Monthly Archives: February 2012

Link Like a Gentleman

The person who thought of putting hyperlinks in a story probably thought it was a great idea. He or she wondered if there could be a way to find other Web pages that had information about a given topic or could provide more context to the story and embed them in the online copy. But to be honest, I’ve never really clicked on hyperlinks. In fact, I usually rollover them just to see where they link to. And really, linking to stories is no more than a courtesy to the reader. Sort of a handshake agreement that the writer or editor will aid your reading experience, right?

Maybe not. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM wrote and did a Storify last weekend on a spat between The Wall Street Journal and MG Siegler of Tech Crunch after he apparently broke the story Apple was buying app-discovery service Chomp. Siegler was miffed the Journal didn’t link to him in their own story after they confirmed of Apple’s purchase. Actually, miffed is a polite way to describe his rant on his own Tumblr.

Ultimately, Siegler thinks WSJ should have given him and Tech Crunch props for being first on the story, by at the very least linking to his story. What the Journal really did was re-report the story, probably based on what Siegler reported earlier in the day. I know I’ve written things that were later picked up by another publication without so much as a mention to me, and that’s OK. What’s not OK is to blatantly rip off someone’s story. That’s not what the WSJ did here.

Siegler’s probably overreacting, but Ingram raises a good question: What is good linking protocol? I say linking is to give readers reputable sources of information to provide greater context. Newspapers are notably stingy on doing this, usually linking just to their own stories about the topic. That’s not bad journalism, but it’s inconvenient. Mind you, I’m not one to click on links when in the middle of a story, but it’s worth going back and seeing what other information I can get out of an article. Linking is just polite, plain and simple. It’s one of those things that’s appreciated and helpful to some readers.

Siegler should really cool his jets and not boycott WSJ links out of spite. But WSJ and other outlets should do some more reporting and at least begin to acknowledge other outlets (and Tech Crunch is no small outfit) reporting news well ahead of them. That would be gentleman-like of them.

Photo: Flickr/buddawiggi

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Paywalls Closing In on Me

When did reading newspapers online become an expensive hobby? I can understand car collecting, sailing, diving for buried treasure. But reading op-eds in the comfort of your own couch on your iPad? (And, for the record, an iPad isn’t that cheap either.) On my college student budget, I can’t afford to subscribe to everything I want and that’s making for some tough choices.

My reading habits are about to get more expensive now that the Los Angeles Times has joined the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Boston Globe in the club of big newspapers that ask readers to pony up to read online content. Some are digging that grave for newspapers while they rapidly blog. Others are biting their nails to see whether the LA Times, still the fifth-highest circulated paper in the country, can stop its readership slide. I’m wondering how much I can afford.

When The New York Times put up its paywall last year, I hemmed and hawed for a month before breaking down and pulling out the credit card. Ironically, since I’ve been paying about $8 a month to read nytimes.com on my computer (via their temperamental Chrome app) I don’t think I’ve actually used all of my 20 clicks a month, ones that would be free if I didn’t subscribe. It’s just too easy to get around the paywall since a lot of what I click on comes from social media platforms or Google News.

The Globe’s policy is too cheap to give you any free clicks per month, so you think I’d have given into their paywall by now. Trouble is, the things I actually want to read from the Globe are free on Boston.com. It’s a similar story at the Wall Street Journal. Although I used to regard a WSJ online subscription like a rare commodity, (I used the password from a previous employer for as long as I could) it’s easy enough to find what I want for free. As long as they don’t put Dan Neil behind the paywall, I’ll be a happy camper.

Unfortunately, the LA Times plans to hide their auto critic, Dave Undercoffler, behind the wall – and a lot of other great writers too. They’re only giving out 15 free clicks a month before asking for about $2 a week to read everything. I’m conflicted because while I much prefer the NYT for DC and other national stories, they can’t do California news well. And, more emotionally, I grew up reading the LA Times. I have a devotion to it similar to that of Bostonians to the Globe, which is why they’re willing to subscribe online when I can’t bring myself to.

I tweeted yesterday that buying an LATimes.com subscription might come at the expense of an NYTimes.com one, something of a “Sophie’s Choice” decision to me. James Cobb, the NYT auto editor, tweeted back and said, ” But Sophie would never turn against her Old Gray Lady…” He’s right. I should just pick up the damn paper again.

Photo: Flickr/JoeinSouthernCA

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The reality of visual journalism

Mary Knox Merrill, Feb. 16

Those who study this industry religiously say it’s becoming more about visuals and pictures than it is about words. Cynics probably would like to charge it’s because we’re growing more illiterate by the second. I, a committed words guy, say it’s because visuals have become so involving. Good pictures, mated to great audio and video, can be grounds for a pretty entertaining presentation.

Take Mary Knox Merrill’s work. As a photographer for the Christian Science Monitor, she covered presidential elections and events that merit standard still photos that would accompany text written by a reporter. But she’s also been able to travel around the world, where interviewees don’t speak English, to document stories with audio and video tied together with her pictures.

“Even if you’re a writer, you have to learn to take pictures, you have to learn to take video,” Merrill said, because people want a “full-viewing experience.”

Merrill said her time in Congo documenting gorillas was challenging because of language barriers when filming the park ranger and his family. And she couldn’t get a lot of footage of the gorillas. The post-production for extensive projects like these are also gruelling.

“You kind of know what you have when you come back, but it’s not easy,” she said.

That’s typically the problem with lavish multimedia projects like Merrill’s gorilla work, another one of cyclists in the Gran Prix of Gloucester for the Christian Science Monitor, or Amy Silva’s artificial intelligence/political science intersection explanation for Northeastern’s External Affairs department. The work needed to make it attractive, as well as well-reported, is extremely intensive.

But making presentations like this for profiles or deeply reported topics is, in a number of ways, more appealing than a 1,200-word profile and a few pictures. It’s so much easier for a viewer to be captivated by the story. If done well, there’s so much multimedia journalism can convey. And who knows? With practice, that production process could get a lot faster.

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Comments: Are we angry over some God-given right or just a nice touch?

When exactly were comments expected at the bottom of every story from a news organization? I have some nostalgia for the days you read something in the paper and then slammed it down in disgust, only giving your opinion to the person next to you. Apparently no one else cares to relive those memories.

There’s no getting around the fact comment sections are better breeding grounds for vicious attacks rather than insightful discussion. That’s the tangle the New Haven Independent got in this month just before shutting off its comments section. The editor, Paul Bass, was fed up with filtering out obscene, ridiculous posts all day. I can’t blame him. Bass hopes to find a way to return to offering comments in the near future, but I think this cooling-off period serves as a reminder to news organizations of every size: There’s no right way to do comments, they all present problems.

Continue reading

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Plans to cut MBTA services, raise fares gets activists rowdy

While the message is becoming clearer that Bostonians won’t put up with a level of service cuts or fare increases anywhere near what the MBTA’s proposing in order to shore up its financial troubles, protesters aren’t backing down. Yesterday’s rally on the steps of Boston Public Library proved more residents, from students to seniors, demand to be heard in the fight to save the city’s public transit from being crippled.

Since the proposals were released more than a month ago, riders have mobilized on social media and attended some of the nearly two dozen public meetings held so far. Most, if not all, have denounced plans to raise fares as much as 400 percent for some users and cut weekend ferry, commuter rail and E line service and up to 25 percent of bus lines.

More than 100 gathered at the library’s steps near Copley Square to urge state legislators to put the T on the road to sustainable funding. Many allege cuts as severe as those proposed will divide the city and render the many low-income workers and students dependent on public transit effectively immobile. The cries against the MBTA continued inside, when at least 300 people packed into the Rabb Lecture Hall and another overflow room to listen to more than 70 speakers rail on Governor Deval Patrick and state leaders for allowing the MBTA to get in such dire financial straits.

Photos: Activists denounce proposed T cuts

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It’s nice when things, and people, work

I used to fret about getting a well-paid job in journalism. Not something that could afford me a new Bentley every year and Malibu beachfront property, but something to comfortably pay the bills and keep me in new J. Crew sweaters every now and then. As I prepare to get graduate, get a diploma and interview for my first post-grad job, I’m trying to find opportunities that pay at all. And with news that AOL’s Patch network of hyperlocal sites are axing freelance budgets and thinning out content, I don’t think I’ll be filling out an application there anytime soon.

The goal of Patch probably wasn’t to give recent j-school grads some entry-level jobs. The mission was, of course, to capitalize off of disappearing local newspapers in areas underserved by larger metropolitan papers. In theory, a hyperlocal, online-only approach to community news makes sense when people have so many other outlets for sports, stock numbers, national news, etc.

I give some of the Patch-ers credit. Certain regions have decent local content in addition to locals blogging about their own causes and events. In some regions, Patch does create a community forum and local news spot that probably didn’t exist before. Even in Boston, the Back Bay Patch tweeter does a good job of keeping tabs on breaking news in that neighborhood. (And she’s far less annoying than the Globe’s mass Your Town tweets.)

But the plan to effectively dumb-down Patch and make it a host for events calendars and columns by people who don’t know how to write doesn’t really serve any community well. Those things are nice if they compliment a site that provides facts first, that has reporters at public meetings and actually reporting. Insiders say Patch isn’t lighting up AOL’s bank balance and is therefore not long for this world. Can’t say I’ll miss the sites when they’re gone. I’ll just miss the jobs.

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Why is everyone still talking about Halftime?

Yes, yes the Pats lost the Super Bowl against the Giants. Let’s stop ragging on Wes Welker and his butterfingers now, and tell Gisele to watch her mouth when she stands up for Brady. Yet people are still taking about something more than whatever Madonna was doing in the halftime show.

Clint Eastwood’s appearance in a very pro-Detroit commercial for Chrysler sparked debate this week that the actor/director was really selling Obama instead of Jeeps. Not only are conservatives in arms, journalists are confused what to make of it as well.

Is it that big of a controversy? Not really. But the sides that are coming out in this dialogue and the amount of attention media outlets are giving it is definitely noteworthy. And is Chrysler seeing the benefits of increased attention? Not as much as the president, and Clint Eastwood for that matter, are. If only the pundits were this attentive towards “J. Edgar.”

Storify: Was Clint selling Obama or Chrysler? 

Photo: Creative Commons/Flickr/Adrian Perez

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Show me the Storify

Josh Stearns makes sense of this thing called Storify, something I’ve long dismissed as a distraction. But the Free Press reporter’s ongoing monitoring of journalist arrests in Occupy protests works well with Storify’s concepts. Stearns is able to continue adding to the story and keep a running tally of arrests and police actions, even as the protests have lost much of the attention they did towards the end of last year. Stearns said, “Right now (Storify has) been used as a sidebar, not a main bar. The question is less than how will Storify will change journalism but soc media change journalism, and that’s an open question.”

The Daily Beast used the Komen Foundation’s political gaffe towards Planned Parenthood funding as the basis of a Storify. It organized the Storify into three segments: the plea for funding, the political backlash and subsequent turmoil at Komen because of the foundation’s own politics. I thought it provided a great mix of tweets and charts and multimedia to show the dynamic nature of this debate that emerged and then the reversal of the initial decision late last week. For stories that can change by the hour as this one did, Storify works well to keep people updated who don’t have the time to watch their Twitter feeds change or read a new news article on the hour.

PipelinePG, an offshoot of the Pittsburg Post-Gazette focused on natural gas drilling, centered their Storify on President Obama’s energy remarks during his State of the Union address a couple weeks ago. They used a combination of media sources such as NPR and groups like FracFocus.org as well as individual tweeters. They also incorporated the Post-Gazette’s infographics and video of the SOTU. It’s all really effective and well-orchestrated. It makes reading any story by them on this topic pretty much unnecessary.

I’ve already been able to use Storify for a hot topic-ish story for BostInno. It’s a great addition for capturing public opinion and what else is being buzzed about on social media platforms. Like Stearns said, how the public takes to it for their own use is up in the air. For journalists, though, it’s something we should all figure out how to incorporate.

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