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.


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.



The Digital Disenfranchised

userpic=verizonA number of articles I’ve read in the last week have highlighted an increasing digital divide in our society. This subject and these articles have been running around my head all week, so while I eat lunch I’d like to share them with you and get your thoughts.

What triggered the subject was Harry Shearer’s Le Show. Its host station, KCRW 89.9 FM in Santa Monica, abruptly yanked the show off the airwaves and moved it to be Internet-only. KCRW believes that growth is going to be on the Internet side, and those that listen to the show will find it there. Now a number of broadcasters have done this in the past — think Adam Corolla or Tom Leykis –but arguably the audiences for those shows is very different than the NPR/Public Radio audience. I think Shearer captured my concern very well:

People are sawing the legs out from under the idea of radio as we speak. Television, when it came to prominence, was supposed to kill radio outright, and it didn’t. The question is: Will online audio kill radio broadcasting? I listen to about 80 percent of my audio content online, and I look at a lot of my video content online, so I’m not a Luddite in any sense of the word. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in radio broadcasting.

A lot of people driving in their cars don’t have the facility or haven’t mastered yet getting online audio into their car’s audio system. A lot of poorer people don’t have the wherewithal for broadband everywhere that they might want to hear something, and older people don’t want to mess with that stuff. Radio better be around, because in any kind of emergency, my experience has been the first thing that goes down is the electric grid, and the second thing that goes down is the telephone grid. And if you don’t have a portable battery-powered radio, you are seriously out of luck. People who are trying to dismantle this system are way in front of themselves, and may not be doing the public a service.

I, too, have seen a growing number of articles predicting the demise of terrestrial radio. NetFlix is predicting the death of the TV channel. The problem is that the movement to Internet  based approaches for TV and Radio are not available to all — due to either the financial or intellectual cost of the new technology. Do we have the right to disenfranchise these people?

But the problem is not just radio. Look at music in general. iTunes is turning 10, and there are numerous articles on the changes iTunes has brought. One article notes the following:

The iTunes store dominated by downloads “is on its last gasp,” says Bob Lefsetz, a former music industry lawyer and blogger at the Lefsetz Letter. “YouTube is where most young people listen to music now.” (More than 1 billion people visit the site each month.)

“When iTunes turns 15 years old, we won’t be talking about downloads, because Apple won’t be selling them,” he says.

Here’s another quote from the same article:

Ten years ago, Apple’s most popular iPod was the largest-capacity model with 80 gigabytes of storage. Now the top seller is the 32 GB iPod Touch starting at $299. The entry-level iPhone comes with 16 GB of storage.

“If downloads were still important, we’d all need more storage,” Lefsetz says. “Apple knows which direction this is going.”

Yet again we are creating a community of digital disenfranchised.  Not everyone wants to stream media — they may not know how to do it; they may not be in a location that permits it; they may not have the signal to do it; they may not be able to afford the cost of doing it. Yet the assumption seems to be that it is something the public wants. What this is really doing is hurting the public: no longer can you own a personal copy of your music you can listen to at any time in any place. You become tethered to the (for profit) streaming service, who can dictate if you can listen to your music and where and when. Is this the right direction for society?

We all know technology is everywhere, and in increasing cases, it is not serving to help but to hurt. What used to be broadcast is now exclusively on the web, eliminating as a potential audience those lacking the financial or technological wherewithal to find it. Others are starting to embrace a return to old media.   We need to make sure that in our rush to embrace the latest and greatest technology, we don’t cut off those not quite as nimble.

Disclaimer: Even though I know how to listen to podcasts, I still like the radio sometimes. I like to physically own my music (in fact, I’m looking to buy some LP storage crates and a media center), even as I have over 31,000 songs on my iPod (160GB). Further, I do not have a smartphone. I feel cut-off everytime I see a QR scan-this discount code.

Music: Destry Rides Again (1959 Original Broadway Cast): “Overture” [recorded from LP to MP3 using Roxio Easy Media Creator, loaded into iTunes, currently playing on my iPod]


Friday News Chum: Failure, Magazine Covers, Binary Units, Teachers in Porn, and some Business Notes

Well, we’ve reached another Friday again… and you know what that means. Time to clear out the links that couldn’t be formed into a coherent themed post. So on to today’s incoherent jumble:

  • Learning from Failure. One of the many books I remember from college is “To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design” by Henry Petroski. The key point of the book is that we can learn much more from failure than from success. I mention this because Wired has a very interesting article on why things fail. Manufacturers know that components in every product will eventually fail (they know this from statistics). The trick is finding the right point for them to fail: a point at which a consumer would consider they had gotten satisfactory value from their product. For example, in an automobile, you might expect to replace the transmission after 200,000 miles, and so there is no need for them to engineer that component to last longer. It isn’t worth the extra effort. This article explores that tradeoff.
  • Cover Stories. Speaking of posed pictures, the American Society of Magazine Editors has chosen the top 40 magazine covers of the last 40 years. Now, I know a number of you are going “What’s a magazine?”. But for those of us who remember magazines, we probably remember at least a large number of these covers. Winners include a naked John Lennon on Rolling Stone, a pregnant Demi Moore on Vanity Fair, the New Yorker’s view of the world, the National Lampoon’s dog, and many more. So what magazine covers do you remember, and how did they influence your life?
  • Units. One article I read this week talked about the discrepancies in our use of prefixes such as K — sometimes we mean 1000, sometimes 1024. The article linked to something at NIST I never knew about — did you know that there are standardized prefixes for binary units? In other words, while my iPod is 160GB, it isn’t 160 GiB. Do you think that if we adopted use of the binary prefixes that consumers would be less (or more) confused?
  • Teaching the Past. One of the stories that has been interesting me this week is the trial of a science teacher in Oxnard. Why is she on trial? Simple: Before she became a teacher, she did porn. Some administrators found out, and …. . In a recent article on the story, she explains why she did it. It is bad enough that she had to go through that experience in order to survive, but to have one bad decision — and one that she has since repudiated — damn her forever is (to me) wrong. She should get her job back and be able to recreate her life. Some argue that it would distract the students, but I find that argument non-credible. First, given the life-cycle of any porn scene, the odds that a particular student would find a particular scene from many years ago and positively identify a teach are low… plus where are the parents who are providing the student with the access to the porn. No, this is a problem with puritanical parents and administrators who want to judge and punish. We’re well beyond the 1600s, folks.
  • Business Notes. A few business articles that caught my eye, out of personal interest primarily. First, Gluten-free food and drinks have become a $4.2 billion market. I remember when there was essentially no market, and it was impossible to find GF foods. Although this makes it easier for my wife (who is GF), I wonder when the fad bubble will burst, making GF food as hard to find as Atkins diet products. Remember the no-carb craze? Secondly, Target is selling its credit card business to TD Bank. This refers specifically to its credit cards, which had been handled by Target National Bank. Target was very good at catching credit card fraud and misuse, and it will be interesting to see if TD Bank has the same quality of service. Lastly, Tesco may be about to give up on Fresh and Easy. That’s too bad — F&E is one of our three regular markets (the others are Sprouts and TJs); we never go to the big chains (Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons) anymore.



Media Thoughts

A few thoughts on some media-related items in the news:

  • Ashton Kucher. So Mr. Kucher is replacing Mr. Sheen on Two and a Half Men. I’m curious to see how they do it, and hope it goes well. The show had gotten harder to enjoy as you realized you were no longer laughing at a fictional character, but the far-too-real Charlie Sheen. For all the nay-sayers out there about Mr. Kucher, I urge you to remember that both Sheen and Kucher are actors, and usually not the characters. It is the writers of the series that made Charlie Harper funny—they put the lines in his mouth. Sheen’s recent tour showed that Sheen doesn’t have the same writing skills. Since the writing team is staying the same and is usually energized by a change like this, the odds are good that Kucher will succeed.
  • Tween Stars. The NY Times has an interesting article on how hard it is to be a tween star these days. It’s not a new problem—I went to school with the brother of Anissa Jones, who played Buffy on Family Affair, and comitted suicide shortly after the show ended.
  • UCLA Live. The UCLA Live season has been announced. Of particular note in the season are the TMBG concerts on January 28, 2012: a family show at 11am, and a 30th anniversary evening show. And speaking of performers and singers, I’ll note the NY Times has a nice article on Sutton Foster.
  • Politics Live. Sometimes, you have to look at politics as entertainment, for its too scary to look at it any other way. Just look at Gingrich the Newt, who is saying the upcoming 2012 election compares to the election of 1860. Yup, it’s a civil war allright! Just look at this line: “Gingrich also blasted Obama as “the most successful food stamp president in modern American history.”” No racism there. No suh! Or his statement that “Obama is best understood by his “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior,””.

Commentary on Published News Articles: Yea or Nea?

An interesting article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch notes how another paper is eliminating story comments. It notes the increased requirement to call for full real names on comments, and how some papers are going so far as to require credit card verification. This touches on a pet peeve of mine (one I’ve mentioned before): the increasingly antagonistic, hateful, and incendiary nature of public commentary. It began with the (to use a Tom Leykis expression) “right wing wackos” on talk radio, and has spread to the commentary on posts all the time (just look at any USA Today article’s comments). The commentary seems heavily skewed to the neocon, Tea Party voices that believe Obama and the Democratic leadership are the cause of every problem in the world, and if the US were just a Christian nation under appropriately conservative leadership, the world would be rainbows and unicorns with balanced budgets everywhere.

It is useful to remember how the world was before the ability to comment on web articles existed: people had to take to write physical letters to the editor (which is more of an effort than tossing off a single paragraph flippant comment). They had mail those letters (costing postage). The editors then reviewed the letters, tossed the ones that were obvious crackpots, and printed the best of the bunch. These tended to be the letters with the most cogent arguments.

Reading the comments on this post demonstrates how that process has been forgotten. For example, “The Underboss” writes: “Why not do away with the freedom of speech while your at it.” Here, he demonstrates as little understanding of the constitution as Christine O’Donnell: No one is restricting his freedom of speech: he can create a website or blog to post his comments as he wishes. What is restricted is his ability to have a private publication publish his words without review and proper attribution.

Consider “JohninStCharles”: “If real names were used, would the PD then be accountable if person A did not like person B’s comments and some sort of physical retribution occurred?” How is this different than old letters to the editor, which required real names. Shouldn’t people be held responsible when they write incendiary speech?

Consider “OhDarn”: “I hate the group think of you libs. You don’t like Rush or Fox so you want them off the air. You are hateful controlling people and I would never post under my real name or I would need 24 hour security.” I think this speaks for itself, and the world view of the poster.

I’d like your opinion: What is the role of open commentary on published news articles? Is it a necessary feature in today’s world? Should it be moderated? Should real names be required, and should there be a means of verifying those real names? [Note to FB folks: Remember you can sign into to LiveJournal with your FB ID to comment.]


News Chum for a Friday Lunch

It’s been a busy week, as evidenced by my short posts the last few days. Still, I have accumulated a bit of new chum to share:

  • From the “What’s Wrong With This Picture” Department: The OC Register has a nice article on the opening of some new toll lanes on the Route 241 freeway. However, at the end of the article they note:

    Four cell towers also are being erected along the 241 in that area to address a frequent complaint of dropped cell-phone calls around the 91/241 connector.

    Umm, aren’t folks not supposed to be using cellphones while driving (ideally, even hands-free due to the distraction). In a similar “think about what you’re writing” vein, an article about how Orange County bought a strip club, and then evicted the neighboring contractor supply business included the lines:

    “We’re not going to fight to operate our business the way we have for 20 years,” Arredondo said. “We’ll go to another city that will be happy to have us. It is very expensive to fight city hall. In this market, there are a lot more cities who are friendly to business.”

    That city is San Fernando, in Los Angeles.

    Now, I realized that the folks “down south” are a little challenged, but San Fernando is it’s own city (in the county of Los Angeles); it is not part of the City of Los Angeles. Sure, every LA community and city looks alike…

  • From the “Let Your Fingers Do The…” Department: It appears the internet is poised to kill another product: The SF Chronicle is reporting that the white-page phonebook may go the way of the dodo. There seems to be this assumption taking place that every member of society can afford an internet connected phone and a computer, or that the Internet would never fail us. It may come back to bite us.
  • From the “What Are You Wearing?” Department: The NY Times is reporting how some schools are outlawing costumes for being too scary or politically incorrect. That’s right: don’t come to school as a zombie, Jason, or even a pirate. Come as a box of cereal or a fairy. This hit my daughter this year: She’s going as Annie Oakley (“Annie Get Your Gun”), but notes that a lasso is not the accessory for a sharpshooter. Last year she went as Mrs. Lovett (“Sweeney Todd”), but luckily all she needed was a rolling pin (but I don’t think she could bring that to school either). Are we becoming overly PC or protective? Don’t answer that…

Thursday News Chum

For some reason, finding good news chum this week has been harder than finding a solvent US-headquartered automobile company. But I know my audience, and did find a few things worth commenting over a few days of skimming the news over lunch:

  • From the “Maybe We Need A Part-Time Legislature” Department: I’ve commented on this before: our state legislators seem far too eager to introduce bills, without realizing that each bill costs money… and so, one significant way that California could save money is probably by making the legislators get real jobs. Two articles this week highlighted that for me: The first was a story from the SLO local paper about how there is a bill in the assembly to make pseudoephedrine prescription only. Yes, I’m aware of its use to make meth. But it is also one of the few effective decongestants out there, and it already requires a log to get, with quantity limitations. Prescriptions will just make it more expensive, with respect to doctor charges. On the state Senate side, there’s a bill regarding mandatory spay and neutering. Now, I’m all in favor of having animals spayed and neutered, but according to the AKC, this bill is unnecessary. When you look at all the bills introduced, and look at the specifics of the interesting ones, you wonder how much of our current fiscal problems come from the legislator feeling they need to do something to justify their salaries.
  • From the “It’s an Original” Department: Playbill brings news that the 1983 film comedy “Valley Girl” is being turned into a movie musical. There are also plans to make a movie based off of “Stretch Armstrong”… yes, the toy. This has led some to argue about the dearth of original movies, and how there are too many remakes of recent movies. However, just as with theatre, being original does not guarantee success. What we need is not necessarily original movies or theatre, but movies or theatre from good sources. There are plenty of excellent books out there that could be well adapted, but this would require that folks actually read books. Perhaps that’s too much to ask.
  • From the “Teach Your Children” Department: Sorta related to conclusion of the last item… Viacom is discontinuing Nick Magazine, because of the usual problems with print media. It seems that kids these days don’t read… and don’t buy from advertisers. Soon, the only successful kids magazines might be the ones that don’t have ads (such as Ladybug). I’m not holding Nick Magazine as a paragon of great writing (it is more in the category of great marketing), but its death does say something about these shill magazines. I wonder what the future holds for the Food Network magazine.