journalism


7
Aug 17

The Agars, Buzzfeed and our garage

John Agar Sr., wanted to do something with his son, John Jr. John the younger has cerebral palsy and, while they were looking for a thing to do, they found the 5K. Dad would push son 3.1 miles through the course. They got lapped by a power walker. So they resolved to train harder. And these guys are something special. I could tell you, but John’s sister Annie is about to show you:

They race all over these days, the Agars inspire and delight and even challenge Michael Phelps to races. Phelps, who was last seen in a simulated race against a shark, hasn’t taken them on yet.

This is an interesting idea. Buzzfeed is going to do a Twitter broadcast. I’m trying to work this out in my mind. Poynter tells us about it:

BuzzFeed News is launching a morning show on Twitter later this year, and it’s hiring a team to get it off the ground.

The next broadcast from the company that brought you exploding watermelons and a live goat ambush is a weekday newscast aimed at “an audience that wakes up hungry for the latest in ‘fire Tweets,'” according to a May 1 press release from Twitter (which also announced streaming shows with The Verge and Cheddar).

The winner here is Twitter. I’m not sure it is the right idea for Buzzfeed — curating the ideas of the many seems like a return to an older distribution model in a different envelope — but maybe at a place like Buzzfeed it doesn’t have to be the right idea just now. Maybe you just have to have the idea, because that’s going to lead to The Idea. I don’t know what The Idea there is going to be, but they have plenty of sharp people on board and it’ll develop over time, or strike as an epiphany.

Wouldn’t you like to have The Idea first? It isn’t hub-and-spoke. It isn’t TMZ and it won’t be a gatekeeper style. It won’t be the old Buzzfeed kitten and listicle model, either. And again, you can’t curate everything coming out of the firehose. A small portion of the success of the social media monsters can be attributed to the implications there. Even if you tried, it would be a Kardashian tweet here, a sports blooper there and today’s best pet or kid video. And then you’ve got a host basically reading tweets to us as a show. And the hashtags. (Don’t read hashtags allowed.) Or, slightly better, you get a panel laughing and reacting or maybe even contextualizing the content. A super smart version of that might be viable. You might create the Twitter broadcast version of some of the better network or cable shows — but cooler, for a social media program. But then there’s gravitas, name recognition, the boring logistics of “Can you get that person on?” And then, if they are good, can you get them regularly? Are they in demand for network appearances? And which show would you choose if both sets of producers called?

All of these traditional — or newly traditional routines, if you will — will present the same issues here. But I think, for them, it has to drive you back to Buzzfeed. Why would a site who made their name as a part of the evolutionary media disruption go exclusively to social media, another ripple from their point of view? There’s something to be said for presence and branding, of course, but that’s not the big goal out of this. Maybe it is an offshoot of a new growth pattern, a new revenue stream for the company that seemingly fell well short of their projections last year. Maybe they’re starting their own gif-driven social media platform.

Or what if this is successful? What if the website, which grew on those lists and rewrites and became an earnest newsroom and, to some, an influential juggernaut, ultimately spins off their video programs.

I have a notebook sitting in a closet where I doodled out the mass media fragmentation models. It basically went from four big blobs to a bunch of lines and dots. And it seemed, back in 2006 or so when I was writing in that book, that all of those dots and smaller blobs and indistinct triangles and other shapes would naturally one day coalesce again. I thought of it as a natural reaction to funnels at the time. Maybe it is a corporate response to market forces and the silo-ification that is bound to happen. It has happened before.

This I wondered about while straightening up in the garage this evening. But the boxes in the garage didn’t give me the answers. I’m down to watch and see. I did not have The Idea.

Today, that is.

Update: My friend and Knight Fellow Andre Natta chimes in, because he’s smart and I asked him too. He made three keen points. One of them I wanted to include:

Because, is there really a better use than managing accuracy during a breaking news event (or managing the hot take hose)?

That would be a great feature. Who do we trust for that? We don’t trust traditional media for it 98 percent of the time. We should trust them more. Is Buzzfeed going to bring me the Ryan Seacrest-Cronkite of this generation to tell me the Kansas City Star is on the ground and has bonafides and is offering legitimate Twitter coverage the next time there’s a big problem in the ‘burbs?

If that’s the case maybe who is really missing out here are the news networks. Buzzfeed won’t build this out for breaking news. That’s an important model, but it isn’t sustainable for them. What’s more, CNN and the like struggle with a variety of on-air management issues in slower news periods.

As for Andre’s thought on the “hot take hose” … Here’s something that may very well be impacted by such a Buzzfeed move. Watch the “trending topics” and “who to follow” boxes. Already, if you click a trending topic that “who to follow” box updates with relevant or topical accounts. Now throw in a video box on the right side, with some slick production under the Buzzfeed brand and the topics amplify. It is a traditional media idea, agenda setting theory. Walter Lippman’s original idea, that the media are what connects events to audience, and all of the scholarship that followed, which basically says “Media can tell you what to think about” works here. If Twitter is a water cooler. There’s about to be a new, very dynamic co-worker hanging out there.


27
Jul 17

Of timeless news men

I once worked with a man who (last year) retired after 61 years on the same station. I watched and admired another gentleman at the end of his career of 63 years on the air. And I’ve read columns by writers who spent their last days on memories of games or people that happened 40 years ago because they or their editors thought that was what their audience was interested in.

Even if you’re mailing in a memories column, even if you’re working part time broadcasting at the end of your career in a station where everyone calls you “Mr.” on air in deference to your time in the business, even if the new kid is printing things out for you because printers are a mystery to you … if you spend that long in the media, you’ve done something.

So I’d like to introduce you to David Perlman:

David Perlman was born in 1918 — a decade before the discovery of penicillin and the Big Bang Theory.

And, for the majority of his career, he covered scientific progress in the 20th century and beyond, writing thousands of articles about everything from the beginning of the space age to the computer age.

Until now.

The 98-year-old science editor is retiring from The San Francisco Chronicle after nearly seven decades at the newspaper, a decision he said had been coming for a while.

It is too easy to say “end of an era” but that is truly the case at the Chronicle. I hope all the young people on the staff there were smart enough to spend some time with Perlman. The man no doubt has plenty to teach us all.

Arbutus

And then there’s the next generation. I gave a tour of Franklin Hall to 15 members of the local Boys and Girls Club. It was a sort of last minute thing: Can you show these kids around in half an hour?

So they show up and they are younger than I expected. Know your audience and all of that, so I showed them the giant screen, the television studio and the video game design labs. Fourteen of them said they wanted to move in. Most did not seem dissuaded by the idea that there are no beds or showers or a real kitchen in the building.

I think they just liked that we could play Xbox or Playstation games on the giant screen.

One of them asks how old you have to be to come to college. And then she decides that’s too far off. Oh, but if you study hard and do well in school, my young friend, you too can sit here with us and watch the giant TV.

I wonder what Perlman would say to a gaggle of elementary school children who stopped by his corner of the newsroom in his last days on the job.


3
Apr 17

This post covers the last 176 or so years

Such a gray day on Saturday. It all blends together as big globs of clouds, but the history function at Weather Underground says it has been a week since I’ve seen the sun. I haven’t taken to putting hashmarks on the wall to keep track. Yet. But on the eighth day in a row of this I realized a few things. First, this is well-passed its sell date. Second, you need features in the foreground to make this backdrop pop:

I went to the movies Saturday, saw Logan, and did some other things, and watched the sky.

Sunday was a terrific improvement. The temperature snuck up into the mid-60s and the sun came out to play and it was otherwise, you know, a nice April day:

I went for a bike ride, a 43-miler that started to fall apart around mile 12 or so. There was a lot of up-and-down, and the up is always slower, even more so when you’re having a slow day in general. But the weather was nice and the views weren’t bad either:

And I looked up the first use of the words bicycle and velocipede in the impressive Hoosier State Chronicles — a digital newspaper program which is a terrific read. It isn’t complete, of course, but it is authoritative.

Aside from a few ads, here is the first mention, in The Hendricks County Union, on March 8, 1866:

The Hendricks County Union started out as the Danville Republican in 1846 and took the Union name in 1864 when a returning Civil War colonel, Lawrence S. Shuler bought the rag. Shuler’s unit had fought in the Second Battle of Second Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania and more. So newspapers probably seemed a breeze. He sold it the next year, though, and after a series of name and ownership changes and consolidations, the paper finally enjoyed a long run from 1890 until 1931 under one owner.

Then a World War I veteran bought what was called the Hendricks County Republican. Edward Weesner, who’d learned the business working on the Stars and Stripes, ran the shop until he died in 1974. His daughter, Betty Jean Weesner, had been working there for some time and took over. She was, says a Saturday Evening Post column, a Unitarian Democrat running a paper by then simply called The Republican. She graduated with a journalism degree from Indiana in 1951. She died this time last year. Her obituary says she never retired. The Republican was a two-person shop, a small-town weekly, and Weesner’s longtime assistant Barbara Robertson died a few weeks ago. It was also the oldest paper in the county, with roots back to the James K. Polk administration. You hope it comes back, but it would be a surprise if it did. This is one of the ways old newspapers die.

Meanwhile over in Vanderburg County, at the Evansville Journal, these two mention appear in the same column of miscellany on September 15, 1868:


Already, they were concerned with speed. Perhaps always they were.

The Evansville Journal started in 1834, The location of the original building, which was razed after a fire, seems to be a parking lot today. Apparently the paper had endured three fires over the decades. Finally, the Evansville Journal News building, would survive. It was one of those places built way out of town, until Main Street came to it. The two-story beaux-arts brick building with a limestone facade, circa 1910, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There’s a deli and ice cream joint in there now. The Journal was sold to the cross-town competition in the 1920s and lasted until about 1936 or so.

Here now is the Daily State Sentinel, with a local notice on September 30, 1868:

Twenty-five miles per hour! Much better than a carriage. Le Maire, of course, being French for “the mayor.” Mississippi Street was renamed Senate Avenue in 1895. Third Street, I am forced to assume, was also renamed. But I’m not sure when or to what. So I’m counting roads and if my guess is right the former site of Le Maire’s shop is not either a condo, a distillery, a parking lot or one of a series of apartment/business buildings. The provenance of the Daily State Sentinel dates back to 1840. The paper that became The Sentinel was originally The Indiana Democrat, and Spirit of the Constitution, this being firmly in the times when towns had more than one publication and representing a variety of political parties.

In fact, you probably remember hearing about the Copperheads during the American Civil War. The people that had this paper during that time — ownership was an almost-fluid thing in most newspapers back then — found themselves wrapped up in the Copperhead Trials. After more owners and changes to the masthead than you can count, the paper closed its doors for good in 1906, when it was known as the Indianapolis Sentinel. I haven’t yet discovered anything about monsieur Le Maire.

Finally this bit, which was published in the Daily Wabash Express on March 13, 1869. It was in rebuttal to something that ran in an Indianapolis paper, and I believe this part was an excerpt of the first piece. Either way, we’re settling on terms and facts here, in 1869, and that’s just charming:

This paper also has roots to 1841, but it became the Daily in the 1850s. A few years after this, the ancestor of this paper would boast one of the first female editors in the state. Mary Hannah Krout is, in fact, credited as the first woman to edit a major daily in the state. She did that for about six years before going to Chicago, and then covered the revolution in Hawai’i and wrote from London and China, as well. She was a prominent suffragist and wrote eight or nine books, too. The paper would stick around until April 29, 1903.

I wonder what the weather was like that day.


15
Mar 17

Alone in the woods, with sunglasses and soup

Each day I make use of at least one weather app, the smart thermostat which is still patiently trying to convenience me it somehow knows what is going on outside and a variety of windows which display both front and back yards. I do all of this at night and again in the morning, before I put a single thing in my pockets to leave. And then I put the things I carry in my pockets, so many things. And then I go to the garage, because that is where I park my car.

I open the garage door, because that is easier than driving through it and replacing it every week. And then I settle into my car, crank it and undertake the normal procedures one uses. I put my foot on the brake, select reverse and then throw my arm over the other seat and look backward because that’s how everyone did it when I was growing up and that’s still the coolest move in a car. I snicker at the idea of a backup camera. No, seriously, every day, that makes me chuckle. And then I move the car, each time I am amazed by my good fortune of avoiding hitting things with the passenger-side mirror. And then I am in the driveway, and I back up about 15 more feet and I’m in the road.

Only, today, I was confronted by this thing that I knew from both ancient DNA and my own dim, distant memory.

That’s actually overselling it. Of course it was the sun. I was pleased to see the sun. “This is,” I thought to myself, “a sign of things to come.” That thought was immediately followed by “My, but that’s bright!”

Don’t I own some device that was designed to aid in the filtering of the bright and magical UV rays which are now descending on me for the first time since, oh, November? However long ago it was I had to really struggle to remember — and this part is legitimate — where I store my sunglasses in my car. But I used them today. So pleased was I that, in the parking lot at work I had to find a sunny spot for this picture:

I used to use this article in writing classes. It is about a man who stayed a true hermit, in the woods of Maine, for 27 years before police picked him up on a series of cabin break-ins. One reporter, the author of that piece, was the only person the guy talked to. (Turns out, I just learned, that story has become one of GQ’s most-read pieces ever. I’d give students that article on a Monday and would ask them to discuss it the following Monday. The few that would actually talk about it thought it creepy. At 20 pages of intriguing brilliance, most just thought it too long and admitted they gave up on it. Their loss.)

Anyway, the story appears again, by the same talented reporter, Michael Finkel, who has now written about it in The Guardian. And now he’s got a book on the story, released earlier this month. Read the GQ version, it is worth the time.

Tonight I learned that Allie likes minestrone:

She likes it a lot. Licked the bowl clean. Worked hard at getting the edges. I’ll have to leave her a bit of the broth next time.


28
Feb 17

Watch more TV — on your computer or wherever

I’m feeling better, thanks. Most of the things I would complain about are brought on by the Sudafed. I looked up the side effects this morning and, what do you know? Present and accounted for. And, since I am breathing relatively well, and because I like sleep and a regular heart rate and all of the other things I’ve grown accustomed to over the years, I’m putting the medicine away.

I went for a run this morning. It was cold and drizzling and I was going to do a few miles, but after the first one the mist turned to sprinkles and the sprinkling came with thunder, so I went inside and got warm and ready for work.

Then tonight we had two news shows to shoot and a launch party to attend. I shot this of the news’ teaser opening:

Things to read … Sometimes, when you teach young reporters how to localize a story you can just look around the room. High school student-journalists wrote this: Detained, but not Deported: A Family’s Final Chance to Remain Undivided:

The daily calls, however, have been a strong connection between Yousef and his kids, as he tries to stay updated on their lives at home and in school. He keeps the conversation light-hearted, according to his oldest daughter Yara, a junior at Pioneer High School. “Every Friday he used to take us to the gas station after school, so last Friday he asked us ‘What do you guys want from the gas station?'”

The kids are aware that, in many ways, the cheer is a facade. “He’s mad. Every time he calls us he tries to be happy, but I know he’s mad,” Betoul said. “He has right to be. We all do.”

Despite the closeness of the family, Yousef won’t allow his kids to come and visit. “He doesn’t want us to see him like that. He wants to be strong, he wants to be the dad of the house,” Betoul said. “Seeing him like that, that’s at his weakest point.”

They did a really nice job with the story, too.

Speaking of the utes … Teenagers trust algorithms to select stories nearly twice as much as they trust human editors, research finds:

While teenagers are more trusting of traditional media – TV, radio and newspapers – than adults as they place mounting importance on facts in a ‘filter bubble’ era, adversely they trust algorithms to select stories for them more than human editors, the Edelman Trust Barometer has found.

I wonder if this will be one of those things where the first three months tells the tale. Google announces YouTube TV service that rivals cable for $35:

YouTube says that younger people (“millenials”) want to watch TV in the same place they watch all their other content, which makes sense. It wants to build an experience that “works as well on your phone as on your desktop,” as well as all your other devices.

The service also includes a feature called Cloud DVR, which allows you to save an unlimited number of shows without worrying about the storage limits of a traditional DVR. That said, you must be connected to the internet to access your recorded shows, so no watching on the subway or in the middle of nowhere.

Also, what traditional television providers do next will be interesting, too.

More here, and here.