A very smart essay by the writers at Information Architects. I think this might actually work — will it save the New York Times? Probably not, but a step in the right direction.
Archive for the 'Media' Category
Megan McArdle wanted to like the new movie, but could not:
(…) There could have been a great movie made out of Atlas Shrugged. For that matter, there may still come a day when such a movie is made. But to quote the trilogy I did like–this is not that day.[From Atlas Winced]
We avoid news fairly thoroughly — no television, no newspapers, no newsmagazines, no Google News. That frees up the time to learn and to discover. For example, the time to discover that Bryan Caplan and Rolf Dobelli share a similar perspective: “News is to the mind what sugar is to the body” to quote Dobelli’s 2010 paper Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet.
By and large, I think news is a waste of time. If I want to increase my factual knowledge, I read history – or Wikipedia. News, I like to say, is the lie that something important happens every day.
Most people think my position is crazy, even for me. I was surprised to learn, then, that someone even more anti-news than me got to present his arguments at TED. A few of his arguments are silly, and more are poorly documented. But the best parts of the paper that inspired the TED talk are excellent. From Rolf Dobelli’s paper “Avoid News” [PDF]:
News is irrelevant.
Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career, your business – compared to what you would have known if you hadn’t swallowed that morsel of news.
Assume that, against all odds, you found one piece of news that substantially increased the quality of your life – compared to how your life would have unfolded if you hadn’t read or seen it. How much trivia did your brain have to digest to get to that one relevant nugget? Even that question is a hindsight analysis. Looking forward, we can’t possibly identify the value of a piece of news before we see it, so we are forced to digest everything on the news buffet line. Is that worthwhile? Probably not.
In 1914, the news story about the assassination in Sarajevo dwarfed all other reports in terms of its global significance. But, the murder in Sarajevo was just one of several thousand stories in circulation that day. No news organization treated this historically pivotal homicide as anything more than just another politically inspired assassination.
This article is the antidote to news. It is long, and you probably won’t be able to skim it. Thanks to heavy news consumption, many people have lost the reading habit and struggle to absorb more than four pages straight. This article will show you how to get out of this trap – if you are not already too deeply in it.
Jeff Jarvis is my go-to guy for accurate wisdom on the plight of the old print media (e.g., NYT, FT). Recently, Jeff wrote a smart commentary on Google’s very smart response to the silliness going on at the FTC, where the old media barons are trying to get the FTC to restore their now-dead business model via regulation.
Jeff’s commentary is good enough that you may not feel the need to read the full text of Google’s response.
This says it best:
The large profit margins newspapers enjoyed in the past were built on an artificial scarcity: Limited choice for advertisers as well as readers. With the Internet, that scarcity has been taken away and replaced by abundance. No policy proposal will be able to restore newspaper revenues to what they were before the emergence of online news. It is not a question of analog dollars versus digital dimes, but rather a realistic assessment of how to make money in a world of abundant competitors and consumer choice.
Included these comments:
(…) But even so, I am impressed at how easily people talk to me here, how quick they are to return phone calls, how happy strangers are to show me around their hometowns. There is also more of an intellectual ferment here than in any other country I know. The think-tanks are bigger and pack more intellectual firepower. The universities are without peer, and eager to share their insights with mere scribblers such as me. Many of the politicians I meet think deeply and hard about the issues facing the country. So do many of the businessfolk, and many of the citizens I meet carrying placards in the street.
I’m optimistic about America’s future. The country has high unemployment, crushing debts and a political system that resists making painful but necessary changes. But America also offers a higher material standard of living than anywhere else, and more freedom. By that I mean not only the absence of restraints but also the availability of choices. This is why people with get up and go, get up and come here. And that is why America will keep growing, adapting and improving.
(…) My successor will be older, wiser and wittier. He knows far less than I do about golf, but far more about the Middle East. I’ve known him for years—he was my boss’s boss when I first joined The Economist—and I cannot recommend him highly enough. He will also take over this blog.
Please continue reading…
(…) The other thing is that I write very slowly—painfully slowly—and while yes, I really want it to look spontaneous and random, generally I’ll spend a lot of time just on the first joke, till it seems right, and then I’ll think, OK, what would be a good one to go after that. At that point I’m really not thinking about how it’s going to end or how it’s going to be structured—only about what the next joke will be. And then the next joke after that. There are exceptions, for instance if you’re writing a screenplay or something you have more of an idea of what the structure will be, but most topics I don’t. It’s just a question of what’s the next joke going to be. And I won’t go on until I have it.
(…) I found an interesting interview with you where you talked about your process. The main takeaway was that you work very hard at what you do, and I wondered, “Is he working hard to make it look easy?”
Well, I think all humor writers do that, I mean, the ones who are good. I take a lot of time to produce very few words, but then I don’t know of very many people who can think of a whole series of jokes on any given topic right off the top of their heads—that would be any good. It’s kind of like the illusion of the standup comic where he goes on this long riff and it’s spectacular and it’s hilarious and you’re dying, but then you realize later, oh, he didn’t just think all that stuff up—he got every one of those laughs by trying different versions of the same joke on many different audiences and then figuring out how they go together best, and then adding to them bit by bit as he thinks of other lines that work well.
For those of us who need to improve our satire diet.
You may also wish to evaluate the Onion Microfiche Headline Reader:
You are clearly a busy person, otherwise, you wouldn’t have such an important phone. How is a person like your supposed to take the time to take in the important news of yesterday that will give you a competitive edge in the marketplace?
Haitians have faced their tragedy with dignity and stoicism â€“ not that you would know it from the way the disaster has been reported
Andy Kershaw writes of Haiti today from some perspective — he has actually been there, and in the days before Duvalierism. This is good – an excerpt:
(…) The alarmingly unanimous priorities of the spokesmen and women of aid organisations and the military, have been with “issues” (for they love that word) of “security”, “procedures”, and “logistics” (what we used to call “transport” or “trucks”). These obsessions indicate not only a self-serving and self-important careerist culture among some, though not all, aid workers (although wide experience of the profession in Haiti and across Africa tells me it is more common than donors would like to think), but that the magnitude of the crisis has paralysed them into a gibbering strike force of box-tickers. Most worryingly, it reveals that many â€“ even selfless â€“ NGO workers on the ground haven’t a clue about the country and its people.
There has now solidified a consensus among aid organisations that the relief they are bringing is itself a liability; that distributing what Haitians are dying for â€“ literally â€“ will bring on a second nightmare. So, supplies pile up at the airport because, apparently, the Haitians need to be fed and watered at gunpoint. And there aren’t enough men with guns to provide this totemic “security” and there aren’t enough trucks to move the supplies around the country. (Haiti is always absolutely full of trucks. The first relief priority ought to be fuel for those convoys, to deliver the water, medicines and food. In that order).
This self-imposed blockade by bureaucracy is a scandal but could be easily overcome. The NGOs and the military should recognise the hysteria over “security” for what it is and make use of Haiti’s best resource and its most efficient distribution network: the Haitians themselves. Stop treating them as children. Or worse. Hand over to them immediately what they need at the airport. They will find the means to collect it. Fill up their trucks and cars with free fuel. Any further restriction on, and control of, the supply of aid is not only patronising but it is in that control and restriction where any “security issues” will really lurk. And it is the Haitians who best know where the aid is needed.
An unbelievable 10,000 charities were already working in Haiti when the earthquake rocked the island, most of them tiny independent organisations. Humanitarian aid is, almost by definition, never where it is needed when natural disasters strike. But, in Haiti, what’s needed has been flown in with impressive speed. Yet the combined concern of all those organisations â€“ many of them regarding fellow charities as professional rivals â€“ has so far been unable to get that assistance a ride from the airport. Too much energy in the last week has been expended on bickering about procedure and the fetish about “security”.
This assumption that there is a security threat has gone completely unchallenged by an army of foreign press, equally unfamiliar with Haiti and the character of the Haitians. Indeed, TV reporters particularly, having exhausted the televisual possibilities of rubble, have been talking up “security”, “unrest” and “violence” when all available evidence would indicate anything but.
Astonishingly, among these TV dramatists, I am sorry to say, is the BBC’s Matt Frei. An incongruously ample figure around Port-au-Prince, Frei has been working himself up all week into what is now a state of near hysteria about “security” and the almost non-existent “violence”.
Over the weekend we saw him anticipating an outbreak of unrest, standing before a crowd of thousands of hungry, humiliated Haitians as they waited, patiently and quietly, to be given rations by UN soldiers. Their dignity and stoicism seemed to escape Frei who was, in any case, looking away from them while ranting about the inevitability of looming bloodshed â€“ conspicuously unlikely, judging from the evidence of his own report. (When he is not almost tumescent about violence, Frei speculates and pontificates pompously to camera, or booms at earthquake victims in French. Most Haitians don’t speak French. They speak Creole).
(…) Haitians are extremely industrious and always busy, even though there are few formal jobs. They are resourceful, resilient, proud and dignified. On all my visits I have marvelled at Haiti’s capacity not just to survive but to function and even, at times, to flourish. (The economy grew by 6 per cent last year. Things were on the up before the earthquake dished it out again on poor Haiti.) It is a puzzle I have never resolved and a fascination that has drawn me back to Haiti more than 20 times: it shouldn’t work; nobody knows how it works; but somehow or other it does.
That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.
Clay is often brilliant – this is one of those essays.
The curious thing about the various plans hatched in the â€™90s is that they were, at base, all the same plan: â€œHereâ€™s how weâ€™re going to preserve the old forms of organization in a world of cheap perfect copies!â€ The details differed, but the core assumption behind all imagined outcomes (save the unthinkable one) was that the organizational form of the newspaper, as a general-purpose vehicle for publishing a variety of news and opinion, was basically sound, and only needed a digital facelift. As a result, the conversation has degenerated into the enthusiastic grasping at straws, pursued by skeptical responses.
Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know â€œIf the old model is broken, what will work in its place?â€ To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.
…â€œYouâ€™re gonna miss us when weâ€™re gone!â€ has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?
So don’t be lazy – go read the whole thing!
Felix Salmon get’s right into one of my daily grumps:
…There’s one easy way, which all nytimes.com readers would embrace fervently: stop spreading stories over multiple pages.
In the early days of the web, in an attempt to goose pageviews, publishers started asking readers to click through two or three or sometimes even a dozen different pages to get through one story. It’s annoying and self-defeating, and I devoutly wish that a move to reduce inventory will kill off this miserable habit.
People read from one line to the next. If you can’t read the line above the line you’re reading, it feels odd, and you can lose track of the narrative. When you’re reading a book, it’s almost instantaneous to flip a page, but with a website, the time taken to click on the “next” link and wait for the page to reload is much longer. What’s more, all that finding the link and clicking takes you out of the narrative — and, of course, makes it much more likely that you’ll disappear off somewhere else entirely, just like newspaper readers generally fail to read beyond the jump.
The multiple-pages problem is so annoying, indeed, that many bloggers, including myself, make it a point to always link to a “single-page format” or “print version” of the article instead. That’s not always possible, however, and what’s more the print version often lacks important navigation, multimedia, and other hypertext components.