Is anyone in journalism having fun anymore?

William Powers of the National Journal asks a valid question. It seems we’ve all veered down the road of morosity or on the other extreme of utter flippancy. Get back to where you once belong, Jack. Let’s make whoopee.


“Journalism” is now just a synonym for “desperation.”

At one point in the report, Norman Pearlstine, the former editor-in-chief of Time Inc., floats the idea that perhaps journalists should be licensed. “Licenses help breed confidence in certified financial planners and chartered life underwriters, who tend to get more respect than people who simply sell life insurance,” says the report, paraphrasing Pearlstine.

Before you vomit, know that when a Carnegie moderator asked how many in the room liked this idea, “not a single hand went up — not even Pearlstine’s.”

Phew. They weren’t serious. And yet the air is full of notions like this, if not quite so explicit. The best way for the news business to dig itself out of the hole it’s in, many believe, is for it to get more professional, more indubitably respectable, more serious.

All of which will efficiently kill off whatever fun remains in this journalistic life, and sometimes I think there’s not much. Reputation matters, and pink slips are tragic. But the beating heart of the trade, the true source of all our best energy and the reason people have always paid money for our work, has nothing to do with earning a membership card or riding some financial gravy train to 401(k) nirvana. It’s about playing around, doing mischief, having adventures, taking risks, undermining the powerful, and chortling darkly the whole time.

Read William Powers, Making Whoopee, National Journal, June 23, 2006. before the link dies.

A ringtone adults can’t hear

This is probably spreading like a virus as we speak. Apparently, a high-pitched tone invented to disperse loitering kids has now been adopted as a ringtone that adults can’t hear.

Great for school students who don’t want their teachers to hear their phones ring.

[from AP via Guy Kawasaki]

Students are using a new ring tone to receive messages in class — and many teachers can’t even hear the ring.

Some students are downloading a ring tone off the Internet that is too high-pitched to be heard by most adults. With it, high schoolers can receive text message alerts on their cell phones without the teacher knowing.

As people age, many develop what’s known as aging ear — a loss of the ability to hear higher-frequency sounds.

*** Can you hear it? Click here for a 10-second demonstration. ***

The ring tone is a spin-off of technology that was originally meant to repel teenagers — not help them. A Welsh security company developed the tone to help shopkeepers disperse young people loitering in front of their stores while leaving adults unaffected. The company called their product the “Mosquito.”

Donna Lewis, a teacher in Manhattan, says her colleague played the ring for a classroom of first-graders — and all of them could hear it, while the adults couldn’t hear anything.


Web video shake-out imminent

Om Malik of Business 2.0 predicts a video shake-out. According to him, there are now 173 YouTube-like services, including 85 that host and share videos.

In April, three video companies got US$30 million in funding.

“It’s not possible that this many video-sharing sites can exist and make money,” says David Hornik of August Capital, a backer of video services company VideoEgg.

True believers point to the rise of Palo Alto-based YouTube, which now serves 40 million videos a day. In theory, it could embed ads into videos and sell them for at least $1 per 1,000 views, or $15 million a year.

Casualties ahead

But since a large slice of that content is ripped from TV or movies, advertisers are likely to be wary of copyright infringement.

And a content-sharing company the size of YouTube could easily be spending $5 million a year on bandwidth and hardware alone. “People underestimate the costs and overestimate the inventory,” says one veteran Silicon Valley investor who has shied away from the space.

Video company CEOs like Mark Sigal of vSocial and Tom McInerney of Guba agree that a shakeout is coming. “There’ll be a lot of casualties in the next year,” McInerney predicts.


Cringely Lays Bare Microsoft’s Underbelly

In a return to his most vicious persona, Robert X. Cringely rails at Microsoft calling it “screwed up” and that the only way to fix the software giant is for Ballmer and the “dozen or so Bill clones” to leave.

Microsoft has spent five years and $5 billion NOT shipping Windows Vista. This reflects a company deliberately built in the image of its founder, Bill Gates — a single-tasking, technically obsolete executive with no checks or balances whatsoever who fills the back seat of his car with fast food wrappers. So Bill has to go, because as an icon, he’s great, but as a manager, he sucks.

Part of this is Gates, personally, and part of it is his entourage — a meritocracy based as much on historical proximity to Bill as anything else. That inner circle has to go, too, and if it doesn’t go — and go immediately — the required change won’t really happen because the one true Bill will just be replaced by a dozen or more Bill clones.

He quotes Jeff Angus’ “Management by Baseball” in describing Microsoft:

“When I worked for a few years at Microsoft Corporation in the early ’80s, the company had no decision-making rules whatsoever. Almost none of its managers had management training, and few had even a shred of management aptitude. When it came to what looked like less important decisions, most just guessed. When it came to the more important ones, they typically tried to model their choices on powerful people above them in the hierarchy. Almost nothing operational was written down…The tragedy wasn’t that so many poor decisions got made — as a functional monopoly, Microsoft had the cash flow to insulate itself from the most severe consequences — but that no one cared to track and codify past failures as a way to help managers create guidelines of paths to follow and avoid.”

Sound familiar? I guess this could be an apt description for any one of hundreds of Fortune 500 companies — or political parties for that matter.


Destroying the stereotype of a blogger


Do bloggers take holidays? Bloggers are people who spend their lives in front of greasy computer screens in dark basement rooms – constantly on the web, soaking up news, churning out postings. Or so the stereotype goes.

Clive Matthews is a blogger. He runs the hugely successful Europhobia blog, a take on Anglo-European politics and one of the few pro-European English blogs around. The blogosphere knows him as Nosemonkey.

I meet Clive in a West London pub for lunch, and he immediately overthrows the stereotype. “Bloggers aren’t what you expect them to be. The image of the guy with glasses who is 40 and still lives with his parents is not true. Most bloggers I met are just not like that at all. They all have full-time jobs and families.”

Clive, 27, fits the bill. He is married and a staff writer for a history and travel magazine, where he works from Monday to Friday. Brainy he seems – and his habit of chain-smoking self-rolled cigarettes strangely adds to that image – but a screen-addicted geek he certainly isn’t.


Gates Crosses Over To The Bright Side?

“With the success of Microsoft, I’ve also been given the gift of great wealth. With great wealth comes great responsibility — responsibility to give back to society,” Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman on quitting day-to-day duties to focus on his foundation.

Sounds like Gates has been watching Spider-Man too many times.

Related links:

Bill Gates reboots, LA Times
Can Bill Gates really hit delete?, Seattle Post Intelligencer
Bill may open philanthropic floodgates to India, Times of India
Will Bill Gates stay away, Forbes
The end of the Gates’ era, CNET
Long goodbye could weigh down stock, John Dvorak, Marketwatch

[Graphic copyright Matt Elder.]

Wanted: More multi-tasking journalists

Steve Outing in his May 22nd Stop The Presses column answers the question of “How to Get Ahead in the New Media Newsroom, Circa 2006”

What does it take to advance your newspaper reporting or editing career? Well, the old stand-bys of talent and hard work still apply, and a bit of who-you-know thrown in can be helpful. But these days, there’s more to it.

Let’s add in a willingness and ability to add non-traditional job responsibilities to get onto the fast lane of career advancement. Start piling on the job responsibilities — especially those involving new media and cross-media — and you might be able to speed away from the crowd…

The New Requirements

What seems to be becoming the norm in newsrooms these days is that a growing group of reporters, photographers and editors are now working in jobs where there’s a wide variety of tasks to be done each day: feeding the newspaper’s Web site; writing for blogs and interacting with blog readers; gathering audio for the website and/or radio partners; recording video clips; participating in online chats and discussion forums … Oh, and writing for the newspaper’s print edition.

To stand out from the rest of the crowd and climb the corporate ladder, I’d contend that you need to take on some of those responsibilities. The journalists — young or old — who stick to the old definition of what a newspaper reporter or editor is about are the ones who will get passed over.

Outing cites The Palm Beach Post, Florida where it’s becoming the norm to cross back and forth between print, the Web, TV and radio.

Examples of Post news staff crossing media lines, include:

1.Frank Cerabino, metro columnist: Does two TV commentaries each week for the local Fox affiliate station, and produces interactive elements to his constantly updated blog, Bino’s Blogaroni. Right now he’s driving an SUV across the U.S. as part of a series, “Guzzlin’ Across America,” for which he’s updating his blog, calling in daily to one of the Post’s radio partners, shooting photos for the paper’s website, and shooting video for the TV partner.

2.Leslie Streeter: The paper’s “entertainment diva” also writes for her blog, plus appears once a week in a 5-minute feature segment on the Fox affiliate to talk about what’s happening around Palm Beach over the weekend, the latest analysis of American Idol, etc.

3.Greg Stepanich, assistant business editor: Not content to work just on business topics, he writes a popular classical-music blog for the Post’s website that includes sound bites, photos and interviews. He also writes and performs the music for’s weekly podcast, and is a regular book reviewer for the paper. He even wants the paper to start selling cell-phone ringtones from his music compositions. (Whew!)

4.John Lopinot, deputy photo editor: His recent project has been to get the news photography staff to carry audio recording gear, and encourage them to think about Web presentation on a daily basis. Lopinot leads by example, producing his own audio photo slideshows and video productions, plus writing and producing his own narrations for multimedia projects.

5. Rochelle Gilken, a day-side crime/police reporter: Typically feeds the Post website with short stories (Web feeds) several times per day, has a crime blog to keep fed with content (along with a second crime reporter working out of a Post regional bureau). Plus writes for the print-edition. Gilken carries cell phone and Blackberry, plus a digital tape recorder for recording audio for the website and the Post’s radio partners, plus a handheld police scanner. Gilken also writes a regular fantasy football column for the print edition (for which she’s paid) plus does a fantasy football blog (which is not a paid thing).

Outing also cites new-media consultant Peter M. Zollman who points out, the new media model resembles the old news wire service model.

An UPI veteran from the 1970s, Zollman said:

“Even back then there were multimedia reporters. I was one of them. I would frequently write a broadcast story first — short, punchy, conversational, timed in seconds — and then write for the newspaper wire — longer, narrative form or inverted pyramid, etc. Then I would do a ‘voicer’ or a ‘wrap’ for UPI Audio, a private-label radio network. Occasionally I appeared on television news programs, too, as an interviewer or guest panelist. Sounds a lot like what’s being expected of the reporters today.”


1 billion mobile phones a year

Strategy Analytics says that 1 billion mobile phone handsets will be shipped in 2006.

Imagine any industry selling a billion units of anything in a year.

Hot brands are Nokia, with fast-rising Motorola, Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson. But the big boys are starting to feel profit pressures it seems.

Research by the Boston-based consultancy is projecting that global 3G subscribers will pass the magical 100 million mark this month.

It also says there are over 38 million mobile phones with Macromedia/Adobe’s FlashLite or FlashPlayer on them. Expect those infuriating online Flash adverts to show up on your phone soon.


Holovathy on the new journalism

Again, Adrian Holovathy of and fame, teaches us how to re-think what we do as journalists:


OJR: What ought news organizations do to encourage tech innovation from their staffs?

Holovaty: Hire programmers! It all starts with the people, really. If you want innovation, hire people who are capable of it. Hire people who know what’s possible.

And once you hire the programmers, give them an environment in which they can be creative. Treat them as bona fide members of the journalism team — not as IT robots who just do what you tell them to do.

OJR: Do you think most news managers are afraid of technology? If so, how do tech-savvy journalists overcome that?

Holovaty: I’ve met both types of managers — those that are scared and those that aren’t. (For the news managers who *are* afraid of technology, you can’t blame ’em. It’s only natural. Technology is completely changing their industry, whose rules haven’t changed drastically in a long time.)

It seems the best way to overcome the fear is to emphasize that technology can be used to further the goals of journalism. It’s reasonable for managers to be afraid of things they don’t understand, but if you boil down the specific technology to the specific journalism problems it solves, I suspect managers would be more understanding.


Hyperlocalism of Bluffton Today

Steve Yelvington says what’s missing from the pages of newspapers is community or “hyperlocal” coverage.

“The consumption of news is directly related to civic engagement,” says Vice President of Content and Strategy at Morris Digital Works.

He adds that because communities are not getting the coverage they merit, the reasons for people to care about real news are being undermined.

Yelvington’s experiment is a smalltown paper called Bluffton Today which provides each citizen with his/her own blog and space for their own photos.

Bluffton Today’s 18 staff “interact with the community, through the website as well as through more conventional channels” resulting in a “virtuous circle” in which “community conversation feeds professional journalism. Journalism feeds conversation. And around, and around.”

Yelvington reassured the editors at the World Editors Forum that citizen journalism was not replacing the work of professionals but the two can work symbiotically.


1. By enabling the community and the newspaper to discover things it doesn’t know about itself.
2. By organizing the community into even smaller niche interests.
3. By becoming a better watchdog of local institutions.

By covering the “interests and passions of people in the community,” Yelvington stressed that readers continually come back to the paper, be it in print or on the website, making Bluffton Today more effective than conventional online newspapers.

[via Editors Weblog.]

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