On the Internet’s Lawless Frontier

11 03 2010

If you haven’t heard of it yet, perhaps you should check out Topix.com, specifically this part.

The team that created this had a genius idea. They constructed forums specifically for every single town in America, no matter how small, and then gave any visitors instant access. Like the comments section of an article, simply input a username, your response, pass a bot test and your insightful, informative comment is instantly posted. There is no e-mail registering, no system to prevent multiple postings under different names and not a damn moderator in sight.

It is incredibly easy to create a topic and then populate it with fake posters. Comments are never removed once up, it’s the Internet Libertarian-style.

Though a forum, it also serves as a “news” outlet, if by news you mean rumors posted as fact. In this way, it is actually a kind of competition for my employer, Bardstown’s tri-weekly newspaper The Kentucky Standard. I peruse Topix daily for a few professional reasons – to keep track of what’s on the mind of Bardstown citizens, to check for any references to the newspaper – but mostly for its pure entertainment value.

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Hey Google, You’re Doing It Wrong

13 01 2010

My opinion column for the newspaper continues to be read by very few people, yet that does not deter me from writing one anyway and occasionally providing it for you to read (enjoy?) as well. Be aware, however, that typically these columns are the last thing I do as my deadline fast approaches and therefore, are often filled with ideas that are not fully formed or particularly well thought out.

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A News(paper) Analysis

10 06 2009

Whenever I tell someone I’m an unemployed journalism major looking for newspaper work, they immediately bemoan the sad state of the news industry. However, while I agree with this sentiment on a personal level, I’m actually not concerned about the future of journalism itself. Things are changing and a certain amount of growing pains are to be expected.

The essential problem (at least for one such as me) is not a lack of jobs, but an abundance of journalists. Journalismjobs.com has new entry-level postings almost every day, but each of these is immediately swarmed with applicants. New college grad that I am, I can’t really compete with someone with five years experience in the field.

Even with that in mind, there are two unquestionable truths. First, ad revenue is falling for publications across the country. Second, large national or regional papers are cutting back on staff.

Yet this doesn’t mean journalism is dying. Newspapers aren’t going to disappear. Perhaps print editions of newspapers will in the future, but the idea itself isn’t going anywhere. After reading a recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review that pondered the future of journalism, I’ve reached two conclusions.

1) The companies most threatened are the large ones that must compete on a global or national scale, like say the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune. This modern age features a myriad of easily accessible sources for such news, from citizen blogs to foreign media outlets. RSS and other methods of news feeds allow users to bypass a direct visit to most sites and aggregate information instead. Maintaining foreign news desks or funding investigative reporting is an expensive proposition and a losing one, when competing against cheaper Internet-only operations.

However, smaller community newspapers can still thrive in this environment. For most small American towns, the local newspaper remains the sole source of information about said community. Yahoo news isn’t going to bother posting items about Smalltown, USA. In fact, the convenience of modern technology allows such newspapers to do more than they’ve ever done before and create a better product. When the recession ends, these papers will be poised to do quite well.

2) Journalism, both large and small, will become increasingly fragmented and collaborative. The web Site Politico is a good example of this. Formed by veteran political reporters from the Washington Post, it created a (hopefully) sustainable model by going after a very targeted audience and has become a staple for political junkies. It competes directly with media giants in both print and TV but is a fraction of their size. The new age of Internet journalism will give rise (and indeed in many cases already has) to thousands of niche publications. The idea of a single publication (such as a newspaper) covering all topics at once will give way to people reading several separate sites instead.

Since stories can be uploaded via the Web from practically anywhere, the need for a central newsroom becomes less important. Full-time staff positions will grow less common and more work will be done on a freelance basis. This will help news organizations remain lean and keep their overall costs competitive. All these changes, will of course affect how news is presented, consumed and ultimately, paid for.

The industry is in the process of adapting and integrating into our brave new Internet-dominated world. Collectively, there have been more stumbles than successes, but the consumer demand for quality news and journalism hasn’t dissipated. Great progress has been made in how to adapt content for online consumption (videos, blogs, etc.), but little attention has been given to how to pay. The approach has been to sustain any online operation through online advertising, but after a few years of experimentation this method has fundamentally failed.

Thanks to the analytical software available to advertisers, clients know more about the reach and effectiveness of their ads. While this allows for the creation of more targeted campaigns, the exact nature of it has weakened the traditional leverage publications held and therefore reduced the rates they can reasonably charge.

Businesses are now emerging to introduce new fee structures that take lessons from proven methods of online payment like PayPal and the iTunes Store. Eventually, one such of these methods will come to dominate the market. Expect to start paying for your online reading and expect it soon. Newspapers really can’t afford it otherwise.





Politics Can Be Ridiculous

28 05 2009

I’ve always been a political junkie, losing hours at the NYTimes.com and Slate or haranguing total strangers into having a debate, but there comes a point when even a devotee such as myself reaches a limit. Obama’s recent nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the land’s highest court has sent the machinery of both parties into a frenzy, churning out exaggerations and hypocrisy at an incredible pace. My maximum allowance, as it were, has been surpassed.

soto

I will destroy everything conservatives love and cherish, in a judicial sense that is.

I just find it strange (and exhausting) how every person in the news media seems to act like this is the first time such a thing has happened. It seems a feat to me that all these conservative pundits can be genuinely surprised that a democratic president would go and do something like nominate a liberal judge. Attacking her for being left of center just seems weak. Really, what did you expect?

You can make all the noise you want about babies and guns, but only some tangible, significant error or scandal can derail the nomination. Of course, I guess it makes more sense when it’s framed in the proper apocalyptic terms, like she’s a racist bigot intent on destroying the foundations of our constitution (as Anne Coulter puts it.)

It all then breaks down into this silly little dance; the party supporting the nominee waxes poetic about achievements, intelligence and judicial experience and the opposing group rallies around cries of said judge’s skewed ideological temperament. It’s supposedly a duel of ideas, but it’s all a play for time. The Dems want the nomination to go quickly and the GOP wants to protract it with vague attacks in hopes that some past scandal will emerge.

The whole back-and-forth seems so completely vapid. These people are judges, they are possibly the biggest dorks in our nation, their whole lives are consumed in reams of case studies. Trials and court proceedings are often incredibly dull (stop watching CSI right now, that show has nothing to do with reality).

Putting Sotomayor on the court isn’t going to transform it from a slow, methodical machine into a fanatic apparatus  that hacks the constitution, gun rights and babies into pieces.   Moreover, there are eight other people on the court. Sotomayor isn’t some judicial ninja (or is she!?) capable of executing solo stealth assassinations of legal precedent.

For those afraid Sotomayor is a stealth liberal judiciary time bomb, here’s a solid reason not to worry. Obama kind of has a lot to deal with at the moment, what with that economic crisis and all, so he’s not going to risk wasting time or political capital pushing through a controversial court nominee. Plus, he’s got to save some energy for other, more contentious battles later on, namely health care and environmental reforms.

The truth is, a liberal justice is being replaced by a liberal justice. Yawn. Let the press do some digging and wake me up if they find any skeletons.