Archive for the 'Media' Category

How to add a “Stop NSA” banner to your WordPress site

February 27, 2014

I just noticed today that the admin panel for this blog (hosted on includes an option to add a “Stop NSA Surveillance” banner. I immediately enabled the option to show the banner, and I’d urge you to do so as well if you’re a WordPress user. Takes less than a minute, I promise.

A couple screenshots below from my installation, in case they’re of help. In most browsers, you can click on these pics to enlarge. First shot shows what my dashboard looked like, including the “protest NSA surveillance” option in the lefthand column. Second shot shows how my site looked once I added the banner.

WordPress apparently added this option as part of a protest scheduled for Feb. 11, so I’ll admit I’m a little belated on this one. That said, the banner display option still works, as does the site for the protest, including features to contact your elected representatives and so forth.

As long as all this information is still available regarding such a worthy cause, I’m glad to point it out to other Internet users. If you enjoy using the Internet, and if you value things like free speech and privacy, please do what you can to help preserve them.


Doctor: NYT is winning its battle against WSJ

January 11, 2014

Over on the Nieman Journalism Lab’s blog, Ken Doctor just did a comprehensive update/analysis of “America’s national newspaper war” between the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

He makes a good case it’s tilting toward NYT these days, which saddens me to hear as a WSJ alum. It’s particularly irksome that the NYT now has more digital subscribers to its paywall than the WSJ, which pioneered newspaper paywalls on the Web back in the late ’90s.

As Doctor notes, the company has some big decisions ahead on that front, particularly whether the paywall should remain freemium or metered, more like the NYT’s or FT’s. (I guess eliminating it altogether, as people once fantasized in-house, is off the table at this point.)

Just for the record, in case anyone cares, I vote metered. At this point in the broader Web’s evolution, it seems like that approach strikes the best balance among the several things really needs to grow — revenue, unique visitors to the site, and in-bound links from third parties.

A media-related question for the New Year

January 3, 2014

If the public airwaves’ spectrum here in the U.S. is limited, and if TV viewership is sagging while mobile usage is soaring, with no foreseeable end in sight, perhaps we should reallocate more of our airwaves toward mobile rather than TV?

Just a thought, for what it’s worth. Really, it’s been a pet peeve of mine for awhile, something that’s become more evident to me while working on Roscoe.TV the last couple of years. I figure the start of a New Year, when people are naturally looking ahead and thinking big thoughts, is as good a time as any to just throw it out there.

In effect, the newspaper industry is now cooking its books by mutual agreement

October 31, 2013

For several years now, the regular updates from the body that tracks North American newspaper circulation have tended to be pretty depressing and predictable, with readership gradually marching downward. But the latest report, out today, is a bit different. The main tone this time isn’t so much depressing as it is downright fishy.

On the media site, the main headline about the latest numbers from the auditing body, known as the Alliance for Audited Media, says it all:

“USA Today’s circulation up 67 percent? Newspaper industry makes comparisons increasingly difficult”

In the accompanying story, Andrew Beaujon details how publishers have effectively lobbied the auditors to make all sorts of changes to their standards — most in the name of generating combined digital/print audience totals — that all but rule out apples-to-apples comparisons to previous performance. So these new tallies of audience basically have no context.

Writing on his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, ex-newspaper exec Alan Mutter lumps the auditing changes in with some others recently made by the publishers’ own Newspaper Association of America in their tracking of ad revenue.

Mutter writes:

Unable to arrest years of declining ad sales and sliding print circulation, two key trade groups representing the newspaper industry have done the next best thing:

They effectively have stopped reporting on the metrics that make it possible to measure – and, therefore, understand and manage – the industry’s ongoing challenges.

If any other industry did this — if, say the auto industry made arbitrary accounting changes to render car sales activity inscrutable, or if a big supermarket chain revamped its grocery sales this way — the stories business reporters would write would be scathing, for good reason.

Of course, accounting tricks do indeed go on in other industries. But it must be said, every time we see this sort of gimmickry, even if it stays within the letter of the law, it always ends up hurting paying customers.

In newspapers’ case, the biggest effect is on advertisers, who pay out good money for placements based on the audience data. Ultimately, the gimmicks will also probably be bad for readers as well since, as Mutter points out, the gimmicks do nothing to solve the long-term problems that affect newsrooms’ public-service functions. You solve problems by first acknowledging them clearly, not obfuscating them as much as legally possible.

Using the increasing complexity of the digital world as an excuse for all this is also hogwash, by the way. For big-picture metrics, there are already standbys that work just fine — paid weekday and Sunday circ for a print edition, paid subscribers to a paywall, monthly unique visitors or pageviews for a free website, downloads from an app store for a native mobile app, and so on. It would also work just fine to publish these metrics side-by-side for any given individual organization, recognizing that its several publishing channels each work differently, and then let the advertisers judge for themselves.

The real problem isn’t that these methods are inadequate. It’s just that the publishers don’t like what those measures are telling them right now, so they’re choosing to pave over them instead.

A gem from the Washington Post archives

October 30, 2013

This morning I connected with a Washington Post alumni group via both Facebook and an independent site they maintain. My first job in journalism was at the Post back in the ’90s, so this is a nice little trip down memory lane for me.

Looking through the alumni site a bit, I also found a historic doc that might be of interest to anyone who cares about journalism, ex-Postie or not: Katharine Graham’s memo to staff after winning the Pentagon Papers case in 1971.

Thank God I don’t have to cover this shit.

July 12, 2013

It’s days like this, with the Trayvon Martin verdict pending, that I can honestly say I do **NOT** miss being a reporter in an MSM newsroom. Some longtime friends may be surprised to hear me say that, but it’s true.


The reality is that events will follow a rather predictable, miserable pattern from here out regardless of how the verdict comes in, and the MSM coverage of same will matter little in making things better or worse by one whit. Regardless, the coverage will inevitably be scapegoated by whoever doesn’t like the outcome.

Please note, if you find yourself kvetching about the supposedly monolithic “media’s” agenda, it probably says as much about **your** agenda as theirs. As the old saying goes, the eye sees not itself.

All that said, I still believe journalism is in my blood. It’s just that I’d rather direct that energy toward reinventing and reframing how we get news than contributing to the current, outmoded mechanism.

If you’re curious to see where that journey leads, best thing to do is to sign up for the mailing list. I’ll be in touch.

WSJ Twitter list

June 14, 2013

Awww. I feel like the Twitter list of fellow WSJ alums that I’ve been curating as a little personal project, a way to keep up with old friends, is a all grown up now. After a couple of recent editions, it’s now up to three ex-publishers included in the mix — Gordon Crovitz, Karen Elliott House, and Les Hinton.

Total membership is now approaching 90 people — a smart, entertaining group to get updates from whether you used to work at the joint or not. I’m biased, of course, but I definitely recommend you follow the list if you have a Twitter account.

Will be adding more members as needed in the future, especially with a round of buyouts apparently in the works at the old shop these days.

Remembering James Hawkins

May 28, 2013

I was heartbroken last night to hear of the sudden loss of former Florida A&M University journalism dean James Hawkins, a great mentor and friend to generations of students who came through his program, myself included.

To put it succinctly, Dr. Hawkins was the glue of j-school as a community. Journalists, people aspiring to be such, and the people who teach the practice are by nature an energetic, sometimes fractious, sometimes even chaotic bunch. But Hawk was a constant for us. What we as an extended family have lost through his passing is irreplaceable.

Of course, everyone has a favorite Dr. Hawkins story. Mine is about the time he sent me to meet the president of the United States.

Here’s how it came about: In March ’95, a group of about 20 Knight scholars took a trip to Washington to learn about national-level journalism. Prof. Joe Ritchie, the Knight Chair, had carefully planned out a lot of activities for the group — visits to ABC News’s bureau, the Washington Post, et cetera. But after we were already a little into the trip, a day or two after we’d already left Tallahassee, Hawk noticed one more thing worth adding to the itinerary.

He noticed a fax at his office back in Tallahassee — yes, a fax — that the White House had mass-distributed for an event called College Media Day. It’s an annual press conference presidents have held with college journalists dating back at least to Carter.

The date of the ’95 installment happened to coincide with the Knight scholars’ trip. There were only two catches: (1) We hadn’t noticed earlier. (2) Each school could only send one person. For security, you just had to send in the person’s name, birthday, and social.

Without asking — remember, no one had a cel phone in those days — Hawk just decided on the spot that I should go, and he sent the White House my information to confirm. The first I heard about the whole thing was after the fact via a followup fax from Hawk to our hotel in DC. In essence, it said: “You’re going to this event at the White House on Thursday. They’re already expecting you. Just show up.”

That was Hawk. His students were never just out of sight, out of mind to him. His brain was always working through that one more thing, that one extra opportunity, he might be able to get for you, and when the time came, he implicitly put a lot of trust in you to make the most of it.

I was 19 when all this happened. It was just awesome in the strictest dictionary sense of that word, not the watered-down way we sometimes use it. Awesome, as in humbling. Daunting. As in, it was one of those moments that makes you wonder what someone sees in you that you don’t even see in yourself, and it makes you grow up just a little faster.

So, yeah, I’m going to miss Dr. Hawkins a lot. And I dearly hope other people will carry on doing this sort of stuff for new incoming classes of FAMU students. We have big shoes to fill.

Product managers as editors

May 24, 2013

This quote buried in a recent Businessweek story about Google Glass really struck me. It’s from Silicon Valley management guru Bill “The Coach” Campbell:

On the whole, Campbell advised that product managers should not just be barking down commands about what features a new product should and shouldn’t have. They should work in close concert with the engineers and act more or less as editors, guiding features along the way. He pointed to [Steve] Jobs and Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter and CEO of Square, as two of the top such editors of their day.

For me, an ex-journalist who’s now the product guy on a startup team, this really resonated. Friends and former colleagues often ask me how my new life is different, but if anything, I always say it’s amazing how many similarities there are, mostly because of this editing metaphor.

To add to Campbell’s description a bit, I’d point out that sometimes the best way to improve a product isn’t by adding something in but by taking something out. Maybe a feature that’s been in developoment is just not ready for prime time, or maybe it’s just cluttering up the interface, or maybe the trade-off in time to build it isn’t worth the benefit of putting the product as-is in actual users’ hands to start a constructive feedback loop.

The value of cutting things is counterintuitive to a lot of people in general, but it’s obvious within five minutes to anyone who’s edited newspaper copy pre-publication. Unfortunately, a lot of journalists lack the technical familiarity to even communicate effectively with coders in a product-development environment. But the more I look at it, I think that skill may actually be easier to learn than convincing experienced developers (or product managers) that less is sometimes more.

To put it a different way, the world has a lot more clunky tech products than it has long newspaper stories these days. The financial hardship facing newspapers is one obvious contributor to that circumstance, but believe me, it’s not the only one.

Transparency is the new objectivity.

April 21, 2013

I think Quartz’s Gideon Lichfield has given us by far the most insightful analysis yet of media mistakes during coverage of the recent Boston bombing. Offhand, it brought two things to mind for me that I’ve been meaning to write about here for some time anyway.

First, situations like the Boston coverage give the lie to legacy media organizations’ frequent posturing during non-crisis times as the great defenders of editorial standards versus the rampant irresponsibility of the Internet. The reality is much more nuanced than that. Any means of transmission of information — ink on a page, television, the Web, whatever — is neither inherently good nor bad. There’s good stuff and there’s crap to be found in any medium. The technology itself, old or new, is never inherently good or bad; it’s just there. It is what creative people make of it.

Second, transparency needs to be a core value within news organizations on par with old standbys like objectivity, accuracy, et cetera. Legacy media orgs simply don’t “get” that people are now inherently mistrustful of institutions to some degree, and that includes the media orgs themselves. I don’t think that’s an insurmountable problem, but I do think it has to be acknowledged and dealt with in much more consistent, robust way, including a lot more openness about how news orgs work internally.

Though this is unspoken, transparency is one of the obvious premises — and thus a great strength — of Gideon’s post. He critiques Quartz right along with everyone else, knowing this adds to his credibility. Bravo.


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