Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Death of Newspapers

I love a tired out headline! But I have discovered why newspapers are dying, although I don't have robust timeline data and this may not be why readership is declining (but really if you can access it online easier...).

I was reading Lessig's Remix, and he says how newspapers generally get 1/3 of their income from classifieds, and how the market for classifieds has been decimated by Craig's List (ok ok, craigslist). I don't know of many businesses that can withstand losing 1/3 of their income.

Then I also saw this piece in Salon, about the firing of Dan Froomkin from the Washington Post, which was a pretty good explainer about the death of newspapers.

Note that newspapers are not the same thing as journalism. The people who work for newspapers may or may not practice journalism, but the two are not the same thing. Newspapers can suffer financially but that doesn't mean that journalism is dying.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran and Media

Lots of interesting coverage of Iran. Two things have jumped out at me. One, signs in English (I don't know how widely English is used, or if it is at all, Iranians typically speak Persian), and two, how uses of media technology to distribute information under difficult political circumstances hasn't changed all that much (only the specific technology has).

From an article in Slate by Harry Newman:
During the time of the anti-shah protests, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was exiled near Paris. His speeches were transmitted by telephone into Iran, recorded onto cassette, and then thousands of dubbed copies were distributed to his followers. Today, opposition figures in Iran and abroad are using social-networking technology to publicize their protests. Both then and now, international media—above all, diaspora Persian-language news broadcasts—play a critical role in expanding the opposition forces.
Technology changes, people don't.

Picture with Persian and English signs, credit: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images, from

Update: Aha! Jason Rezaian writes at Slate, "Many carried signs in English, intended for the noticeably absent foreign media to snap." He is not just writing in a safe little room like I am, here is there (well, if you believe what you read at Slate, and there are plenty of journalists there and a ton of info is really getting out via various channels, so I don't see why not).

Update 2: Finally someone is comparing the theft of the election in Iran with the theft of the 2000 election in the US (Austin Heap at Salon).

Update 4: Aha!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Uncle Alfred in the NYT!

Well, it's not an interview, but he is mentioned up front in a non-lampooning manner in Saturday's column by Maureen Dowd. Cool!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rights and Wrongs

Okay that's an overused perhaps too-easy pun, but relevant in this case. And what is this case? Danger Mouse's Grey Album. Yes, an old story, I know, but check out the EFF summary page. Here's the part that blows my mind:

First, it's important to understand that there are at least 4, and maybe 5, "rights-holders" potentially involved:
  1. Owners of the rights to the sound recording ("master") for the Beatles' White Album. That's EMI.
  2. Owners of the rights to the musical works (songs or "compositions") that appear on the Beatles' White Album. For the Lennon and McCartney songs, that appears to be Sony Music/ATV Publishing, a joint venture between Michael Jackson and Sony. It's unclear who owns the rights to the George Harrison songs.
  3. Owners of the rights to the sound recording for Jay-Z's Black Album.
  4. Owners of the rights to the musical works that appear on Jay-Z's Black Album.
  5. And, possibly, the owner of the rights to the Grey Album (presumably DJ Danger Mouse).
Rights to the sound recordings and to the musical works are different? Are you kidding me? I'm not even sure what the difference between the "master" and the "compositions" are! Copyright law is totally out of control. And it's unclear who owns the rights to the George Harrison songs? Ok honestly I understand how that can be, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vannevar Bush, As We May Think

There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Information Future's Past

Recently, Paul Otlet has gotten some press as a forgotten information future pioneer (from 1934, no less), however, I just discovered that he actually wasn't that forgotten. Going through some articles I had used in my dissertation, I discovered Otlet referenced in a 1994 JASIS article by Donald Case, who is referencing a 1992 article by Buckland. 

Case also references a 1964 article in The Atlantic by Martin Greenberger that you simply must read. And, even better The Atlantic has made it available online. How smart is that? (Very.) A snippet, and remember, this is 1964:
The range of application of the information utility extends well beyond the few possibilities that have been sketched. It includes medical-information systems for hospitals and clinics, centralized traffic control for cities and highways, catalogue shopping from a convenience terminal at home, automatic libraries linked to home and office, integrated management-control systems for companies and factories, teaching consoles in the classroom, research consoles in the laboratory, design consoles in the engineering firm, editing consoles in the publishing office, computerized communities.
Wow! Spot-on. Awesome. Apparently this piece did indeed influence later information society embodiments.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Nielsen and Sampling

For years I have heard nothing good about Nielsen's sampling. We have seen recently how Nielsen completely disagrees with Hulu's own numbers. I have seen an industry exec slam Nielsen at a panel. But now I have some idea of why, even if it's from a 1992 book -- Henry Jenkins comes through yet again, in his important Textual Poachers (pp. 29-30).

As Eilieen Meehan (1990) has suggested, despite the myth of popular choice that surrounds them, the Nielsen ratings reflect only a narrowly chosen segment of the television audience--a "commodity audience"--which can be sold to national advertisers and networks, but which reflects neither mass taste nor the taste of an intellectual elite. 
Given the current diversity of channels (in the broader sense, not just "television channel") compared to "the big three" era (poor PBS, never counted), this approach won't work. Is it Nielsen's current approach? I don't know. But it's food for thought.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Manipulating the Masses

Errol Morris is at it again, with another riveting series of long blog posts over at the NYT, this time about a WWII-era forger for the Nazis, Van Meegeren. Except I don't want to post about that, not exactly. I want to copy a snippet from a Göring quote, Göring the thoroughly evil man that he was, who is part of the story (since Van Meegeren was passing his forgeries off as Vermeers to the Nazis).

The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
That strategy sounds... familiar...