Now Everybody From the 313…

September 30, 2007

It’s not a good year to be a Bears fan, what with the quarterback situation and all.  Although Devin Hester is ridiculously entertaining to watch, and my hometown team (that’s the Lions – I’m originally from Detroit) is showing more promise this season than they have in the past couple years.

It’s definitely not a good year to be an Irish fan.  Touchdown Jesus is weeping.

I think I’m just going to repeat “it’s a rebuilding year” like a mantra till the season is over, and hope that this year’s dismal performance will make for a good recruiting season (because the new players will think they can come in and make a difference right away, and hey, they probably can). 

Lest you call me a fairweather fan, I still believe that the Irish will return to glory.  Just not in the next two or three years. 

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Vote in Style, a fashion polling site where members give various, user-submitted items/looks the thumbs up or thumbs down (I mentioned them in my massive round-up of web 2.0 fashion and shopping sites), is offering up and coming labels free advertising on the site through the end of 2007.

Why are they doing that?  To support independent designers and innovation in the industry.  “We want to recognize creativity in the fashion industry and promote talented up-and-coming designers”, they say.

If you’re a budding designer, or know someone who is, you can click here for more information and to apply for a spot.

Although many people (including me) are not too optimistic about the future of print newspapers, there is one positive aspect that is exclusive to print media.  They don’t have to pay attention to page views or search engine optimization. 

Now, I’ve never held back from declaring my opinions on SEO (in a nutshell – I think that it’s overrated, and the majority of people would do better by focusing on creating quality content), but really, do we want the process of writing solely to collect eyeballs to have any place in journalism?  I think not.  The whole page-view thing, however, is a bit more insidious.

Now, sensationalism has always sold papers.  We all know that.  But there is something about actual journalists writing to get on the front page of Digg or the Drudge Report that doesn’t sit well with me.  After all, shouldn’t they think more about the actual facts and their writing than what the bloggers would like?  Yet, they still have to cater to their audience, right?  Newspapers have always had to worry about circulation and such, so this isn’t really a new problem.  However, web metrics like page views are much more immediate (and they can also be easily gamed – but that’s a whole other problem.  This is also the reason that I just can’t warm up to SEO). 

Check out this article from the Washington Post by Joel Achenbach, “I Really Need You To Read This Article, Okay?”.  He brings up everything I mention and more.  And I quote:

 “Newspaper journalism is different these days: Suddenly everyone is obsessed with eyeballs, page views, “stickiness,” “click-through rates,” and so on. No one shouts “Stop the presses!” anymore, but they do whimper “Why aren’t I on the home page?” The noble product that we manufacture and distribute throughout the metropolis — the physical thing so carefully designed, folded and bagged — is now generally referred to in our business as the “dead-tree edition.” It gets little respect.”

In the end, however, he’s positive about the future of journalism on the web, requesting that writers go with their gut instinct about what would be a good story instead of catering to the social media. 

“Good writing remains good writing regardless of platform. The Web tends to be a chattier place, more off-the-cuff, but it is still a place where readers appreciate a well-crafted sentence, a nuanced thought, a fully elucidated thesis and commentary undergirded by fact, honesty and a generosity of spirit.”

I have nothing more to add. 

I’m far from the only person to create something for One Web Day; if you haven’t heard it, it’s a day for people to celebrate everything that is positive about the internet, and day to “encourage people to think of themselves as responsible for the internet, and to take good and visible actions on Sept. 22 that (1) celebrate the positive impact of the internet on the world and (2) shed light on the problems of access and information flow.”  People are encouraged to post or create videos honoring the day, and:

“Suggested topics for posts/videos/podcasts include:

+ how the web has changed your life

+ how you’d like the web to change the world in the future

+ highlights of what you’ve seen online the day you make the video

+ your favorite online event ever

+ something you’ve done online with other people in other countries

The internet is made of people, not just machines. It’s up to us to protect it. We can use OneWebDay around the world to raise awareness of the threats to the internet — including censorship, inadequate access, control of various kinds — and to celebrate the positive impact of the internet on human lives.”

See the video about One Web Day from Sir Tim Berners-Lee here.  Here’s another overview-type video.

I’ve already mentioned how the web has changed my life (numerous times, in fact), but in honor of One Web Day, here is a list of sites that contribute to changing other people’s lives.

Donors Choose – I’ve posted about this wonderful organization before – it’s a way for teachers and schools to get funding directly from donors.  To quote them “DonorsChoose.org is a simple way to provide students in need with resources that our public schools often lack. At this not-for-profit web site, teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn. These ideas become classroom reality when concerned individuals, whom we call Citizen Philanthropists, choose projects to fund.”  If you look through the various projects for up for funding and the impact they’ve had to date, and you’ll definitely get a sense of hope for the future (which tends to be lacking in the current climate of media fear-mongering and sensationalism).  Of course, it also makes me a little nostalgiac for all the great public school teachers that I was fortunate enough to have.  Their blog has some heartwarming success stories too. 

Kiva – An organization that lets individual donors (anyone with a credit card or paypal account) participate in microfinancing entrepreneurs from around the globe.  In their own words – “Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on Kiva.org, you can “sponsor a business” and help the world’s working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you’ve sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back.”  Thanks to the internet, Kiva has been able to cut the overhead costs typically associated with donating/loaning to individuals in the developing world, along with facilitating an interpersonal connection that would be impossible without the web.  They’ve gotten lots of positive press, both online and print, and you can even add Kiva buttons and dynamic banners to your own site (does this make them non-profit 2.0?). 

The Common Language Project – Their slogan is “Positive Reporting Across Borders” and their mission “is to develop and implement innovative multimedia approaches to international and local journalism. We focus on positive, inclusive and humane reporting of stories ignored by the mainstream media.”  This non-profit has a network for reporters who travel around the world, and seek out the often-marginalized people directly affected by the issues they cover, avoiding the bureaucracy and government spin machines.  Again, this is a project that would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, without the web – “The digital age has created new opportunities to connect people around the globe. The CLP believes that this has opened up exciting possibilities for independent media, especially in the realm of international reporting.”  Check out their extraordinary articles and editorials here, and their podcasts here.

These are just a few of the amazing organizations that couldn’t exist without the internet – and access to it being readily available most anywhere.  Feel free to add your favorites in the comments, or if you’re also a blogger or any other kind of web publisher, do a One Web Day post of your own!

Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch shares his last lecture.

In my last post, I discussed how traditional media is under fire, particularly newspapers, mostly because the web beats them at their own game.  Although many of the delivery systems could stand to be more streamlined, online media is much better when it comes to breaking news and localized or niche content – it’s faster than any print publication could hope to be, and the infinite amount of space available, in combination with the low point of entry, makes it possible for the narrowest of niches to find an audience.  It’s the internet for the win, folks.

The one thing that concerns me about the new media revolution is how individuals may be becoming mentally closer, but physically further apart.  Let me explain – while it is incredibly easy (and important) to connect with like-minded people through the wonders of technology, we’re losing that sense of regional and local community.  People are more likely to reach each other through fiberoptic cables than meet face to face (hey, just look at Second Life).   While this isn’t exactly an international disaster, the increasing disconnection and dissemination of communities certainly isn’t going to help anyone either.  However, some brilliant, well-funded people are trying to blend digital technology with with a sense of community of involvement (keep reading, I’m getting to the money part).

Getting to the point – I’ve come across the Knight News Challenge on a whole bunch of different sites, but just in case anyone hasn’t heard of it, here’s the gist of it:

At the most basic level, the goal of the challenge is to bring people together in the real world through the use of digital technology (computers, cell phones, PDAs, and myriad other gadgets).  By holding this contest (it’s a yearly thing, this year there is $5 million earmarked for the winning entries), they hope to give people with big, innovative ideas enough funding and support to make those ideas a reality. 

Unlike many contests and grants that are restricted to U.S. citizens, this contest is open to anyone, anywhere in the world – all you need is a killer idea and an internet connection to send a proposal in with – there is even an under twenty-five category for all you wunderkinds out there; if you’re under eighteen, the award will be designated to an intermediary, but you can still enter. 

What kinds of ideas qualify?

It should go without saying that it needs to be innovative and use digital technology, and your idea also needs to involve giving people access to breaking news or vital information in a timely manner.  It also needs to be local in the sense that helps foster community in a specific geographic area – so you may have something that could scale nationally, but concentrate on your immediate surroundings for the moment.  The focus is on open-source creations that might not have enough profit potential for the venture capitalists, but are still exciting and can make a significant positive social impact.

Does all this sound like you or someone you know?  Go to www.newschallenge.org and apply, and hey, if you’re reading my blog, you must be pretty smart, wink wink – so why not take a chance with your ideas?  You have nothing to lose by taking a shot- they even ask that you submit a short description of your idea before you compose a long proposal, so there’s not even a risk of sinking tons of time into something that might not pay off.

Good luck!

Lately I’ve been thinking about how the media is changing, and specificially how we get our news.  For decades (if not centuries), newspapers were the go-to form of information delivery, and really, nothing else was practical.  Then radio and television appeared on the scene, but nothing really supplanted the almighty daily paper. 

As we all know, the web has irrevocably changed how our news gets delivered.  Many traditional publications are experiencing a downturn, and more are either going online or going under.  I’m not sure what to attribute that to besides the simple fact that the web is cheaper, easier, faster, and much, much more varied than what is available in print.  No paper can compete with the internet in terms of breaking news, and with the increasing ubiquity of smart phones (web-enabled phones like the iphone), one of superior qualities of print newspapers -their portability – is losing ground. 

Sometimes I wonder if print newspapers will become obsolete within my lifetime.  After all, I’m 24 and I’ve never purchased a newspaper (I’ll read the free paper if I’m stuck on public transportation without a book, but that’s about it).  Everything I’d want from a paper, from op-eds to crossword puzzles to classified ads, can be found online, and the web versions are bigger and better than the print ones – and I can tailor them to my interests. 

 relevant lolcat

Call it niche content, call it the long tail, call it hyper-local journalism, but the knockout punch of the web is the ability to tailor content to your interests.  If you use RSS, you don’t even have to visit the sources – your info of choice comes to you.  Print media can’t really compete with that kind of neatly packaged efficient delivery system, can it? (and besides, web pubs don’t kill trees, for all of the green-living types out there).

Despite my misgivings, I still believe that is a future for print pubs that can adapt – the problem lies in finding a way to create a unique experience for the reader that cannot be replicated online (for instance, glossy fashion rags still thrive because editorials just don’t look as pretty on a computer screen).  It’s survival of the fittest (or the most creative) time – but it is also a very exciting time to be involved in the media field.

The brilliant Jessica Valenti (founder of Feministing.com and author of Full Frontal Feminism has another book coming out! 

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It’s published by the Seal Press, which has also published some other thoroughly excellent titles (check out their blog as well), and you can pre-order it here.