Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 News: Fewer newspapers, more eye candy

Under the headline "Now The Details: Best of Times...Worst of Times,"Jeff Dvorkin, former VP for news at NPR, offers New Year predictions for the mainstream media, starting with a prediction that they'll be "spending less on journalism and more on eye candy" to be competitive with online media.

He also warns about more "stories that are quick 'turn-arounds' - single source stories (aka press release journalism) and crime."

For newspapers, he predicts a drop in printed, home-delivered editions, more Internet-only editions, and more newspapers becoming not-for-profit operations along the public broadcasting model.

As for broadcasters, Dvorkin warns they will stop seeing their news departments as "loss leaders" and force their news programs to adopt the values of "reality entertainment."

I'm having a Dickens of a time figuring out why the "best of times" was part of his headline.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mining irony for media paychecks -- hyperlocal portals, niche news and non-profit patrons

When NPR senior correspondent Ketzel Levine got turned down for travel expense money for her series on American Moxie: How We Get By, it was a hint of what was about to come: layoffs at NPR that included her. (More here)

The great irony "Moxie" was about linking together stories of folks affected by the economic crisis, so Levine's own experience became the closing episode. Never reluctant to get her hands dirty, she has launched a new blog -- and a small-group botanical trip to Turkey... "OK, so maybe I feel a little betrayed," she said on the blog. "But when the company you love finds itself operating at a 23 million dollar deficit, come on, something's got to give."

Ironically, NPR's patronage/contribution model is one of the hopes we keep mentioning to journalism students as the old advertising-supported-mass-media model fades, especially as a way to support public interest journalism.

For more examples, Mark Glaser's MediaShift blog at PBS offers a guide to Alternative Business Models for Newspapers:
"It's easy to see the problems plaguing the business of daily newspapers in America. The Tribune Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Christian Science Monitor said it would publish weekly in print instead of daily. Detroit newspapers announced they would be cutting home delivery to three days per week. Layoffs are rampant and newspaper company stocks are down in the dumps.
"What's difficult is finding solutions to these business problems."

Elsewhere, back on NPR, reporter Alex Cohn explored new media entrepreneurship in an interview with dean of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism Neil Henry, author of the book American Carnival: Journalism under Siege in an Age of New Media.

Note: After writing all of this, I went back to double-check the reference to Ketzel's travel expense request at NPR and couldn't find it. Was it only in the broadcast audio? If you notice the source, add it as a comment here. Speaking of comments, they're also talking about the New York Times story about Ketzel Levine at Huffington Post, with more criticism of NPR for being too "soft news"; perhaps there's more irony in Ketzel's departure coming during a series on the economy, when she's been better known for covering arts, sports, plants and the environment.

Additional links:
PBS TV interview with Ellen Weiss, NPR's senior vice president for news

Saturday, December 27, 2008

TVA Coal Ash Flood Coverage

Over at my other blog, which is better for accumulating long lists of things, I've saved a bunch of links to the developing coverage of the Tennessee Valley Authority 'ash flood' in East Tennessee after reading Knoxville bloggers' comments on the slim coverage by national media.

Included are links to brand-name media, TVA, environmental organizations and area bloggers.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Defiantly soothing news

Teaching news writing, I've seen "defiantly" before as a typo for "definitely," but combining it with "soothing" might be ironic juxtaposition. I'm not 100 percent sure what's going on in the item below...

If there's any real threat of people calling a genre of sound-wallpaper "stepno music" (combining "techno" and "dubstep") I'll feel compelled to listen once in a while. The idea was raised in the "comment" thread on this Top 20 list:

Little White Earbuds -- LWE’s Top 20 Singles of 2008 (Part 1):
"If there was a running meme of the techno-dubstep hybrid in 2008, “Circling” was the first to organically complete the cycle. Appleblim and Peverelist created a track with both the sensual space of Berlin with all the tickling Bristol bass. Defiantly soothing, “Circling” is the perfect twist to the cartoonishly aggressive dubstep scene."

Thanks for the musical education... It's nice to have some new music in my ears on Christmas, much as I love Bing. (I don't think the "Berlin" mentioned above was Irving.)

As an admitted ukulele player with ethnomusicological tendencies, whose personal musical goal for a few years has been to successfully merge "I wish I could shimmy like my" Sister Kate with Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen," I have to admit I found "Circling" more fun to listen to than many of the 15 items ahead of it on Buds' top-20 list.

The touch of synth rainstick and rainforest sounds is soothing, in a defiant sort of way.

Feliz navidad and happy Chanukkah.

PS If you want one more new audio experience for the new year, a quick search for "ukulele" and "Hanukkah" found this.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

12.5 Tips from a year ago

A search of journalism-related sites at led me to a vague comment I'd made on a page that eventually led to this January 2007 item, which I'd forgotten about.

It will be worth discussing and arguing about in my January 2008 classes if I post a reminder here... which is also a "stealth" way of point people to

12 and a half rules to be a good journalist

Briefly, they are:

Another bit of stealth-educational broaden-your-horizons linkage: The list's origin/inspiration link to the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Online commerce failure: A book I'm not reading

I thought I might spend this afternoon listening to the audiobook edition of British journalist Andrew Marr's My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism, but I'm not.

Roy Greenslade of The Guardian said this in his review of the book back in 2004:
It is not, thankfully, one of those hand-wringing laments for a mythical golden past. It does contain anecdotes, though they are always relevant to his wider argument. It is not a sermon, but it does raise questions about the ethical morass of modern journalism. At the same time it is often witty, consistently self-deprecating and, most importantly, makes an important contribution to the increasingly bitter debate about the nature of the British media.
Sounds like just the thing for any of my media history students who become more interested in the British side of English language journalism.

Alas, my library doesn't have it. I was pleasantly surprised when I found it at Amazon, because of a link to a downloadable audio book version. "Great," says I, "I can download it, pop it in the iPod or PalmTX (if not my Sony or Olympus MP3 recorders), and listen on the road..."

You can listen to Mr. Marr himself reading from the book in the sample. He's charming, self-deprecating and very funny. I think journalism students would enjoy the book as text or audio. I was a bit disappointed that the audio version was abridged, but decided to create an account and buy it.

I went through the process... filled in "shipping information" or "billing information" -- even though both the "shipping" and "billing" would be done online. When I was done with the fill-in form, Audible returned me to a screen that congratulated me on creating an account.

It didn't say anything about downloading my new book.

It didn't give me a receipt for crediting my Visa card.

I checked Audible's "library," "shopping basket" and "your account" pages, but found no record of my ordering the book.

I started worrying that I had been "phished" by some link spoofing Audible's address to steal my credit card information.

I went back to the book's page at Amazon/Audible, and noticed that I was no longer being offered the "first time customer" discount on the sales price. And when I tried to order a copy, I was sent to a new page headed "We are sorry but your geographic location prevents us from selling you this product."

I don't think that screen turned up the first time, because I was redirected to the "create a new account" pages. That would have been a nice place to tell me I was not going to be able to buy the book.

Enough with the computer. I found an 800 number and called Audible's technical support to complain that -- assuming international copyright or a publisher's restrictions are involved -- Audible should have interrupted my transaction much sooner. The customer support rep said they've tried, but couldn't figure out a way, short of putting a disclaimer on all of their pages, which would be misleading to most readers, since (he said) very few books actually have this problem. (A few readers, like me, might be interested in learning about the copyright issues or publisher's contractual obligations involved.)

I think online readers should expect more. Maybe my play-by-play account (which I emailed to Audible as well as pasting here) will inspire someone. If they get back to me about it, I'll add something here.

And maybe they'll pass the note on to the publisher, who just missed a chance to sell audiobooks to anyone reading this blog. As for me.... back to Amazon, but maybe I'm annoyed at them for linking to Audible in the first place. I wonder if its on the shelf at my local bookstore...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What to tell the journalism majors about jobs

The Albany Times Union has a story on the "man bites dog" phenomenon of presumably skeptical, critically-thinking students choosing to major in journalism when all the job news from the news industry is about layoffs and cutbacks. The story quotes Lee Becker at the University of Georgia, who says survey results show students are optimistic that their communication skills will serve them well -- on the Web, or somewhere.

Here's the story:

Who, what, when, where and why is J-school so big? -- Page 1 -- Times Union - Albany NY
"Most people studying journalism and mass communication aren't interested in careers as old-school newshounds sniffing out scandals for newspapers, magazines and TV stations.
"Some study the news as a liberal arts subject like English, and then head off to law school. Other J-school grads become public relations people who shape the news or advertising people who create the commercials that pay for it."

Becker's last survey found 2007 grads getting an average of 1.6 job offers, with a median starting salary of $30,000. "That compares with $50,507 for economics grads," says the Times Union, without speculating whether that major's star has acquired any tarnish in the past year.

The News -- Win, Lose or Draw Us a Picture

piece of New Yorker cartoonThe cartoon accompanying James Surowiecki's analysis of the decline of the printed-newspaper business (Financial Page: The New Yorker) offers a new look at the "inverted pyramid": The corner of a newspaper front page has become a funnel, with the letters of type dribbling out the bottom, leaving a blank sheet in its reader's hands. If you look closely, you can see the blackletter T of The New York Times in the pied type. The story and discussion are good too...

News You Can Lose
"For most of the past decade, newspaper companies had profit margins that were the envy of other industries. This year, they have been happy just to stay in the black.... Even online ads, which were supposed to rescue the business, have declined lately, and they are, in any case, nowhere near as lucrative as their print counterparts.
"Papers’ attempts to deal with the new environment by cutting costs haven’t helped: trimming staff and reducing coverage make newspapers less appealing to readers and advertisers. It may be no coincidence that papers that have avoided the steepest cutbacks, like the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, have done a better job of holding onto readers."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

One man band or VJ approach hits TV news in DC

Not sure what to call this job category... "One-person band" is less-sexist, but still sounds awkward.

Abbreviating Multimedia Journalist as "MJ" sounds like Peter Parker's girlfriend.

Maybe, since every journalist can pocket some kind of small video camera these days, we don't need a prefix at all. Just "reporters." We are all potential "photojournalists" or "videojournalists," I guess.

WUSA to Hire 'Multimedia Journalists' Who Work Solo -
"Under a new agreement reached this week with its labor unions, WUSA, Channel 9, will become the first station in Washington to replace its crews with one-person 'multimedia journalists' who will shoot and edit news stories single-handedly.

"The change will blur the distinctions between the station's reporters and its camera and production people. Reporters will soon be shooting and editing their own stories, and camera people will be doing the work of reporters, occasionally appearing on the air or on in video clips on Channel 9's Web site."

Twittering the News

I mentioned Twitter in one of my classes and was surprised that only one out of 34 students had heard of it.

I thought young folks were supposed to be ahead of gray-bearded old guys on this stuff... For any who are still in the dark, here's a nice explanation of Twitter as a resource for journalists -- from another guy about my age... | Steve Yelvington's media weblog:
"Why do people use Twitter in the first place? That's simple: Humans are genetically programmed to thrive on conversation."

Coincidentally, I've just posted a bunch of links to Steve in my other blog, on the topic of news Web site management systems.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Historic magazine archive via Google

Just when my Media History students might need one more source for their final semester projects...

Wonder what the latest technology was in 1905? Go read Popular Mechanics for that year, back when "wireless telegraphy" was the hottest thing since the "horseless carriage." (I guess "...less" was "more" back then.)

This blast-from-the-past search is thanks to a new archive of old magazine articles at

(For more about Google linking to historic newspaper archives, see my blog item from a few months ago.)

For background see this BusinessWeek article: Google updates search index with old magazines:
"Google has added a magazine rack to its Internet search engine. As part of its quest to corral more content published on paper, Google Inc. has made digital copies of more than 1 million articles from magazines that hit the newsstands decades ago."
(Many thanks to Gerald Grow, a magazine-publishing expert and one of the most "sharing" professors on the Web, for an e-mail alert about this new Google search development.)

I haven't explored enough to see what publications are included... but Popular Mechanics and Popular Science are part of the collection, which will be useful for the "Media History" course when we talk about communication technology...

And I noticed New York magazine turning up in a quick search, which will be a resource for research into more recent journalism history -- and for news writing courses. Originally the Sunday magazine of the New York Herald Tribune newspaper, New York published a lot of great "new journalism" in the 1970s, including Tom Wolfe's article "The Birth of 'The New Journalism,'" which I was just talking about in class today, and one of my all-time favorite cover stories on investigative reporters. Amazing.

Here's a surprise: I did a quick search for the words "journalism" and "politics." The top two hits were not the first magazines I expected to see. They were Jet and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which is archived back to 1945. Jet -- a great resource for studying African-American culture, apparently had regular columns headed "politics" and "journalism." (Ebony and Black World are also part of the collection.) As for the Bulletin, I guess the topics just came up regularly. This quote jumped out at me from a 1985 article, titled "The Media: Playing the Government's Game":
Before the atomic bomb, journalism never hesitated to march off to war, but the news media usually were eager to demobilize once victory seemed at hand ...
I haven't stumbled on a list of which magazines are in the collection, but I've noticed quite an assortment: Ebony, Mother Jones, Black Belt, Cincinnati Magazine, Indianapolis Monthly, Log Home Living, Bicycling, Backpacker, Vegetarian Times, Prevention, Runner's World, Baseball Digest, CIO... The themes suggest that publishers like Johnson, Emmis and Rodale have contributed groups of titles.

Finally, although you can search for any words in any magazine, the results delivered are full-page images. That means you get to see full-spread advertising layouts, which will be appreciated by students and professors interested in advertising and design.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Practicing 'theft superior'

I've alerted the keeper of the W.T. Stead Resource Site, a collection of writings by an influential 19th century U.K. newspaper editor, to what I take to be a wonderful typographical (or digital scanning) error that stumbles into a larger truth.

The essay in question is
W.T. Stead, "The Future of Journalism" (The Contemporary Review, 1886). The passage that caught my eye is this one, with a great opening (emphasis added):
"A man without a newspaper is half-clad, and imperfectly furnished for the battle of life. From being persecuted and then contemptuously tolerated, it has become the rival of organized governments. Will it become theft superior? The future of journalism depends entirely upon the journalist."
True either way, especially that last sentence, but I think "theft superior" is a bad scan of the word "their."

The ironic question today is whether corporate publishers with their eye on profit margins and stock quotes have been distracted by such "theft superior" and have led to the demise of the vigorous public-service newspaper journalism that might fulfill its promise as a democratic force.

(Stead wrote about that, too. See his "Government by Journalism.")

This week's end-of-semester question: Can some new online media financial model, community-funded ( or non-profit journalistic enterprises and bloggers fill the blank if newspapers are knocked out of Stead's opening line?
"A man without [a blog | Google | numerous RSS feeds | Facebook | Fox News | MSNBC] is half-clad, and imperfectly furnished for the battle of life."

Saturday, December 06, 2008

40 years ago this week... the future as demo

I first read about Doug Engelbart's innovations in collaborative computer technology in mid-1980s books by Ted Nelson and Howard Rheingold, more than 15 years after Engelbart entranced an audience of engineers with a demonstration -- in 1968 -- of devices and ideas that most of the world wouldn't see for decades... the first mouse, hypertext linkages, expanding on-screen outlines, and a bigger idea behind them: That creative use of connected computers could augment human intelligence.

Luckily, that 1968 glimpse of the future was preserved on film and has been available in various Web incarnations. Now, for its 40th anniversary, you can read, watch and listen to more here:

The Innovation Journalism Blog: Come Celebrate the 40th anniversary of Engelbart's "Mother of All Demos":

"On December 9 1968, Doug Engelbart and his team from SRI International Augmentation Research Center performed 'the mother of all demos' in front of a gaping audience of one thousand computer engineers. The demo let the cat out of the bag in a monumental way; Doug's big idea that the big thing about computers was not automation, but augmenting human intelligence was demonstrated in real life... The audience could do nothing but cheer."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Telling a friend's story

Jeanna Duerscherl of The Roanoke Times steps out from behind her cameras to talk about covering the very personal story of a friend's battle with a rare, incurable cancer. See her blog at Backstory: Photographing my friend:

"Typically, journalists tend to avoid telling stories about people they know on a personal level. It's complicated: Our job is to tell people's stories - not become part of the story. And when we have closer, personal relationships with the people whose stories we're telling, sometimes our stories intertwine. And sometimes it becomes impossible not to become part of their story. That's why we explain our relationships to our readers."

The photojournalist shot video interviews with her roller-derby friend, Brooke Smith, as well as a slideshow of stills that accompany the story. In her blog essay, she discusses the thought process behind doing the story at all:

"I needed to make sure I would be doing it because I believe this story has the power to make people stop for a moment and reflect on their own lives."

To see how well she succeeded, here's the full story, Brooke Smith: Letting go, letting God. The text is by reporter Rob Johnson, who also interviewed Brooke's doctors and friends.

(The designer of the white-text-on-black Web page isn't credited. Personally, I think that layout makes the story hard to read, but the "print this" button switches it to black-on-white.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Narrative non-fiction textbook online

Gay Talese has come up in classroom conversations more than once this month, but it's just a coincidence that I stumbled on this link to one of his most famous articles, and more.

Best Esquire Magazine Stories - Top Articles in History of Journalism - Esquire: "Five years ago, we named 'Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,' by Gay Talese, the greatest story Esquire ever published. Here, as we close out our 75th anniversary celebration, are the top seven, with several republished online in their entirety for the first time ever."

Also included, for Media History students writing about Vietnam, John Sack's article "M," and for popular culture fans, Tom Wolfe's profile of stock car racer Junior Johnson. The others are great, too, even if the "Top articles in history of journalism" needs an "in Esquire" modifier.

However, I'm also intrigued by Esquire's 70 greatest sentences, starting with this one:

"Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well."
--Ernest Hemingway, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," 1936

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Your Newspaper on YouTube

My old neighbor Jack Lail from just pointed to this story...

To YouTube or Not To YouTube?, posted at the Newspaper Association of America, whose motto is "Advancing Newspaper Media for the 21st Century."

... He's even quoted in the story, which talks about newspaper Web sites managing this whole "multimedia" business with YouTube's help. Jack also points out this map of YouTube using newspapers.

Also quoted, Chet Rhodes, assistant managing editor, news video for, calling YouTube "both a curse and a blessing" for newspapers, cursed for competing with newspapers' own video efforts. "But the good side of it is that they've made video workable on the Web," he said.

Blogging does journalism; journalism embraces blogging

Across the Atlantic, Paul Bradshaw at Online Journalism Blog asks,
Are these the biggest moments in journalism-blogging history?

Since most of his list cites bloggers doing journalism, I mentioned a couple cases of journalists doing fine work with blogs, and tipped the hat to the cat in the middle... catalyst Dave Winer, with four nominations about professional journalism coming to accept blogging:
  • 1999: Silicon Valley newspaperman Dan Gillmor starts blogging, encouraging tech community to think about journalism and journalism community to think about a new kind of "my audience knows more than I do" journalism.

  • 1999-2000: Jim Romenesko's MediaNews (now introduces the newspaper industry gossip blog. (Can't believe I didn't mention this in the original post.)

  • 2002: On the LongBets site, blogger, software designer and RSS visionary Dave Winer of bets the New York Times' Martin Nisenholtz $2,000 that: “In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site.”

  • 2006: Pulitzer Prize for Public Service cites the blog run by the New Orleans Times Picayune after hurricane Katrina stopped the press and the delivery trucks:

  • 2007: Five years after his LongBet, Winer is declared the winner. By then, the Times itself had embraced RSS and blogging, converging on the present.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A call for 'forensic journalism'

South African born anthropologist John Comaroff uses a phrase I haven't heard very often, "forensic journalism."

He defines it as an anthropology for the public: "the kind of journalism that precisely takes as its obligation the probing of surfaces -- why are we hearing what we are hearing..."

Christopher Lydon interviewed him for his blog/radio podcast, heading the entry This Pariah-to-Messiah Moment: John Comaroff

Here's Comaroff on Obama's "audacity of hope."

"I have the audacity to hope that the return to democracy is going to be about hearing. But that, of course, throws a moral obligation on journalism. I think that the press let us down very badly over the Iraq war. I think it gave a free ride to a president who didn’t deserve a free ride, even when there were plenty of critics making very strong arguments, well-backed arguments about the falsity of the claims [justifying the war in Iraq]. They were cowards. They were self-censoring. In a democracy, no one self censors.

"I have an enormous respect for forensic journalism. Forensic journalism is basically anthropology for the public: the kind of journalism that precisely takes as its obligation the probing of surfaces: why are we hearing what we are hearing, why are we being told what we are being told, who is asking the questions on our behalf.

"I think that journalism is the first estate, not the third or fifth or whatever, it is the first estate—the estate of truth. And it can only be the estate of truth to the extent that it represents its population. We know now that politicians don’t–they represent capital, they represent capacity to turn financial assets into votes in congress. They don’t necessarily, when they vote, represent us… But, the press is always there and always ought to be representing us."

Follow the link above for more text transcripts, the full 52 minute audio interview, and a brief video clip.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Telling stories with online depth

This August item from Slate includes a links to PDF and Excel files full of census data... a nice example of one way online journalism can empower readers to dig deeper.

Sorry, Pal, but You're Rich. - By Daniel Gross - Slate Magazine:

"...two pieces of bad news for the over-$250,000 crowd. First, the reversal of some of the temporary Bush tax cuts is probably inevitable, given the Republican fiscal clown show of the past eight years. Second, I regret to inform you that you are indeed rich."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Virginia's vote featured on PBS

I noticed this on a "most viewed" list...

Virginia's Vote . NOW on PBS:
"The state of Virginia has not voted for a Democratic President since 1964, but this year its 13 electoral votes are up for grabs as late polls show the race too close to call. This week, NOW on PBS goes behind the national polls and punditry and into the living rooms of real Virginia voters to learn how they'll be making their decisions."

Along with streaming video of the original program, the site includes links to separate statements by former U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) and former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder (D) on their parties' candidates, a discussion forum (already closed to new comments), and a transcribed interview with Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, who discusses "the changing political landscape in the key swing state of Virginia, and explains why he finds Sen. Barack Obama's popularity there 'remarkable.'"

Friday, October 24, 2008

Stop the presses: Radio and TV news from 1735

Well, not exactly. But you can Tune the dial back to 1947 and hear it skip a few centuries by visiting my other blog's article about the radio and television dramatizations of the John Peter Zenger trial, a milestone in establishing freedom of the press in America.

I've just updated the page, adding the "Studio One" TV version -- which you can play directly from the blog page, thanks to the Web wizards at

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

After paper, what?

What would it cost to give every reader of a major newspaper an electronic newspaper? What would it save in paper and environmental impact? Here's some food for thought...

Institute for Analytic Journalism:Views from a NYTimes R&D guy
"Guest blogger Nick Bilton is with the New York Times R&D Lab during the day and NYC Resistor at night.

Working in the R&D Labs at The New York Times, I'm constantly asked, 'How long will paper be around?' or more to the point, 'When will paper really die?' It's a valid concern, and a question no one can answer with a timetable. But there will be a point--and I believe in our lifetime--when we'll see the demise of the traditional print newspaper."

Footnote: I love the two images on the page -- a Saturday Evening Post delivery boy from perhaps 75 years ago and an ad for a Radio Shack 15 megabyte hard drive from about 25 years ago -- when that massive amount of storage cost $2,495. (No computer included.) Let's see... without pulling out a calculator I can divide both by 5 and see that would be 3 megabytes for $500, or $166 each.

Since we've been talking about journalists' mathematical skills around the office recently, I made a quick check at for something to compare with the $166 a megabyte price. I found a 500 gigabyte drive going for $90, which I'll round up to $100 to include sales tax or shipping -- but really just to simplify the arithmetic.

So the $2,495 that bought 15 megabytes then... would buy about 25 of these 500 gigabyte drives, with no adjustments for inflation...

Since 500 gigabytes is about 500,000 megabytes, that's $1 for 5,000 megabytes. Hmm. At $166 per meg, it looks like a comparable stack of those Radio Shack drives would have set me back about $830,000. Who says there are no bargains these days?

Or did I misplace a decimal point? Sigh. Math insecurity. Oops. I'm late for an appointment and don't have time to double-check before hitting "post." Excuses, excuses.

Related: My favorite science journalist explains how to visualize what you get with two of those 500 gigabyte drives, the terabyte.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

When 'database' becomes 'storytelling'

Poynter Institute's Chip Scanlan discusses database reporting on last month's commuter train disaster.
The newspaper's Web team used a rapidly developed online database to let readers learn about casualties as they were identified. Says Chip:
"I was struck by how quickly the crash victims database appeared and impressed by the interactive demographics that let me learn information about each victim by the field of my choice. It turns out, as I learned from e-mail interviews with Times staffers involved in the project, there's an interesting tale of best practices behind this deadline database."

Scanlan interviewed Megan Garvey, the site's morning Metro assignment editor, and others at the paper to describe reporters and programmers working together.

Some of the job titles reflect the new world of online journalism -- "interactive technology editor" and "database producer."

Here's the story itself:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Taking the buyout, with ghosts watching

Reporter Dan Conover took one of those newsroom-cutback early retirement deals, and wrote this essay, which came to the attention of my friend J in Greater Boston:
Xark!: My final newspaper article... excerpt:

"This transition will require that we consider not only our values but what makes them universal. It will require that we experiment courageously with how those values are best expressed and communicated in the new context of our politics, our economy, our rapidly morphing technologies."

To get to those values, Conover invokes the spirit of Chapel Hill's Jim Shumaker, who was profiled a few years ago with a posthumously published interview, under a headline that makes a great invitation to click: Shu: The late great Jim Shumaker in his own d*%# words

Speaking of values, Conover also blogged last spring about winning a Journalist of the Year award...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Two versions of the same story about college-info site

The New York Times magazine tells a story one way -- and any anecdotal opening about an entrepreneurial Wesleyan grad will get my attention... (Wes '83 M.A., '88 M.A.L.S. myself)... I wasn't sure from the lead and the headline whether this was about one Web site or the college-search process in general... the "nut graf" below was a while in coming.

The College Issue - The Tell-All Campus Tour -
"One measure of an idea’s greatness is how obvious it seems in retrospect, and Unigo’s central idea — that high-school and college students would much rather learn from one another than from a book — is so self-evident that your first reaction is surprise that no one has acted on it before."

But here's something extra for news writing students -- click on John Hockenberry's "Back Story" podcast on the story page to hear him tell Unigo's story the NPR way, interviewing Times reporter Jonathan Dee. Wesalum that I am, I was especially amused when Dee talked about his own college choice.

Reporter's notes on writing a profile

...and profile subject's response

Constance Loizos got interested in Halsey Minor when she read a Virginia newspaper story saying he was interested in running for governor. She wondered what part his Silicon Valley reputation might play.

Here's her interview about reporting the story...

And here's the story, CNET Founder Halsey Minor Profile - Executive Articles -
"The Baddest Boy in Silicon Valley"

C.E.O. Halsey Minor is a successful entrepreneur with a lovely family. So why do so many of his former tech-world colleagues revile him?"

Minor, who 15 years ago founded the tech-news company CNET, the first Web-content company to go public, was interviewed in Charlottesville, where he still has a home.

Bonus: After you read the article, don't miss the comments -- including a critique signed "Halsey Minor."

I ought to read "Portfolio" more often... Luckily, I got to this issue via Waldo Jaquith's blog after starting out with his RSS tips, which I got to from while looking for sites about public information in Virginia. I'm always relieved when my hypertext-r-us linking around leads to something timely for one of my classes... and both public records and profile writing are on the agenda this month.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Web founder to launch foundation

World Wide Web Foundation:
"On 14 September 2008, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. (USA), Tim Berners-Lee announced the creation of the World Wide Web Foundation in a speech before guests of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Following the speech, Alberto Ibarguen, Knight Foundation's president and CEO announced a seed grant of $5 million in support of the Web Foundation's mission."

Berners-Lee's speech and foundation press release

Worth special attention -- Berners-Lee's comments on the social aspects of the Web having been important from the beginning. In fact, I remember reading his original proposal for a networked hypertext system in the precursor of today's social nets -- the Usenet discussion group called "alt.hypertext," now browsable through Google Groups.

Thanks to David Sumner at Ball State for the link via the AEJMC magazine division mailing list.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

YouTube offers journalism contest

The Project:Report online video journalism competition offers a $10,000 fellowship and other prizes through the Pulitzer Center, Sony, Intel and others.

The organization says the competition is "intended for non-professional, aspiring journalists to tell stories that might not otherwise be told."

See YouTube - Citizennews's Channel too, a video blog highlighting news content at YouTube.
2008 Knight-Batten Awards Winners
  • Who's rewriting history in Wikipedia entries?
  • Where can you find a "Truth-o-meter" judging the accuracy of presidential campaign stories?
  • Can "citizen journalism" work in a crisis situation?
  • How can you combine a digital camera and Web mapping to cover community development?
  • Can Web multimedia tell the story of living with HIV?
  • How do state of the art online journalists cover the aftermath of a deadly tornado?
  • Can your video make the grade at CNN?
  • What new tools do citizens hae to track the influence of campaign money on elected officials?
For the answers, look at the projects that have been cited for 2008 Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism. The coverage of "WikiScanner" took this year's $10,000 Grand Prize for letting people "Vote On the Most Shameful Wikipedia Spin Jobs," but all the winners, honorable mentions and notable entries are worth a look.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Old newspapers... Not just to wrap dead fish and train puppies...

I'll add more to this later, with reference to both my Media History class and my news writing class, which uses a textbook that presents published stories as a brown-edged chapter called "The Morgue."

Google raising newspaper morgues from the dead | News - Digital Media - CNET News:
"Google is making searchable, digital copies of old newspapers available online through partnerships with their publishers, the company said Monday.
Under the ad-supported effort, Google will digitize millions of pages of news archives, including photos, articles, headlines, and advertisements, Google said."
See ProQuest Historical Newspapers and this rather dated item on the National Digital Newspaper Program, which I should update!

For a few more links and quotes, see my longer post at my Other Journalism Weblog or the AEJMC Newspaper Division blog (same content, different context).

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Charlottesville to watch for Martian invaders... again

This looks like fun -- and some "media convergence" to talk about in class.

PR students can see the fine job of "press agentry" by the University of Virginia Film Festival, bringing together the school's observatory, a major studio motion picture, and a series of underground films (described as "most hyperbolic alien invasion spectacles"), all to celebrate the most famous media hoax since the New York Sun's discovery of man-bats on the moon, from early days of network radio:
Virginia Film Festival
Special 70th Anniversary Broadcast of "War Of The Worlds"
"Just to be sure history doesn't repeat itself, we've asked the observatory to have telescopes at the ready to reassure our spectators that the skies are safe," the film festival director said, calling the Halloween show "a great way to honor one of the more bizarre evenings in Charlottesville history."
The UVa school paper's archives ("media history research") are cited as evidence that the 1938 "Martian invasion" panic over Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" broadcast brought people to the observatory, which used its big telescope to show Virginians that Mars was as arid and peaceful as ever.

If you want to get an early jump on Halloween, here's the 1938 radio broadcast that started it all (courtesy of the Internet Archive)...

Back in the spring, WNYC's Radio Lab did a terrific program on the panic over that 1938 broadcast -- and the fact that it wasn't the only incident like it. The full audio of the program is online, along with links to Orson Welles' 1938 script and more. I'll put that link in my official Media History class syllabus page later this semester, since we're not even up to the invention of printing yet...

As for the man-bats on the moon, I jumped ahead and mentioned in my Media History class that yesterday was the 105th anniversary of the founding of the original New York Sun -- I hope I didn't say "100th" the way I mistyped it here a minute ago!...

The Sun reportedly became the best-selling news sheet in this world by printing a hoax series about an entirely fictional telescopic exploration of the lunar surface. News writing students should note that story length and style have changed since then.

On Wednesday I didn't get around to mentioning that there's no connection to the current paper called the New York Sun, whose business troubles are, coincidentally, in the news today. Keep an eye out for circulation-building stories about man-bats or Martians in New Jersey!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

It's a story. It's an ad. It's a story with legs.

A Wall Street Journal story is being brought to local readers by The Roanoke Times -- as a paid advertisement by a group protesting the pricing and regional power of the Carilion Clinic hospital group.

Group reprints story about Carilion -
"A group opposed to Carilion Clinic's transformation into a multispecialty medical practice is reigniting its two-year campaign -- and it is using a story published this week to light the fuse.
"The Coalition for Responsible Healthcare is paying nearly $10,000 for advertisements showcasing its cause today and Sunday in The Roanoke Times, said Dr. Geoff Harter, president of the coalition and a Roanoke ear, nose and throat doctor."
The Times story links to Carilion's response to the Wall Street Journal story and the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare site, which offers a pdf file download of the Journal article/ad.

The original story, Nonprofit hospitals flex pricing power, also hit number five on the Journal's list of "most emailed stories by readers in the past week," which may keep that link available to non-subscribers.

A quick search with turns up follow-up stories on area TV news broadcasts and in publications from Richmond to Australia and the UK. One station's investigative reporter even went to several convenience stores to confirm suspicions that the paper was selling out.

If the original story does disappear behind a subscriber-only firewall, university students should remember their tuition pays for access through their library's Factiva database. Just search for the headline or the name of its author, John Carreyrou. That way they'll also find an earlier article by him on the same theme, headlined "Nonprofit Hospitals, Once For the Poor, Strike It Rich --- With Tax Breaks, They Outperform For-Profit Rivals."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Campus news aggregator from a mainstream source

Even college newspapers are facing cutbacks, according to the news from Berkeley. Meanwhile, the Democratic National Convention is disrupting campus life in Denver, canceling a week's classes. And Southern Methodist is requiring frats to register parties that serve alcohol.

How do I know this stuff?

I thank Alison at The Paper Trail - Education (
"Being a college graduate and all, writer Alison Go is uniquely qualified to sift through thousands of student newspaper headlines every day to bring you the latest, most important, or just plain weirdest news from campuses across the country."

Say it ain't so, Joe's Diner

With my first class of the day right across the street, I got through my first semester at Radford on Joe's omelets...

Sad to see it closed and its site scheduled for "development," which probably won't put breakfast on the table for some time.

Here's the latest from the City Council, via Tim Thornton at the Roanoke Times:

Council OKs rezoning for Tyler Place development -

Students have had an "R.I.P. Joe's Diner" Facebook group, originally including a (false) rumor that the university was the culprit, but later updated with Tim's July story.

The page has 780 members, but not much discussion... and too few pictures for such a memorable place.

(Now where did I put that shot I took of Elvis on the diner wall?)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Quotes for old or new journalists

A few back-to-school words from the late Joseph Pulitzer:

"Every issue of the paper presents an opportunity and a duty to say something courageous and true; to rise above the mediocre and conventional; to say something that will command the respect of the intelligent, the educated, the independent part of the community; to rise above fear of partisanship and fear of popular prejudice.
"I would rather have one article a day of this sort; and these ten or twenty lines might readily represent a whole day's hard work in the way of concentrated, intense thinking and revision, polish of style, weighing of words."

... and the late Finley Peter Dunne's "Mr. Dooley":

"Th' newspaper does ivrything for us.
It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks,
commands th' milishy,
controls th' legislachure,
baptizes th' young,
marries th' foolish,
comforts th' afflicted,
afflicts th' comfortable,
buries th' dead,
an' roasts thim afterward."

... and the fictional editor Perry White (in "Superman, the Movie"):

"Lois, Clark Kent may seem like just a mild-mannered reporter, but listen -- not only does he know how to treat his editor-in-chief with the proper respect, not only does he have a snappy, punchy prose style, but he is in my 40 years in this business the fastest typist I've ever seen."

Election news: CNN vs. Comedy Central?

In this story, Jon Stewart lectures reporters on coverage - Blogs from
Jon Stewart said the "established" media are getting too cozy with candidates and regurgitating campaign spin, calling the 24-hour cable news networks like CNN "gerbil wheels." The story is online... from CNN.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine discusses the election with Jon today from the Democratic National Convention in Denver. See Comedy Central's, "Something approximating election news with something approximating honesty."

The site also has archived video of interviews with Sen. Joe Biden, but my Macintosh didn't want to play them. I was ready to go back to the established media when I decided to try embedding the code for one here in Blogger. Now it works! Go figure... Here's Joe back in February when he announced his own candidacy for president and made a few comments on other candidates... including an embarrassing remark about Barack Obama... News writing students, alert: Jon shows the senator how a little red-pen editing of his punctuation clears things up...:

Footnote: I'm not making this up. You know the garbled-letters "word verification" that sites like Blogger make you type to prove you're a human before you can post something? For this item about Comedy Central my "word verification" code is "gazegag."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pointing at Poynter for online news tips

The Poynter Institute has been doing creative things with online publishing for a dozen years or more, and now has rolled out a new version of its Web site.
Poynter Online - Poynterevolution: "Take a Tour of the New Poynter Online..."

At first glance, there seems to be an awful lot going on, but that was true of the old version, too...

Here are some of the hopes mentioned on the launch page, but I'll break them out into bullets (which may make a list easier to read) and italics (which may make it harder):

  • "Navigation is simpler and cleaner, with most recent articles, comments and community activity linked dynamically from a new left rail.
  • "A new home page carousel enables you to click through the five most recent top stories.
  • "Our new networking service, Poynter Groups, can link you up with colleagues around the world.
  • "And if it's Romenesko you're looking for, just click Romenesko in the nav across the top."
I haven't used the new site enough to have an opinion, but the old one is already a fading memory...

Yike! I didn't realize this new blog template would turn simple bullets into chrysanthemums or increase the line-spacing... Web usability issues are never simple, especially with these "easy to use" tools doing some of the decision-making for you.
Finding Political News Online, the Young Pass It On - New York Times:
March 27 story, good for background on election news...
"It is not news that young politically minded viewers are turning to alternative sources like YouTube, Facebook and late-night comedy shows like 'The Daily Show.' But that is only the beginning of how they process information.
"According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks...."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Google Will Offer Services for Bloggers at the Conventions -
"WASHINGTON -- Google Inc. will help set up a two-story, 8,000 square-foot headquarters for hundreds of bloggers descending on the Democratic convention in Denver next week, and it will offer similar services at the Republican convention in September, as new media gain influence in politics."

Heh. In my media history class I can reminisce about "being there" for some ancient history... "way back" when Dave Winer, David Weinberger, Steve Garfield and a few others from our Berkman blogging round-table were the first to blog from a presidential convention, just as I was leaving town for Knoxville.

Hmm. I don't remember whether Chris Lydon wore a "blogger" pass to the 2004 conventions after blogging and podcasting the run-up... Glad to hear him still having smart conversations on any topic.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Anthropology of YouTube - The Library Today
Michael Wesch discussed 'The Anthropology of YouTube' at the Library of Congress: "More video material has been uploaded to YouTube in the past six months than has ever been aired on all major networks combined, according to cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch. About 88 percent is new and original content, most of which has been created by people formerly known as 'the audience.'"

Food for thought... In both my "Specialized Journalism" and "Media History" classes, we can talk about anthropology and journalism, new media and old media, and professor Wesch's observation that user-generated content, commentary, tagging and collaboration are a new "integrated mediascape" -- and that media are not just delivery systems or content, but a new way of "mediating human relationships."

Internet applications, implications and technology:
Larry Press, professor of information systems at California State University, Dominguez Hills: "Today's freshman cannot remember a time before the Web, but, at first, HTTP and HTML were just newly proposed protocols without users. In the early 1990s, email, file transfer, network news, and remote login were important Internet applications. We also read documents from Gopher servers, and found them using search services like Veronica, WAIS, and Archie..."

Professor Press also linked to Beloit's annual back-to-school entering class profile, linked below, and to the Michael Wesch vision of students today video I've been passing around since being pointed to it by Krista Terry.
Beloit College Mindset List:
"The class of 2012 has grown up in an era where computers and rapid communication are the norm, and colleges no longer trumpet the fact that residence halls are “wired” and equipped with the latest hardware. These students will hardly recognize the availability of telephones in their rooms since they have seldom utilized landlines during their adolescence."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

RU student to attend Democratic National Convention | WSLS 10

This nicely rounds out a trifecta of news stories about Radford students today. One off to be a delegate at a national presidential nominating convention, one off to seek fame and fortune on TV, and another on the street with the modern equivalent of a "will work for food" sign. (See also the loosely related RT blog post, "RU's staff is underpaid.")

I figured the Roanoke Times would have a version of the WSLS story, too... but when I searched its Web site for "Elizabeth Chitwood," some glitch sent me more than 500 wrong hits, starting with an audio clip of VT's president speaking 14 months ago.

Just searching for "Chitwood" narrowed the wrong hits; it came up with no "right" one, but a few of the others suggested questions that might make for a better interview with the young delegate.

Maybe the Times will have the story tomorrow.
The Roanoke Times: New River Notebook : Radford senior on America's Next Top Model:

"Lauren Brie Harding, a Charlottesville native, is one of 14 women vying for the title ... a business marketing major..."
“'I want to become a high-fashion model. That has been my dream, and that’s what I am working toward here.'”

Self-promotion seems to be a theme in the Roanoke Times stories about Radford students today...
Recent college graduate hits the streets for job search -
".... a July graduate from Radford University, has advertised his search using a sign board in downtown Roanoke...
"His degree in social science allows him to do 'pretty much anything'..."

"Allows"? Maybe I'll ask my writing students to come up with a better verb for that sentence, and a list of additional questions and people to interview for the story.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Annals of Alternative J-School Careers...

"Born in Denmark and trained as journalist, Ms. Spiers-Lopez quickly discovered that it would take much longer than she anticipated to obtain a coveted feature writer position. During her years as a reporter, she learned how to think on her feet and get along well with people -- two skills that have served her well in retail."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rupert Murdoch: Big Man On Campus -
"Heading back to college this fall? Rupert Murdoch will be waiting. In May, his Fox News subsidiary bought a minority stake in a Web video-based college news network featuring student reporters called This fall, he'll be ramping up the partnership..."
For more, see "JOE WEASEL Palestra Trusts Young Journalists" from Broadcasting & Cable earlier this summer.

Nope, that's not the cartoon character who used to sell cigarettes. Joe Weasel founded Palestra after working as a on-air journalist for NBC affiliate WCMH-TV in Columbus, Ohio. He told Forbes he began talking with Fox's local affiliates last week about placing Palestra content on their Web sites around the country.

Hmm. I wonder how and will compare... as well as the other student-oriented video sites mentioned in the story...
Police looking for vehicle Obama?

The "local" page for Radford, Va., has a startling lead on a story carrying this headline:

Pedestrian killed, police looking for vehicle - Topix:

The lead:
"Radford, VA August 19, 2008 Pedestrian killed, police looking for vehicle Obama due for campaign double-dip in Virginia Energy a hot topic in local congressional race Jury selection begins tomorrow for Radford capital ..."

It's all the result of some software glitch -- under insufficient adult (human) supervision -- pointing to the actual "Pedestrian..." story at WDJB Channel 7, and apparently picking up other headlines into one garbled "sentence."

But even the pedestrian fatality story alone is wrong. It's from Henry County, which isn't Radford, either.

Who's in charge? Topix news page says the item was "posted by roboblogger."

Time to go back to news written and edited by humans!
College presidents seek debate on lower drinking age;
critics say highway deaths would rise
(AP) via

"College presidents from about 100 of the nation's best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus. The movement called the Amethyst Initiative began quietly recruiting presidents more than a year ago to provoke national debate about the drinking age."

This AP story is something my reporting students should be able to follow up for a local angle next month.

If the Newsday version of the story has "expired" from the archives by then, they should be able to find another copy elsewhere. I hope the Newsday version is still around, though, because it already had 84 comments the day it ran. The readers' comments are or were here. Thanks to the Web, the comments are (or purport to be) from well beyond Newsday's New York circulation area.

The Washington Post version of the story had half that many comments,but since it's an original (not AP), maybe it and its comments will be around longer.


Saturday, July 05, 2008

GlobeSpotting with Steve Hamm OLPC: The Educational Philosophy Controversy - BusinessWeek:
"There's no question that some large governments, including China and India, have felt threatened by the Constructionist philosophy, and they rejected the laptops partly because of it. But I think it would be a major mistake to strip Constructionism from the OLPC package just to make the XO laptop more palatable to some unenlightened governments, which are stuck in the stone ages with the command-and-control educational philosophy."
One Laptop Meets Big Business:
"The fate of OLPC is uncertain, and it's too early to judge the effectiveness of the computers. Still, it's possible to draw lessons about the difficulties of such grand-scale social innovation. The group's struggles show how hard it is for a nonprofit made up largely of academics to operate like a business and compete with powerful companies. They also show what happens when differing philosophies of education and beliefs in how software should be created go head-to-head."
Click headline for full article in Business Week.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Atlantic Online | July/August 2008 |
Is Google Making Us Stupid? |
Nicholas Carr:
"Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. "

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Utah Phillips
blog and discussion
Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-05-25 – Last train headed West: R.I.P. Utah Phillips: "Utah Phillips, a seminal figure in American folk music who performed extensively and tirelessly for audiences on two continents for 38 years, died Friday of congestive heart failure"

I'm parking this link here, so that I can play the first audio clip as part of a discussion of "why we should study media history."

(I'm not at the computer that posts to my usual blogs.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Press - SugarLabs

This site collects news clips about Walter Bender's OLPC spinoff focused on the software system originally designed for the XO computer.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Technology Review: $100 Laptop Program's New President: "Charles Kane, OLPC's finance chief and a former software company executive, is stepping into the role of president and chief operating officer following last month's resignation of president Walter Bender. Bender had adamantly opposed efforts by the organization's founder, Nicholas Negroponte, to depart from a pure open-source-software approach and include a version of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system on the laptops."
One Laptop per Child Appoints Chuck Kane as President and Chief Operation Officer: "One Laptop per Child, a non-profit organization focused on providing educational tools to help children in developing countries “learn learning,” announced today the appointment of Charles (“Chuck”) Kane as President and Chief Operating Officer."
... "Before joining OLPC, Kane held a number of positions in which he oversaw mergers and acquisitions, negotiated deals, restructured organizations and directed financial operations."
Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops - New York Times:

" officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.

"Such disappointments are the latest example of how technology is often embraced by philanthropists and political leaders as a quick fix, only to leave teachers flummoxed about how best to integrate the new gadgets into curriculums. Last month, the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement between students who used educational software programs for math and reading and those who did not."
Walter Bender summarizes a learning philosophy:
"I was very much influenced by Seymour Papert and his constructionist theories, which can be summarized in my mind very efficiently by two aphorism.
"One is that you learn through doing, so if you want more learning you want more doing.
"The second is that love is a better master than duty. You want people to engage in things that are authentic to them, things that they love.
"The first is more addressed by the Sugar technology [the OLPC operating system]; the second is more addressed by the culture around freedom."
Code culture > Sic Transit Gloria Laptopi:

After leaving One Laptop Per Child, Ivan Krstić calls for "... an Open Learning Foundation... Having a company that is device-agnostic and focuses entirely on the learning ecosystem, from deployment to content to Sugar [the OLPC operating system], is not only what I think is sorely needed to really take the one-to-one computer efforts to the next level, but also an approach that has a good chance of making the organization doing the work self-sustaining at some point."

"So here’s to open learning, to free software, to strength of personal conviction, and to having enough damn humility to remember that the goal is bringing learning to a billion children across the globe. The billion waiting for us to put our idiotic trifles aside, end our endless yapping, and get to it already."
One Laptop Per Child Foundation No Longer a Disruptive Force, Bender Fears; Q&A on His Plans for “Sugar” Interface | Xconomy: "Walter Bender, the former president of software and content for the One Laptop Per Child Foundation, says he left his post last week because of a growing split with founder Nicholas Negroponte over whether the foundation should continue in its gadfly role in the computing world."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Technology Review: Blogs: TR Editors' blog: Laptop Training Begins in Peru: "As teachers converge, One Laptop per Child takes a big leap from pilot program to large-scale national execution."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bashuki Journal - OLPC: "
The One Laptop Per Child group is piloting its little green computers in grades 2 and 6 at Bashuki schoo roughly 30 km east of Kathmandu at the top of a very steep ridge.
"Most of the teachers walk over an hour to reach the school. It is a poor school and most of children belong to the Tamang indigenous group, one of the historically disadvantaged groups in Nepal."
Story Jam New York - OLPC: "UNICEF, the world's leading children's organization will be holding an open Storytelling Jam and Hackathon from Friday March 28 through Sunday March 30. The three-day event will be hosted at UNICEF's headquarters in Manhattan, NY.

The focus of this event is to build and implement free and open-source tools for collecting stories, as well as gathering and spreading the stories themselves. Work will be done on a variety of platforms, from mobile phones to the One Laptop per Child's XO machine."
Our Stories - OLPC: "Our Stories ( is a joint project involving OLPC, UNICEF, Google, and others to facilitate children telling their own stories and those of their communities around the world. The basic format will be 3-5 minute audio recordings with geodata, and optional text and images; these will be visualized on maps of the world, and shared publicly over local and global networks."
MediaShift Idea Lab . XO Laptop Turns Kids into Media Creators in Uruguay | PBS: "How did a lower-middle class rural Uruguayan fourth-grader learn to take video of a cow giving birth and share it with so many people across the globe?.
"Villa Cardal is a rural town of around 1,300 residents in the department of Florida, Uruguay. Last May it became the unlikely destination for dozens of technology correspondents from major media outlets around the world after the One Laptop Per Child project chose it as a testing site for for their XO computer, formerly called the $100 laptop. (Each laptop actually cost the Uruguayan government $205.)"

Sunday, February 24, 2008

TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home: "What you can read with the XO

E-book advocate site TeleRead has a nice inventory of sources of full-text books compatible with the XO laptop, either using its Web-browser software or the installable FBReader and Opera.

Maybe in the summer I'll get to load up some classics from Project Gutenberg and take them to the beach or one of western Virginia's great parks... to read with the sunlight-compatible XO screen.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Exploring the neighborhood(s)

XO screen shot of Jabbered neigborhood

A school teacher near my old Western Massachusetts hometown has a column on MassLive (The Springfield Republican newspaper) about his XO and mentions not finding others to chat with...
It's not as if I really need another technology gadget in my life. We already have a desktop computer, a laptop, a few digital camcorders, two digital cameras, a handful of MP3 players and a digital voice recorder or two. I use most of them, regularly. Really, I do. I didn't really need this XO.

There are, however, two reasons why I took the plunge with this project...

And his reasons are pretty similar to mine.

He's already found a few other XO donors in his area, but is looking for more. Surprise: I've found them! My XO isn't lonely anymore: I've started using a "jabber" connection set up by a gentleman in Rhode Island that lets me share documents, chat sessions and other activities with a colorful crowd of XO users around the world (see the image).

My "neighborhood" now shows not only local Wifi antennas here in Radford, but other XO owners and the activities they are sharing. (Each XO looks like an O atop an X, shared documents look like documents, chats are word balloons, etc.)

Note: I also just stumbled on this very nice list of keyboard shortcuts for the XO

Monday, January 21, 2008

Feature: Hacking the XO laptop |

Demonstrating a chat connection for XO laptops and other Linux-literate experiments with two little green laptops. Free epub children's picture books: "I thought it would be nice to have some books appropriate to the XO's audience available, so I converted sixteen picture books from Project Gutenberg to the epub format, which is one of the formats that FBReader can read."
Epub books soon for One Laptop Per Child kids—and public libraries interested in laptop? : says: "with FBReader available, the OLPC laptop will be a more promising machine for public libraries. Having been burned by the Gemstar and other machines with e-book formats that vanished from the mainstream, librarians should seriously consider trying out OLPC’s XO. It doesn’t come with all the gotchas that the Amazon Kindle does, including a terms of service agreement that might prevent libraries from lending the machines to patrons."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Some more OLPC writeups

Two positive first-person reviews... and a volunteer's blog...
More corporate political discussion...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Harsh words for little green laptop...

Last week's Economist magazine "Tech View" column had a very negative item about the XO laptop, calling it "clunky," dismissing its developers as "Pollyannaish," and saying the "Give One Get One" program under which I bought mine "fizzled."
Note: After I wrote this page and mentioned the issue on an OLPC wiki, this official reply to the Economist from Walter Bender appeared... or I had simply missed it in my earlier search.
No sources were given for the Economist's "fizzled" comment -- I haven't seen anything elsewhere about the G1G1 program not meeting its goals. As a combination post-beta, charitable contribution and public-relations program, I'd call G1G1 a success -- it got the rumored "One Laptop Per Child" out into adult hands and onto network television screens throughout the U.S. and presumably is financing delivery of thousands of computers to kids...

My XO hasn't failed to attract questions and positive comments at coffee shops in three states -- thanks to G1G1 "bundling" a year's subscription to T-Mobile wifi service. (Most common comment: "How can I get these for my kid's school?") Online, I see more "let's figure it out" and "let's see what we can do" discussions than whining about this all-new device's bugs.

The Economist's reviewer apparently couldn't figure out how to move material between the system's text editor and a Web mail application... I've known a few Windows users who couldn't figure out e-mail attachments with their machines, either. I've been testing the machine with online forums, blog-editing software and Web-based e-mail with reasonable success -- for a machine that really was designed with other things in mind.

I'm not familiar with the other computers the article mentions -- from Intel and other commercial manufacturers, but I suspect that they lack major innovations of the XO, such as its readable-in-daylight reflective screen, its instant "mesh" networking with other XO laptops, its commitment to open-source software, its weatherproof, scratchproof case, and the community of volunteer developers, documenters and testers I've been exploring for the past couple of weeks.

Yes, I had to use the "clunky" Linux underpinnings of the computer to install additional software that American or European adults might want (a more sophisticated Web browser or the ability to play Web videos), but I wasn't expecting a consumer product.

The Economist had no discussion of the music, writing and HyperCard-like EToys programming language software -- or the instant "mesh" networking intended to make it a collaborative classroom workspace for children... without sending participating school systems an annual bill for "software upgrades." That all may be Pollyannish, but I'm waiting to hear how the first year of actual classroom use of the computers works out.

The Economist also moans about "the hubris, arrogance and occasional self-righteousness of OLPC workers." I'm not surprised to find missionaries acting like missionaries, whether they're selling religion, technology or capitalism. I can't imagine anyone using similar terms to describe a crew of Intel and Microsoft salespeople. Heh.

The Economist's Tech View column was accompanied by a Business View piece, The Laptop Wars: Will charity or profit end the digital divide?, about Intel's attempt to sell its small commercial laptop, the ClassMate, in the markets targetted by the not-for-profit XO. The Economist questioned the need for OLPC's idea of "making laptops available cheaply to children in the developing world... as an act of charity," when others believe "there are fortunes to be made designing products for the world’s poorer consumers."

A brief blog item in the Guardian echoes the Economist, but also invites comments. Here's one that caught my eye:
Hate to point out the obvious, but the Economist is not exactly an unbiased referee between the competing philosophies of altruism vs the profit motive, and their realisation in political and economic systems! The Economist is a right-wing publication dedicated to the triumph of corporatism and corporate greed, and the destruction of anything that whiffs vaguely of socialism or doing things for people on a selfless or non-profit-motive basis.
Alas, with my own new semester starting on Monday, I don't have much time to look for responses or discussion... and I will be setting aside my XO for the weekend...

But here are some bookmarks a quick search found; I'll start with them when I get back to the topic: