Both CBC and CTV failed to cover the Quebec mosque shooting. They forgot that when there is real breaking news you climb a tree

As a retired producer who worked at the national level at both CBC News and CTV News I was appalled at the superficial (to say the very least) coverage in English Canada of the shooting at a Quebec City mosque last night , January 29, 2017.

So were many people. The news was coming in on Twitter and Facebook, not television and along with the real news (and the fake news) there were complaints that neither CBC nor CTV had any coverage. The viewers were demanding television coverage from both the public CBC and the private CTV.

While Societie Radio Canada and its French language private competition TVA were live and in-depth, the CBC National broadcast on both the main network and News Network  had nothing more than a minute of a phoner voice over. A disgrace for a national public news service.

At 11 pm, Pacific, that’s 2 am Eastern, CBC News Network went back to a canned documentary while BBC World devoted much of its newscast to the shooting.

This is the age of instant communications. Mobile phones. Text. E-mail. Twitter. Facebook.

It is obvious that in this age of 24/7/365 communications neither network news service has an emergency plan.

Probably in the view of bean counters and consultants news happens most often when there is a regular measurable audience and a newsroom is fully staffed (or as staffed as much as today’s budgets allow) and the new buzzwords like a “Hub” or a “Breaking News Desk” will always respond.

The Hub and Breaking News desks can only respond if there are warm bodies with their bums in chairs actually in the newsrooms.

Maybe the network news bosses should bring an old analog era procedure that actually got (real) breaking news on the air fast. It’s called a phone tree.

Back when I was starting in journalism 40 years ago, the days long before Breaking News became nothing more than a marketing gimmick, there were emergency plans and procedures and when the fertilizer hit the fan you learned quickly how those procedures worked. Even if you were a lowly editorial assistant (a job that no longer exists) almost all alone in the newsroom.

These long forgotten procedures were created (I was told at the time) when the Greatest Generation returned from service in the Second World War to begin or resume careers in journalism and they damn well knew what an emergency or breaking news really were.

So here’s how I learned my trade back then:

On September 28, 1978, it was just after one in the morning at the old National Radio Newsroom on Jarvis Street in Toronto. The evening staff had gone home. There was a writer for the hourlies for western Canada. The late Doug Payne producer of the World at Eight was preparing the show. His writing and producing staff would not be in for a couple of hours. I was the editorial assistant. It was still the days of clattering teletypes in a side room. Nothing had moved on any of the teletypes for an hour. Nothing. Then suddenly the Reuters machine literally went nuts. Normally five bells on an old teletype was a Bulletin. A Flash was seven. This time the machine rang 28 bells. (I saved the carbon copy and counted them later) The new Pope John Paul I was dead. (He had been in office just 33 days).

I was stunned for a few seconds, then ripped the paper and ran over to Doug.

Doug knew what to do. He knew the phone tree.

First I was to call the then senior assignment producer, Bob Dowling.
Second and only after I had called Dowling, who could start getting the foreign desk and reporters mobilized, I was to call the then managing editor Eric Moncur.

Doug and the writer under CBC procedure at the time (not these days) waited for the CP/AP confirmation. They then prepared the network bulletin and after that the last two hourlies to the west.

Doug told me that once I had called the boss, I was to call in all the morning staff for both World at Eight and Hourlies, starting with producers and senior technicians, then writers and junior technicians. Overtime was no problem. The early morning EA didn’t answer (I later learned he was spending the night at his girl friends’) so I was told to call in the mid-morning EA. Doug then told me to call Frans, the nearby all night restaurant and order breakfast to go for 30 people. As soon as the mid-morning EA got in, he was sent out again in a taxi, with an envelope full of cash to collect the breakfast. (Eggs, bacon and sausage).

I was also fielding calls from the public (including an assistant to the Archbishop) who had direct lines numbers to the newsroom in something called a Rolodex. (In the first round of many budget cuts the overnight switchboard operator had been let go a few weeks earlier)

In Toronto, noise bylaws forbade the Catholic Churches’ bells from ringing until 7 a.m. But as the World At Eight went to Atlantic Canada, the listeners could hear LIVE, those bells ringing.

A year later, on November 10, 1979, it was a deadly Saturday night. There were two people in the radio newsroom, myself and the hourly writer. Down the hall a producer for Sunday Morning was putting the last minute touches on a doc that was to air that morning.

It was five minutes to midnight. Five minutes until the switchboard closed. It was then the phones started to ring. There had been some kind of huge explosion in the west part of Toronto. At midnight those calls stopped.

Those calls were enough for me to follow the phone tree procedures and call Bob Dowling. It was soon after that that news staff began calling on direct lines, not just from the west end but even from high rises in downtown Toronto, telling me there were huge flames in the west.

A Canadian Pacific train had derailed in Mississauga at 11:53. So those warning phone calls from the public had come almost instantly. Dowling went through the phone tree, calling in staff and alerting reporters. Then he called back and ordered me, the most junior person and the available warm body to get out to the scene until a national reporter could relieve me. There was a problem, the weekend CBL (local Toronto radio) reporter had taken the staff car and he couldn’t be contacted. So  Dowling authorized a technician who should have gone off shift  to drive me on overtime  to the scene in his personal vehicle.

As soon as we got on the Gardiner, we could see the flames reaching 1500 feet into the air; we eventually got to the scene, and (in those days) were waved through the police barricade to a parking lot designated for the media. Even for the TV people who were also arriving this was long before the days of easy live coverage. But there was a quick police briefing within a half hour or so. Soon after the briefing, a national reporter arrived, so the tech and I drove off to find a place to file. In those days that involved taking a phone apart and using alligator clips to send audio from a tape recorder back to the newsroom. Then, the tech and I went to a mall that was an evacuation centre that was already filling up, for interviews. We were back in the newsroom by 5 am, which by that time had all hands on deck.

On August 19 1991, I was a writer at CTV News in this case the Sunday news with Sandie Rinaldo. It was a dull, routine Sunday night with (as far as I remember) until about 11:25 when once again it was Reuters, this time on a green CRT screen tied via some badly written software to a mainframe, that sent the Bulletin that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had announced that Mikhail Gorbachev was no longer in office. It was the infamous August coup. I called the show producer Jennifer Harwood (now a CBC News manager) and read her the bulletin.

Normally on a Sunday night after the control room told us “tape is good” everyone would go home. The control room called, tape was good, but there was no call back from the producers saying they could go home. Everyone was reading the wires. Control room called back, “What is going on?” So I told them and told them to stand by. The coup meant that there had to be a whole new show with real breaking news put together in now less than half an hour.

At the same time, the CTV phone tree was activated. Calls were made to then CTV VP of News Tim Kotcheff and senior assignment editor Dennis McIntosh. The midnight show to Central Time Zone made it to air (of course) and then after that show was off the air; there was a full network special report aimed mostly at the eastern, Atlantic and Newfoundland stations that had already broadcast the original newscast.

That’s how the system was supposed to work. That’s how it worked at both public and private networks  when the networks had executives and managers who knew what they were doing.

My sources tell me that at CBC there is minimal staff assigned to the Sunday National (unlike the old days when the Sunday National was a flagship that led the rest of the week.) and even the English Montreal local CBC newscast was a disaster.

This news disaster is the result of decades of budget cuts, staff reductions and misleading viewer analytics that say it isn’t worth money investing in weekend coverage. At CTV I suspect that the parent company Bell Media has no real interest in actual news coverage in a demographic low point. CBC lost its way as a public broadcaster years ago, with too many managers and too many managers who know nothing about broadcasting and don’t consider news apart from marketing it.

The CBC now has version 5.0 or higher of a so-called digital strategy. The news of the shooting was on Facebook and Twitter, not much even on  CBC.ca (they can’t do much if there’s one writer and no reporters on scene to feed information) and everyone in English Canada was waiting for CBC to go live with real reporting. It never happened.

In these days when all the media is in deep trouble, there are some things you can’t fix.

But one thing can be fixed. Remember the Greatest Generation.

Remember the old Journalism School 101 adage. Never Assume.

Never assume that news is going to break when you’re expecting it.

Come up with a real 21st century emergency plan and bring back that old analog frigging phone tree system and when there is real breaking news get it on the air and out on digital and social media whether it’s on Wednesday afternoon or Sunday night. Accurate and fast. Accurate is crucial in the age of fake news on social media.

 


Here’s what John Doyle of the Globe and Mail says

John Doyle: Lack of TV news coverage of Quebec City shooting a huge broadcast failure

 

(In the first upload,  I mixed up east and west. Mississauga is west of Toronto. It has been corrected)

A radical (interim) solution to save newspapers: fire all the columnists

I am going to make a radical suggestion that just might save the dying newspaper industry (for a while).

Fire all your columnists.

Newspapers should do the one thing they used to be good at–original reporting. Anybody can sit down and whip out an opinion piece and post it on the web (as I am doing now).

Fire all the columnists.

Use the money to hire a bunch of eager and smart young reporters from the tech generation. Given the bloated salaries of most ageing, out-of-touch columnists, the newspaper business could probably get three entry-level reporters for every fired columnist.  Instead of a stupid “last hired, first fired” policy, the young reporters could keep the industry on life support for a while longer until one of those young people come up with a solution that saves the industry from itself before it collapses entirely.

(One proviso here. There are a few, too few, writers labelled as columnists who actually go out and do frequent original reporting. I’d keep them and make them get out in the field even more than they do now, because they’re actually reporters. There are also innovative reporters/live tweeters/live bloggers like Andrew Carvin @acarvin  (personal website)   in the US and Kady O’Malley  (CBC Inside Politics blog) @kady in Canada. I’d keep them as well. I would not keep tweeters/columnists who just send out their opinions without any actual reporting).

Why fire the columnists?

One. The world wide web is full of opinionated bloggers and tweeters.

In terms of the opinion marketplace, opinion, especially ill-informed opinion, is at the market level of a t-shirt made in China and brought over to North America by the container load, dirt cheap and available in any colour you want. If opinionated columnists helped attract a newspaper audience in the 1980s, today a columnist is a penny a dozen (and we all know what’s happening to the penny).

On the other hand, a large segment of the population seems to be eager for real, on-the-scene, informed reporting. But since having columnists sit on their fat asses in offices, never going out, never even making a phone call or moving a mouse to check a fact, are, in budget terms, cheaper than actually sending reporters out in the field, newspapers are firing reporters and promoting columnists. It’s the same with political panels on television. The panels cost little, fill up air time and add almost nothing substantive to a news broadcast.

Dumb.

How many of today’s audience actually care about columnists? Last fall, I was teaching a continuing education class at a university on social media. There were about 30 students, ranging in age from 20 to 65. I mentioned the CBC and National Post’s Rex Murphy, (I know from my days producing The National’s website that Rex was quite popular then among the CBC audience). To my shock and surprise, blank stares. No one. No one in that class had ever heard of Rex Murphy, even though he hosts Cross Country Check Up, he once wrote a column for The Globe and Mail and now gives his opinion on CBC’s The National and in The National Post. An anomaly perhaps, an indication of the decline of the CBC, perhaps. But those students did talk about how they got news, yes news, from Twitter and Facebook and how links led them to the media that originated the story.

Two. The majority of columnists, left, right or middle, are completely out of touch with reality.

Most columnists today are ageing boomers, or members of Generation Gekko (the spoiled generation between the WWII Greatest Generation and the Boomers) and most haven’t had an original thought in at least a decade. Nothing proves that more, here in Canada, than the near unanimous condemnation of the student protests in Quebec by columnists in almost all the major media across this country. One has to wonder if these columnists talk to their kids (if they have kids). They rant about today’s generation of students as “spoiled brats.”

Compare that blanket condemnation with the intelligent discussions I have seen among several Facebook friends and their followers over the issues in Quebec. Even those who oppose the students stand on tuition fees and are disturbed by the marches disrupting their neighborhoods and businesses are more measured in the Facebook discussions I have seen than what you read in the columns or heard in the television news political panels.

Why read the pontification of a columnists, when you get a wider view of opinions and experiences from a thread on Facebook (where I should note, people use their real names and are known personally to at least some of the people taking part in the discussion)?

None of those columnists, when they were starting out, had to go through four or five unpaid internships to get their first paying job (and unpaid internships are not only standard practice in the media but in almost all industries that also pay their CEOs millions in salaries and bonuses). None of those columnists are burdened with life-long debt for getting a university or college education. The columnists seem to have forgotten the fear we all felt as kids at the prospect of nuclear annihilation over our heads when they dismiss as nonsense, the completely justified fears the current generation of young adults have about the future of a planet facing drastic climate change.

None of those columnists ever seem to bother to read the news wires available on their computers  (or even their reporting colleagues on their own newspaper). If they did, they would know that the discontent among the current student and young adult generation is worldwide. There have been student protests in Chile over high tuition and debt for the past two years. There have been student protests across Europe, even before the debt crisis. Then there’s the Arab Spring (conditions may be different but it’s the same generation) and yes, the London riots, even the Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver, the G20 disturbances in Toronto. I’ve seen tweets and Facebook postings that students in the UK are going to adopt the Quebec students’ red square symbol in their struggle with the government of David Cameron. If it happens that would show the power of social media and the networking power of the new generation.

To quote the old song from the 60s, which I am sure most of those columnists sang in their day, “something’s happening here” but unlike a few reporters, the columnists never bother find out, they just sit at their keyboards and create “sound and fury signifying nothing.”

Even in terms of a business model, if you’re running a newspapers and you want to attract a younger audience ( the younger audience is a mantra in television, even though the executives don’t really mean it) why have your newspaper columns shit (and I meant that) almost every day on your potential next generation of customers? Yes, most newspaper readers are older (but even those are giving up on newspapers) but why ignore a potential market of millions that could save your business? Perhaps because the newspapers executive are cut from the same obsolete cloth as their columnists

To expand on this, since I returned to my old home town of Kitimat, centre of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline controversy, my once high respect for the Ottawa press gallery is in free fall and now near zero. Most of the reporting on this British Columbia pipeline and tanker issue from Ottawa and Toronto, is only 20 per cent accurate, if that. (That is why I founded my own news site, Northwest Coast Energy News). Almost all of the columns on the Northern Gateway issue written east of the Rockies are so inaccurate that they are worthless.

In the old days, when Canadian newspapers actually did reporting from across the country, there would be someone out west to tell the Ottawa or Toronto columnists and their senior editors, hey this column is completely wrong. (There are only three national level reporters in Canada whose reporting can be trusted on the Northern Gateway, Mike De Souza at Postmedia, Jeffrey Jones at Reuters and Nathan Vanderklippe at The Globe and Mail and even they tend to write too much from an energy sector point-of-view. As for the energy columnists, their opinions are worth about as much as molecule of shale fracked natural gas)

The press gallery, especially the columnists, exist in an inside-the-Queensway bubble, listening to politicians, war room strategists, spin doctors and pollsters and have come to believe that is reality. It seems that to the Ottawa press gallery, the only thing that counts is electoral politics. Everything else is, to use the term from economics, a political “externality” and not worth reporting. Discontent across Canada and political turmoil around the world mean nothing, unless it can be factored in to whomever wins the next parliamentary, congressional or presidential election.

Three. Let them blog.

It is interesting that most of the columnists, many of them conservative, many hired in the 1980s, when newspapers decided that they only wanted to chase the well-heeled, upper middle class and upper class market that advertisers craved, worship the free market but are completely insulated from it, especially on newspapers that are loosing money (unlike the young people they scorn who are subject to the marketplace every day.)

So if these columnists are so in favour of the marketplace and if they are fired, as I suggest, then let them put their ideas out in the marketplace as a blog, and see if they can actually earn a decent living at it. Most won’t of course, but there are a few who do, like Andrew Sullivan. More power to those who do succeed, and perhaps a lesson for those who fail and who are currently condemning today’s students and young journalists for their struggles.

Four. The paywall issue.

Newspapers are rushing to create paywalls. Some reporters say paywalls are needed to produce good journalism.

Wrong. We’re getting into a chicken and egg argument here. Paywalls aren’t going to work and not because the internet has worked on free information since 1993. Paywalls won’t work for the simple reason that 80 per cent of newspapers today are not producing anything worth paying for whether it’s online or mobile; they’re not producing anything even worth paying for and picking up the dead tree printed edition. Many newspapers have already fired most of their reporters and photographers or those reporters and photographers have got fed up and quit or taken early or full retirement. Now the newspapers are going to put up a paywall, with even fewer staff doing the reporting and expect that public to pay for that diminished product?

Dumb.

With wire service reports available for free on sites that don’t have paywalls, why then fill up your news site or newspaper with wire reports that people can get elsewhere for nothing and then expect them to pay for it? As well as the wire services there are now the citizen newspapers, from paper.li. I subscribe to a half dozen daily feeds as a sort of wire service for Northwest Coast Energy News and often those compilations give me three or four sources on a new story, so if a story is behind a paywall, there are always alternatives. As well as my own original content, I use Storify to keep my readers up-to-date with issues I can’t cover myself. (Example here)

Dumb.

One has to ask “what are they thinking” in the media’s ego-driven, consultant-plagued corporate board rooms? (Consultant-plagued because all the media companies are repeating the same failed strategies over and over instead of trying something innovative). Why would anyone under the age of 35, in these days of austerity, whip out their credit card and pay to be told by a columnist who hasn’t picked up a phone to check a fact since they were first appointed around 1990 that these readers/viewers are spoiled brats and that their worries about the future are of no consequence.

Dumb.

As I said above, with so much opinion available for free on the web, why pay for the rants of the 95 per cent of columnists whose writing isn’t worth it and only serves to raise your blood pressure (no matter where you are on the political spectrum).

Hire the kids, lots of them

On the other hand for the same current limited budgets, if newspapers got rid of the columnists and hired a whole generation of new, young reporters, with guidance from some open minded senior editors (and checked by good copy editors—you really need to bring copy editors back, firing copy editors is another media corporate stupidity), that would bring “new blood” to use the cliche to the news web sites and news pages. We would see original reporting on issues that everyone, not just the younger generation, care about. A century ago, reporters started in the business right out of high school around 16 to 18 and the newspapers, of the day used their energy to create audience and profits. Even with today’s demand for higher education, a 25-year-old reporter has the energy and eagerness to shake things up. It is possible, perhaps, that they then could produce stories that would be worth paying for, whether by attracting advertisers or even making a news site so good that people might actually penetrate the paywall with their credit cards.

Dunsel

To use a term from one of my generation’s favourite TV shows, Star Trek, The Original Series, in 2012, a columnist on a newspaper is a Dunsel. (Dunsel is a term used by midshipmen in the 23rd century to describe a part which serves no useful purpose. From Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki. )

Getting rid of columnists is just an idea, one of many as the news media, an essential part of any free and democratic society, struggles to to survive and find a way to pay to produce its product.  There are many blogs and reports out there on the issue of media survival, too many to  link to. My idea of getting rid of columnists would just be one stopgap measure.

Unfortunately most media executives these days are also Dunsels, earning huge salaries, running around believing it’s still 1985 and rejecting any new ideas from no matter what source (except expensive reports from their consultants) and thus serving no useful purpose, so it is likely that the newspapers’ downward spiral will continue until nothing is left.

 

Related See Jeff Fraser’s piece If they build it, will they pay? on the Canadian Journalism Project site where he says the New York Times paywall is working, because the Times is emphasizing quality original reporting and most paywalled papers are not emphasizing quality reporting.

Bell Canada has killed my local bookstore

Independent bookstores across North America are in trouble. The business model is changing as more and more readers move to tablets and e-readers, with competition from video games and the lure of all that is available on the Internet.

When an independent bookstore finally finds that its business is no longer working, and it announces that it is shutting down, part of any community dies with that bookstore. The death of the local independent bookstore, general or specialized, mom and pop operation or bibliophile specialized, is always news.

My local bookstore in Kitimat is about to close.

It wasn’t the marketplace (as such).

It was murder. Murder most foul. It was killed by Bell Canada.

No, this wasn’t a case of Bell wanting to increase the number of downloads of e-books and magazines on smart phones and tablets. Bell is a big, dumb corporation and the left hand doesn’t talk the to right hand that way.

In Kitimat, the store is Bookmasters/The Source. Now you begin to understand. As well as the local book, magazine, toy and souvenir shop, the store is a Source franchise.

It’s not that this was an unsuccessful franchise. The Source (Bell) Electronics (the corporate entity) last week suddenly cancelled the franchise contracts of 10 small mom and pop, hybrid Source stores across northern British Columbia, putting 10 small businesses out in the cold, out of pure, stupid corporate greed. The Source (Bell) Electronics plans to replace the mom and pop stores with the kind of high pressure sales “full service” stores you see the major metropolitan areas.

So before going back to the issue of the bookstore, let’s look at the decision by Bell’s corporate headquarters and ask, does it even make business sense?

The question that you have to ask up here is: will there be enough business in the small communities of northern BC to sustain a full up The Source with its obnoxious high pressure sales people, most of whom actually know very little about electronics, other than what is some sales manual? Given the uncertain economic conditions here, I doubt very much if a corporate Source store will succeed in the long run. Interestingly The Source is still promoting hybrid stores under The Source Express franchise, so the question is why are they killing the stores in northern BC? Is there any solid business research behind this move? Or it is an ego-trip from corporate?

Source logo with daggerThere is already talk across northwestern British Columbia of a boycott of the new stores, in protest to this high handed corporate action.

A boycott might actually succeed. There is, of course, fierce competition in electronic retailing, both from national chains and from locally owned electronic stores. In northwestern BC, there is a decades long tradition of mail order, going to back to the time when there was little available at retail due to relative isolation and transportation problems. Now it is easy to order via Internet or on E-Bay. Almost everyone I know up here provides regular work for Canada Post and FedEx or UPS.

(An aside: When the old Radio Shack stores became The Source in Canada, the electronic parts and gadgets that were once carried by Radio Shack disappeared. When, as a TV news freelancer, I needed some gear, I was told by Bookmasters/The Source that they carried it when they were Radio Shack but it was no longer available via The Source. I bought the gear I needed on E-Bay from California)

Another reason that I am pissed off at this. It is going to cost me money. Bookmasters/The Source carries magazines not available on the racks of Overwaitea or Shoppers Drug Mart. With no bookstore in town, if I want those magazines, which are not available electronically, I am going to have drive 60 kilometres to the next nearest bookstore in Terrace once a month or pay postage fees which, for American magazines, are often higher than the subscription fees.

I found about the store closing on the weekend from a friend, I visited the store today (unfortunately all the bookshelves had already been sold).

Today, the more I think about it, even though it is an example from a small town, Bookmasters could actually be a viable business model to sustain independent bookstores, by combining paper books with electronics.

Yes, I frequently buy e-books from Amazon or Apple for my iPad. I see a review or a mention in a news story or on a website and I can download the book with a click.

When it comes to the simple joy of reading, the trouble with Amazon/Kindle or Apple is that often there is not enough information provided that let’s me decide to buy a book. That’s where browsing the bricks and mortar bookshelves comes in.

Take science fiction, unless I read a review in Analog (which will no longer be available in Kitimat after Bookmasters closes) I can’t tell from the one or two sentences on an e-book page whether or not this book is worth buying. Browsing the small science fiction section in Bookmasters let me look at the cover, look at the blurb at the back, perhaps the first few pages and then decide whether to buy and I often do buy.

The other point about a physical, bricks and mortar bookstore is serendipity. Amazon may have recommendations based on past purchases, but there is no way Amazon can tell that a book I see on a shelf in a store will grab my interest. I seldom leave a bookstore without some serendipitous purchase that would never appear on my Amazon profile.

The book business is increasingly moving toward the electronic. Some bookstores are already selling iPads and Kindles. At the same time, some publishers and business analysts are saying (hoping?) there will still be a demand for a physical book.

It seems to me that if we want the independent bookstore to survive as a viable business model, that there should be serious consideration of a hybrid store that sells both books and electronics. A store could sell either hard copy books or e-books through some sort of download station. That way the customer has a choice. That store could also a sell a selection of tablets and other e-devices, selected software and who knows what is around the corner.

Consider the camera store. In the past decade, the camera store has gone from selling film cameras, film and darkroom equipment (remember darkrooms and chemicals?) to what is essentially an electronics store, selling digital cameras (and camera accessories), software, tablets, memory cards and all kinds of accessories. The old film camera shops that refused to move to electronics are long gone. (But the surviving stores still sell used film cameras to enthusiasts)

Who knows what the future will bring in e-books? The explosion in tablets in the past few months is probably only a hint of things to come. Independent bookstores that stick with the old model will die. But, as I said, communities thrive on bookstores. Independent bookstores have to be on the front lines of e-innovations. Surviving independent bookstores should perhaps start looking to the camera retailer as a possible model for adapting to a fast changing future,  just like a camera store does today, selling “content” and “content delivery” in multiple forms, including the good, old-fashioned books first brought to us by Johannes Gutenberg..

So for now, the closing of Bookmasters/The Source in Kitimat will usher in another example of the current corporate monoculture. Bell#FAIL

But perhaps, the silver lining in this cloud (and it is overcast and snowing in Kitimat today) is that the hybrid electronic stores in the small markets of northern BC could be resurrected  across the world as way of saving the independent “content” store.

 

 

 

It’s not just Kai Nagata that’s quitting, it’s the whole damned demographic

I intend to write a longer blog on the raging debate over Kai Nagata’s now famous blog about his resignation from CTV News, Why I Quit My Job putting it in a wider and historic perspective.

Throughout my career I’ve known people who have gotten fed up in the way Nagata did and quit. So quitting is nothing new and I will include that in a future blog.

As the backlash against Nagata grows, I think a crucial point has to be made now. As I said in some Facebook and other posts, Nagata’s blog wouldn’t have gone viral if it hadn’t touched a cord with a lot of people, including many of his generation. The blog has an audience around the world that is still growing.

A lot of people are now saying Nagata is a self-indulgent egotist in his mid-20s. Maybe. Elders have attacked restless, ego-driven 20-somethings since the first agricultural settlements in Anatolia seven thousand odd years ago.

Many influential voices in journalism are saying that Nagata should have stayed and fought. One of the latest comments comes from someone highly respected in the broadcast news industry, Howard Bernstein, Quitting Solves Nothing.

Nagata isn’t the only talented young journalist who has quit the business (although it looks like Nagata didn’t hold out as long some people). I know other people in their 20s in Canada, the US and the UK who have also quit but who haven’t voiced their dissatisfaction so eloquently as Nagata. So perhaps quitting does solve the problem of knocking your head against a brick wall. It feels so good when you stop.

The first question that has to be asked is: with jobs in journalism so scarce and competition
for those jobs so fierce that the managers who actually want talent have their pick, then why are so many of the best and the brightest who can quit (not married, no mortgages, not overburdened by student loans) actually quitting?

I have seen Facebook and other postings from very talented journalists and former journalists, I know,  all in their late 20s, early 30s, (and whose work I respect)  all saying Nagata is right.  Most of the criticism appears to becoming from an older age set, from late 30s up until retirement.

The second and more important question is where’s that all important audience that the media managers keep telling us they are trying to serve?

The audience for news among the 20 to 30 demographic is dismal.  Those dismal figures go beyond the supposed disinterest that age group has in news.

This is the demographic that the advertisers supposedly hunger for, supposedly  would kill for: 18 to 34. Where are that audience? Not watching TV news, that’s for certain. Why are the news ads filled with safety bath tabs, reverse mortgages,  non-medical life insurance and topical pain relievers?  The advertisers aren’t that dumb, if the 20 to 30s were watching the news, you’d see a lot more ads than there are now for smart phones and tablets, computers, cars, adventure vacations and eco-tourism trips, starter condos and the furniture for those starter condos. Instead the ad dollars are going to attract poor, aging, arthritic, worried boomers. At the same time, in any TV newsroom, the managers go on and on and on and on about the “younger audience” while producing the kind of news piffle that led Nagata to quit and has driven that audience away.

The 20 to 30s are also not reading newspapers, at least on paper, they browse online at the free news buffet.

It’s not just that they are part of the download generation who expect free stuff. The news media hasn’t produced anything that they think is worth paying for. After all they will pay for music on iTunes and for non-pirated software or anything else they feel has real value. The news media doesn’t produce anything that would attract an 18-34 audience that would mean advertisers would throw money at the media to get their attention.

Among my non-journalist friends in their 20s, one thing is very clear.  They don’t trust the media at all. Any media.  While mostly aging conservatives attack the CBC for its supposed left-wing bias, many of 20 to 34s I talk to lump the CBC together with CTV, Global and Sunmedia as “corporate media.”  I am surprised and disheartened that many young people believe that all the networks, including the CBC, and the major newspapers jump to Stephen Harper’s commands.  (I am sure I can hear Harper saying, “I wish” especially when he is facing Terry Milewski.)

Like the rest of the audience, the 18 to 34 are titillated by Charlie Sheen’s self destruction and they did watch some of the royal tour by William and Catherine.  But they are also concerned about the future of this poor planet and the crisis that climate change will bring and know that the media on whatever platform isn’t doing enough coverage of those stories.

The current News International scandal, the closing of The News of the World  (as well as the likely cynical substitution by the Sun on Sunday) and the continuing revelations about the abuses of the media owned by Rupert Murdoch  (as well as the fact that Conrad Black is going back to jail in the U.S.) will do nothing to improve the trust in the media among younger people.

So it’s not just Kai Nagata that’s quitting the media. It’s the whole damned demographic.

The real story is not Kai Nagata, it’s an entire generation, that all important audience,  disillusioned by the metric driven nonsense that consultants tell managers this generation (that isn’t watching or reading) want.

The journalists in that generation who are quitting and posting on Twitter and in blogs that didn’t get as much notice as Nagata’s  are voicing what the rest aren’t saying (and isn’t that the journalists job?)

For my friends and colleagues who are still in the business and are still fighting from the inside, good for them, they might (might) make a difference (maybe).   However, we must remember the definition of insanity, if you keep doing the same thing over and over and get the same result, and you don’t change  what you are doing and keep doing the same thing, you must be insane.

While there are small victories in those internal fights, the important strategic battles are being won by the beancounters and metric mad managers (who are picking up their huge bonuses on their way out of the office each weekend).

Some of those young people, some still journalism students, and many who quit their jobs without publishing their manifestos,  who I follow on #futureofnews are working to create their own start-ups or exploring new forms of  entrepreneurial journalism or are struggling as two-track freelancers (both working for the current media and working to innovate).

So it is likely that if anything saves journalism. it will come from one of those quitters who are free to create a new model and mode of news delivery.  Maybe that’s why Kai Nagata touched such a raw nerve with the (the cliche) main stream media.

“Real time” news tweets, the sinking of the Titanic

A couple of days ago, the Nova Scotia Museum in Halifax, which holds most of the  surviving artifacts of the ill-fated RMS Titanic,  recreated the morse code radio distress messages as “real time” Tweets, exact minute by minute, almost a century later.

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The museum’s idea was certainly an imaginative way of using Twitter in 2011.

The event has three lessons  on the future of news.

First, the Titanic recreation mirrors the way news organizations and individuals  today tweet in real time for breaking news.

Second while  a news organization might have had the idea to do something  similar, using the files in its morgue (that is if the beancounters haven’t discarded the archive or donated it for tax reasons to a local library or  university), it was the museum that created this Twitter event,  That shows again that news organizations are in stiff competition, not only with other news media and the bloggers and social media but with any organization with the imagination to  do something about a news pegged historic event.

Third, this was a great news and social media story that the news media didn’t pick up.  The only story I saw was an advancer from CBC.ca that I saw after the fact and so I missed the tweets.  The reaction to those who know about the Tweets and retweeted or commented to #ns_mma or  #Titanic were very engaged in the real time story.  The media missed this one,.

I am one  of those who has always been fascinated by the Titanic story, going back to the first time I saw A Night to Remember on television as a small child (and for some reason, that I was never able to track down, the Titanic story always made my mother very upset. She was born in 1914, two years after the sinking, so there may have been some sort of connection)

So I went to Twitter and captured the recreation of the sinking of the Titanic. Here are the tweets in reverse chronological order.   Larger versions will pop up on a click)

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In this sequence, about half way down, the news media becomes aware of the sinking and starts asking the overworked radio operators at Cape Race in Newfoundland for details.

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353-titanic2-thumb-450x626-352.jpg 356-titanic1-thumb-450x582-355.jpgOne last note, During the CBC lockout, I wrote a blog about the Titanic’s musicians and how badly they were treated by the White Star Line,. See  On Contract on RMS Titanic

UPDATE  Jeff Jarvis has written a broadside about the media and business plans,  Hard Economic lesson for news.  I don’t agree with all of what Jarvis says, it is probable that too much of an emphasis on economics is what got the news media in trouble long before the Internet, But Jarvis does say:

* There is huge growth potential in increasing engagement.
Facebook gets roughly 30 times the engagement of newspaper sites,
Huffington Post’s engagement is also a multiple of newspapers’. If we
are truly community services, then we must rethink our relationship with
the public, becoming more a platform for our communities, and that will
multiply engagement and, with it, audience, traffic, and data. We have
not begun to extend and exploit the full potential of the value news
organizations can have in relationships with their communities: more
people, more value, more engagement equals more value to extract.

The Nova Scotia Museum’s Titanic recreation is one example, as I said, where imagination does create reader/audience engagement.

The news media, however, following tired standard operating procedures and so the news media failed. In this case,. following and reporting on this story would have cost just pennies and increased reader engagement on a news story that has fascinated for 99 years.

RR

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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.”

In the beginning: Why the media couldn’t charge for content.

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If only, if only, my colleagues say, if only the news media had started charging for content when they launched their first websites.

If only the media had charged, then none of the current problems of free content would have happened, the public would know that content costs money and the newspapers and TV stations would have a second, strong income stream and all would be well. There would be lots of good, high paying jobs and the money to do real journalism rather than celebrity silliness.

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If only……

 

So now there is a search for scapegoats. Media managers who have shown that they are completely incompetent in running traditional print and broadcast are an easy and obvious target.

Others blame the tech community and a misunderstanding of the truncated quoting of Stewart Brand, “information wants to be free.”

Then came Wired editor Chris Anderson’s nasty tract, Free. The main flaw in “free” is the assumption that the concept can transfer outside the tech and science fiction communities.  Unlike commodity (or atom)  based corporations, for creative individuals and most of the media, “Free” usually doesn’t work outside those arenas, an inconvenience that the advocates of “free” constantly ignore. What is left is  basically a schoolyard bully taunt: “So there, free is the future, so take your medicine and work for nothing.”

Most of the people who ask the question and provide answers were not around in the earliest days of online news media. So that is why there is a belief that if somehow the media had charged in the early days, today all would be well.

Yes, there was one day and just one day, when, if the media had got its act together, it could have started charging for online news, September 1, 1993. The trouble was that  there were no major media on the Internet in a big way come that September.

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I was present at the creation of online media

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I was working in “online media” long before the launch of the World Wide Web, back in the days of videotex and teletext from 1981-1985.

The Internet played a role in my science fiction short story Wait Till Next Year, published in Analog in November, 1988 (although I got some of the tech details wrong).

I got my first Internet account in August 1993. Note I am a very early adopter and got in just before the Internet tsunami a month later in September 1993.

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I co-wrote the first book on Researching on the Internet, published in the fall of 1995. So I was researching the state of the internet, the web, and the media at the first moments of news on the web.

I was the third employee assigned to CBC News Online, April 1, 1996.

The cold, hard fact is that web evolved with free content. It had little to do with Stewart Brand. So when the media first ventured onto the web, the media had to play by the rules at the time. Those rules appeared to say, “commerce on the Internet is a no- no.”

The Genesis of the media on the Internet

 

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In the beginning, (in 1968-1969) US Department of Defence created ARPANET.

And DOD saw that it was good.

DOD said let the military and the scientists communicate.

And the military and the scientists communicated.

And DOD saw that it was good. The American was getting a good return for their money.

But then there was darkness on the face of ARPANET,

DOD saw that too many people had access to the ARPANET and most of the users didn’t have security clearances.

DOD said in 1983, we will create a separate MILNET and give the scholars ARPANET
In 1984, the National Science Foundation created NSFNET.

And DOD and NSF saw that it was good.

Thus TCP/IP spread to universities around the world.
And the scholars saw that it was good.

The techs improved a system called UUCP and created protocols for e-mail, ftp and newsgroups.

And the techs saw that UUCP was good and said GNU, thus, this protocol shall be free to all.

The campus deans said let us have more access to ARPANET, NSFNET,TCP/IP and UUCP NET via private sector telecoms who can do the wiring.

Verily the private sector telecoms wired the universities and the laboratories and created dial up for scholars in their homes.

The telecoms reaped great profits of gold and silver and precious things from those wires.

And DOD and NSF and the scholars and the techs and the telecoms saw that it was good.

NSF decreed that NSFNET and ARAPNET shall be free from commerce, for it was the will of the community that the networks are for education and the spread of human knowledge.
And so NSF said we shall cast out UUCP NET because it can be used for commerce (but we will still use the free software they developed).

And thus UUCP NET was cast out.

The telecoms and the nations of the world far from North America agreed that this networked system was good and created their own networks.

And they all saw that it was good.

Thus it came to pass that the universities which had journalism schools gave their students access to what was now known as the Internet.

And lo and behold it appeared to be free (although their accounts were paid for, in part, by tuition fees). The students were taught that the Internet was educational and thus should be free for all.

At the same time their elders in journalism who loved tech were using another system called CompuServe (which the elders had to pay for with their credit cards).
The journalism students and j-professors came on to CompuServe said “Behold I bring you tidings of great joy. There is this wonderful thing called the Internet and it is free.”

It came to pass that Tim Berners-Lee at CERN created the World Wide Web.
And all saw that the World Wide Web was good.

So the professors, and the students and the reporters and the editors, all of whom loved tech, all rejoiced when they saw the World Wide Web. For they thought they had found the perfect way to deliver the news.
Out of a whirlwind came Netscape.245-netscapes.jpg

At first only the techies loved Netscape.

Then Netscape said we shalt have an IPO.

In the year of our Lord 1995, on the ninth day of August, the IPO came to pass, and it was wonderful and the Netscape stock set a record on Wall Street.

So Netscape became front page news and was high on the evening newscasts.

The media barons and all priests and scribes of the news temples saw that much gold and silver was going to Netscape and asked “What is going on?”

So the barons and the priests and the scribes summoned those of their followers who were techies and said “Tell us, what is this Internet? What is this World Wide Web? Why is Wall Street giving gold and silver and precious things to Netscape?”
The techie reporters and editors said to the barons, the priests and the scribes, this is the Internet, this is the Web.

The techie followers showed the barons, the priests and the scribes their personal websites. Thetechie editors showed the barons, priests and scribes the under the table news sites they had created. They told the exalted ones this World Wide Web is perfect for delivering news, you can have text, you can have pictures, you can have audio and you can even have video.

The barons and the priests and scribes decreed to their techie followers and editors. “Thou shalt build websites for our news operations.”

So the techie news people and the tech techies laboured mightily and created websites. They presented the websites to the barons, priests and scribes.

The barons, priests and scribes looked at the websites and saw that they were good. So they told the news people and techies that they had done a great service and would be rewarded from the gold and silver we get from this new World Wide Web (although the barons, scribes and priests, like all their kind, were lying and did not intend to really reward their followers).

The techie news people and the tech techies trembled and quaked but bravely told the barons, priests and scribes, “No, oh exalted ones, that is forbidden. It has been decreed from on high that there will be no commerce on the Internet.” And they were sore afraid.

The barons, priests and scribes said to themselves, “What the fuck is going on?”

So that’s the story.
.
 From creation to evolution

There are two key points.

First, as is well known, the Internet did evolve from military, scientific and university communications systems which were, on the surface, free, although, of course, largely paid for by the American taxpayer and university endowments

The culture of free exchange of information is the basis of scholarship, but is, of course, paid for behind the scenes, by government, foundation and endowment funding. Thus the culture of freeinformation existed at the core of Internet use at the time the media first began to be interested in putting news on the web.

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Second, in the early 1990s, before the rise of the independent Internet Service Providers and the expansion of services by the telecoms, large and small, the main communication network for the Internet in North America was the NSF Backbone, the high speed Internet communications network run by the U.S. National Science Foundation, which as part of its policy, forbade the use of the backbone for commercial purposes.

Thus in theory, and the conventional wisdom believed, no one using the Internet for commercial purposes, and that would have included charging for news, could use the main North American Internet information communications backbone.

But, in reality, the situation was a lot greyer and not so black and white.

I kept all my research material from the time in 1993-1994 (which I recently donated to the York University Computer Museum)when I was writing Researching on the Internet.

Here is what a couple of the leading books of the time said (books which most libraries, I suspect, discarded long ago and so are no longer available to those who lament the media if only)


Internet Companion A beginners guide to global networking
Tracy LaQuey with Jeanne C Ryer, Addison Wesley, May 1993, put it this way:

Probably the best known and most widely applied is NSFNETs Acceptable Use Policy , which basically states the transmission of “commercial” information or traffic is not allowed across the NSFNET backbone, whereas all information in support of academic and research activities is acceptable.

It sounds somewhat complicated, but you need to remember the original Internet began as US government‑funded experiment and no one expected it to become the widespread, heavily used production network it is today.

It’s going to take a while for commercialization and privatization of these networks to occur. The Internet as whole continues to move to support‑‑or at least allow access to‑‑more and more commercial activity. We may have to deal with some conflicting policies while the process evolves, but at some point in the Internet future, free enterprise will likely prevail and commercial activity will have a defined place, making the whole issue moot, In the meantime, if you’re planning to use the Internet for commercial reasons, make sure the networks you’re using support your kind of activity.

 

Another book, just a little later, Kevin M Savetz Your Internet Consultant The FAQs of Life Online. Sams, 1994

Commercial activity isn’t allowed on the Internet? It’s purely an academic and educational network, right?

People who advertise and sell stuff on the net should be flogged, right?
Yes and no. As mentioned earlier in this book the Internet is composed of a variety of different networks. Each network has its own set of rules, called acceptable use policies.

Certain networks [particularly the National Science Foundation network, the NSFnet, have strict acceptable use policies that ban most types of commercial use.

On the other hand, another backbone network within the Internet world has been finding considerable interest among commercial internet users‑‑the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX). The acceptable use policies of CIX are much more broad and advertising and selling are both within its purview. So although commercial activity isn’t allowed on certain parts of the Internet, it is allowed on others.

People who advertise on the Internet should only be flogged for heinous violations of Internet culture, such as sending unsolicited junk e‑mail or posting commercial messages to Usenet groups that aren’t supposed to be used for commercial messages.

In the same book, another writer, Michael Strangelove, answered the question (key for the media in retrospect and somewhat prescient as well)

Is advertising allowed on the Internet?

…many people see internet as a noncommercial, academic, purely technical environment. Not so: today about fifty per cent of the Internet is populated by commercial users, The commercial Internet is the fastest growing part of cyberspace,

Businesses are discovering that they can advertise to the Internet community at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods. With tens of millions of electronic mail users out there in cyberspace today . Internet advertising is an intriguing opportunity not be overlooked. When the turn of the century rolls around and there are one hundred million consumers on the Internet, we may see many ad agencies and advertising supported magazines go under as businesses learn to communicate directly with consumers in cyberspace.

 

Those were print books aimed at the newbie Internet user.

But it also means that if the media had had the foresight to get on the Internet in the earliest years of the 1990s, they would have had to become part of the proposed Commercial Internet Exchange.

But in 1991, 92, 93, online in a newsroom was confined to what was called in many American (and Canadian) newsrooms, the “geek in the corner.”

The situation was already changing even as those books went to press.

Here is how Wikipedia explained the changes.

The interest in commercial use of the Internet became a hotly debated topic. Although commercial use was forbidden, the exact definition of commercial use could be unclear and subjective. UUCPNet and the X.25 IPSS had no such restrictions, which would eventually see the official barring of UUCPNet use of ARPANET and NSFNet connections. Some UUCP links still remained connecting to these networks however, as administrators cast a blind eye to their operation….

In 1992, Congress allowed commercial activity on NSFNet with the Scientific and Advanced-Technology Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1862(g), permitting NSFNet to interconnect with commercial networks.[31] This caused controversy amongst university users, who were outraged at the idea of noneducational use of their network

 

So, the US Congress had opened up the Internet to commercial activities in that country.

 

The geeks, bearing content

 

Most of the media was still clueless and didn’t jump to the opportunity, even if they ran Sunday feature stories on the geeks or closing items on the evening news about this thing called “The Internet.”

It is likely that the vast majority of executives with their eyes on Wall Street and paying consultants pushing 1970s media models had no idea that they employed a “geek in the corner,” much less what the geek was doing.

Apart from tech companies, both hardware and software’s growing giants plus the small office start ups and computer science grad students with big ideas, which made up most of Strangelove’s “commercial activity,” the private sector around the world was slow to take up the challenge.

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The CBC, as Canada’s public broadcaster, had, at least in those days, a mandate to experiment and innovate. So in 1993, CBC began an experiment working toward streaming radio on the Internet, in cooperation with the Communications Research Council. But as an experiment and coming from a public broadcaster there was no thought of charging for the service. (The history of the early days of CBC.ca shows the kinds of problems that executives faced. And it was a lot harder for the private sector which was expected to make money and even harder now  in the era of bean counting consultants and their talk of profit centers).

When business executives finally realized that the Internet was open to commerce, the news media was one of the first industries to make a major effort to invest on posting their material, most of it repurposed on the World Wide Web. The move was most often driven by those managers and employees who were still around from the videotex and teletext days, who saw web based news might succeed where the 1980s projects failed. Usually, these experiments were not sanctioned by head office and the money came from a little creative budgeting.

That meant the content had to be free, right from the beginning.

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There’s one factor, that today’s audience metrics obsessed media bean counters have never considered when they say “If only. ” Their all important audience. The audience for online news in the mid-1990s were Internet and Web early adopters and most had adopted the culture of free information. In those early days, no media was willing to make an investment in online content that was actually worth paying for. Most of the news was repurposed from existing print, radio or television, which was readily available (for a price, of course)

So when the first media pioneers ventured on to the Internet in the mid-1990s (including CNN, NBC, the CBC where I worked, the Raleigh News and Observer, The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star and others) the media was caught in an evolutionary feedback mechanism.

To attract the early adopter audience, the news had to be free. The audience that might have paid was not yet online (although the richer business types were using proprietary electronic services–which meant they didn’t need to pay for web content either. That pre-web willingness to pay for business information is why the  Wall Street Journal paywall has worked while others failed). 250-timecover2s.jpg

Where was the money to come from? The early click through rates for the first banner ads (which many in the audience actually objected to) were dismal.

Development of good websites cost time and money and the media was already facing the culture of free. (I predicted trouble for newspapers when I was interviewed by Craig Saila for the Ryerson Review of Journalism in fall 1996, an article published in spring 1997 www.clueless.@nd.hopeless.ca (Registration required)   (Also available on Craig Saila’s site)

The headline pretty much sums up the attitude the students of the time had to media management which was failing to adapt to the fast changing environment.

Looks like the students were right. The Ryerson article was just about the media that had had the courage to venture on to the web by the fall of 1996.

Most of the news media were late comers and took almost a decade to catch up in page views with the early starters. The late comers couldn’t charge for their content because 95% of those early online services, their competitors, were free. Neither were putting that much money into real web content.

If only

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There was one day that all the media could have made sure they could charge for content. September 1, 1993.

For it was in September 1993 that the Internet (not yet the web) took an evolutionary leap from a government, military and academic information network and communication system to one used by the public.

In September 1993, America Online, then the largest paid service, opened a gateway to Usenet, the “newsgroups” of the Internet for its subscribers. It was a time for those who then thought the Internet was their exclusive domain remember with horror, called by some the tsunami or the beginning, as described by Wikipedia as the “Eternal September,” when their private party ended.

Yes there were a few news organizations with a presence on CompuServe or America Online on September 1, 1993 but far too few and the content was far too thin.

If the media wanted to charge for content, after September 1993, when the thousands of AOL subscribers ventured on to the adolescent Internet of the time and embraced the culture where they expected free content, it was already too late.

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A tectonic collision occurred that September, the leading edge of one continent collided with another.

Invasive species penetrated the long balanced media ecosystem and disrupted it beyond imagination. So will evolutionary forces work, will the news media adapt to the new environment​?

Related

Thirty Years in New Media

Thirty Years in New Media Part II The Veteran Strikes Back

 

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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.

申博 - 太阳城娱乐- 申博太阳城

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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 20 – Apple takes Fiore’s cartoon app – and other news

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Nieman Journalism Lab

Apple approves Pulitzer winner’s iPhone app; cartoonist
now free to mock the powerful on cell phones

The media business (Robert Picard blog);  Search for alternative media business models hampered by narrow thinking

Journalism 2.0    NPR executing the ultimate distribution strategy

Columbia Journalism Review Robot journalism and the future of digital media

David Brooks New York Times  Riders on the storm
Does the internet undermine the commons. New study says no.

The study:
Ideological segregation online and offline,  by Matthew Gentzkow and Jessie Shapiro

EFF  Facebook reduces your control over personal information

Steve Berlin Johnson  Old growth media and the future of news