Thirty years in “new media” Part II The veteran strikes back

A reader of the part of one of this blog, might ask, “Did you really spend  thirty years in new media?”

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The answer is a yes and I was into computers long before that.

In 1968, as a teenage page at the Toronto Public Library system, I was part of a summer experiment in the multimedia of the day, as libraries dipped their toes into the water of the new era beyond books.  We made a student science fiction film and as part of the project we filmed 1968-epoch computers being installed at the Ontario Science Centre, then under construction.

As an editorial assistant at CBC Radio News  1977-79 I had used a very primitive computer system  assigned to its then internal wire service.  By primitive,  its memory  was the equivalent of an amoeba compared to humans.  You had to type a story, perfectly, on a green CRT screen, because there was no memory to save your work. When the story was ready, you pushed Enter and it was dumped to punch tape, then sent over a regular teletype circuit.

I arrived in London in December of  1980, born of British parents in a then British colony, and thus a dual citizen, following the track of  other  generations of young Canadians. London was the place to advance a career.  London did that for me, creating a media geek rather than a foreign correspondent. So I began my 30 years in “new media.” 

Another aim in going to London was to do research for a couple of planned books.

Over Christmas I worked in a crazy pub, the Duke of Kendal, and then in January 1981, after registering as a researcher at the British Library, I landed a job in the  mail room of French Travel Service, an independent rail tour service affiliated with SNCF, offering package and independent rail tours to France.  The job paid the rent and let me do my research at the British Library.   There was one unexpected bonus.   FTS was one of the British  travel companies that was experimenting with the UK developed Prestel videotex system. Although I had nothing to do with the Prestel reservation system, it fascinated me and I was looking over peoples’ shoulders as they operated.

Lesson 1: IT should always be the servant,  never the master. Know your hardware and  software

The computer chap at FTS (there was no IT in 1981) was a tall man with a black beard, in an area, London Victoria, of  mostly clean shaven business types.  The computer reservation system was a main frame in a clean room on one side of the small office.  The man appeared to be  incredibly arrogant and he began every conversation  I overheard with the managers and their secretaries, all shorter in stature,  (he never lowered himself to speak to me).  Towering over them, he would say: “You don’t know much about computers, but…..”  And he would get his way.

In retrospect, it was then I probably decided that I had to know more about computers.  Perhaps because I was an avid reader of science fiction and guessing that computers would be a big part of the future, a year later, back in Toronto,  I would take a basic computer course at (programming  punch cards) and with that basic understanding of all hardware and software I was using.  It is not just that if you know the basics of  the system you are using, you will not be intimidated by the  IT personnel, you will know enough, as some one who is working in the media, to be tweak the system and be creative.

After a couple of months, and wrapping up the research at the British Library, I answered an ad for  someone with computer experience (rare in 1981) at Universal News Services, the UK public relations wire (later part of the PR Newswire empire) UNS  was also experimenting with the British videotex system, Prestel.   Rather than sending out the news releases by teletype, the releases would be easily available for newspapers editors outside of  London on a TV screen, information retrieved from a central mainframe computer.

It wasn’t exactly a leap into the future. Given the strength of the National Graphical Association (one of the unions later broken by Rupert Murdoch) I would  type the stories on a typewriter, and the an NGA member would enter it into the computer just as they would send out a news release by teletype.


Lesson 2  What goes around comes around I  There ain’t no such thing as  a free lunch

UNS promised the newspapers a “free”service, meaning they weren’t charging for what today would be called page views. (Some Prestel service providers did charge and soon found they had few clients– an indication of the shape of things to come).   British Telecom was still charging for both the phone lines that went to the Prestel mainframe and a usage metre. Newspaper clients didn’t understand  the difference between what today would be called bandwidth and the actual content and so UNS constantly got letters of complaints from newspaper editor who did not understand that difference, just like someone today, perhaps a teenager,  with a mobile phone in 2011 who spends time with a free app and doesn’t know about bandwidth charges.

Lesson 3  What goes around comes around II. Life in 140 characters.

There wasn’t much you could say with the limited Prestel system, but one venerable news organization did adjust very well,  creating short snippets of news. Which is why I blogged in  March 2009, that the Economist invented the tweet without knowing it. 

After a few months at UNS, I was invited to lunch at the Canadian High Commission in London, which was recruiting Brits working in Prestel to come to Canada and work on the competing, Canadian developed Telidon system.   After a little wine, some good food and persuasion from the diplomatic corps, I decided to head home. A few months later I was back in Toronto,.

My first job was with the Southam Infomart project. Southam was then the largest Canadian newspaper chain. How Southam ran Infomart was probably the first example of how a large media corporation  can completely screw up a project. (Knight Ridder was running its own experiment in the US and their project was shut down about the same and I have no knowledge how KR ran their videotex project. However, from the few online comments I have seen, it appears KR did not make the horrendous mistakes Southam did)

I was there just a few months, before there were a series of layoffs, the project was failing and  failing quickly.  After a couple of months of  unemployment I was hired by the CBC’s parallel teletext experiment Project Iris.


Lesson 4  Engineers know nothing about content. Neither do the sales force.

Although Southam was a content company, a  newspaper chain with a storied and respected history in Canada, Southam abandoned management of their first new media experiment to the techies, in this case a group of  former IBM middle managers (who kept telling us, the content staff, “This is what we did at IBM.”) The other key figures were the sales staff, who  somehow convinced Sears to put its soon to be released 1982  catalogue on  the system, despite the fact the graphics were primitive. So the majority of the company effort was an early experiment in e-commerce.  Only there was no audience for the service, there were no sets in homes. Bell was planning to offer the service but even then we asked  who would take it (although we were optimistic it would take off).  Even then I had to wonder, what were they thinking?  At least in the UK the Economist  created readable content for Prestel.  The news content at Infomart didn’t even come from Southam, they picked up a raw feed from the Broadcast News wire, without stripping the headers and with no index so a viewer could find stories.

As for CBC Project Iris, it too was managed by engineers, since the funding came from an agreement between the Department of Communications and CBC Engineering headquarters in Montreal.  Unlike Southam,  Mother Corp  did not cede editorial content control to the engineers, so there was a  small, but very real newsroom repurposing CBC content for the service, which did have an audience, 200 test homes.  Later we also had an American audience, since CBS was also testing teletext and one of the test sites was WIVB in Buffalo, with 50 test homes, which meant each audience (if it wanted) could see each other’s feed. So the CBC project continued long after the Southam project died, until it was killed by Brian Mulroney’s budget cuts.

So thirty years later, what goes around, comes around.   Media and content organizations are still  often under the thumb of engineering departments, but now they are outside vendors and engineers, whether it  is Google’s arcane search algorithms,  page or layout design created for the web or tablets or phones by software engineers with no background whatsoever in content.

Then there is Steve Jobs, until recently the CEO, but still the godfather, of Apple, giving295-cestab1w.jpg desperate media companies offers they cannot refuse, demanding that they charge for content  on the Ipad so Apple can get its  30 per cent cut,  content that Apple says it can censor at will.  Of course, there were dozens of tablets at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, but the question is how many of those tablets will survive the evolutionary competition and whether or not one tablet succeeds by giving the media companies a way of saying no to the godfather from Apple.

Lesson 5.   Apps, brought to you buy the butterfly effect.

285-butterflyrose.jpgIn physics,  chaos theory is summed up by this phrase. “Sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” (or if a butterfly flaps its wings in one area, it triggers a hurricane across the world) In the days of videotex, there were no homes with sets in North America.  So the companies experimenting with the technology had to make some money. So they came up with the  idea of putting videotex sets in malls as sort of electronic guidebooks.   One of the best commercial clients for videotex in the early days were restaurants. The content could be produced easily, menus were mostly text and restaurant pages did not really need the photographic quality graphics that made the Sears catalogue project a failure. So the idea was to have a guide to the restaurants in a large mall or perhaps even  neighbourhood.

How do you make it easy for people to use the system? The engineers came up with a brilliant solution.  Touch screens.

The problem was that in the period 1980-1984 touch screens in malls  and offices were a total, utter complete and costly failure. Why? Because  idiots, whether they were teenagers or adults who hadn’t grown up, were constantly stubbing lit cigarettes onto the touch sensitive part  of the screen.  A single cigarette could destroy a computer system costing thousands of dollars.  The videotex booths disappeared from malls almost as quickly as they had appeared.

So think about this.  Over the past 30 years, smoking has been banned indoors, in malls, and in offices,  because of the proven  connection between cancer and second hand smoke.  With little historical memory of the videotex failure, it is perhaps a lucky coincidence that second generation, PC based touch screens began to appear in government and corporate offices at about the same time as smoking bans.   The success of large touch screen systems allowed the development of apps on smaller smart phones and tablets

Smoking bans likely not only made the air cleaner and saved lives from second hand smoke, the bans also brought you the apps you finger on your Android phone or your iPad tablet.

One last note, today there are apps for your smart phone using the GPS interface that will let you find restaurants nearby and the  menus, so the concept was right, but 30 years too early.

So when you’re developing a technological innovation, remember success or failure may depend on  something that has absolutely nothing to do with how fast your hardware is or how good your code is. It may depend on something like a ,bunch of  executives lying at a congressional hearing in Washington about the addictive properties of nicotine.

In North America, most of the videotex and teletext projects in both the United States and Canada died between the fall of 1984 and the spring of 1985. The official reason was budget cuts, whether the project was in the public sector or the private sector.  The main reason, of course, was that the growth of  the personal computer made the videotex system obsolete and the growth of multichannel cable television was quickly becoming highly profitable, especially due to carriage fees on cable channels, and teletext was just not  worth developing.

Lesson 6.  Experts are often blind to the world around them.

Over the past 30 years, companies and governments have often been blind sided by an  “unexpected” technological development.  The latest example, of course, is Wikileaks, which, in retrospect, could have been foreseen as a by product of putting all records in electronic form.

The videotex and teletext systems began development in the UK (Prestel)  and Canada (Telidon) in the mid 1970s.   

The statement attributed  to Thomas J Watson of  IBM, that the world would only need five computers is an urban myth. In the 1950s and 1960s, IBM  was concentrating on large expensive mainframe machines to be used by  universities and corporations.  It was clear the a machine that would rent for between $12,000 and $18,000 a month (in 1953 dollars) would be totally inaccessible to the general public.

Even by the 1960s, that there was a growing public interest in computers and there were visionaries who began looking for a way to involve the public, create a market,  give access  to information and even make a profit.  The solution was videotex.  The computer keyboard had already been developed.  Add some memory, make the keyboard a little smarter, connect it to a TV set (already in every home) and then by phone line to (usually IBM for videotex and DEC for teletext) mainframe computer, and lo and behold, the public would be introduced to the world of personal computing.

So when I first became interested in videotex in London in the winter of 1981, and when I returned to Canada in the fall of 1981, I was told by the companies I worked for on both sides of the Atlantic and by other people in the industry at meetings, that all the experts believed it would take 20 years of slow but steady improvement of the keyboard-phoneline-mainframe system before there was a viable personal computer system

In 20 -20 hindsight, Monday  morning quarterbacking, the failure of videotex was certain. Steve Wozniak had introduced the first Apple II personal computer in June 1977 followed by the Apple II Plus in June 1979.  I had actually considered buying an Apple II Plus in the that summer of 1979 before I headed for London.(it was too expensive especially for an impoverished freelancer)  As I was working in videotex, IBM, the maker of the mainframes used by some of the videotex 96-osborne1.jpgsystem, was already working on the development of the personal computer. In August 1981, as I resigned from UNS and went for a two week vacation in Greece, IBM launched the first personal computer.  There were competitors, the Atari and Commodore systems and the Tandy TRS-80, the “Trash 80”  which many techy journalist of the era fell in love with and CP/M machines like the Osborne I bought in 1983, while I was still working at CBC Project Iris. The introduction of the IBM PC XT in March 1983 ( I saw it at a trade show in Toronto that month) with its amazing 10 megabyte internal hard drive, which was the first truly consumer friendly PC, meant videotex was doomed.

As I said, what goes around comes around. It’s thirty years later and what, apart from the tablet, was hot at the Consumer Electronics Show this year?

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 One big item was a real old fashioned idea, obsolete for  more than a quarter of a century, connecting your television set to a computer system, and giving it a keyboard.  Of course, it is a high definition set and one of  the reasons to connect to the Internet is to download movies, but the system also allows the user to have complete access to the World Wide Web.  If  one of those experts from 1981 had been caught in a time warp and suddenly reappeared in a living room  in Christmas 2011, where the family gathers around to watch a downloaded movie on an HD set and check their e-mail at the same time, that expert, with no knowledge of what had happened in the previous three decades, would have thought their prophecy had proven true. (And given that the telecoms want to charge more for all that bandwidth to download  a movie, that too might bring back memories for our time traveller).

After Project Iris was killed by  Brian Mulroney,  I kept my connection with developing tech with my new Osborne.  I wrote my first book, King of the Mob, on that four inch screen.  In October 1988, I joined CTV News as a writer on the CTV National News.

Lesson 7.  Beware of software executives bearing gifts

At CTV at that time, 1988 to 1994, the TV news writing software was awkward and primitive, compared to the expanding and consumer friendly software creating for the growing PC and Mac markets.  A company named Columbine had created a mainframe based software for tracking commercial sales and placement.  The company threw in the news writing software as an added inducement for bean counting corporate executives to buy the commercials tracking system.  While Columbine may have had some expertise in tracking commercials,  the news writing software was a mash up.

Add on software, is, in most cases, a very bad deal.

There is exactly the same situation with Novell Groupwise, which is certainly not the best e-mail client in the world, but because it’s added to the Novell’s networking software, which seems to work well, many companies force their employees to use Groupwise, even though there are much better products on the market.  Why would any company in its right mind, spend all that extra money licencing Groupwise per workstation in addition to all the money they pay for the Novell’s networking software, when there are better products available such as Thunderbird?  Not to mention, Gmail. During the CBC lockout, we created a duplicate of the CBC Groupwise system using Gmail, at no cost  (and it worked better)

Lesson  8.   Managers should always consult that people who actually use the hardware or software.

I can’t count the number of times that media managers, based on talking to consultants, fast talking software sales people and sometimes even IT people, impose software and/or hardware on staff without asking them to see if it actually works for what the company wants to do with it.   One of the few times that staff were consulted was at CTV News, when management brought us in to see what they thought was a great piece of TV news writing software, to replace the much hated Columbine.   It was a good piece of software, but as the sales people enthusiastically ran through its features, my techy alarm bells started ringing, and so I began asking questions, about how the lineup editor and the producer would communicate if one was at the main desk and one in the control room and how the writers would work with the lineup editor.   What management didn’t realize was until I the user and techy guy, began asking the questions was that the vendor was presenting software that was really good for a small local station, (the vendor’s client base in the US) but totally inadequate for a network news operation.  They didn’t buy that software.

In the fall of 1993, I began co-writing the first book on Researching on the Internet. It was a rather exciting time to be writing that kind  of book, just as  Mosaic and later Netscape,  opened up the World Wide Web.  It was also the time that both PC and Mac were taking off, with hundreds of small  new companies in fierce competition with each other, just to survive.

Lesson 9.   Software vendors will always promise you the moon, the stars, and a galaxy, far, far away.

Software sales people haven’t changed in a quarter of a century.   They promised you the moon with a 10 megabyte hard drive PC in 1983 and now in 2011,  with mobile phones on the genius level, compared to the computers that  actually sent NASA to the moon, they promise you the stars.  Whether it’s 1983 or 2011, the software guy who comes to your office or greets you at a trade show  (even these days, it is still usually a guy) is wearing a company polo shirt and nicely faded blue jeans, sounds more like a  California surfer dude than a geek, has a big smile, is so good looking that he’s may be also registered with Central Casting and so really loves his tech that he really believes that his product is the greatest thing since the invention of  the silicon chip and COBOL (look it up on Wikipedia).

Caveat emptor.   That’s Latin for “let the buyer beware,” which  leaves one wondering, given that the Romans were such good engineers, if there were  tech trade shows in the Coliseum when the gladiators had a day off.

The surfer dude salesman’s supervisor also wears the company polo shirt but sports dress pants, is in his late 30s, maybe wears glasses, sounds more like a professor and is geekier than his sales staff. He was probably the good looking kid at a trade show long, long ago and far, far, away and stopped going to the gym when he was promoted or married or both.  His role, of course, is like that boss in an auto dealership,  with the sales manager offering you “the deal”  the sales person can’t.   If you were wearing a media badge, that usually meant the software was free.   For  anyone else,   the manager has visions of the ten thousand workstation contract.  The pitch is always the same, whether it is 1983 with the first PC, the multitude of tablets at the CES 2011 and the new, new thing at whatever trade show is hot in 2021, our software is the greatest thing since the creation of the universe.  After a while, to  the jaded veteran, it all sounds exactly the same.

There is one lesson that holds true, for hardware or software,  in 1983, in 2011 or 2021. Never buy Version 1.0. Never!  (At least, in the beginning,  in 1983, Version 1.0 was usually stable, if incomplete with minimal features. These days with the rush to market and pressure for profit, Version 1.0 is actually closer to Beta  0.56 Build 1066 ).

Lesson 10.   One of the great failures of the mainstream media was its lousy coverage of the software industry

Again, with 20-20 hindsight, it is easy to see that an early indication of the coming failure of the mainstream media was not in its adoption or failure to adopt new technological innovations, but the media’s failure to cover the software industry as it was then covering the police beat, city hall, provincial or state and federal governments.

When I was asked to write Researching on the Internet, I had already been following tech for a decade. I knew everything was changing at high speed.  The solution was not to create a software manual, impossible in any case, because unlike Version x.x of software, the web wasn’t static. My idea for book (especially since it was written in a time of transition) was to give the reader some basic principles so that they could work with the web as long as possible.  The idea was right, because Researching on the Internet stayed in print and selling (and making me a profit, the book “earned out.” long after the actual  software had been replaced by new versions)

So with that in mind, when I approached software companies, my questions were similar to  those I   often asked as a reporter, to police, to city hall, to the big industries in town and in the locker room.  Software companies traditionally held their developments secret so as not to reveal them to competitors, which is perfectly understandable.   The problem was that most  software companies were used to uncritical coverage as they announced their latest products.  They were not expecting even the mildest kind of  critical question even a local sports reporter whose was perhaps too close to the home team might have  asked a hockey coach about his plans (or lack of them) for the coming season.

I remember meeting with an executive of one then prominent software company, who turned pale at some of my pretty innocuous questions, and quickly palmed me off to a PR person, who simply repeated how good their products were and showed me to the door. (It later turned out that the company’s financial position was not as good as it claimed and it was later sold).

One area that was generally ignored by the mainstream and the computer press  (the latter dependent on advertising from software companies) was  softcide. Softcide was a common practice during the boom of the 1990s where one company with deeper pockets, bought a company with a better product, then killed that product, so that the next so-called “upgrade” resulted in angry customers being offered the inferior product, while support for the better  and now orphaned software was abandoned. The business press was even worse, usually caring only about the stock price and not the actual management of these companies.

It was only when some of those outraged customers,  computer writers, former employees and sometimes current and anonymous employees  who were branching out on their own began blogging with inside scoops on the software industry did the mainstream media catch  up (and even today the MSM is too often dependent on those bloggers.)

In 1994, I returned to CBC where I would work as a TV lineup editor, then  web writer and producer and later photo editor.  I watched as online news started as a hole in the wall closet office experiment, then a small team working and changing on the go until, like all other online news operations,  it was finally folded into the corporate machine

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Lesson 11.  Team should mean team

Team has become a cliched buzzword.   Software companies and your ISP sign off their messages  with the X Team.  So spammers take advantage of the team cliche.  (I have received auto spam from the “robinrowland.com team,” not bad for a one man operation.)  At the same time, television news, using the same  cliched buzzword, promise “full team coverage,” as does every other TV station in town. Not to  mention the newspapers.

One has to wonder why the executives, whether in software or the media, are so blinkered that they actually believe that the public pays attention to this constantly repeated nonsense.
A good newsroom has always been a team, going back 150 odd years or more to the first major newspapers. Software with its often millions of lines of code is also a team effort.

In many cases, bean-counting management, applying cost benefit analysis, have undermined team efforts in both industries, with staff cuts, ignoring morale problems and by creating bureaucratic headaches. while creating a message track of a team effort.

Like all cliches, like all message tracks, the team analogy is based on truth.  In the 30 years that I have worked in new or online media, the system worked best when the IT staff were present in the actual newsroom, rather than on another floor or even another city.  In a couple of cases, it was one single person who was  working with us in developing projects.  In another case,  the IT staff,  programmers, network administers and hardware geeks were crammed into a small office with the news staff, because there was no room  for them anywhere else.

In all three cases, the majority of the IT staff saw what we were trying to accomplish and worked their butts  off to help us to make sure their system they had created did what was supposed to, especially in cases where there problems getting stories up on the web during breaking news and the miracle workers created instant work around.

Unfortunately, when the IT people eventually had their own office, they soon lost interest in what the newsroom needed and their aim was to fullfil the IT department’s priorities and the demands of IT culture.   It got  even worse when bean-counting management consolidated IT network and technical support in call centre in a city hundreds of miles away with people who never actually had any concept of what the media staff were trying to do.  (At least the call centre was in Canada, not Bangalore or Kuala Lumpur).

IT culture at its best can  be creative, at its worst it is a bureaucratic nightmare. Unless there is a symbiotic relationship with the actual productive staff, when the IT culture is separate from the newsroom culture, the system breaks down.  It’s as if the journalists are the leopards and the IT staff the lions, the journalists are the Orcas and the IT staff the sharks, similar creature in an  similar environment, but with different and often competing goals.

The worst case of IT disconnect came in 2001.  At one major news organization, the IT staff had scheduled a network upgrade for September 13,  2001.  The idiots were so blind that the network upgrade went ahead regardless of the events  two days earlier on September 11 and the entire system slowed to a crawl. IT honchos were rather put out at the escalating calls of complaint, starting with front line news staff and escalating to senior news management, when the network upgrade didn’t work properly

The journalism programs at Columbia (Tow Center for Digital Journalism ) and New York University are currently working on a programs/curriculum that will create “journo-programmers” 

(See also Nieman Labs  Boston Hack Day Challenge and  Educating the journo-programmer. )

I was one of the first journo-programmers myself .  After I returned to Canada from London, I took a programming course at York University. It being 1981. I programed using punch cards. The course was invaluable and because I always had a basic understanding of how computers worked, I was always able to adapt to new innovations.

There’s one problem, however, with what Columbia and NYU  are attempting. There is no mirror image  curriculum where the IT people are trained as programmer-journos  (or programmer-doctors, programmer-cops or programmer-millwrights etc. ). While it is a good that a young journo-programmer knows, the basics of code and/or how to run a server, it is not going to do that young man or woman  much  good when they come up against corporate IT and their priorities.  The journo-programmer may know what he/she is talking about but if history is any guide, in most cases, they will be ignored by IT.

Many corporate IT people still believe that anyone who calls to report a problem is the cliched dummy who puts their coffee mug in the CD drive holder and knows nothing about the system. I say many because I and my geek colleagues always made it a point to find out who were the better and more responsive IT people and when possible went directly to them.

We always joked that best training in dealing with corporate  IT was watching M*A*S*H.  Unfortunately, in too many cases, these better IT people soon left either  because  media IT salaries were low compared to other areas, because other companies recognized their talent and hired them away,  they left because they couldn’t stand the stultifying bureaucracy or were fired  because their bosses didn’t want employees who were smarter than they were.
 I have always thought that at any company, no matter what the product or service, all IT staff should be made, as a condition of employment, to start at the bottom, at least for a month and work in their company’s main product or service line.  However, that dream for the working staff (and perhaps a nightmare for the IT staff) will likely never happen.

Throughout my career, and this is a good reason to have journo-programmers, if we could avoid working with the IT people on the other floor, we did our own work arounds.

Of course, if the news staff and the IT were truly a team,  then there wouldn’t be these kinds of problems.

It soon became apparent at those news organizations that were early on the web that they had to quickly expand their staff beyond the pioneer geeks. 

 That’s when the in the broom closet IT staff created the first template systems, which then grew into in house and later outside vendor supplied Content Management Systems.   Those Content Management Systems meant a whole generation of  journalists, working on the web, never actually had to understand the nuts and bolts of how the system worked. They simply showed up for work and wrote their copy or uploaded their photos and video in a system that too them was not too different than the typewriter of an earlier generation.  (That is if the system actually worked.  Again senior management was too often seduced by the promises from software vendors, bought expensive CMS systems that were not suitable for the news, TV  or magazine media)

Lesson  12.  Be aware of the innovation cycle and be prepared for it.

As everyone who works in the media knows, the business is mired in a deep crisis and that crisis is getting worse as new innovations seem to appear almost every day, with corporate news executives flopping around like fish out of water in their efforts to catch up.
 After about a decade of relative stability from the late 1990s to the late 2000s after the introduction and then the maturity of  the world wide web, in the past few years, came Facebook, then Twitter, then the smart phone, then Foursquare, then the iPad and now Quora.
 
This is reflected on the Twitter feed #futureofnews.  I quickly noticed something about those posting on #futureofnews (I admit that this is unscientific and anecdotal, but perhaps someone looking for a PhD dissertation can quantify it). 

There is, as far as I can tell, an age related reverse bell curve, on those who are posting, either on #futureofnews or #journalism and discussing the survival of the news media.  The majority of posters are either in their 50s and 60s or in their 20s,  students and young journos.

 There are people I met at the Computer Assisted Reporting Conferences in the heady days of the early 1990s, or who appeared on the early CAR and Online news lists like Dan Gillmor, Steve  Yelvington, Danny Sullivan, Steve Outing,  gurus from then and now like Don Tapscott and  other slightly later pioneers like Jim Brady (@jimbradysp) and Jeff Jarvis On the rising side of the reverse bell curve are the younger side,  people in their 20s,  like Adam Westbrook and Cody Brown.

Why is that?  News management these days might like to believe that anyone over 40 is obsolete as far new media technological innovation is concerned.

Not so. My contemporaries, call us the over the hill gang or the geeks from Cocoon, if you wish, were part of a innovation cycle, where we had to adapt to something new every day.  While there are people in  their 30s and 40s on #futureofnews, they are usually not the most frequent posters. Most of those people came into journalism in the relatively stable and mature period of the world wide web from approximately 1996 to 2006.

It is the generation from 18 to 28 that face the greatest challenges. It is a time of economic crisis for  all of society and even more so for the news media, at a time  of  technological innovation that is proceeding at warp speed.  (After all the previous generation, my generation, faced innovation at a time of prosperity and apart from a couple of downturns, economic stability)

That is why the new generation journalists or journalists-to-be are most frequent posters  on #futureofnews and that is where the most productive feedback and mentoring occurs between the previous generation that faced an innovation cycle and the current  generation.

I am not optimistic that the current (mostly aging) corporate news management can adapt to both the economic downturn, the increasing pace of technological innovation, and for the west, especially the United States, too long comfortable at the top of the heap,  growing international competition.

If only a few executives come to realize that we are in a period of evolving media (as I discussed in part one  of this blog) some of the better media will likely survive.

As for the long term survival of  traditional journalism that tells the world both what it wants to know and also what it needs to know,  it is likely that, if anyone saves the craft and the profession, it will be someone who right now is 19 or 21 or even 28, who will discover the key to future success.

If they want help of an old veteran, I’ll be glad, grasshopper, to tell them more tall tales of punch cards and four inch screens and hand coding html news stories.   The world is different, but as I have said what goes around comes around, so I write  in the hope that the Tao of News will give them some ideas on how to be flexible and adaptable in the few of the latest new, new thing,  how to deal with bean-counting managers and corporate IT call centres, so they can do what’s really important, cover the news.

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Thirty years in “new media.” Part I A new perception

If someone, and that someone is me, can spend almost of all of a thirty year journalism career in what’s still being called “new media” and then take early retirement,  isn’t it time we started calling the silicon-based multimedia something else?

The word “new” in “new media” has become a slogan,  no different from a  consumer product such as shampoo where there  always is a “new and improved”version with a tweak here and a thunk there.

“New” is part of the problem, “new” is the reason why most media executives have failed to come to grips with  the current crisis of falling revenues, dwindling audience and distrust of our work.  Those  transnational media managers, editors and executive producers are all under the impression that all they have to do is hire yet another consultant to find the right bottle for the new formula shampoo and all will be well.

After a decade of that kind of stumbling,  it can  definitely be said that’s wrong.

From the perspective of  being part of thirty years of  technological innovation, challenges, responses, successes and failures, if the new media is to survive and thrive, a different (not new) perspective is needed.

Change the word, change the perception, change the response.

We are living in the era of evolving media.

If  we stop thinking that the latest innovation (today it is the iPad and competing tablets, tomorrow who knows what it will be) as a  new toy, but as new (or even invasive) species in the media ecosystem, then, uncomfortable as it is for quite a few us, then, if  survival matters, and it does, then adaptation is the key.  In the era of  rapidly evolving media, repackaging fails, because repackaging is not adaptation.

It also means facing the unknown, something most of today’s  media  managers are loathe to do.  So when I say “we are living in the era of evolving media,” the “we” I am referring to  the people who, as a friend, then an editor with the London Sunday Times, once quipped, actually “commit journalism,” the ones who have to face the unknown and the routine,  the reporters, editors, photographers, videographers, web designers, and even the few managers who haven’t been purged or retired from burn out, who love and believe in the principles of
journalism (no matter how hit and miss those flawed human beings actually implement those principles). More and more that includes “the people,” “the public”, the “ordinary citizen”  with mobile phone cameras, tweets and blogs–who actually report rather than rant.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

285-butterflyrose.jpgLet’s look back at the evolution of ecosystems: To the Cretaceous, the last great age of the dinosaurs and the time when  there was the sudden explosion of new varieties of  flowering plants,  the angiosperms, which pushed into the ecosystems then dominated by ferns and conifers. It truly was a time, to quote Mao Zedong from 1957 in a different context of : “Letting a hundred flowers blossom…”(the thousand flower was a later, urban legend, misquote, just like “Play it again, Sam,” rather than “Play it Sam,”)

What Mao said (and quickly relented when the campaign became a threat to his power) was   “Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land.” 

So using this analogy, evolving media will bring that progress in the arts and sciences (forget about socialist culture, at least as it existed in the 20th century) but over a longer time scale than the quarterly results report period so beloved by the financial markets.

The first primitive angiosperms probably appeared sometime in the first age of  dinosaurs, the Triassic, about 200 million years ago, but had little impact, perhaps evolving in isolated areas or islands, until (at least according to the current fossil record) 100 million years ago, there came some sort of tipping point and there was the explosion of flowering pant species from the tiniest flower to great new deciduous trees.
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Consider the Internet, the Web, Facebook, Twitter,  Foursquare, phone and tablet apps,  the new flowers, as part of an media ecosystem undergoing rapid evolutionary change, with more to come.

The large scale appearance of flowering plants then triggered evolutionary changes among animals,  insects,birds, dinosaurs and quite likely mammals. So it is inevitable there will be new “species” of journalists emerging now and in the coming years.

In the short term, the prognosis for the news media is not that good.  The world is in economic turmoil, and the financial and corporate sectors, trapped in mid-Twentieth century models that no longer work, are failing to adapt.  Governments are also failing to adapt to escalating challenges.

 As for the media, the corporate level is also trapped in  mid-Twentieth century models that no longer work. On the level of the actual news story, the media workers, the ecosystems are also in turmoil, those  Cretaceous new flower species are spreading through the ferns and conifers, and crowding them out.

In the long term, I am optimistic for the future of  real journalism, the kind that tells significant stories about people and events, and for those who “commit journalism,” whom ever they may be.  After all, the emergence of those first significant flowers 100 million years ago, led eventually, to William Shakespeare writing in Rome and Juliet, “a rose  by any other name would smell as sweet.”  The disappearance of some of those fern and conifer species led to fields of  beautiful flowers and trees with juicy apples.

Some form of journalism will survive even a probable crisis of climate and civilization, just as life, including flowering plants, eventually recovered from the impact of the asteroid that shattered planet Earth 65 million years ago.

The Epic of Media

So imagine that someone far in the future is  producing a documentary about the media crisis of the early 21st century,  modelled on the dinosaur epics, first pioneered by a public sector broadcaster the BBC, and now a mainstay on Discovery and National Geographic, especially during the November sweeps.

Storyline: Now to the evolutionary flashback.  The giant, apex species, brought down by the tiniest newly evolved  species

First the weather forecast,  so beloved by media  consultants. Over the coming months and years, unsettled, with storm warnings and sunny breaks.  Long term outlook, increasingly volatile weather and climate patterns.

The transnational media, giant trees  that dominate the landscape today are threatened by the tiniest of creatures, call it a tweet.  This is not unlike another  climate and evolutionary disaster of the early 21st century, in British Columbia and elsewhere in the west, the pine beetle’s destruction of the forests.  Thanks to climate change, most winters are no longer cold enough to kill off the pine beetle the voracious insect flourishes as it eats its way through and destroys the forest, pine tree by pine tree.

The  tiny 140 character tweet may be the media equivalent of the pine beetle for the giant, often consultant run,  stock market  directed media corporation.  News breaks on Twitter, most often from tiny BNOnews or a wire service, sometimes  from another big news organization and occasionally from a citizen.  If the story is significant it is immediately retweeted and picked up by the wires and those 24/7 satellite and cable news organizations that still actually cover news rather than airing screams. Yet, sometimes as much as eight hours later, network and local TV will blare “Breaking News” and turn off an audience that already knows all the details of the  ancient story from Twitter. 

A decade or so ago, the Breaking News graphic on CNN, in the days when
CNN was a real news organization, meant “stop, look and listen .  Now, Breaking News has become so much a cliche that we see actors portraying phony reporters covering “Breaking News” Boxing Day sales for furniture chains.  No matter what, unimaginative TV news operations insist on continuing with the same old pitch.

287-dinosketch.jpgSome corporations never learn. Now we see overuse of the Twitter alert for routine news stories, even when the same news organization has Twitter accounts for the routine.  That overuse only diminishes the brand and all the public has to is unfollow the overused alert.

So to update the old newspaper saying, “There’s nothing as old as yesterday’s news,” to “There’s nothing as old as last hours news tweet.”

So the great apex trees, weakened by  tiny enemies, crash in the raging storm.  The sun comes out and with the overhead canopy gone, at least temporarily, new species and existing adaptive species  reach for the sun and thrive.

So new species are filling the ecological niches freed by the decline of the apex media tree.  Like small animals and plants,  the hyperlocal species  are the first to take advantage of the new space. Some of those species will thrive, others  will be driven to extinction by a failure to truly adapt to the new conditions.

Species that once thrived in the apex canopy now have to adapt to the new environment, creating competition for existing niches (as for example, when  laid off or retired photojournalists create new competition for existing wedding and commercial photographers).

Just as the rise of the flowering angiosperms created new niches and become aggressive invaders, the media environment is facing newly evolved and perhaps more adaptive species.

288-stump2.jpgOne aggressive  invasive species is Wikileaks. Wikileaks enters that investigative niche largely abandoned by the increasingly  too specialized apex media species.  Like other invasive species, Wikileaks, also disrupts the ecosystem. Wikileaks is not the same kind of species  Again imagine  a tall and solid investigative fir tree,  now old and rotten. Wikileaks, perhaps, it is too early too tell, is the media ecosystem equivalent of kudzu or purple loosestrife that fills the place emptied by that fallen tree.

Another example is where one established species takes advantage of a gap in the ecosystem, in this case Jon Stewart, who provides news on a comedy show in a way that many young people, and some of their elders, consider more credible than the main stream media. It was only Jon Stewart who raised the  despicable hypocrisy of the Republican  party’s filibuster on the bill providing assistance to 9/11 first responders in New York, which lead to the article in the New York Times comparing Stewart to Edward R Murrow.

Some journalists objected on Twitter and blogs to the comparison, but if the major news media had not abandoned the investigative niche, in some ways pioneered by Murrow, among others, if the networks and the major newspapers had covered the story, that comparison with Jon Stewart would not have been raised.

(At least in the entertainment environment, another new and aggressive species is Netflicks, which is perhaps a more efficient distribution system that traditional broadcast television and cable . Or multi-terabyte tablets and phones will destroy broadcast television as we know it, at least for entertainment, but that could free bandwidth and air time for more news. On the other hand, one species which flowered briefly and then disappeared was the colourization of movies. The old black and white films still  play on speciality channels while the colourized ones are not often seen).

Just as the development of flowers created new species of insects and birds,  the new media species increase competition

One example is the rise and now possible fall of  the content farms like Demand Media.  Demand Media takes advantage of search engines and the sudden availability of  staff (warm bodies from the dying main stream media) in the media ecosystem to create quickly produced, cheap and superficial content.  The Demand Media content appears  on search due to  taking advantage of Search Engine Optimization.  That superficial content, however, clogs the system, and brings complaints from the public, users who are looking for substantial content, who complain to Google, which in turn rewrites its search algorithms to emphasize quality content and downgrade the content farms. 

In this new ecosystem, the person in the right place in the right time with a mobile phone, still or video camera, the citizen tweeter and some bloggers, the citizen journalist joins the ecosystem.

Nothing is certain.  If the tablet is a new ecosystem, some of those media species who have a symbiotic relationship, with the tablet, games and books, are thriving. The adaptability of newspapers is, at the moment, uncertain. Given the figures at the  end of 2010, magazines appear to have flowered briefly and now are withering and the question is will the magazines adapt to the new tablet environment?

Why can’t many of  the big media corporations adapt?  Once corporations took real risks, sending ships to out to the end of the world or building transcontinental railways (often with government support). Or  in the case of the media, sending reporters to fascinating places to find fascinating stories at home and abroad.   Today the companies, especially media companies,  perhaps have evolved to be too highly specialized, often an evolutionary dead end, few making true long term, evolutionary investments.  

To use a climate analogy,  the modern media corporation is like a species that is adapted to four seasonal nutrition opportunities, the quarterly earnings report.  Most of corporate worker bees have one reluctant aim, to make sure the queen and the drones are well fed and get their bonuses even if the company is bankrupt.

The media climate is changing,  results from four seasons are no longer reliable. Now, more adaptive, omnivorous species are entering the ecosystem, more able to adapt to the changing, volatile climatic conditions.
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So whether it’s a  freelance on a shoestring, a hyperlocal effort, a small tech start up, one of the last family owned newspapers,  a giant private sector corporate media chain or a public broadcaster,  the solution to survival is to understand that there will never be a return to the equilibrium of twentieth century media. 

A technical innovation will come out of nowhere just at the moment you believe when you’re all caught up.

The trouble is that the large corporation is too often eager to simply make the newest innovation, as one online pioneer commented to me, “part of the big machine,” and thus the machine, part of the old ecosystem, stifles true innovation.

The race will start all over tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. That “new media” may become part of the system, it may last a year, it may last a decade, or may be replaced in six moths.  Think evolving media.

Think evolving media

Whether you are 22-year-old entrepreneurial multimedia independent or the 70-something CEO of a giant media corporation you must work on evolutionary time line. By evolutionary I mean adaption and survival. That means you have to eat today to see tomorrow but you must also (perhaps like migratory animals) think beyond the horizon, rather than hoping the next season will bring some extra goodies.

Some hints (and it will be painful for the executive class, but then everyone else has been working with pain for the past few years, so why shouldn’t the executives?).

  • Put some of your budget aside for contingencies a decade ahead and  also budget for shorter term unexpected technological innovation.  Keep moving the decade date ahead  and refreshing the budget as the years go on.
  • Prepare and budget for investing in complete utter and total failures. Prepare to understand that no one is to blame for a technology that looked good one year and flopped the next. That is the way of the world today. Don’t look for scapegoats in executive row, the IT department or your staff geeks. Move on.
  • Stop following the crowd.   Remember the 60s. “Do your own thing,” see what works and what doesn’t for you and your audience. Again be prepared to fail and fail again. Chances are you will actually succeed.
  • Do follow the crowd once a critical mass is apparent on the horizon.  In the 1990s, many news organizations hesitated to jump on the web. Those companies paid for their mistakes,  some never really caught up, for others it took a decade or more, all forgetting he who hesitates is lost.  Most news organizations were quick to recognize the potential of Twitter, but once again those who got on Twitter early now dominate.  The tablet, no matter what form it eventually evolves,  is the delivery system of the coming years.  There are still far too few good, well-designed news apps out there at the moment and the audience is already gravitating to those that are available.
  • Trust your own people. In 30 years in “new media”  (wherever I worked) I was told time and291-airplant1.jpg time again by know nothing managers to attend a session with an expensive consultant only to find out that our staff  usually knew more than the consultant.  In 90 per cent of cases, consultants are a waste of time and money.   In ecosystem terms, consultants are like epiphytes, air plants, that look good, often with  pretty flowers,  on a tree branch or trunk but are essentially parasites, living off the tree itself.  If you want your staff to listen to the latest guru, pay for them to attend a conference  where they can get the same canned speech at a much lower cost, and may find an even better idea in a small seminar or a corner booth.
  • Look for adaptability, not age.   Innovation goes in cycles.   Your best assets are those who  are/were working at a time of innovation and were early adopters at that time, whether they are now 20, 40 or 60. One large and well known news organization is notorious for an unofficial policy in their future planning meetings for excluding staff over the age of 40, believing the under 40s would have the new ideas.  Unfortunately while many on the committees were part of  one or another digital generation,  had grown up with the web,  most came on board  during  relative technological  stability and so hadn’t faced the problems of  instant adaptability and innovation.  At the same time, the youngest staff, in their early 20s, and many of whom are part of a new innovation cycle, had already been laid off in last hired, first fired, short sighted cost cutting policies.  So  the “planners”  proceeded to reinvent the wheel and make costly mistakes their ignored elders could have warned against, while not embracing the new tech that the lost 20-25 year olds were already using.
  • The editorial assistant, the intern, the “cub reporter,”  is your newest asset and a crucial long term investment. Last hired, first fired for  younger media employees may have worked during a temporary downturn in a relatively stable environment, but in this time of rapid change it is, for any company, self-defeating standard operating procedure foolishness. The “kid” answering the phones knows more about the stories “younger audience” wants than all those consultants you hire.   The recent purges of editorial assistants by many major news organizations, as a short term cost saving measure, is just one example of the corporate media’s blind evolutionary decline.  Revolving unpaid  internship after unpaid internship, the cruel uncertainty facing many young people, is another indicator of  the  long term spiral into decay.  If  disillusioned young people drop out  while the energetic ones strike out on their own,  there a fewer and fewer fresh ideas that can renew and revive your moribund  main stream media.
  • Compete and cooperate at the same time;  just as ravens and wolves, both predators, often cooperate in the hunt and then compete for the spoils.  The 19th century newspaper barons in New York who founded the Associated Press were fierce competitors and at the same time knew when to join forces to make sure all their customers would get news, something that today’s over specialized, short sighted and self centred media barons forget as they pull out of  wire services and other cooperatives.
  • Respect the eco-audience.  The audience,  which supposedly is all important to the media, is part of this ecosystem. The media largely ignore the hard fact they and the “audience” are part of one integrated landscape. Instead, the metrics obsessed media relies far too much on marketing and demographic surveys and studies from the fantasy worlds created by many economists. That current reliance, the audience narrowed again and again by the corporate bean counters,  increasingly excludes more and more of the public. That deliberate exclusion is one of the roots  of the current distrust of the media. That exclusion creates a feedback mechanism, the more people excluded for business reasons, the more the wider audience even in the demographics demanded by the advertisers and sought by the media, distrusts the media and drops out or goes elsewhere (for example the huge American audience for the reliable reporting in the Guardian online).

By all means watch the latest tech shows, like the BBC’s Click.  But also sit back and watch one of those dinosaur shows on a science channel, and imagine yourself in one of those changing, evolving changing ecosystems and then plan your media business accordingly.

Forget “new media”  think  “evolving media.”

Garbage in Garbage out: How bad data will cripple the future of news

(Note I haven’t been doing much blogging for the past several months. I took early retirement from CBC News and moved back to my old hometown of  Kitimat, British Columbia, a process that took much longer than I anticipated and is still ongoing as I wait for electricians to finish some electrical upgrades on my new house. I am now resuming my quest to find hints on the long term future of news and so the blog and related projects will slowly appear here.)

The old adage from the earliest days of computing, Garbage In Garbage Out still holds.

The beleaguered news industry is obsessed with metrics, too obsessed in my view. That obsession also seems to be based on the idea that the data being gathered is good data, not junk. 

Yet this week, up popped on my iPad a sad example of what is wrong with the efforts to save journalism, sad because it comes from one of the United States’ most respected journalism schools. It is a survey, a survey that shows just how out of touch with reality some studying the future of news are, a survey that is so seriously flawed that when I was teaching journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto, in the 1990s, I could have used as an example to teach students what to avoid.

When I lived in big cities, and being part of the generation raised on print, I would devour the morning paper along with my breakfast, mostly the Globe and Mail in Toronto, but  in the  various other cities I have lived, also the Ottawa Citizen, the Times and the Guardian in London, the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, the Vancouver Sun and The Province.

Now, in Kitimat, British Columbia,  there is no newsprint waiting on my doorstep at dawn.

The iPad (as opposed to a netbook computer) is the next best thing.  I can prop the tablet up on the breakfast table and still get my morning news fix (I mean update) without having to go to the computer in my home office.  I check the Globe and Mail, AP, the BBC,  New York Times and the Daily Telegraph. I enjoy the Guardian’s Eyewitness best of the day  photo gallery. (And I would actually consider paying for a Guardian iPad app, but for some mysterious reason, it  is  only available for the iPhone and I’m an Android user.)

So there I was Saturday morning, scanning the Associated Press app, when there appeared at the bottom of the screen, a very enticing ad.

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Since I am interested in shaping the future of news, I tapped.

The first page was both a further enticement and the usual academic disclaimer needed when surveying  human subjects.  The survey was from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, one of the best institutions south of the border,  so I was quite optimistic.

There were warning signs. The disclaimer added a further enticement for ongoing participants, but only to Americans,  saying that to win the goodies, an  iTunes gift card, you had to be United States resident over 18.

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I am interested in shaping the future of news. So I tapped.  The first screen came up. My heart sank.

The first question asked for the subject’s five digit US zip code.

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That meant immediately that everyone outside the United States didn’t count. I filled in the field to let me see if  I could continue.  I could, but now the survey has no idea where I’m from.

So much for shaping the future of news.

Here’s the first problem, just the day before the ad popped onto my iPad, on Friday, October 22, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Morgan Stanley estimates that about 13 million Apple tablets will be sold this year, out of 15 million total tablet sales world-wide.
For 2011, Morgan Stanley estimates that Apple’s number will rise to 30 million, while non-Apple tablets will skyrocket to 20 million.

So assuming the figures are correct (and if you check these other links, the Morgan Stanley figures appear to be in the right ball park), 15 million people around the world use tablets at this moment.

iPad Impact: Tablets contribute to PC market pain

iPad/iPhone shipments drive up Apples Q4 profits

Tablet Sales to Hit 19.5M in 2010,

 Associated Press, even though it is based in the United States, is a world-wide news organization with staff, stringers and affiliates in every spot on this planet. Even if a lot of those 15 million users don’t read the Associated Press app, you must assume  that the majority of the people get their news from their tablet and many use multiple news sources.

So how can a genuine survey aimed at shaping the future of news exclude the majority of  iPad users?

When I worked for CBC.ca, (which unfortunately doesn’t yet have a news app) our audience figures showed consistently over the years that 20 per cent of our  web audience came from the United States and another 10 per cent of the audience came from the rest of the world.  The BBC site has a huge world-wide audience, and I can only presume that is reflected on the audience figures for the BBC app on the iPad.

When Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger spoke about the future of news in the Hugh Cudlipp lecture earlier this year, he said:

More Americans are now reading the Guardian than read the Los Angeles Times. This readership has found us, rather than the other way round.

So as a Canadian, I sighed, it looked like just yet another case of American exceptionalism and parochialism.

Unfortunately, it got worse.

The next question asked the birth year of the participant. But the drop down menu stopped at 1994, excluding everyone younger.

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Again one has to ask what is going on here?   We know from multiple studies that news reading habits are formed at an early age.  Yet the university survey is excluding everyone under the age of  16. If a lot of  12-year-olds are suddenly getting excited over the journalism they see on their iPad, good news for shaping the future of news, you would never know it from this survey. (I hope a lot of 12-year-olds are getting excited about news on their iPads)

So why the exclusion?  I wondered for a moment if it was the US law  where for many internet activities magic age is 13. So if so, the survey is still excluding three years of users. Or one must ask is it something to do with the giveaway of the iTunes gift card, rules set by who. Apple?  A university ethics committee? The state of Missouri? The state of California? Then why not 18​?

Are these giveaway rules skewing and distorting the survey?

One more note, about the United States resident restriction, especially if it is tied to the giveaway. Again it conflicts with what we do know about web journalism and probably tablet journalism.   That people who move away keep in touch with local news by checking hometown web sites and often that it  is a huge part of a news site’s web audience (even if the corporate side is reluctant to point it out to local advertisers). So once again this survey is excluding all those American ex-pats around the world who may be reading the AP and New York Times apps. And what about all those members of the American military deployed overseas,  most of whom technically are not on US soil, checking their local news on tablets? Do they count?

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Finally, while the questions were fairly routine, asking about how I consume news on paper, on my smart phone and in my iPad, I detected a bias (or perhaps over simplification) in the questions.  It may be an urban bias, despite the fact that the University of  Missouri in is in the heartland of a largely agricultural state.  (I was at Missouri for a beautiful August week in 1993 when I attended IRE computer-assisted reporting boot camp).  There was no way I could tell the survey that journalism on paper is not as available in the far Pacific northwest as it is in downtown Toronto, New York or St. Louis. It assumes an almost “either or attitude,”  that the one reason you give up a newspaper on paper is to switch to electronic delivery because you just love your iPad.   Yet there are other reasons, for giving up reading papers on paper. A lot  of the more environmentally active refuse to read paper (even though the electronic versions are probably just as bad for the environment).  As mentioned, for many people today, your home town paper isn’t delivered in Kandahar or Kuala Lumpur or Kingston-upon-Thames.

There is also a second factor, it is much easier to read a newspaper on the way to work in a city with a good public transportation system, where you can read the paper on the bus, subway or train. So how much has commuting habits to do with consuming news on a smart phone or tablet?

It’s unclear if AP has anything to do with the survey (i.e. Was the ad on the AP app paid for by the university or is  it a “house ad,” with AP participating and working with the data? Perhaps someone can clarify in comments)

But this is clear, with the crisis in journalism, this type of survey is not a help, it’s a hindrance.  If it’s American parochialism,  same old same old  will continue to fail with a world-wide audience and increasing world-wide tablet sales. If it’s the iTunes giveaway setting the survey parameters, it’s a bad as any survey that  is paid for by a corporate sponsor with a pre-determined outcome.  If it’s because of a lack of budget due to current restraints that make it impossible to crunch numbers from 15 million tablet owners, then the survey should have been done like someone like Pew who can look at the planetary picture.

Garbage in, Garbage out has no place in shaping the future of news.

NOTE and UPDATE
:  I can get Canadian news, via The Canadian Press (an organization I occasionally string for) via the AP app on my Android smart phone.   But the Local News function on the AP Ipad doesn’t work, My Ipad insists that I live in Manhattan, not Kitimat.

Two days after I made the initial post, on Oct. 27, 2010, I sent a note via my Ipad to AP tech support asking why can I get Canadian news on the Android and not on the iPad? I got a reply  “A Customer Support representative will respond within the next 24 hours.”
It is now Nov 14 and I still haven’t had a reply,

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Link farm April 19, 2010 – More on Apple and I was pirated

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Ken Auletta in the New Yorker

Publish or perish.
Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book
business?

From the Cloud Four Blog

Apple’s Policy on Satire: 16 Apps Rejected for “Ridiculing Public Figures”

From my personal blog Robin’s Weir

I’ve been pirated!
Chinese book pirates print a copy of my book Researching on the Internet

Apple, the media and temptation

102-adameveapple.jpg
It’s so tempting.

The news media is in deep financial trouble, especially in the United States, where the economy is still weak.

Now comes a promising savior, a popular device that once again might mean that the public pays for news media content. It’s called the iPad, and it’s made by Apple.

So tempting.

Ironic that in popular mythic culture in the west, it is the apple that is the symbol of the tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden.

Apple is tempting the media.

As the King James version of the Bible says “The serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field…”

Genesis says of the tree of knowledge, and poor Eve, who is blamed once she “saw that the tree was…pleasant to the eyes and a tree to be desired to make one wise…..

The iPad is a knowledge device. The iPad is pleasing to the eyes and perhaps the iPad can make one wise.

There’s a catch.

Put your content on the iPad and you cede control of your content to Apple.

The castle gatekeeper

It is Dan Gillmor on Mediaactive and Jack Shafer in Slate who both warn that the there are bigger issues involved,

Apple’s aim to  control the draw bridge, the castle gate and the castle towers.

Shafer in his article warns Apple wants to own you.Welcome to our velvet prison say  the boys and girls from Cupertino.

Shafer follows the controversy from its beginning and says:

it’s easy to see that Apple’s rules are more about blunting competitors and creating a prudish atmosphere guaranteed to offend nobody than they are about throttling viruses and improving the user experience. I don’t think Apple should be enjoined from imposing its dictatorial edicts about what can and can’t run on iPhones, as long as consumers know the score going in.

But do they know the complete score? With the release of the iPad, Apple has hastened its censoring, competition-blocking ways. Even though the iPad doesn’t connect to the telephone system, Apple is still insisting on locking the device down as though it were an iPhone: No third-party apps can run on it unless they’re approved by Apple.
Apple wants to play gatekeeper so it can establish itself as toll-taker.

Dan Gillmor first warned about Apple’s plans in February with:

Why journalism organizations should reconsider their crush on Apple’s ipad

In his most recent post, Gillmor says:

Fiore’s iPad rejection harbinger of a bigger story

I asked the Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today — following up on a February posting when I asked why news organizations were running into the arms of a control-freakish company — to respond to a simple question: Can Apple unilaterally disable their iPad apps if Apple decides, for any reason, that it doesn’t like the content they’re distributing? Apple has done this with many other companies’ apps and holds absolute power over what appears and doesn’t appear via its app system.
Who responded? No one. Not even a “No comment.” This is disappointing if (sadly) unsurprising…

Apple reconsiders

Neiman Labs which first broke the story that Apple was refusing to allow Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore to produce an cartoon syndication app now says the company is reconsidering, as Laura McGann reports:

After our story ran, Fiore got a call from Apple — four months after receiving a rejection email — inviting him to resubmit his NewsToons app. Fiore says he resubmitted it this morning. We’ll keep you posted on what happens. If history is a guide, though, this is likely to be good news for Fiore. Tom Richmond’s Bobble Rep app was initially rejected, then approved after a firestorm of online criticism. Daryl Cagle went through something similar last year.

Pulling up the drawbridge

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Social media advocates have likened the news media to a castle and say that the rise of  user generated content and citizen journalism is opening the gates, as Charlie Beckett  said in his  Polis blog, on June 19, 2009  (Polis is a joint journalism project with the London School of Economics and the London College of Communications)

  …most media fortresses are opening up. They have lowered the draw‑bridge. They have invited the local peasantry inside and some of the brave editorial knights are learning about life outside of the castle.

Now with the iPad, the gates are guarded, may even close.

Shafer says in Slate, paraphrasing Frédéric Filloux

Filloux, who writes for Monday Note, agree that what Apple wants is to replace the commodity-distribution channel that is the Web and replace it with an Apple-owned distribution channel for applications, music, movies, books, and anything else that can travel down a wire or through the ether…..

Apple isn’t the only behemoth bullying its way in the marketplace. Filloux identifies Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo as companies seeking to replace (or augment) the commodified Web with something more proprietary and lucrative. Apple is just the most conspicuous in its efforts.

Castles, historians will tell you, are not defensive, they are an offensive weapon, aimed at control, whether it was the Welsh borders or the heights overlooking the war scarred Middle East.

So the social peasantry are invited in, as long as they pay the toll, behave and pay fealty to the baron.

Temptation

Signing away your company’s soul to Apple  may not be a bad deal for the current crop of mostly aging oligarchs who pretend to manage the news media today, gathering huge salaries and bonuses while the business is dying from a thousand cuts. After all for those managers, especially those who came from the corporate world with no experience or respect for the traditions of news media independence, it’s just another corporate deal.

Dealing with Apple to get on the iPad and the iPhone,  the way Apple wants, full control, is like someone who renovates a building and one by one takes out the support beams and load bearing walls.

For the news media, the  load bearing wall of the building is credibility and the news media’s credibility is now at an all time low, despite the efforts of  the thousands of men and women in  news to do the best job they can.  There are many reasons for the decline in credibility.   Part of the problem is that many of  more conservative readers and viewers just don’t want to believe in the world as it exists, they long for a past era and call reporting of today “bias.”  Part of the problem comes from the pressure from news consultants and  the managers who hire those consultants  to concentrate just on  sensational “wow and now” content. Part of the problem is that the news media is generally seen as failing in his public duty (even though definitions of public duty differ) by bowing to government or corporate interests.

The debate over Apple’s control is currently confined to those who are concerned about the future of the news media.   There is a parallel debate among software developers who are chafing at Apple’s strict controls over code.

If the media accede to Apple’s control, then very soon will come a tipping point.  Apple will arbitrarily block or censor some item  of content, probably not realizing the significance of that content.

That censorship will be revealed by a blogger or by rival media and from that moment on the public will no longer trust the (at least the news) content on an Apple device.

That is the day the  Credibility Building collapses into a pile of bricks and stone, the day the castle itself collapses.

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Update: Censoring the dictionary

A reader sent me this link, showing how absurd the Apple censorship has become.
From engadget   Apple’s new low, censoring a dictionary  refusing to allow Ninjawords to be an app unless “objectionable words” were removed.

“We were rejected for objectionable content. They provided screenshots
of the words ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ showing up in our dictionary’s search
results”

Joshua Topolsky of engadget comments: “it’s making the company that asked everyone to “Think Different” look like a company that can’t think at all.”

Let that be a warning not only to the news media but all book publishers out there.
The news media may not want to quote a soldier swearing in combat in Afghanistan.
Apple will object. 

If you want to make sure that your book gets published on the iPad, make the characters all 1920s style clean-cut, all Americans, who never say a nasty word  That is if you can find such a book these days. 

Make  the book sure it is acceptable to someone who has never left Cupertino even if  it  is set outside the walls of windy Troy or on a blasted heath or in a game keeper’s cottage, among the naked and the dead in the south Pacific or even on  the Klingon homeworld.

Apple censors hit Pulitzer Prize winning cartoons. Who’s next?

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Nieman Labs reports this morning that the Apple app censors are refusing to allow Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore to syndicate his work on iPhone and iPad apps because editorial cartoons”ridicule public figures”

Complete Nieman Lab report

Mark Fiore can win a Pulitzer Prize, but he can’t get his iPhone cartoon app past Apple’s satire police

We’re now seeing our creative freedom further diminished by the computer industry.

First Google  engineers are killing good, creative writing by demanding that text copy fit into their search engine parameters (at least that’s what the more spineless media managers demand….smarter media organizations encourage good writing but make sure the keywords are there so Google can find a story).

Now Apple, which may soon may be a powerhouse with iPad, has arrogated to itself  (through corporate arrogance and caution and probably also at the behest of corporate lawyers and image makers) the right to censor the content on their devices.

This isn’t just a censorship issue. It is another case like the Google books controversy of an large American company imposing U.S. law and U.S. corporate custom on the rest of the world.

Now it appears that Apple believes that lowest common denominator of American culture will apply to the rest of the planet, that is if  the world wants to use  iPhones or an iPads.

So just how is Apple going to deal with the rest of the world once the iPad is finally released internationally in about six weeks or so?

As Nieman and the blog Gizmodo have reported, Apple is already cracking down on the European custom of  (what is called in the UK)  “page three girls”  Today they censor nipples,  tomorrow editorial content.”

Apple took down Stern’s iPhone app without notice. Stern–a very large
weekly news magazine-
-published a gallery of erotic photos as part of its
editorial content. It wasn’t gratuitous…

The origin of the term “page three girl” is of course Rupert Murdoch’s money maker, the London Sun.
Watch for developments there….

The letter to Fiore, as quoted by Nieman says Apple’s policy is:

“Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of
any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in
Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable, for example,
materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

What would be “defamatory” in Apple’s “reasonable” judgment? Under whose law would something be defamatory? The state of California?  The United States? Canada? Common law or civil law? Or even defamatory in dictatorships where it is illegal to criticize the current great leader?

Investigative journalism is almost always vetted by lawyers working for a news organization. A good lawyer knows how to protect the news reporter or producer while ensuring that the story, often vital to the public interest, is published or broadcast within the legal framework of that country’s media. 

So imagine this,  there was an iPad  on June 13 ,1971 when the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers about how the United States made mistake after mistake in Vietnam.
The Washington Post soon got its copy of the papers and published. The Nixon administration tried to get an injunction stopping publication but failed when the U.S. Supreme Court  ruled that the attempt for an injunction was unconstitutional prior restraint under the U.S. constitution.

In a democracy, government prior restraint can be contained by constitutional law.
Given the track record of Apple and other similar corporations, it is likely in that in a similar situation, either out of corporate policy or on the advice of their lawyers, the Pentagon Papers would not have been published by an app controlled by a company such as Apple.

Corporations are not always restrained by constitutional limits on government actions. especially when it comes to censorship.

What Apple is doing is as if Goss, the giant maker of printing presses, or  a pulp and paper company that supplied newsprint to a newspaper decided that they had the right to control the content of that paper.

Corporate PR is now  corporate prior restraint, at least as far as data, web and app delivery is concerned.

Update

Columbia Journalism Review now warns the media to be aware of Apple.
It’s Time for the Press to Push Back Against Apple
The writer of the piece, Ryan Chittum says:

And this is a good excuse to more closely scrutinize the market
influence that Apple, now the third largest corporation in America,
behind Exxon and Microsoft, is gaining on markets, including software
development.

Other key links from the CJR story

Dan Gillmour in Mediaactive Complicating Relationships in Media: Apple, NY Times Dealings Raise Questions

and

an early warning from Wired by Brian X. Chen in Gadget Lab

IPad Apps could put Apple in charge of news

The iPad is an evolutionary link, leading to a new species, a hypo-active computer

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    I got to play with an iPad during a business lunch yesterday.  I have to say that I was impressed. I’m still not going to run out and buy one–at least not right away.
    The iPad is a step on the evolution toward a new, simpler, less active,  species of computer system, one that follows the axiom of Keep It Simple Stupid. 
    Call it hypo-active computing (as opposed to today’s hyperactive over-featured systems)
    A hypo-active computer tablet can do what computers once promised to do, make life simpler.
    The hypo-active tablet will be the death blow to newspapers printed on paper.   Whether “newspapers” will die with the newsprint or whether there will be a renaissance will depend on how today’s corporate management adapt to a new world. (I’m not optimistic. If news media corporate management still don’t “get” the web, they’re certainly not going to understand tablet computing)
    It’s also an open question whether the iPad and Apple will survive  and win the evolutionary race as the new species of hypo-active tablet emerges.
    The iPad is not yet available north of the border, although lots of people lined up in Buffalo and Bellingham to get one last week.    My luncheon companion had a friend send an iPad up from the United States.
    (Apple has just announced it’s delaying the international launch of the iPad  due to high consumer demand in the United States. The Canadian iPad launch was originally rumoured to be about 10 days from now. )
    As a photographer, I fell in love with the Guardian’s photo of the day app. Crisp, gorgeous resolution and colour. 
    I checked out the teaser edition of the New York Times (a few top stories). But for the Times to work it should have a couple of more teaser editions, one for sports fans and one for the arts.
    I reread part of the Winnie the Pooh that Apple bundles with the iPad.  The colour illustrations appear much better than faded editions on a printed page.
    Google maps in satellite mode are much better than on my current home monitor.
    Those critics of the iPad who wanted a laptop with camera and phone are caught in old-style, hyperactive computer mode, although there will likely be a hyperactive version of the iPad offered to those users.
    I can see myself reading the morning news on a tablet device of some type, rather than leafing through the morning paper (and ignoring the hyperactive morning news shows on TV) .
    I would like to get my photography magazines on a tablet. Wouldn’t take up so much space in my office and might spare a few trees.
    As a hiker, I would love a GPS-enabled tablet device with not just Google maps and satellite image but full  topographic map capability (perhaps tied into those satellite images). The iPad is about the size and shape, and just a little heavier, than a plastic map case.  It would need a robust housing, but unlike maps (unless they’re  plasticized) it won’t dissolve in a heavy rainstorm.  A night and storm proof display system would be a big help. (Today’s hand-held GPS hiking devices are too small and the automobile GPS are not really suited for hiking)
   
    Yes, I would pay for all three of those applications.

    At this point, it looks like Apple is cramming too much into the iPad to be a true make life simple, hypo-active computer system.
   
    A good KISS hypo-active computer tablet should have
   

  •     Lots of memory (Moore’s law applies here, memory capacity will increase)
  •     Good display for text and graphics   
  •     Flexible and powerful connectivity, through Wifi and 3G  and USB.
  •     The ability to operate completely independent of  any wireless or wired communication system.  (In Canadian, terms you can take it to the cottage and read  Harry Potter on the deck overlooking the lake?
  •     Programming apps and features that enhance its simplicity. That means ease of use.  Programmers and software managers must have a Zen-like approach to the hypo-active. Give up your ego. Write simple programs that do basic things (remember the days of MS-DOS programs that did just that?)
  •     The user decides how the hypo-active computer works for them.  That means the person with the hypo-active tablet can read a book bought from any e-book store.   Watch a movie with an external Blu-Ray device plugged in to that USB port.

    A hypo-active tablet computer and higher level hyperactive tablets will mean the death of broadcast television entertainment once you can download and watch your favourite shows directly from the original producer.  
   
    It will also bring changes in broadcast television news, sports and specials   All the tablet would need would be a built in tuner and a USB HDTV antenna or connection to a mini satellite dish. For sports fans, it means watching the big game anytime, anywhere. 

For news,  it brings more uncertainty. No one could have foretold the changes that cable made to news.  

    If I can venture one prediction, a hypo-active tablet with TV capability will finally bring the end of the hyperactive always breaking breaking news nonsense.   Especially if a viewer has Twitter available on the same tablet, they’re going to know  that “breaking news” story happened five hours earlier.

    (Also might be time to consider selling your cable company stock unless it has other telecommunication arms)

    The key point in the evolution of a popular hypo-active tablet  is price.

     The iPad is too expensive.  With prices starting at $499 US for a Wi-Fi, connection, a 3G version  starting at $629 for the 16-gigabyte version up to $829 for one with 64 gigabytes of storage, the iPad is competing with the work horse, the laptop. Consumers, apart from Apple evangelists and early adopters don’t need both.
   
    Apple is pricing itself out of the key  market,  teenagers and college students.   Can teenagers and students and young  cubicle workers afford  afford a laptop (and at this point the iPad is not a substitute) plus an iPhone plus an iPod? The digital generation may love Apple products but the iPad, at the moment, may be one device too many.

    There are other rivals coming to the market soon, much cheaper rivals. The Canadian bookstore chain Indigo is pushing the Kobo reader, priced at  $149  (Kobo products are already available for the Blackberry and smart phones). There are reports of a $99 reader later this year.

    If  I can venture a guess, a hypo-active, keep it simple stupid, tablet computer that wins in the marketplace is not going to come from Apple or Amazon.   That computer will come from some small company in Asia: China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan or India, where the demand  for cheap hardware is highest. If that company comes up with a hypo-active tablet computer in the $80 to $100 range, one that has ease of use, simple, minimal features but a powerful memory and display system, it will capture the market.

    That form of hypo-active computer will be the winner. It will be a compliment, not a substitute for a laptop or a smart phone.

    Imagine this.   Breakfast time on a weekend.  You get your morning coffee or tea.   You  put your tablet on a little stand and read the morning wires and tweets. Since, it’s the weekend,  you’ve got time, you decide to call up that fancy omlette recipe you always wanted to try, so you take your tablet into the kitchen (something you really wouldn’t want to do with a laptop and your smart phone screen is too small), move your hypo-active tablet into the kitchen counter, call up the recipe and whip up that omlette.  Back at the dining room table, you then read through the feature section of the paper and finally call up a map for your afternoon outing.

    This scenario has been written about by futurists and tech writers for the past 30 years. Perhaps, now, it’s here. Perhaps. We’ll see.

    (Note in a tweet in response to my blog on books and apps, Cody Brown noted: “I wouldn’t imagine an iPad app/book being that different than a video game for the first gameboy-It’s bound to a delivery device.” Smart thinking on a slightly different track than where I’m going, but certainly prescient)

A book is a book, an app is an app

One the smartest  members of  the new generation trying to find their path in an world  where the current news media is in mortal danger is Cody Brown, a 21-year-old student at New York University.

He has posted an very interesting column in TechCrunch, Dear Author Your Next Book should be an App, not an Ibook.

Brown asks:

So much has been said in the past few weeks about how the iPad will change the book industry but in almost all of the tweets, posts, and articles I’ve come across a simple questions seems to be completely dropped. Why do we have books in the first place?

And goes on

If you, as an author, see the iPad as a place to ‘publish’ your next book, you are completely missing the point. What do you think would have happened if George Orwell had the iPad? Do you think he would have written for print then copy and pasted his story into the iBookstore? If this didn’t work out well, do you think he would have complained that there aren’t any serious‑readers anymore? No. He would have looked at the medium, then blown our minds.

And concludes

I can say with a lot of confidence that the ‘books’ that come to define my generation will be impossible to print. This is great.

Later in response to comments on  TechCrunch, Cody Brown tweeted

To address a lot of initial comments. I’m suggesting a new medium, not *total displacement* of books. Just registered www.padature.com

Dear Cody:

An app is an app and a book is book.

I’ve published five books and written another five or so that weren’t published (and the first few weren’t publishable).

So here’s the first big question. If the next generation of books become impossible to print, how long will they last?

As many critics of  the iPad have asked, how long will the iPad last?  Will your iApp be obsolete in ten years, while the book printed on paper is still read?

I’ve spent this weekend preparing to move from Toronto to British Columbia.

I’ve been dividing my books into three piles.

Some of my research material from my books are going to libraries and archives. Some I’m donating to my sister’s church for a bazaar sale (I have so much to do I can’t be bothered with the used bookstore route).

The third pile has those books I’m keeping.  

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The oldest book in my collection was published in 1874, written by American war correspondent Januarius MacGahan, covering the Russian conquest of  central Asia, Campaigning the Oxus and the Fall of Khiva.  (Khiva is an ancient city in what today is Uzbekistan.)

Let’s compare that with news on the web, which often disappears as soon as management changes a sever.

When Wikileaks  this week released the controversial video of the 2007 shooting in Baghdad. I went hunting on the web for another piece of  airborne video, the USAF pilots dropping a bomb on Canadian soldiers in Kandahar on April 18, 2002, now known as the Tarnak Farms incident.

Some years later, probably in 2006, that Kandahar video was leaked to ABC News.  I was one of the CBC news staff assigned to track down the video. (I’ll never forget the USAF spokeswoman who told  me, “Just because it’s been on television doesn’t mean it isn’t classified.”)

The video was eventually released by the USAF (I am not sure when, but probably sometime during the court martial proceedings).  The problem is that if you want to compare the pilot’s attitude over Kandahar with those of the Apache pilots over Baghdad, you can’t.  The video is gone from the web.  The links on both the CBC and CNN sites are dead.  I was unable to find it on the ABC News site (which originally broadcast the video)  and the video is not linked on the Wikipedia page on the Tarnak Farms incident.

Shortly after the Tarnak Farms incident, I produced a multimedia piece for CBC News, a combination of  stills, video and text, on three Iraqi exiles living in Toronto on their thoughts prior to the upcoming US led invasion. That too is gone from the web.

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I was always a klutz with a typewriter;  one reason I fell in love with computers.  I wrote my first book, King of the Mob, on an Osborne  1 (double density), with a tiny four inch screen.   The operating system was CP/M and the word processor was Word Star. Both are long gone.

A few years later, I did  convert the manuscript from CP/M Word Star to MS Dos text. The problem is that the manuscript is stored on 5.25 inch floppy disks.  Today’s computers don’t even take the successor, the 3.5 inch floppies.  (My first PC had a “giant” 40 megabyte hard drive. Now the photographs  I take with my DSLR are all greater than 40 mg)

It’s interesting that you are quoting George Orwell.   So I’m  wondering, along with many others, if Steve Jobs is the new Big Brother, with all the controls that Apple is placing on the apps.  Apple seems to want to control not only the  programming language but likely the content as well, as outlined in this New York Times article, Rethinking a Gospel of the Web.
As reported by Mashable, that has sparked a war with Adobe and as one widely quoted blog has reported, raised concerns among multi-platform app developers.

What if Steve Jobs and the Apple staff don’t approve of that app you have spent so much time to create?

If you do all that work, do you want to have to hire an expensive lawyer to make sure that a 200 page digital rights management agreement doesn’t  screw you and leave you with just pennies from that $9.99? Will that Apple DRM  prevent you from porting that app to another system? 

Will that DRM prevent you from taking advantage of some new technology not yet thought of? (After all the big book publishing firms are already trying a rights grab from authors to convert existing material to e-books based on the word “book form” in original contracts. The only people going to profit from that are the lawyers as they argue the meaning of “book form.”)

If you do you all that work, what happens if your project is arbitrarily deleted as Amazon deleted George Orwell’s Animal farm from Kindle (George Orwell again)?  Even worse, what if somehow accidentally your project is deleted from the server (as has happened to me)?  Even if you have backup, it might take days or even weeks to get the app back on the system, if ever.

I agree with your Tweet and your new term “pdature” that some interactive app system is a new medium with a great deal of potential   

But the comments on TechCrunch are right. Is this something that an individual can do?   It’s very time consuming just to research and write book length journalism without having to program an interactive flash map of the character’s movements (Oops. Flash is a no-no for Apple).  Can you do that or will that be something taken over by a gaming company like Electronic Arts?

Will you have the time? Especially if there is no advance or only a small advance for a project like that, especially if it sells for just $9.99 while you’re trying to pay the rent and keep food on the table.

Don’t get me wrong. I want projects like that to succeed and make a lot of money for you, the creator (not just Apple or Electronic Arts).

A book is a book and an app is app.  

In 2074, people will still be able to read MacGahan’s Campaigning the Oxus two hundred years after it was published (especially since it was printed on acid free paper).  I am sure you can produce as brilliant a piece of journalism sometime in your future career. But if it’s an app, and not a book, will people be able to read it in 2074?

best wishes

Robin

(P.S. I am looking for a good home for my Osborne, since I don’t want to to take it with me across the continent. Any ideas would be welcome)

Cassandra contemplates the iPad 1.0

It’s  iPad day in the geek world, April 2, 2010, the day that Apple releases the long-awaited iPad.

Cassandra, is worried, but unfortunately no one listens to her. People should listen.

Millions apparently have already rushed online and pre-bought or pre-ordered an iPad 1.0, just as others lined up for Iphones a while ago. Then from my friends with 3G Iphones, especially those in New York, came the tweeted, blogged and voiced complaints about poor connections to wireless networks and poor battery life if you have too many of those delicious, but power-draining apps.

As for myself,  I’m going to wait and see how the iPad actually works.  Whatever happened to the old adage of never buy Version 1.0 of anything?

Just how good is the iPad battery life?

What about predictions that the iPad will overwhelm bandwidth in some parts of the world?

Just how will the public react to news originally from newspapers, wire service or TV on the iPad?

Will the public pay for news on an iPad? Some media outlets say they will charge for material on the Ipad, others say they won’t charge.   That media question alone will keep economics students writing their Phds long after the current crop of iPads is being torn apart by child labour in some developing world hell hole.

I decided that my own media preview of the iPad was in order.

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So through sources on Mt. Olympus (I have family connections in that part of Greece) I asked Hermes, god of both messengers and thieves, to use his skills to obtain an iPad from Cupertino and deliver it to Cassandra, the princess from Troy who had great beauty and the gift of true prophecy but was cursed by Apollo (whom she spurned) so that no one would believe her prophecies.

It was Cassandra who warned the Trojans not to bring that wooden horse inside the city walls.

Her first reaction was, “What do I need this for? Since Apollo’s snakes licked my face, I can see all and know all.”

“I can tell you this,” Cassandra told me in an interview from an undisclosed location. “There will be unintended and surprising consequences from this iPad thingy.

“There was a day like this, not long ago, Oct. 13, 1994, when the beta version of Netscape Navigator was released. I said then that this Netscape would change the entire world within days, and no one listened, and Netscape did, the world, until today, has run on browsers.  Now there are iPads. Of course, I warned Netscape there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, but did they listen? No.

“Take that all seeing eye, the digital camera.  At first, the digital camera was expensive, and only a few professionals used one. Now millions have digital cameras and it is destroying the world of professional photography– although that world can be rebuilt in time.”

“Some expert last year welcomed the world inside what he called the castle walls of journalism in encouraging ‘user generated content.’     Well the Trojans welcomed that horse, despite my warnings, and we know what happened….

“The city was destroyed?” I asked.

“Oh that too,” Cassandra snorted.  “But can you count just how many bards, poets, writers, artists,  potters,  painters,  historians, archaeologists,  actors, movie makers, TV producers, game designers have been living off that story for the past three thousand years? Not to mention what’s coming up in 2025…..”

“What in 2025?”

“You wouldn’t believe me,  even if I told you.”  .

“So what changes will the iPad bring?”

“Well these ones you will believe because all have happened so many times before.  

“One. The war between the creators of content and the  computer engineers goes on and on just like the wars with the centaurs.  I see no end there. 

“About ten years ago, I appeared in human form at a conference of media executives. I warned them that while they had to spend money on computers, their bards and chroniclers were their most important asset.  Did they believe me? No, they didn’t. Now for every journalist they can out on to the street they have to hire three IT people.   The iPad doesn’t run Flash. That means hiring more IT people to do the same work over and over, while throwing away the people who actually create the content.  But did anyone listen? No.

“Two.  Not all centaurs were bad guys of course, look at Chiron. Some years from now, some kid will find a new and amazing way to use not just the iPad but all the tablets out there.”

“Who, what, where?”

“You wouldn’t believe me. But believe me, that kid will be fabulously rich before he’s 28.”

“Three. A lost or misplaced iPad will be the centre of a major world crisis before the year 2020.”

“What will happen?”

“You won’t believe me, even if I told you.”

“How will the iPad change journalism?”

“There will be a new device, after the iPad. It too will come from a geeky kid, in a workshop, somewhere in the developing world. Even my vision cannot see where or when this will happen.

“The browser, the smart phone, the tablet/ipad, no these will remain but this new, new thing, that will be the most profound change of all. The creators will once again be able to earn their coins. But there will be many more creators.

“Can you tell me some details?”

“You wouldn’t believe me…..”

“What do you think of the iPad?”

“The battery run out too soon.  I asked Hermes to return it.”

“Thank you Cassandra.”

“Thank you. There’s one prophecy you can believe. Copy desks around the world are going to hate the spelling i-P-a-d”

“You’re right. Thank you again.”