Thursday, September 10, 2009
  Reporting "Lies" and "Liars" ...
In my personal blog, I posted about the problematic use of the "lies" and "liars" frame to express disagreement with one's political opponents (using the Congressman Wilson shout last night as a springboard).

One of my Facebook friends just posted a note referencing an article from Fox News reporting that President Obama called Sarah Palin a liar, wondering if the president would apologize to her.

I chuckled at that, and then paused. I had assumed the article was referencing some moment from the campaign trail. I certainly didn't recall candidate Obama ever calling anyone a liar, certainly not directly, but I certainly didn't consume every single moment of the campaign trail coverage, either.

But the article was not addressing the campaign trail. The article, titled "Obama Calls Palin a Liar During Speech" was referencing LAST NIGHT'S speech.

Confused (I didn't remember the president mentioning Sarah Palin in the speech last night), I called up the Fox News article. Turns out it was simply a headline with a one-sentence blurb and an article link. The article link refers to an AP story, Obama: Claims of death panels are a 'lie.'

First of all, rewriting headlines to AP stories is hardly an uncommon occurrence. In the newsroom, editor often rewrite headlines to localize the story, conserve space, or any of a number of other reasons. But this is more than merely economizing words. This is a direct reversal of the statement. The AP's story reports that Obama stated that certain claims were "lies." The Fox News article composed the statement that since Sarah Palin had made such a claim, that Obama was (in effect, though this point is lost) calling Palin a "liar."

That's a stretch, even in these detail-challenged times.

Second, I find it interesting that Fox rewrote the headline of a three-paragraph story and then didn't even run the actual story. Just the rewritten headline and the first line of the story, with a link to the article (the link source is also not explicated). This practice is also not particularly unusual, but when an outlet significantly rewrites a headline and then doesn't run the entire text of a story, it looks bad. It certainly fooled my Facebook friend, who used the headline to wonder if the president would apologize to Palin for something a Fox editor wrote.

Third, this extension of objective logic to the statements of others is a slippery slope. If I say that a statement is a "lie" (I try really hard not to ever do that unless I know the other party knows better than their words), does that mean that I have now accused every person who passes along the statement of lying? Where is the space for misunderstanding? Ignorance? Faulty logic? Mistakes?

It's well-established that Sarah Palin did not originate the "death camps" argument, only the wording. The original statement originated with Betsy McCaughey, and McCaughey herself has backtracked from her original remarks.

If McCaughey made a mistake of logic, comprehension, or even if she had deceit as her motives for her statements, does that lead one to conclude that Palin lied when she repeated the statements? Is it not possible that Palin believed McCaughey's words were true? How would one establish that?

And even if one could establish that Palin KNEW the statements were false and repeated them anyway, does that make her a "liar"? How many lies does it take to make one a "liar"? One? 20? 100? 500? Is it a calculated percentage of truth/lies in public statements?

This is why rewriting headlines to extend a statement to an indirect object are so dangerous in a democracy. The headlines alone spread false impressions. In this case, the headline infers that the president might appear to be a hypocrite for seeming to call for an apology (which he did not actually do) for an action that he himself appears unwilling to apologize for (an action he doesn't seem to have actually performed).

Though it might seem that I'm picking on Fox News for this practice, I've seen quite a few rewritten headlines at CNN's site that also don't appear supported by the stories to which they refer. I remember a couple of months ago, CNN headlines seemed to include the word "slammed" and "slapped down" as an action verb in headlines for stories in which no motive or intention was discussed. Particularly in stories related to the White House response to the "birther" movement.

The difference between "disputes" and "slaps down" is rather large. We teach our journalism students to adopt more objective terminology, if only to maintain accuracy (one never knows, much less can prove, the contents of another's mind enough to establish motive without evidence).

Perhaps I'll look in on MSNBC. Maybe we have an epidemic on our hands.

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Monday, September 07, 2009
  The President's School Address
Unexpected controversy has arisen over the President's plan to address the nation's school children this week. Personally, I think most of it borders on the absurd. Even if this president were planning to deliver a politically partisan message to our youth, do we really live in a world where we think 15 minutes of video can overcome the hundreds of hours of punditry that will follow, much less the conversations that parents can hav with their children afterward?

Well, regardless of the underpinning social context of these events, you can view the President's message to our children below. Enjoy.

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Monday, June 15, 2009
  Irony Re: the Death of Print
You can't make this stuff up.

Today, I noticed that Jeff Gomez' new book, Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age, is due out July 5 ... UNLESS you have a Kindle. Kindle readers can download it right now.

Irony, anyone?

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Friday, April 24, 2009
  Thinking about the News Business (again)
Today, I had the privilege of meeting with the CU SJMC Advisory Board to listen to their thoughts about journalism education.

More thoughts to come on that later.

During the session, the group was allowed to interact with Chris Matthews of MSNBC Hardball fame, through Skype.

Matthews spoke at length about the concerns of cable news personalities concerning the plight of newspapers. Acknowledging that newspapers bear the brunt of the reportage costs and efforts, Matthews suggested that his program “relies almost entirely on daily newspapers.”

Matthews also bemoaned the effects of Google on the news business, colorfully characterizing the company as “like an old guy, wandering around collecting bottles … the worst part is that Google didn’t even make the bottles, much less the coke in them.”

An amusing simile that will be with me for a while, I’m sure.

Former Rocky Mountain News Editor/Publisher/President John Temple was the guest speaker for the lunch session. Temple echoed some of his thoughts about journalism education that had appeared on his blog, and then discussed how he saw the newspaper industry’s challenges.

Citing a lack of innovation and a lack of the evolution of the print offerings, Temple portrayed newspaper publishers as being in the “manufacturing business,” and suggested that the daily grind of the production and distribution process discourages publishers from taking risks in favor of “keep[ing] the machine running.”

Key quote: “Instead of the owners changing the business, the business changed the owners.”

Temple also expanded on these thoughts on in a new blog entry.
Monday, March 16, 2009
  Brief Review of The Kindle 2
As part of my research (the part that delves into usability and design of formats that will likely replace print journalism forms), I recently acquired a Kindle 2.

I fear this is going to sound like a laundry list of complaints. It’s not. There are some great executions represented in the Kindle 2. If you check out the official Amazon page (linked above), I think most of this content is more than just promotional hype.

But I think most potential consumers need to think through their media uses and expectations to determine if this device is suited for them.

Early thoughts:

Again, I know most of these points will seem like I find more at fault than good with the Kindle. Not so. I know I’m not really the target of this device. I read a lot, but most of what I read isn’t available for this device. And I am multimedia-centric (it’s quite obvious that this device was designed to constrain the noise normally associated with digital content to maintain reading integrity).

My primary interest is how to design new content for the intended audience of this device. This may offer insights into the future of print interfaces, at least those removed from the multimedia convergence model preferred on the Web.

I’ll likely expand the various points raised above in future posts, as I grapple with nuanced understandings of the issues and hopefully begin to come up with suggestions to either overcome short-comings or improve user expectations about why such shortcomings actually improve the text experience.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
  Facebook clarifications
Wow. I keep forgetting what a diverse audience I have for my Facebook status (this is why I cut so far back on my Twittering, I think all of this should be two-way communication, and I usually don't have the time to responsibly hold up my end of the bargain).

Yesterday I mentioned on my status that I was "'Kindling' interest in electronic journalism." This was, of course, a reference to my playing around with the Kindle 2 I received on Friday. I'm getting ready to do another round of design usability analyses on different communication platforms and thought that it would be good to start thinking about the design issues related to getting content onto the Kindle.

I immediately received two responses from Facebook (and real-life) friends of mine. One asserted that the Kindle could not save journalism which was too far dead to revive. The other dissed the Kindle itself.

So, in communicating with those friends, I was reminded that I should clarify my terminology with regularity.

I rarely mean "industry" when I talk about the future of journalism. Journalism predated the current corporations that provide America's news commodity by a couple of millennia. If and when those companies and corporations fall, journalism will simply look different.

Most journalism I consume is a mixture of the corporate commodity and the emerging models that have nothing to do with the corporate sphere. So, since my Kindle now allows me to subscribe (and pay for) blogs as well as newspapers, magazines and books, one of my interests in is how these sources outside the dominant corporate sphere can generate subscription revenue.

For example,

I'm not interested in saving the industry we have. My research has always been about what comes next. The industry can either join in or not, as far as I'm concerned (I'm pretty jaded on this point since I've been arguing adaptation for more than 10 years now at conferences and meetings with little serious engagement).

On the platform side, I can offer about a dozen critiques of the Kindle after only 12 hours, most centering on the network architecture. BUT, I don't investigate tech for the "ultimate gizmo." That's why I have an 2nd generation iPhone, an iPod Touch, an iPod video nano, a traditional iPod nano, I recently gave up my Treo, I recently cannibalized my last "dumb phone" to make a 1st Generation iPhone work, etc.

My view of diffusion is that high-end users like me are actually a small percentage of our culture. And we are trying to think about how to communicate with the WHOLE culture, not just the techno-elites.

The Kindle has sold a LOT of units. There are people who love books and hate video, and this is a device designed to capitalize on them. So, how should content be designed to reach them? Once someone buys a Kindle, how do we reach them? What will their expectations and tolerances of multimedia be?

Because my suspicion (and I have done not a shred of research on this yet) is that Kindle owners will not crossover as much with iPhone and iPod users as is conventionally thought. I can already see how could hack the "Text-To-Speech" function to include an audio file. Like an interview supplement to a newspaper story. But would anyone want that? Isn't the point of the Kindle to disengage the dynamic universe of multimedia content and approach content from a more static and simplified way? That some people will want static content that does not encourage interactivity but simple consumption?

(In my first few hours, I suddenly realized this was a device for the cultural elite and older generation. It seems to built around some older expectations of interface design. I think by comparison, Apple and the Blackberry are going after a completely different crowd).

So, I'll trying to make sure I understand the design and usability constraints (as well as the target market of users) for different distribution methods. Because though I am a VERY concerned about the digital divide, I am even more concerned about the platform divides that will come after more of our content is digitally distributed.

I don't think in 10 years much content will be consumed on a desktop computer. Which means we've got to think about how to design content in redundant language forms to ensure that someone doesn't miss a key part of the story because the Kindle has different capabilities that the iPhone.

Maybe it's important to also point out that all of these devices are transient. We barely have the infrastructure available to support mobile phones, much less the capability of distributing most of the multimedia forms we're capable of producing to most people.

My head is always in a particular place, and I forget how poorly my words convey what I'm thinking about, particularly when I'm so clumsy with the language.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
  Yikes, Re: CUI
Ok, those who write for student media are prone to make mistakes.

Student media are meant to be learning opportunities and as such, those who work don't have the greatest amount of experience.

I'm on the CUI publications board, so I've been reading their posts more frequently (I've also been interviewed a couple of times by them, which always draws my attention).

I saw this (unfortunate) gem yesterday:
"Lowest unemployment rate in a quarter century requires creative job-seeking startegies"

Ugh. The spelling error in the headline not withstanding (my spell check registers the mistake, so I wonder how this happened?), I think the reporter and editors must have been confused about how the unemployment rate works.

"Lowest in a quarter century"? I thought it was a joke or an ironic, Onion-esque reference. But no, as our unemployment rate creeps towards the HIGHEST point in quite some time, students are becoming nervous about getting a job, the point of the story.

And the error only appears in the headline.

What a tragedy. Some student's hard work derailed by a poor headline.

I wonder what their re-post/corrections policy is for errors?
Considering our place in a hyper-mediated world.

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