Tuesday, December 06, 2005

downloadable tv

I've been noticing that there is a media blitz going on, both literally and figuratively, about downloadable tv shows. TV podcasts, if you will. I just want to say, for the record, that I could not be more excited. My friend told me the other day that a kid he knows got a blog site to pay him to keep a blog...something like 35 cents per site. Maybe I should get in touch with them and start saving up for my new video ipod.

But seriously, having television broadcasts (specifically of the entertainment type) at my fingertips is a dream come true. I remember when I was 8 years old, all I wanted was a handheld television. For some reason, portable entertainment seemed like the most amazing thing. EVER. Apparently I haven't changed much. I never got that handheld TV, but let's face it, those things were crappy - they only got 4 channels, and you probably had to stand in an awkward and uncomfortable position in order to receive a good picture. At least that's what I've been telling myself in consolation all these years.

When On-Demand cable came along, I thought that it couldn't get any better. I had reruns of my favorite shows, whenever I wanted them, all included in the price of digital cable. Amazing. However, being the television addict and nostalgia buff that I am, I could see that On-Demand could use some tweaking...or maybe just some more programming options. I know I'm not alone when I say that I would watch hours of television sitcoms from my childhood if they were available. I'm talking Clarissa Explains it All, Pee Wee's Playhouse, etc., for all of you twenty-somethings out there. The thirty-somethings have their wonderful 80s sitcoms creeping their way into mainstream syndication, and beyond that there is Nick at Nite (this is not an insult, I don't discriminate against TV, I like Nick at Nite).

What I'm getting at here is that while companies like NBC are attempting to make more and more money from striking download distribution deals with Apple, people like me are going to reap the non-monetary benefits. I know it's a marketing move on both of their parts, but I'm ok with that. If networks are ready to open their vaults to pull out shows that I miss and love, then I'll be ready and waiting with my video ipod (...someday...*sigh*).

Friday, November 11, 2005

online journalists get into the money biz

As newspapers struggle to find a niche in a blitz of media that is mostly online these days, journalists too are looking to the Internet for new outlets. TechWeb.com reported yesterday that true journalists are starting up their own blogs online, and making money from them. An article on TechWeb about these money issues said that Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter who was caught in the middle of the Valerie Plame scandal, has used her own website to tell her side of the story, and plans to continue to report through her own blog. The article didn't say if she is currently making money through this venture, but it was certainly implied that she would figure something out soon.

The article says that journalists, specifically ones looking for work, are using blogs to get to bigger news outlets in order to get some compensation for their work. Techweb said that Chris Allbritton, a reporter who worked for AP and New York Daily News, was able to raise $15,000 from readers to go to report from Iraq. This got the attention of Time, among other big news outlets, to pay him for some of his work. And of course there is always Kevin Sites, on Yahoo.

If more online journalists/bloggers start getting paid by the big media outlets, the issue of credibility may not be an issue for much longer. This could be a very good thing - I know how annoying it is to read a blog, take it seriously, and then find out that it just wasn't credible at all. Maybe now companies like Time will make the call for us. Not sure if that's good or bad....?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Everything comes in cycles

Obviously the avian flu is a big issue right now, since it poses such a potential threat. Scientists are saying that the world is due for a pandemic, because they come in cycles, and we haven't had one since 1918. It seems that life itself is cyclic in every way; the regeneration of life, influenza, things of that nature, but also the "news cycle", the economy, etc. An article on www.businessweek.com called "Searching for the Pod of Gold" mused about the different ways that major corporations are trying to make money from podcasting. The article suggested that coporations may try subscriptions and advertising, but what I found most intersting was the fact that companies are considering having podcasters say product names on air, which the article states is much like how things were done in the early days of radio.

Podcasting is the next step in a continuing media cycle. Tekkies are podcasting, just like in the early days of radio when tekkies broadcast on ham radios. Now podcasting is on the verge of exploding into a huge arena of media, as plans are being set to podcast various commercial radio, television shows, and music videos, along with the podcasting done by regular people from the comfort of their own homes. The parallels are eerie.

So, what's next? I guess it's hard to speculate from my position outside the epicenter of the media core...although it's pretty safe to say that newspapers are going to have to evolve in order to keep up with the trends, and to continue to make profits. Maybe corporations will start charging fees to enter sites...but in the world of free blogs, it's highly doubftul. Who knows. What I do know, is that something will happen eventually, maybe in an updated version of the penny press? Everything is cyclic.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

design and color

I took an interesting online course today through NewsU.org, a project of the Poynter Institute. The course is "Color in News Design", which is free with registration to the site. The course talked a lot about the role of color on a news page, and how colors direct readers' eyes to specific parts of the page. The course specifically referred to a Poynter Institute study called "Eye Track", in which participants looked at several pages on a computer while their eye movements were recorded by a small camera within the monitor. I thought it might be interesting to assess the design of a news site, incorporating the points brought up in the NewsU course.

I thought I'd take a look at www.post-gazette.com. This is the site for my local paper in Pittsburgh, PA. The site has a pretty good set up, in terms of "eye track" info. There is a big picture "above the fold" on the left hand side, where the "eye track" claims is most high traffic area for readers. The picture has a caption which draws readers to the story, but the picture itself serves as a link to the whole story. That's a nice feature, because the text might be too overwhelming if it were one big link. To the right of the main picture are three smaller, but still prominent stories, stacked on top of each other. The story on top is given prominence over the other two with bigger font in the headline. The headlines also serve as links, so as not to clutter up text with typical blue underlined lettering. Underneath the main stories are sections of the paper, with a few key stories linked to each. As you scroll down, there seems to be more links than descriptive text. To the left of the site is a long bar of tabs, which link to numerous sections of the site...the number of tabs is quite overwhelming, as is the length of the page altogether.

The colors on the site are pretty simple. White background, blue headlines, black text. The white background allows for text to stick out, but the light blue headlines are not quite bold enough to hold a readers attention too long. The site designers may want to consider a richer color, or perhaps a darker hue. I do like how one tab in each "section" of tabs on the left (like I said, there are a lot...I think these are the most popular sections), is not blue with white lettering, but it is gold with black lettering. The blue background with white text certainly works, but the gold with black text remind the reader that they are reading a Pittsburgh paper. Black and gold are the official colors of the city of Pittsburgh, as they are found on the uniforms of all our professional sports teams and symbolize the city as a whole. There are also a bunch of Post-Gazette related ads (for things like sports inserts, etc) which are completely black and gold, so it is a nice contrast between the left and right columns which surround the body of the layout.

The Post-Gazette could certainly use some work in terms of design, but what they have so far seems to get the job done. However, I would really like to see a big "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" banner across the top of the page, which the site currently lacks (there is a tiny one...not that effective).

Friday, October 21, 2005

Blogger: from a buzz word to the real thing

Blogging has been the buzz word in the media world since last year's presidential election, but bloggers have yet to be taken seriously. Has their (our?) time finally come? Bloggers are now getting more consideration in two very big realms - the realm of the government, and the realm of professionals.

Congress is currently in the process of passing legislation which could provide more protection for journalists and their sources. Judith Miller, the New York Times journalist who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal a source, spoke at a recent congressional hearing concerning the shield law legislation, stating "I'm here because I hope you will agree that an uncoerced, uncoercable press, though at times irritating, is vital to the perpetuation of the freedom and democracy we so often take for granted." According to an article from CNET News.com, proponents of the bill are busy deciding whether or not bloggers will be included in this protective bill. The article seems doubtful that bloggers will get much out of this bill, but it is interesting to see the increased prevalence of bloggers; bloggers are being taken seriously, or at least more seriously than, say, two years ago. A separate posting on CNET News.com stated that the Delaware Supreme Court ruled in favor of a blogger, protecting a blogger's identity in a libel case.

Moreover, bloggers and businesses alike are speculating how bloggers might be able to go about making money. In other words, how can bloggers become paid professionals? The Online Journalism Review suggests a few ways to start making a little money, the biggest of which was to put ads on blogsites which link to Google, Amazon, etc...each time a reader clicks on the link, the associated online conglomerate will pay the site owner.

This brings up the most heated argument in the media blogosphere: Does getting paid for blogging make you a professional journalist? I'll guess we'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The digitial demise of the newspaper...or not?

These days everyone is buzzing about the "new journalism" - online journalism. It seems like it pops up everywhere - the Online Journalism Review usually has something to say about it, as does IWantMedia This includes blogs, streaming video, online text, and the like. The biggest claims that people are making these days is that newspapers are on their way out. The Minneapolis Star Tribune says that newspaper readership is down, and the average newspaper reader is 55 years old. Is the Internet taking the place of newspapers, or is the Internet adding layers and options to a pre-existing medium? Last week I talked to Mike McGough, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Toledo Blade who covers the U.S. Supreme Court from inside the beltway. Since he has spent over 25 years working and writing for newspapers, I thought he might have some good insight to share.

McGough said that he is curious about the viability of newspapers. As a print journalist, he has seen the development of pure Internet entities, like blogs, become full-fledged news vehicles. He has yet to start up his own blog, but McGough said that he uses blogs on a regular basis. McGough said that blogs are very helpful in finding sources, as well as not-so-mainstream information. He looks at various law and court blogs everyday to stay abreast with the topics of the moment. "They have juicy tidbits about more local issues," he said. For instance, in writing an article about Supreme Court Justice nominee John Roberts, McGough may look to a blog to find information about what effects his previous rulings in lower courts have had on a more local level.

McGough also said that blogs have helped expose his articles to a wider audience, although he said this can have its downside. "If I make a mistake, odds are that a lawyer will read the story online and ask for a correction," he said.

McGough said that he can't make any official predictions of where newspapers will be in 10 years, but he did say that the Internet makes news better. Read some of Mike McGough's work at www.post-gazette.com.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Yahoo!'s one man band

Kevin Sites is a force to be reckoned with. Sites is Yahoo's newest, and as of now, only, news reporter. Up until Sites, Yahoo relied on other news organizations, especially wire services, to provide coverage for the Yahoo news site. Sites will provide Yahoo with exclusive reporting from around the world for the next year - he started on September 26, 2005. Read a little about Sites from Media Week here.

I decided to take a look at Sites's page on Yahoo - Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone - to see if all the build-up about it was worth it. I think it was. When you click on the link to the Hot Zone, the first thing that comes up is a quick flash program, a nice intro, which takes you to the "front page" of Site's coverage. There is one big story up at the top accompanied by a large picture, and below are other articles and pictures, as well as video links and a "Keep Up with Kevin Sites" Map. So far he has been to two places in Africa, and one in the Middle East. I think the map is supposed to be interactive, so that you can click on it and see specifically where he has been, but it wasn't working for me today. The site itself is an example of what I think other news sites should strive to be, in terms of the multitude of video, audio, pictures and text available.

What I really find to be the most innovative and "force to be reckoned with" quality of this whole thing is the fact that the entire operation is based around one man. Aside from a three-member editorial team that helps Sites manage the operation as a whole, Sites is essentially a one-man band. He travels with state-of-the-art equipment, including multiple cameras (still and video), laptops, and phones, filing various stories each day which utilize multimedia to its fullest. Sites is truly a multimedia journalist.

But what makes this most interesting, aside from the highly interactive and attention-grabbing nature of the Hot Zone site, is the fact that Sites, aside from being a well-known war correspondant (according to his bio on the Hot Zone site), has also become well-known for his work as a blogger in recent years. The Hot Zone works with the blogger aspect to use it to its advantage. The About Kevin Sites page of the Hot Zone gives Sites' bio, says "Sites' controversial and award-winning war blog, www.kevinsites.net, was one of the first to combine text, digital images, and audio to provide readers with an intimate, behind-the-lines look at the war in Iraq and how it was being covered." This is the cornerstone of Sites' coverage for Yahoo. And in true blogger style, a long sidebar to the right of the bio sites a mission, as well as journalism goals and ideals that the site strives to reach, including "Transparency, Vulnerability, Empathy, and Solutions" - all four of which are ideals which originated in the blogging sphere.