Category Archives: Journalism

FaceBook Linked to Psychological Disorders… Like Paranoia, Maybe?

I remember being a kid and watching PM Magazine. Yes, I watched PM Magazine. Was weird then, am weird now…

Anyway, the point is: every week, there would be another story about Dungeons and Dragons and cults. Apparently, somewhere in the United States, there were kids who actually formed cults based around the popular role play game and committed murder because of it. Remember that? Can anyone find me an article with documentary evidence of same?

I didn’t think so. And with that in mind, I present to you the modern equivalent:

Facebook Linked To Psychological Disorders In Teens – Technorati Blogging.

Rosen presented the results of his studies in a presentation titled “Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids.” The findings are based on a number of computer surveys that were distributed to 1,000 urban adolescents and Rosen’s 15 minute observations of 300 teens as they studied.

The findings showed that there were clearly psychological disorders in nearly every case. Social media has been linked to aggressive tendencies, mania, stomach aches, sleeping problems, anxiety and depression. In addition the teen is likely to suffer a technological “overdose” on a daily basis not limited to Facebook but including video games as well as other technological devices.

Sooooooo…… fifteen minutes and an anonymous survey of teenagers leads to a book deal, apparently. Shit, I can’t wait to write my book.

Engadget shows you how to misinterpret an infographic

For the record, the following headline is *not* incorrect. Repeat: the following headline is *not* incorrect:

OEMs to spend more on semiconductors for wireless devices than computers in 2011 — Engadget.

The trouble is: if you look at the actual attached infographic, that graph makes it quite clear that OEM manufacturers have been paying more for wireless semiconductors in every year except one since 2008:

The other glaring issue is that what a manufacturer pays for hardware does in no way accurately reflect how much equipment they use. Are we meant to understand that the cost of semiconductors has gone up over the last three years? Or that manufacturers are producing more gear? In either case, this graph makes the difference between PC and wireless expenditures seem both negligible and consistent. If there’s a story here, I’m not seeing it.

UK Riots and US Journalism: This Isn’t a Hurricane

London burns and many others follow. But why?

The images are spectacular. Nothing quite like this has ever been seen in this country. The riots throughout the UK are captivating US audiences with their sheer size and magnitude.

But while we all watch the destruction, I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering: what the hell is happening, exactly?

Our media on this side of the pond is failing us horribly in this time of strife for our biggest ally on the planet. Yes, we’re seeing the destruction, but we’re being given this story as though it were some freakish weather pattern.

Say what you will about the hapless reporter standing in three feet of water in some nameless town in Mississippi, but in the case of a weather event, the effects of the weather *are the story*. Whether that story is worthy of telling is another argument, but there’s no doubt that Jim Cantore is covering the correct subject.

The destruction in the UK, while important, is not the story. The story is whatever years or decades of disputes have led up to this moment. This many people did not just stand up and riot for no reason at all. Neither did they all get up and start rioting for a single reason alone, though that is what we’re meant to believe here in the US. I understand that the police shot a man and this even precipitated everything else that followed, but that’s like saying that Harper’s Ferry caused the American Civil War: correct, but I am certain, only in the narrowest of senses.

And I really don’t think we can count on better reportage any time soon: this event, while it captures our attention briefly, is not some ideological fight for democratic values in a despotic country. Its not happening here. And god knows, as well-photographed as this event is, there’s not likely to be any semi-nude US Congressmen involved.

So, I guess that’s it?

PAETEC: Seriously, Rochester. Let’s Not Do This.

The Midtown Plaza drama continues, picture via DragonFlyEye.Net

I don’t think anyone in Rochester or the surrounding area needs to explain to anyone else why the PAETEC sale is a big shot in the gut. We get it. And somehow or another, things need to be made right. But we don’t start here:

PAETEC head must advocate for city | Democrat and Chronicle | democratandchronicle.com.

Mayor Thomas Richards is absolutely right to say that focusing on keeping jobs here needs to be the top priority. Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy should get involved as part of the state’s economic development efforts.

The second challenge is what will become of the portion of the Midtown plot where PAETEC’s new office tower was envisioned. Here is where PAETEC CEO Arunas Chesonis, who first approached then-Mayor Duffy about moving his company downtown, needs to step up.

Former Mayor become Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy needs to step up and help out. Former owner of PAETEC and downtown developer become wealthy retiree Chesonis needs to step up…

Holy shit, girl. How many exes are you gonna cling to before you realize you’ve got to handle this on your own?

PAETEC: Rochester is Without a Financial Media Network

As the facts roll in on the PAETEC / Windstream buy-out, the thing that keeps getting under my skin is: Rochester is almost completely devoid of financial or economic news in any real sense.

PAETEC to be sold to Windstream | Democrat and Chronicle | democratandchronicle.com.

The CEO of Windstream says they’ve been looking at PAETEC for “a long time,” and both CEOs seem to know each other. I’m not saying that this deal absolutely would have been sniffed out with a better economic journalism team, but certainly, it would have been less of a surprise. Instead, we have people at the D&C and elsewhere who normally cover completely different topics struggling to understand and digest the details of the merger. That doesn’t bode well for an informed electorate.

What passes for economic news in this town ordinarily is the Rochester Business Journal and the D&C’s Business sections: two resources that might as well be RSS feeds for local company’s press releases. That’s when they’re doing good work. When they’re doing bad work, they’re producing dating videos for local businesses. “NonDescriptCompanyX enjoys long walks on the beach, hot cocoa and providing innovative, customized service solutions to its valued customers.”

But in this deference-rich, politely conservative Hobbit culture of Rochester where nobody’s allowed to ask difficult questions without being branded as a kill-joy, is it too much to ask that someone specialize in picking apart the details of the financial underpinnings of our economy? Maybe.

Budgets are Not Fixed “Once and For All.”

There is plenty to hate about this article and very little to recommend it. But the following line is just amazingly stupid:

Debt deal offers only small blessings for economy | Reuters.

About $1.5 trillion of the planned savings will be decided by a bipartisan congressional commission, leaving unanswered the question as to whether the United States has the political will to tame the country’s growing debt pile once and for all.

Budgets are living documents. Economies grow and shrink. There is no reason to think that we will ever deal with budgetary problems “once and for all.” In fact, the only reason we’ve been subjected to this whole pointless psychodrama is because Congress attempted to solve the problem in such final terms and has subsequently ignored its own edict 74 times.

Brown University Confirms: You’re Not an Idiot

A new study conducted by researchers at Brown University concluded that while the endorsements of Presidential candidates did affect voter support, the bias of the newspaper in question affected the endorsement “bump.”:

Futurity.org – Voters saffy to newspaper bias:

The least credible endorsements were for Al Gore from The New York Times and for George W. Bush from the Dallas Morning News, which convinced less than 1 percent of their readers to switch allegiance to the endorsed candidate.

By contrast, the endorsement with the largest effects came from the Chicago Sun Times and the Denver Post, both of which had surprising endorsements. The Chicago Sun Times was predicted to endorse Gore with a probability of 58 percent, but instead endorsed Bush, while the Denver Post endorsed Gore even though it was only predicted to do so by a probability of only 35 percent.

This study only concerns itself with Presidential elections. That makes sense because an election has a specific outcome, which makes interpreting the results of an experiment easier. The study also seems to concern itself only with party switching at election time. While this can be an important indication for a segment of the population, is not by itself determinative of how we might react to endorsements as a whole. For example, what about those who chose to sit out an election?

But the presumption is that the basic principle demonstrated in the study can extend itself to all facets of politics and policy. We know who is biased and who is not and we act on that information accordingly. This brings me back to a point I make often about media bias: not only do we as readers not require the opinions of journalists, but we’re also not so weak-willed as to require them or be overly-influenced by them. We’re not going to abdicate our sovereignty to just any dick with a job at the local newspaper.

This is of course different from a daily bombardment of propaganda such as is the norm on cable news nets. But the problem as I see it has been that mainstream media outlets in modern times have been so quick to cover any sense of bias up that they’ve turned themselves into bland and ultimately uninformative pablum. Cable news provides the color and flavour people want – albeit largely empty-calorie viewing with not much in the way of facts.

In an era when we find ourselves very divided on big social and economic issues, we don’t need more firebrands, certainly. But perhaps if journalists were more trusted to provide us the opinions they’ve formed over years of covering their specific niches, our culture would be less-inclined to listen to the uninformed opinions of demagogs with a financial interest – not in policy or social good, but in the opinions themselves.

Politico Discusses Skewed Polling About an Arbitrary Debt Ceiling

It must be hard to report on non-facts about arbitrary arguments in Washington, but that didn’t stop one Politico reporter from giving it the old college try. Still, the following story is riddled with silliness:

Debt ceiling story drives media numbers – Keach Hagey – POLITICO.com.

So far, the only clear winner in the debt ceiling negotiation story is the media.

Public interest in the story continues to climb, according to new data out Wednesday morning from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, with 38 percent of study respondents saying they followed the story very closely last week, up from 34 percent the previous week. The debt talks were the top story for both the public and the news media both weeks.

To start with, Pew’s own reporting on its weekly news poll says, “Debt Stalemate Top Story, But No Surge in Public Interest.” So while the story is obviously the top respondent choice, that may just as easily be because this is a slow time in news. More on that later…

Moreover, there is a small problem with the idea of “interest polls,” in that while they might indicate what people believe aught to be the most interesting story, they probably don’t indicated the story that is in fact most closely being watched. For example, economic news always ranks very high in these polls, but my own (admittedly non-scientific) research on what links get clicked tells a different story. I don’t see any reason to think people’s interest in economic news is not very strong at all. And after all, they don’t call economics “The Dismal Science” for no reason at all.

It is equally silly to say that, “A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last week found similarly strong engagement on the issue, with 55 percent of respondent saying that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be a serious problem.” First, because people regard the outcome as a serious issue does in no way indicate that they’re paying closer attention to it. Nor does it suggest that the media is “winning” the issue by getting more eyeballs and advertisement revenue.

And in the silliest of silly bits, the article goes on to describe how often Fox and MSNBC discussed the debt debate, then says this is the reason for the concurrent rise in viewership over the weekend. I guess this reporter just plum forgot about the Oslo bombings on Friday?

The @WSJ Editorializes #Hacking Scandal: We’re Still Pretty Awesome

Color me a cynical bastard, but really: how much more can you possibly muddy the water in a single editorial piece? Hell, in the first three paragraphs of an editorial piece:

Review & Outlook: News and Its Critics – WSJ.com.

To recap: that News Corp got caught in a major scandal that has caused the shuttering of a newspaper, the resignation and arrest of a director of said paper, the resignation of the CEO of the Wall Street Journal and the resignation of a Scotland Yard chief is evidence of a potential assault on journalism. We’re all in this together.

Also, the fact that Scotland Yard didn’t act on the unethical and illegal actions of our journalist brothers in arms (remember: we’re all in this together) is more troubling than our lack of ethics. Because we cannot help being craven, we need law enforcement to step in.

And oh, yeah: politicians need media coverage, so the media should be given a free pass when they hack the phone of a dead teenager. That part seems obvious. Even more obvious: hacking phones of terrorist attack victims is pretty much equal to a biased editorial slant in the Guardian’s reporting. Wait. Did I say “pretty much?” No. Totally. Equal.

The rest of the article is a lot of blah-blah-blah about how awesome the WSJ is and their CEO is just the tops, despite having resigned over a scandal which has to date only affected British papers. Methinks the next week is going to be full of fun WSJ news….

NYT’s New Paywall: Its About Value

I’ve never worked for a newspaper or any conventional news organization in my life. So I’m perfectly willing to accept that there may be considerations I’m not aware of in the New York Times’ decision to go paywall.

But this isn’t about journalism at all, its about marketing. As a web developer who has worked in a few large and small companies over the years, primarily working on those businesses’ marketing strategies, I do know more than a little something about marketing and sales. The first rule is: you have to sell value, not a product.

The iPad you bought nearly a year ago is now the discount model; the records I detested as a child are now worth a small fortune. Value changes over time and based on circumstance because there is no inherent value in anything. Value is a product of human interest.

The value of a news article as a single object has gone down dramatically over the last ten years. That’s in large part due to the fact that most news orgs give their stuff away for free online, but even if we were expected to pay for every article, the sheer volume of news available to us at any one time would also reduce the value. This is basic Supply and Demand economics like you learned in the sixth grade.

Another rule of marketing: value is about exclusivity. Tell me why I should buy something from you that I could go buy anywhere and you have yourself a sale. The trouble for the news biz is simple: nothing is exclusive anymore, or at least, very little. News orgs have always piggy-backed on one another’s articles, with a piece in the NYT sparking a local story in the D&C and so on. That’s not only good journalism, its good intellectualism across the board. But its not exclusive, and that’s what sells.

Which is why the idea of “20 free articles a month” is just so unthinkably silly: those articles already practically free in the minds of most Americans anyway. And if any twenty random articles count towards your tally, then no article has more value than the next. By definition, the paywall removes even the most modest veneer of value from the content the New York Times is putting out. It is self-defeating.

What the New York Times has to hope for is that they are able to produce twenty one or more articles per month that are simultaneously entirely exclusive and interesting enough to readers that they’re willing to pay a $20 premium for that twenty first article. Because otherwise, they’re just giving away twenty good articles.

The Times would be better-served by reorganizing their content structure. Consider a major article to be like a category, with many other articles filed under that category. Anybody and their brother can check out the main article – which is factual, in-depth and satisfying as its own thing. But to see the additional content, you have to pay the premium.

Commentary by famous people, infographics, archives, raw data. These are just a few things to which people do not have access – hey, we’re talking about the Grey Lady, here! Can you imagine what things they have to offer? – that many people would be more than willing to pay for. Even if loser bloggers like me yap about it, that’s not the same as actually reading the content.

Because of course, the two most important rules of marketing are these: you sell yourself, instead of the product and you sell the experience, not the item. New York Times has a tremendous level of trust, which is the primary vector of all sales: you sell yourself, not the product. And they have a reputation for hugely insightful reportage and wide coverage of topics: you sell the experience, not the item.

But the Times? Well, they’re trying to sell product. Good luck with that.