Recent media links & thoughts

I read a lot about new media, journalism, publishing, news, etc. I always try to think about the things I read from both a global and a local perspective. Here are some thoughts on the things I’ve read recently.

From Jeff Jarvis:

I’m not so sure journalism is storytelling anymore.

Jeff points out that saying “journalism = storytelling” is limiting. Journalism is about more than the story, it’s a process. I agree completely. Data, algorithms, aggregators – all are aspects of journalism. They always have been, of course, but their importance/visibility has been heightened lately, thanks to new tools and technologies.

From paidContent.org:

Time Warner’s CNN is taking a stake in hyperlocal aggregator Outside.in—the latest example of a big media organization making a play in the hyperlocal space.

Smart move, just like MSNBC’s purchase of EveryBlock. And the news today that Google is in talks to buy Yelp. The dollars are starting to flow toward local/hyperlocal news companies. You know how the saying goes: follow the money.

From TechCrunch:

So what really scares me? It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, force fed to us by the portals and search engines.

From ReadWriteWeb:

In my view both writers and readers of content will need to work harder to get quality content. Right now ‘quantity’ still rules on the Web, ‘quality’ is hard to find.

Lots of others have already discussed the “content farm” issue that made the rounds in the blogosphere last week. My view on it is pretty simple: readers need to become more active. There’s so much information so easily available that you can’t afford to passively consume the news. You have to seek out sources and recommendations. Certainly we’ll get better tools (aggregators, filters, search engines) but I think readers need to make more of an effort. See also: Content farms v. curating farmers.

From Clay Shirky:

…one of the things up for grabs in the current news environment is the nature of authority. In particular, I noted that people trust new classes of aggregators and filters, whether Google or Twitter or Wikipedia (in its ‘breaking news’ mode.)

I called this tendency algorithmic authority.

Fascinating. I think there’s incredible opportunity, both globally and locally, to take advantage of this. Who do you trust for your news? Is it the same people/organizations that you trusted five years ago?

From Unlikely Words:

Ken Auletta from the New Yorker wrote a book about Google, “Googled: The End of the World as We Know It” and before he published it, he cut the last chapter of 25 media maxims.

Now you can read them online. A few of my favorites:

  • Passion Wins
  • Adapt or Die
  • Digital is Different
  • Don’t Ignore the Human Factor

And finally, one of my favorite new tools: Times Skimmer. We need more innovation like that at the local level!

The future of local news gathering in action

On Saturday morning Sharon and I walked to the City Market Downtown, as we often do on the weekends. Along the way, near 107th Street and 102nd Avenue, we came upon a parade of firefighters. I immediately took out my camera to snap some photos, and also used my BlackBerry to post one to Twitter via TwitPic. We followed them up the street until they turned toward Jasper Avenue, taking a few more pictures. They were a somber group, so we assumed it was a memorial march of some kind, but we didn’t know the details.

Firefighters remember Station Captain Al HarrisFirefighters remember Station Captain Al Harris

For the next couple hours, I sent BlackBerry messages back and forth with Brittney at iNews880. She had seen my TwitPic, and wanted to write a story about the march. I always tell her she can use my photos, but she asks anyway which is nice. Brittney and her team figured out what the march was for, wrote the story, and posted it with my TwitPic. When I got home, I uploaded the rest of my photos and they added them to the story.

That’s the future of news gathering in action.

Now I realize that iNews880 and some other media organizations regularly use photos from contributors but I think what’s significant here is that the story started with the photo. Would they have written about it had I not posted a TwitPic? Maybe, maybe not. In this case they saw the photo, tracked down what it was about, and were able to produce a story.

Here’s a quote you might have heard:

In journalism, there has always been a tension between getting it first and getting it right. – Ellen Goodman

In this case, I got it first and iNews880 got it right. Note that doesn’t mean that I got it wrong and iNews880 was way behind. We simply worked together to make the story happen. This is the kind of news gathering that can scale. So many of us walk around with mobile Internet devices, always ready to post a message or a photo.

What comes next? Aggregation, of course.

Return of the portal? Not exactly

Post ImageOm Malik’s latest column in Business 2.0 deals with the topic of “hyperaggregation” – which is a fancy way of saying “aggregating the aggregators”. Basically, there is too much content available on the web from sites like YouTube and Flickr, and web software is evolving to help us consume it all. Om says:

Since the dawn of the Web, we’ve been plagued by too much information and too little time to consume it. It’s impossible to keep up with dozens of social networks, millions of videos, and thousands of blogs. Hyperaggregation is simply a way to do in the new-media world what old media has done for centuries: neatly package information.

Sounds a heck of a lot like the “portal” of the late 90s to me.

At least, that’s the first thing that came to mind. I thought about it a bit more though, and realized that hyperaggregation != portal. The main difference is that with hyperaggregation, you have control in most cases. Either explicit control, by entering tags or topics that you are interested in, or indirect control, by making a certain video the most popular. In the portal world, it was the portal alone that decided what content made it to the front page.

My gut “portal” thought wasn’t too far off though, as even Om admits:

Perhaps the biggest opportunity in hyperaggregation is for the biggest traditional Internet companies – the AOLs, Yahoos, and MSNs of the world.

I have to agree with Om. MSN shouldn’t be building their own video hosting service, they should be building the best video aggregator instead. Increasingly it will be the aggregator that people turn to first when looking for content.

Read: Business 2.0

NewsGator Desktop Sync Beta

Post ImageToday I started using a new aggregator for my web feeds. Well, sort of. I downloaded and installed the beta of NewsGator’s Desktop Sync, and now I can read all of my feeds inside IE7 RC1. It’s beautiful! Here’s the details on Desktop Sync:

Desktop Sync is a system tray application that keeps your feeds, folders and read states synchronized between NewsGator Online and the Windows RSS Platform. This means that any application that uses the Windows RSS Platform will be automatically synchronized with your NewsGator Online account!

Yeah baby! That’s what I’m talking about!

The product is the evolution of a demo that NewsGator head honcho Greg Reinacker did back at Microsoft’s MIX06 conference.

I have now used NewsGator Online, NewsGator Inbox (formerly Outlook Edition), FeedDemon and Desktop Sync. As you can see, having the synchronization story that NewsGator provides is incredibly important. Of them all, I think I like Desktop Sync the best. It allows me to read my web feeds in IE7, which means I can take advantage of everything I have inside my browser like favelets and other tools, but without losing the sync capabilities of NewsGator Online.

The application seems really solid for a beta, give it a try!

Read: NewsGator

Time for Google Headlines!

Post ImageHave you ever used a news aggregator like Google News? My guess is that you have, at least once. While these aggregators drive traffic to newspapers, magazines, and other content websites, they also cause problems with the headlines authors choose for a particular story:

Journalist over the years have assumed they were writing their headlines and articles for two audiences–fickle readers and nitpicking editors. Today, there is a third important arbiter of their work: the software programs that scour the Web, analyzing and ranking online news articles on behalf of Internet search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN.

“The search engine has to get a straightforward, factual headline, so it can understand it,” Nic Newman, head of product development and technology at BBC News Interactive, said.

Seems that these headline aggregators don’t like wit or humor. Is that a problem with the current crop of readers? Yes. Is it something that presents an opportunity? Again, yes. All you have to do, news media people, is ask for it:

“Google, oh great one…with your vast resources and large repositories of data, surely you can present to us an algorithm that is able to craft funny headlines, complete with all the inside jokes your spiders can discover…bestow upon us mere mortals such an algorithm, and call it Google Headlines (beta, naturally)…and we shall be forever grateful.”

They can’t deny a request like that! Or can they?

Read: CNET News.com

NewsGator Inbox and other news

Post ImageMy aggregator of choice has a new name! NewsGator Outlook Edition is now known as NewsGator Inbox, and the first release candidate is now available (and stay tuned to the blog for future updates). I’ve been playing with it for a while, and it’s very solid. I for one really like the name change – the whole “Outlook Edition” is not as easy to say as Inbox. The change does make me wonder if they are planning to release a version for other mail clients, like perhaps Thunderbird or Entourage. This is just speculation on my part though, I don’t have any insider information unfortunately.

Another bit of NewsGator news hit the wires recently too, this one about the synchronization story with Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Vista:

NewsGator Technologies, Inc., the leading RSS Platform Company, today announced plans that its suite of RSS aggregators will synchronize with the upcoming releases of Microsoft Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7. The synchronization will enable users to ensure that Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7 users stay up-to-date with all their subscriptions, whether they are accessing them via the Web, mobile devices, Mac OS-based computers, and other platforms.

Honestly, I don’t know why Microsoft hasn’t outright purchased NewsGator. Seems like a deal that would make a lot of sense. In any case, the announcement is great news for users of NewsGator products like myself.

I’ve also been testing the new FeedDemon beta (another NewsGator product that supports synchronization) and I quite like it. I now use it on my desktop, to complete my own personal synchronization story:

  • NewsGator Inbox on my Tablet PC
  • FeedDemon on my workstation
  • NewsGator Online when I’m using a public computer

Synchronization is powerful, yet its one of those ideas that makes you go “damn, why didn’t I think of that!”

Read: NewsGator

Using NewsGator Online

Post ImageAs many of you probably are aware, my aggregator of choice is NewsGator Outlook Edition. I like it because I always have Outlook open anyway, and I can take posts offline and read them when I don’t have an Internet connection. It’s also handy to take advantage of the search folders, flags, and other features of Outlook. Since installing Visual Studio 2005 and switching tablets, NGOE has not worked. I am told there is a conflict that they are working to fix, and I expect it’ll be working again before long. So in the meantime, I’ve been using NewsGator Online, or Web Edition, and I’ve made the following observations:

  • I really miss the ability to read stuff offline. You don’t realize how much you use it until it’s gone! And since I always have my tablet with me, I don’t find being able to access my subscriptions anywhere just because they are online all that handy.
  • I rather like the Web Edition’s “mark all items on this page as read” feature. It would be good if the Outlook edition had a similar feature that hid items you’ve already read. Each post in the Web Edition also has a “mark as read” button, but unfortunately the item doesn’t disappear, it just is grayed out. Would be much better if the item disappeared!
  • I find the online interface clean, but very pale. Sometimes it’s hard to read because everything is so white and grey.
  • The “My Clippings” feature works well and is akin to dragging a post to a different folder in Outlook, or perhaps flagging it.

So I guess that while it works quite well, I’ll probably go back to my Outlook version when the conflict is all fixed up.

Google Reader

Post ImageGoogle has released another long awaited and much talked about product into beta – Google Reader. I am not a big fan of online news readers, mostly because I like to be able to take posts offline to read in class, or other places that I don’t have Internet access. That being said, Google Reader is actually quite nice. From the website:

Reader automatically gets the latest news and updates for your favorite sites. You can sort your reading list by relevance, which will guess what’s most relevant to you based on how you use Google Reader (such as which items you decide to actually read).

The amount of information on the web is rapidly increasing. Use Reader to discover new content you don’t want to miss. When you come across something worth sharing, quickly email or blog it from within Reader. Star or labels items you want to save for yourself.

I don’t think it’s as obvious as it should be to add a subscription, but once you have that figured out, the interface is very friendly. I especially like how Reader cycles up and down through the items in a subscription – very cool.

Read: Google Reader

NewsGator 2.5 Released

Post ImageThe latest version of my favorite news aggregator, NewsGator Outlook Edition, was released last night! I’m really happy with the way it works. Here are some of the new features, as described by Greg Reinacker:

Read/unread/deleted status of individual items is now synchronized between Outlook edition 2.5 and NewsGator Online (and all other applications using our system – more on that in a bit). Folder hierarchy is now synchronized between Outlook and Online. It’s all as it should be. As someone on the beta said, “it all worked exactly as I expected it to.” Nice.

There are lots of under the hood changes too, so it runs pretty fast, and very stable now. If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time in Outlook, there is no better aggregator than NewsGator. And with the purchase of FeedDemon, it’s only a matter of time before that application is also integrated into the new synchronization platform.

You can read the official announcement, the update Q&A, and download the new version.

Read: NewsGator