Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saving newspapers?

I'm at the "Future of the Media Industry" conference in Baltimore, sponsored by The Newspaper Guild (and a couple other CWA sectors).
Lots of interesting stuff here, and a lot of optimism despite all the bad news about our industry.
One interesting talk today was a talk by a University of California-Davis professor about how newspapers need to adapt to the change in the weather.
To conclude, he ended with a quote from Clarence Darrow (often attributed to Charles Darwin, must be the initials), that the element of the species that survives isn't the strongest or the most intelligent (sorry newsies), but the most adaptable.
But two things stuck with me -- first of all, the newspaper industry IS NOT going to be saved by college professors (sorry academia).
The other thing was his push to "customize" the "news" we provide -- via the web, of course.
Customizing, of course, is just another way for people to cherry pick the information they gather. Now, of course, this will have people going to your site.
And that's what you want.
But the bigger issue is my favorite theme -- the more information out there, the less informed people are.
Providing them with just the information they want limits the information they gather. People become less and less informed. The news industry erodes and newspapers -- which provide a wide range of news (all the news that's fit to print) -- become obsolete. So we end up destroying ourselves.
And forget about the fact that the line between "news" and advertising, which supports and, in many cases sponsors, these web pages -- totally erodes.
Once newspapers, which provide all the info about what your local government, police, hospitals, fire departments, schools, etc., is doing, whether you want it or not, go away, there is no watchdog over government. You don't have to want to read or, or even read it.
We just have to be there to cover it.
And that, my friends, is the first erosion of our democracy.
As melodramatic as that sounds, there it is.
And while it seems that by resisting the customizing the customer wants is not adapting, and therefore destroying the industry, I say we must learn to "give the reader (surfer) what he wants" without limiting the information.
The news industry must find a away to adapt without giving in to the increasing intellectual laziness of the people.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Newspapers kill? If only.

There is nothing in this post about Simon Baker, but I thought I'd including his picture anway. Now down to business...

In this morning's newspaper, we were treated to another story about a young person on a cell phone (texting, natch) causing an accident. The kid drove into the back of a Waste Management garbage truck that was making a pickup, nearly pancaking the guy working the truck in the process.
The kid's dad disputes the police report that his kid was texting -- he says the cell phone rang and the kid looked at it. Oh, okay, that's different.
For those of you about to log out of this, this is not yet another one of my screeds about how we are becoming a society where anything on a screen is somehow more fascinating that the world around you. Although, anyone try to talk to a teenager lately? As they frantically text their friends about...what? Nice talking to you, kid.
Anyway, this is actually about newspapers.
Because once again, imbedded in the story about the kid rearending the garbage truck, was another using-cell-phones-while-driving apologist bringing up the fact that people do LOTS of things that are distracting while driving -- like putting on makeup, eating breakfast and reading newspapers.
Why are those the three things always brought up? I can't vouch for the first two, although as a runner who spends a lot of time on the road dodging cars and SUVS driven by cell-phone users who stare -- zombielike -- ahead as they have their fascinating conversation and would be completely oblivious to running me over, I can say I never NEVER have had to dodge someone putting on makeup or eating breakfast.
But reading newsappers? We wish. WE WISH.
Some 2,600 people a year are killed on the road because of cell-phone use. Another 303,000 are injured. These are 2005 statistics from livescience. com. No doubt, with the increase in texting, e-mail on cellphones, Iphones, etc., those stats have gone up.
Where are the stats of people killed on the road because of newspapers? C'mon, do a Google search. They aren't there.
Newspapers have been around for hundreds of years. Cars for more than 100. Where are all the stories over the past decades about newspaper-related car crashes?
Newspaper circulation would have to skyrocket (instead of plummeting like a chunk of blue ice from an airplane bathroom) for the statistics of reading-while-driving to come anywhere close to cell phone use while driving.
It's kind of quaint to see newspapers blamed for a problem that can in no way be tied to newspapers. In fact, isn't it a little ironic that the very technology that is driving newspapers out of business and is responsible for killing and maiming thousands on the road is trying to lay some blame on newspapers.

On another topic, I saw those "Jonas Brothers" that are so popular with the kids on a late-night talk show, think it was Kimmel, last night. The kids seem nice enough, but so boring and innane! Wow. I can only imagine what their music is like. Honestly, I don't think I ever heard it. Now I'm not saying we didn't have boring, innane music when I was a kid.
But the year I turned 14, Blood on the Tracks and Born to Run both came out. And changed my life.
I don't think the Jonas Brothers are changing any teenagers lives out there.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tweet tweet?

The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine today had a Q&A with the guy who invented Twitter.
Now that's all well and good and interesting and everything else. Just one problem -- what the HELL is Twitter?
Okay. I kind of know what it is. Just a little bit.
Now I consider myself mildly technology challenged. I've mastered my Ipod, more or less. Although I just put it on "shuffle" and don't search playlists or anything. And, obviously, I've figured out how to blog. Again, more or less.
And I even downloaded, bought and use Microsoft Word.
But, I also still read newspapers. Still prefer talking to people face-to-face. Don't text. Don't really use my cell phone at all.
And so, yes, I have this vague idea what Twitter is.
But does the Globe really think my Mom and Dad know what it is? Or all the aging luddites who read their newspaper?
(Kevin, Chad and Pat, you can look up "luddite" in a "dictionary.")
Is there an irony to a newspaper, you know -- it's made out of paper and you actually have to read it -- assuming it's readers know what Twitter is? I guess I'm going to have to go Google it or something.
Apparently, according to the Globe, it was HUGE in the election of our new Prez. Go figure. How did he get elected without me knowing wat Twitter is?
All I'm saying here is that, as you, oh worthy and trying-to-be modern Boston Globe, ease us into the new technology, eaaaaaase us in.

Not to totally dumb things down here (possible?), but I think I mentioned in an earlier post that the interesting qualities of Simon Baker (handsomeness) were not enough to make me watch the lame The Mentalist. Well, I have a confession to make. I have since watched three episodes. The show is as lame as ever, but his eyes are also as blue as ever. And he's so haunted. And the show's so lame.