridized style of news gathering – one that grows in the grassroots, finds wider broadcast upon the pillars of the Fourth Estate, and seeks that discussion with the public about what is manifest and what is latent is the shadows between the two.

In my opinion, by being transparent in admitting the errors of their traditional, print magazine, while also carrying a vast array of public reportage, the Times do not undermine their journalistic credibility, but rather strengthen their relevance as a media source as we all try to find our footing in the shifting media landscape. It is really the only way forward.

And perhaps this is merely another step toward bringing public trust back to journalists – at least edging closer to 50% of the public trusting journalists again.

Cross Post – Waits, Beck, Smith and Recchi

cross post
the cross post helix as represented by playground equipment

Just a quick note to say that I’ve put up a post on Black, White and Gold about the Bruins’ recent Free Agent signings, and two posts on Urban Camouflage – the first about Elliott Smith’s car, which is for sale in Austin, Texas, and the second about Beck’s new initiative to interview people he digs, starting with Tom Waits.

Shibuya Audio Slideshow on Guardian Online

shibuya in the rain
shibuya in the rain – photo by scott w. gray

The Guardian Online has consistently been ahead of the curve in terms of multimedia journalism, and have therefore become an excellent resource for audio slideshows. The Guardian uses these audio slideshows to explore both the variety of stories possible and the diversity of techniques involved in capturing the fullness of an immersive narrative experience. Which is to say, their journalists do an tremendous job of placing the viewer in the scene they are describing.

This afternoon I watched an excellent, understated piece by David Levene on the Shibuya intersection in Tokyo. His audio slideshow accurately transmits the organized chaos of this, one of the busiest intersections on the globe. The cuts between the cellphone and CCTV cameras were, to me, especially indicative, as were the images of baffled Westerners.

For my part, I watched this flash-mob street crossing myself in March of last year, mesmerized by the endless waves of humanity and machine at every light change. In fact, searching for a genuine Japanese experience, I watched the ebb and flow across Shibuya from the Starbucks visible throughout Levene’s audio slideshow (look for the glass front wall).

Music Posts on Urban Camouflage

sit on the artA great deal of my writing has been focused on music and the audio arts, so I thought I would put up a post here about Urban Camouflage – the blog that I’ve used to collect the majority of my music writing over the years.

There was a considerable gap between late 2007 and early 2009 as I was busy with other writing outlets, but as I’ll be updating Urban Camo more regularly, I thought I’d post here to draw your attention to the blog. Check it out, and let me know your thoughts.