Current events really only matter to the extent that they can fill this cultural standing wave that’s looking for a particular kind of content to fill it. It means that what’s driving our fascination is more primal or emotional or cultural than it is actual.
In the interview, Rushkoff gives voice to so many of the things I have been feeling about news consumption: that making sense of news events is increasingly difficult because newspapers don’t fit the bill and live-blogging is confusing as ever; that Facebook invites misrepresentation; that the NY Times consumption experience is becoming increasingly frenetic because they have so many different versions of it. The Wall Street Journal (and I agree here), on the other hand, stays better anchored in time:
The Wall Street Journal has held onto a lot of what the nightly newscast provides, shockingly even with Murdoch at the helm. There’s this sense that they understand. There’s a periodicity to what they’re doing, so they stay anchored in time. The New York Times, on the other hand, it’s so hard to even comment on them, because there are so many New York Timeses happening simultaneously. It’s schizophrenic. I don’t even know how to consume it anymore.
The larger point is this (summed up by Mathew Ingram):
Rushkoff isn’t the only one to notice this: for me, the tension between those two modes of information delivery — the real-time stream and the fixed-in-time reservoir — was best described by Robin Sloan, author and former Twitter staffer,in an essay about what he called “stock” and “flow.” Those terms come from the world of economics, where people are used to talking about stored value (such as cash and other monetary instruments, or physical resources) and the real-time fluctuation in the value of those things: i.e., the trading of currency or the sale of goods.
Sloan said at the time that the idea of stock and flow was “the master metaphor for media today,” and I think he was right. We are all caught between the stream and the reservoir — because we want to be part of the real-time flow, but we also want to capture the value that comes from taking the time to analyze that flow.Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal wrote about this challenge in a recent piece on the life of a digital editor, but it is something we all struggle with, whether we are theNew York Times or just someone trying to keep up with the news.
FJP: Finding a path through the media madness is a pretty enormous life goal of mine. Looking forward to reading the book.—Jihii
For people who’ve followed me on Twitter, they’ve gotten to know many of the people I tweet about as characters in a broader Arab Spring narrative. You see their ups and downs, the hopes fulfilled and their dreams dashed. But because it’s happening over twitter, you’re not experiencing these stories in the past tense. You’re experiencing them in the present – as present as you can get. And my characters are real people, whether they use their real names or are forced to use pseudonyms for their own safety.
Andy Carvin, interviewed by Jesse Hicks. The Verge. Tweeting the news: Andy Carvin test pilots Twitter journalism.
For those who don’t know much about NPR’s Andy Carvin, this is a good primer. For those who know who he is, you probably know that he has a book coming out too — about his time reporting the Arab Spring on Twitter.
Newspaper owners, struggling with plunging demand and advertising spending at a six-decade low, are squeezing money out of the assets they do have with rising value: buildings and land.
Nadja Brandt, Bloomberg. Condos Replaces Newsrooms as U.S. Papers Sell Real Estate.
From the article:
Newspaper companies are finding they can save money by renting offices outside of urban areas, said Leo Kulp, a New York-based advertising and publishing analyst at Citigroup Inc.
“Newspapers aren’t in the central spotlight anymore as they used to be in times past,” he said. “With the rise of online communications you don’t need to be in center of town. You can pay down debt, raise capital and get cheaper real estate in the suburbs.”
FJP: Selling off what’s unnecessary reminds us of this post by Clay Shirky, in which he recounts the time he counted how many people worked at his hometown paper (hint: he didn’t find many actual journalists.)
Who reads music writing? There’s obviously a core of readers invested in what reviews and think pieces have to say — they debate on Twitter and in specialist havens like I Love Music, on their Facebook feeds and even sometimes in the comment sections. The economics of the web, which are both more directly tied to traffic numbers and lower-margin than those of print, make that audience too small to make any economic sense as a core demographic; readers outside the Best Music Writing-obsessed have to be reached as well.
Maura Johnson, NPR Music. What Happened To Music Writing This Year?
Johnson is on to something, and it’s not just about music writing — it’s about journalism as an increasingly porous activity. Lists and lightweight news bites regularly become the day’s most shared content. And many people who would be receptive to more in-depth, thoughtful content are likely banging out article-worthy ideas in online conversations.
She continues, asking a question all up-and-comers should ask themselves:
And this is where the larger quandary comes in. If the idea is to “serve the reader,” does that mean exposing them to new things they haven’t heard and ideas that might not have been aired yet, or does it mean pivoting off the conventional wisdom in some way?
H/T: Jay Rosen.
A year ago today I walked out of the News & Record for the last time as editor. Twenty-seven years there, 13 of them as editor. It was a good run. But I wish I had been smarter. After a year as a civilian newspaper reader, I realize how often I worked on the wrong things.
John L. Robinson in Journalism, One Year Later. He reflects very honestly on what he could have done differently at the newspaper.
1. On Content
We spent time and precious resources on stories that didn’t matter much to most readers. We should have been writing stories that compelled people to read them. We didn’t do enough investigative pieces. We didn’t do enough good reads. We didn’t do enough of what readers valued.
2. On Digital Innovation:
We didn’t build an inviting, informative, smart community, which is dumb of us because newsrooms are places where smart, creative, fun people work.
3. On Listening:
Had we met with members of the community — readers and non-readers – to listen, learn and improve every other month, perhaps we wouldn’t be in as much trouble as we are.
We need, in short, to pay attention to the materiality of algorithmic processes. By that, I do not simply mean the materiality of the algorithmic processing (the circuits, server farms, internet cables, super-computers, and so on) but to the materiality of the procedural inputs. To the stuff that the algorithm mashes up, rearranges, and spits out.
CW Anderson, Culture Daily. The Materiality of Algorithms.
In what reads like a starting point for more posts on the subject, CUNY Prof Chris Anderson discusses what documents journalists may want to design algorithms for, and just how hard that task will be.
Algorithms doing magic inside massive data sets and search engines, while not mathematically simple, are generally easy to conceptualize — algorithms and their data are sitting in the computer, the algorithm sifts through the excel sheet in the background and bam! you have something.
But if you’re working with poorly organized documents, it’s difficult to simply plug them in.
Chris writes that the work required to include any document in a set will shape the algorithm that makes sense of the whole bunch. This will be a problem for journalists who want to examine any documents made without much forethought, which is to say: government documents, phone records from different companies and countries, eye witness reports, police sketches, mugshots, bank statements, tax forms, and hundreds of other things worth investigating.
The recovered text [from these documents] is a mess, because these documents are just about the worse possible case for OCR [optical character recognition]: many of these documents are forms with a complex layout, and the pages have been photocopied multiple times, redacted, scribbled on, stamped and smudged. But large blocks of text come through pretty well, and this command extracts what text there is into one file per page.
To read the rest of Stray’s account, see his Overview Project.
And to see more with Chris Anderson, see our recent video interviews with him.