Gettin’ The News You Need

userpic=televisionIt’s Saturday morning. Time to put your feet up and read what laughingly passes for a newspaper these days — which, of course, means we have some media news chum for you:

  • The Dress. The Dress. No, not that dress. Rather, this is a situation where dozens of female meteorologists (what used to be called “weather girls” or even derogatory terms) all have been observed wearing the same dress. The dress, a “Stretch Tunic Pencil Sheath Dress” sold on Amazon for $23, has been seen on at least 50 weather reports across the country. Jennifer Myers, a meteorologist from Dallas, Texas, posted a collage to Reddit showing several of the women sporting the ensemble.  Dress of female meteorologists is restricted: they aren’t allowed to wear “distracting prints,” lace, anything green, short skirts, or cleavage-bearing shirts. Other than the humor of the inadvertent common uniform, a few observations. First, while looking into this story, I happened to click on the Amazon page. Big mistake. Now all the little Amazon ads that pop up everywhere are trying to sell me a dress. Second, with respect to local TV, I do find the dress of the weathercritters to be interesting. I often catch the weather on KTLA at 10pm, and their weathercaster, Vera Jimenez, often picks an unflattering outfit (the problem, by the way, is more the choice of color and the shortness of the skirt). Doesn’t affect the quality of her presentation any, but for some reason it is one of the few times where I comment to my wife on fashion (and it now has me wondering why I’m so petty in this one area). It sounds like TV newscritters are responsible for their on-air wardrobe, as opposed to the studio providing it.
  • This is National Public Radio. Two articles related to NPR and NPR news.  The first relates to demographics: it appears that the NPR audience is significantly aging, and NPR doesn’t know how to turn it around. This is a problem in a number of ways. First, the station funding model is one of subscribers, and subscribers come from pledge breaks, and pledge breaks come from listeners, and if the listeners are greying and dying off — what happens to your funding? Younger audiences do listen to a number of NPR programs, but they do so via direct streaming or podcasts, and thus support the podcast directly, not the station. They are exploring ways to turn this around (including the NPR One app), but so far it hasn’t made a dent. The second article relates to breaking news. Those of us who grew up with newsradio (cough, KNX, cough, KFWB) knew that entire programming days could go out the window when there was breaking news. NPR, on the other hand, doesn’t always take that approach for breaking news. They have a complicated approach to when they can go live, depending on staff, where they are in the “clock”, what they would be interrupting, etc.
  • Los Angeles Times in the News. In yesterday’s news chum, I wrote about the buyouts that have occurred at the LA Times. I fretted about how they are decimating the reporting, and the once great paper was but a shadows of its former self. Yesterday a rumor surfaced about the possible sale of Tribune Publishing and the LA Times. The rumor, from Rupert Murdoch, has been subject to intense analysis and may or may not be true. I, for one, hope that it is. Los Angeles used to be a great newspaper community, from the LA Times to the Herald Examiner to the Valley Green Sheet to the Orange County Register to the VC Star to the San Diego Union Tribune. Now they are all gone, merged together, or otherwise diminished.  It would be nice to see it come back, even a little.

 

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This is the city, Los Angeles, California. I work here.

userpic=los-angelesToday’s news chum post brings a collection of stories about Los Angeles, and all things Los Angeles:

  • The Feud. KCET has an interesting article on “the feud” — that is, the supposed ongoing rivalry between Southern and Northern California. KCET’s attitude: “get over it”. I would tend to agree. I’ve seen numerous people from Northern California who are disdainful of Southern California, making fun of all sorts of supposed and real attributes of Southern California folks. Southern California folks, however, don’t seem to have the same dislike of the area, finding it a very nice place to visit. There are dichotomies in California, but neither the Tehachapis or the SLO/KER/SBD northern county lines are not one of them.
  • The Triforium. In a downtown mall that really isn’t a mall but a lunch hideaway for jurors, there exists a sculpture that doesn’t work. The Triforium, originally designed as a “‘polyphonoptic’ sculpture,” was intended by mosaic artist and sculptor Joseph Young to have its nearly 1,500 glass bulbs on the six-story structure light up “in synchrony to music from a 79-note glass bell carillon.” But it was ahead of its times, and never quite worked right. It became more of a mockery than an attraction. But that may be changing. A Triforium Refurbishment is in the works. United behind the present Triforium restoration project is a group including noted LA booster/explorer Tom Carroll from the Tom Explores Los Angeles web series, the group YACHT of the 5 Every Day app, the executive director of the Downtown LA Art Walk, and Councilmember Jose Huizar. According to their website for the undertaking, the group is hoping to refurbish the piece, updating its computer technology to something more modern—”a nimble and inexpensive computer system that can achieve Young’s original goals”—and replacing the bulbs with efficient LEDs. They’re also planning to create an app that would allow anyone to compose their own “polyphonoptic” music and send it to the Triforium to be played out of those ladybug-like speakers, offering a whole new opportunity for engagement with the sculpture. Would you like to help? Here’s more information.
  • The Times. Los Angeles used to have a great paper: The Los Angeles Times. Local, with bureaus all over the world, it rivals the NY Times. Nowadays, it is a shadow of its formal self. Page count has dropped. Ad revenue has dropped. To compound matters, the Times has been saving money by downsizing, which makes the product worse, so revenue drops more, so they downsized more. The LA Times just completed another series of buyouts, and the people left Wednesday,  and the draw-down of talent is significant. It’s got me questioning whether I still want to subscribe, but the other local papers face equally whittled staff and equally bleak prognoses. I’d consider the NY Times (where real journalism still exists), but (a) it’s New York, and (b) it exhibits such a paternalistic “look down the nose” attitude towards LA. SCPR/KPCC had an interesting take on the downsizing, as it looked at the changes in the Food section over the years. When one of the food editors who is leading started, “We needed a huge staff because, typically, the Food section was 70 to 80 pages every week, and during the holiday season we would publish two sections a week and sometimes those would be hundred-page sections.” These days, it is a lot smaller.
  • The Traffic. Everyone talks about the traffic in LA. It is one of my fears for conference attendees in just over a week. We have horrible bottlenecks on our freeways. The problem is induced traffic. A freeway gets widened with a new mixed-use or HOV lane, and it speeds up. As a result, more people take the freeway (either through new jobs, or a return to solo driving)… and the traffic ends up worse. I’ve seen this firsthand: right after the 405 construction process ended, traffic was better. Now it’s worse: our drive home is more often over 100 minutes, as opposed to the previous 85. It’s just that the traffic is in a different place. So how do people get around it? Waze. But Waze is creating another raft of problems, because traffic, like water, will find a way. Waze is moving traffic to tiny city streets, many of which were not designed for that traffic load. Again, I see that everyday. I theorize that is why the left from Chatsworth onto Wilbur, which used to take 1-2 lights, now regularly takes 4-5 lights.
  • The Airport. It is Thanksgiving weekend; one of the busiest traffic weekend. This drew out a number of articles on the historical LA Airport. We have an LA Magazine article on the origins as Mines Field, including a really neat map. Next we have a photo archive of the LA airport from the Mines Field days to the reconstruction in the 80s. Lastly, we have a history of the LA Airport Theme Building. I have this odd connection to the airport. I grew up near the airport, and had friends who lost their houses in the airport expansion to jet traffic in the mid-to-late 1960s. I attended synagogue on Airport Blvd, and never knew why that was the name — learning later that it was the main route into the “interim” terminal that was at Airport and Century. This was the terminal that was used after the Mines Field days, but before construction of the new LAX in the late 1950s.  Here are more images. PS: While writing this, I discovered that the Hyatt hotel at Sepulveda and Century was the first Hyatt hotel.

 

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It’s All About The Exposure

userpic=tortuga-heuvosIt’s Saturday — and time to start clearing the accumulated links. First up, a trio of links all connected to sex and exposure:

  • The Sexy Tampon. It has become a parody of itself, the “Sexy …” costume. So here are some more entries for your Halloween Costuming needs: the Sexy Cockroach, the Sexy Fetus, the Sexy Tampon… well, you get the idea.
  • It’s a Business. Here’s a fascinating article about the porn business: it explores why the business you think you know is nothing like the business you think you know. For example, is that oft-repeated claim that porn drives tech adoption true? Right now, the porn industry is going through hard times, with new media, “free” streaming attempting to compete with paid, condom laws, and often being barred from app stores.
  • Alone in a Hotel? You’re alone on a business trip, and in your hotel. What do you do? Increasingly, the answer is not to watch porn. Both Hyatt Hotels and Marriott Hotels have announced they are dropping pay-per-view adult movies.  Why? A number of reasons. With the increasing number of intrusions into hotels, patrons don’t want their porn preferences exposed to the world when their bills are exposed. Probably more importantly, people can watch for free over the Internet. As a result, revenue has plummeted, and hotels are looking for profit in different areas.
  • Nudes and Economics. Here’s an interesting detailed analysis of Playboy’s announcement to drop nudes from its magazine. Playboy has been faced with a significant circulation drop, and they discovered when they made their website SFW, views increased. To become a mainstream media brand — and one that attracts the lifestyle advertisers they want and need — they need to be more mainstream. How do they do that? Drop the nudity. It’s not like people can’t find it elsewhere these days — something that wasn’t true in the 1950s-1970s — they top days of Playboy.

 

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Death, Dying, and Resurrection

userpic=tombstonesRecently, the newsfeeds have brought stories of death, dying, and resurrection. None of this is particularly in the religious sense, but it is all interesting in a secular way:

The Dead

  • The Army Green Service Uniform. Those who have worked with the DOD know how to read uniforms: blue for the Air Force, green for the Army. Those days are numbered: The Army Green Service uniform is going away. Specifically, as of Oct. 1, the “Green Class As” are no longer permitted for wear. From 1902 through World War II soldiers wore an olive and/or khaki/tan combination of some sort. But then the Army wanted a sharp, classic and dignified look to distinguish soldiers in a postwar era. Enter the Army Green Uniform in 1954. The dark green color (“shade 44”) was a throwback to the distinctive color for rifle units back in Revolutionary times, and was recommended to the Army by scientists and fashion experts. What is replacing it? Would you believe “Army Blue”? The new ASU’s blue color represents a nod to the first century-plus of the Army, from the Revolution to the Civil War and Spanish American War. The blues became standard issue in 2010 and from there quickly became the most popular service uniform.
  • The Card Catalog. The last manufacturer of cards for the card catalog drawers has decided to stop making the cards. The library cooperative, which created the world’s first shared, online catalog system back in 1971, allowed libraries to order custom-printed cards that could then be put in their own analog cataloging systems. Now, according to the cooperative, it’s time to lay a “largely symbolic” system that’s well past its prime to rest. Cross off another learned skill from your youth you no longer need.
  • Tap Cards. Specifically, expired TAP cards. TAP (Transit Access Pass) is the system used in Southern California for paying for transit. Stored value is loaded on a card, and used on a bus or train. So far, so good. The problem is: those cards expire, and that expiration date is not printed on the card. You can only discover it when you register the card in the system. Further, there are no easy ways (other than calling customer service) to transfer the stored value off of an expired card. The potential windfall accrues to Metro.  According to LA Weekly, It’s estimated that expired TAP money adds up to a whopping $2.7 million. Metro says that about half of those expired Tap balances will be transferred by customers to new cards, leaving the transit agency with $1.3 million dollars in unclaimed money.
  • Your Pilot. Recently, the news was filled with reports about a flight that had its pilot die mid-flight. Although it sounds scary, it really isn’t a problem. After all, there are multiple qualified pilots on every flight.  But that’s not why the extra pilot is there. Commercial flying has always been a team effort, and the main reason for having two pilots is because the business of flying a plane is difficult and often complicated. Contrary to what everybody seems to think, planes do not “fly themselves,” and even a two-pilot cockpit often becomes a surprisingly busy place.
  • US Airways. On Friday, the last US Airways flight will touch down in Philadelphia. This will mark the end of an airlines that included carriers with such well-known reputations as Alleghany, Piedmont, USAir, America West, and of course, PSA.  In fact, it reunites PSA with the remains of AirCal (which American swallowed) and Reno Air.

The Dying

The Resurrection

  • Reel to Reel Tape. We’ve all heard about the rebirth of vinyl. Next up: Reel to reel tapes. I had a small reel-to-reel when I was young, and made tapes of music before I got into cassettes. But we’re not talking the 3″ reels. We’re taking professional quality tape. Further… the verdict is in: tape sounds better than vinyl. Period. Not the cassette tapes of Walkman era, of course. Not those 8-track bricks from the land of shag carpet supervans either. That crude tech is an insult to tape, the same way Velveeta is an insult to cheddar. The real vinyl killer turns out to be reel-to-reel tape. Played on unwieldy machines that conjure visions of ABSCAM sting operations and Boogie Nights bachelor pads, R2R tape is the latest retro-trend for hi-fi geeks and design fetishists who curate their living rooms like a MoMA exhibit.  (yes, that is pasted from the linked article)
  • Georgia’s Stone Mountain. If you recall, during the recent confederate flag kerfuffle, there were calls to destroy the images of confederate generals carved into Stone Mountain. That didn’t fly, but there is the next best thing: Adding Martin Luther King Jr. to Stone Mountain. Georgia officials decided Sunday to erect a monument to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the site of a Confederate memorial on Stone Mountain, Ga. There was mixed reaction. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association, with Republican Gov. Nathan Deal’s approval, plans to build a tower with a replica of the Liberty Bell just beyond the carvings of Confederate heroes Gen. Robert E. Lee, President Jefferson Davis, and Gen. Stonewall Jackson to celebrate Mr. King’s reference to the site in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”
  • Perl. Many of you know that I’m Perl’s Paternal Godparent and the first user of Perl (Larry, Mark, and I all carpooled together to SDC when it was written).  After many years, Larry has just unveiled Perl 6. I guess that means I may need to learn it. I still pretty much just use Perl 4 or Perl 5.

 

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Saturday Clearing the Links: Time, Mistresses, Insurance, and Disney

userpic=observationsIt’s Saturday and we’re about to go out for dim sum. I guess that means I should clear out the links that didn’t really form into coherent themes of three or more articles:

P.S.: I’m beginning to think about a blog post about loss of trust in the government — that is, how we’ve gone from a society that trusted in the good of the government (in the WWII and post-war years) to a society that no longer trusts the government. How did happen, and what were the turning points. If you have something you want me to think about as the subject firms up in my head, please drop me a note.

Music: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968 Soundtrack) (Orchestra): “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Main Title) (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang & The Roses of Success)”

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Citizen Journalism: What do Journalists Bring, and Will You Read It Anyway?

userpic=lougrantYesterday afternoon, while driving home, I was listening to the NPR Technology podcast. They had an interesting piece on the death of high-school newspapers, including a discussion of the primary suspect: citizen journalism. Basically, the news reporting that high-school newspapers used to do has been replaced by students reporting in real-time via twitter and other social media sites. At least I think that’s what the article says; I didn’t read it all. More on that later.

What caught my ear at the time was the following statement from Scott Simon, who did the piece:

Hearing that school newspapers are in decline because students now “find out what happened” in social media bites is a little discouraging because it confirms that for millions of Americans, journalism is becoming a do-it-yourself enterprise.

When a tornado strikes or a bomb goes off, we look for social media messages as soon as they flash, too. Facebook posts and Tweets have become the means by which politicians, celebrities, citizens — and reporters, for that matter — can confirm, deny, pass on stories and register opinion without the press challenging, probing, pre-supposing, slowing or straining the message. That’s just how we talk to each other in these times.

Matt Drudge, who runs his own controversial website, says, “We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices. Every citizen can be a reporter.”

But truly good journalism is a craft, not just a blog post. It requires not only seeing something close-up, but also reporting it with perspective. It uses an eye for detail to help illuminate a larger view. And even journalism that conveys an opinion strives to be fair. If school newspapers begin to disappear, I hope there are other ways for students to learn that.

This isn’t just high school newspapers. Recently, the Chicago Sun-Times laid off all of their professional photographers, preferring instead to go with freelance citizen photos. Indeed, some papers have had to advertise for citizen photographers because they no longer have the staff. As for the laid-off photographers? That’s a different story.

When I heard this article, it resonated with me. So I decided to take a few minutes over lunch to write up my thoughts. In particular, it resonated with a response I had back in March to an article complaining about amateur vs professional theatre critics. Colin Mitchell of the theatre review aggregation site Bitter Lemons, in turn, wrote a wonderful response to my response. I see the issue as being similar to the issue of citizen journalists vs. real journalists. Both bring something valuable to the picture: citizen journalists (and citizen reviewers) bring timely information and personal reactions. Professional journalists (and professional reviewers) bring a longer-term view. They can put the issue in perspective, provide the needed filtering and context. Regular bloggers fill a middle position — they start as amateurs, but hopefully are learning more and stepping up their game (such as following this advice, if you are a theatre reviewer) as time goes on. (By the way, if you read the commentary on the NPR article, it devolved into exactly the same discussion that was had regarding theatre reviews: are those writing in the blog-o-sphere just hacks, or aspiring independent journalists?)

Of course, the entire issue may be moot. After all, both journalists and bloggers are a dying breed, as we are in the TL;DR generation. Slate magazine provides good proof of that, with an article that examines how people don’t actually read most articles on the Internet to the very end. Given that I’m a long-form writer, I’m sure you haven’t even read this far (or if you have, I doubt that you will comment on this, because nobody comments on what I write anymore — and if you think that is a challenge or is wrong, share your thoughts). Further, those who comment often get shouted out by those louts who take over forums (of course, I didn’t fully read that article). On the other hand, there are those who say long form journalism is coming back. Who is right? Slate and their contention that people don’t read to the end of long articles? USA Today, Politico, and BuzzFeed in their contention on the rebirth of long form journalism?

Personally, I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t think “short form”. I don’t believe one can have a meaningful exploration of a subject in 144 characters or less, or as a Facebook status update.  I think this even applies to the “lists of links” people post. I don’t believe it is sufficient to just post lists of links — there needs to be some unifying theme — there needs to be something the link collector brings to the discussion that ties the links together, or otherwise signifies why this link is worth seeing, why it is time to read that link to the end. That’s why just posting a link to people using cats as afros just isn’t enough.

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Written and Spoken Media

userpic=booksThis collection of news chum brings together a collection of articles related to media of various forms:

  • “This is NPR”. Looking for a new job? Here’s one for you: you can be the announcer who reads the sponsors and says “This is NPR” at the end of Public Radio programs.
  • Paperback Writer. QANTAS airlines is commissioning paperback books. Specifically, they are commissioning books designed to take a single flight to read. Though the books for short flights are meant to be read continuously, for long flights, they are factoring in the thought that passengers will most likely put their book down for food and naps. The target audience for the campaign is Qantas’ Platinum Flyers, who tend to skew male. A range of popular airport genres including thrillers, crime and nonfiction are included, with titles such as “City of Evil” and “Australian Tragic.”
  • Feeding the Trolls. If you’ve been reading my posts, you know I find reading comments on news articles infuriating because of the trolls. Here’s an interesting article where one fellow got fed up sufficiently that he went and interviewed the troll.  What I found interesting was that the troll was just like you and I, and he was doing it just because he found it fun.
  • Cutting Up Paper. Last weekend was the congregational meeting at our synagogue. The outgoing president was presented a beautiful papercut by the husband of one of our Rabbis (the official title is “Mr. Lucky”, derivered from something the now ex-husband of one of our favorite rabbis said when asked what you call the husband of a rabbi — his response… “Lucky”). Isaac, the artist, posted a picture of the papercut on the website along with an explanation. I particularly like how he used cut-up synagogue promotional material.

Bonus Media Item: “Star Trek: Into Darkness” – The Spoiler FAQ. I hadn’t had a strong urge to see this picture, even though I grew up with Star Trek and loved the franchise. Reading this, I think I’ll wait until it is on the small screen.

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And Another One Bites The Dust

userpic=lougrantToday, the Ventura County Star announced that it is going digital subscription only – limited articles will be available for limited times. In doing so, it joined the LA Times, Orange County Register, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, Boston Herald, the Nashville Tennessean, and numerous others in erecting a pay wall.

This is a trend I emphatically do not like. One of the strengths of the Internet is being able to get news from a variety of sources; to read what is happening in local communities; to discover the human side across the world. Paywalls prevent that from happening.

Sure, one could subscribe to each paper individually. That would be very expensive (which is why I only subscribe to the Los Angeles Times). I would be very happy if someone created a business opportunity out of this that allowed one to subscribe to a selected set of paywall papers — 5, 10, 15, all — for a reasonable fixed fee per month. But having to subscribe to each paper individually for a digital product is prohibitive.

 

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