Comcast Cronyism

Philly.com is reporting that Comcast is hiring FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker as a lobbyist once her term ends in June. This appointment comes on the heels of Comcasts recently approved merger with NBCUniversal.

Appointments like this really raise some major ethical issues. Baker issued a statement criticizing the restrictions put on the Comcast NBCUniversal merger by the Democrat controlled FCC board. Now she is taking a job with the company.

The ethical ramifications of her taking a job as a lobbyist after her term ends would be enough to raise some eyebrows. But accepting the position while she is still in office is completely inappropriate. How can she be asked to make a fair decision as a commissioner about her future employer?

There are still major issues before the FCC regarding retransmission fees, net neutrality and media mergers. Someone in Baker’s position should not be publically accepting a post as a lobbyist before her term comes to an end. It rules out her ability to act as an impartial party in these proceedings. And in the case of the FCC, the outcome of these cases will affect the entire country.

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Columbia Journalism School Calls for a Rethinking of Online Ad Models

 

The Columbia School of Journalism just released a report outlining suggestions for news outlets to reevaluate online advertising. The report suggests that journalists have little understanding of online advertising methods. The report also suggests that news subscription services, such as The NY Times paywall, will meet with very limited success on the web.

I welcomed this report as it backs up many of the things I have been writing about here on this blog. The problem with online advertising is that there is too much of it, and it provides little value to the reader. In a NY Times article on the report, they noted that a Vanity Fair reader spends as much time looking at the ads as they spend looking at the content in the print version. This is because the ads are laid out with an artistry that provides an appeal to the readers.

Online advertising, on the other hand, is often intrusive to the experience. They slow down the web user’s experience, and provide little value. Even worse, the ad-targeting on the web is often far worse than it is in print, even though web advertisers have access to a much broader range of usage data.

Advertising is the future of journalism. It is the only system that has successfully worked to support quality journalism in the last 3o0 years. Paywalls, non-profits, syndication, and sponsorships are buzzwords used to describe businesses that have been unable to figure out a way to make advertising work online. Once someone figures out a way to distribute an ad-supported publication in a manner that turns the ads into part of the experience, news outlets will once again see their coffers flourish.

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Is The iPad Really Revolutionary?

The LA Times is reporting that tablet sales will outpace laptop sales as early as next year. But are these devices the revolutionary products their manufacturers claim to be, or just over-hyped computers that aren’t that powerful?

Commercials for the iPad make it sound like the device can do anything. As someone who uses my computers professionally, I require a lot of computing power. When I first heard that the iPad was coming out, I considered it as a replacement for my aging laptop. I thought the iPad was going to run full Mac OSX, and be able to run my apps such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects.

The ability to edit video in the field on a slim device such as the iPad would be huge. Pretty soon, I learned that this would not be the case. The iPad is nothing more than an oversized iPhone. The iPad 2 is an oversize iPhone with a camera. I can’t do professional work with iPhone apps, and thus the device proved useless to me. I bought a Netbook for half the price and can at least do some basic work on it.

What’s worse is the iPad being touted by news organizations as the “savior of the news industry.” The terribly misguided belief seems to be that content people were unwilling to pay for on their PC’s, they would now be happy to pay for on their iPads. The NY Times is learning this all too well as their site traffic has dropped significantly since putting up a paywall.

The iPad is merely a delivery device, nothing more. As it gets more powerful, it’ll come close to the abilities of a traditional PC. But the same problem for content providers still remains: how do we profit off of online distribution?

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A New Take on Royal Wedding Coverage

The above video was shot by filmmaker David Francis in the streets during the recent royal wedding. David shot the video with an inexpensive DSLR camera. By utilizing some interesting techniques this video really transports the viewer to a specific moment in time.

The video is particulalrly interesting in the wake of the American news media spending millions to cover the royal wedding. This video truly provides a personal look at those on the street level, and cost next to nothing to produce.

Francis’ technique is particularly interesting. He shoots his subjects using a high frame rate. Then he slows it back down in the edit, producing a smooth, beautiful slow motion image. He then interviews his subjects and overlays their audio with the slow-motion video. Now this technique is a bit on the artsy side, but I don’t think anyone would doubt that it is engaging. It’s a way of telling the story that I believe is far more effective than what any of the broadcast networks did (on a story they probably should not have been spending so much of their budget on in the first place).

The difficult part about videos like this, is how easy they are to manipulate. Do we know for certain that the people talking are the people in the photos? Do we know that the shots weren’t set up?

There’s always some degree of subjectivity in news gathering, and always moreso when dealing with video. The number of creative choices involved in editing a package will always test the bounds of objectivity. DSLR’s allow for new creative to be utilized quickly and cheaply. As these techniques become more common, journalistic integrity will become more important than ever.

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Another CNN DSLR Video Package

A new CNN Video Package was released shot on the Canon 7D DSLR Camera. The video focuses on the “Rally to restore the American dream” held at City Hall in New York.

Although I found the video compelling, I think this is one of the instances where “Cinematic Journalism” may start to tip the scales in the direction of bias. The producers of the video told dslrnewsshooter.com they took their visual inspirations from the films “The Grapes of Wrath” and “How Green Was My Valley.” Both of these films were strong takes on the labor movement during the time of the great depression.

The visuals in the piece use harsh black and white images with strong contrast. The music behind the visuals sets an ominous tone as labor advocates discuss their struggle.

While I personally believe strongly in the rights of labor, in a video as highly charged as this one it would have been better to show the other side of the argument. I realize that this piece in particular only covered the rally, but it did come off as strongly one-sided.

I think when producing a piece like this, every journalist should ask the question “Would the person I’m covering be excited to forward this out on his/her mailing list?” If the answer is yes, you may have tipped the scales a little too far in your coverage. I felt that was strongly the case in this piece.

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CNN Using DSLR’s to Produce Cinematic Journalism

CNN recently used the Canon 7D, a video-capable DSLR, to capture its piece “Japan Society: A History of Support.” The piece itself has a truly cinematic tone to it, and I think this is an instance where DSLR’s really shine.

The cameras themselves were able to operate using only available lighting in the gallery. The exhibition has a peaceful nature which was captured tastefully with the artful nature of the images. The soft music in the background sets the mood for the piece. The narration is provided by the interviewee, the museums director.

It’s getting interesting to see more news organizations turning to DSLR’s. A piece like this would normally be shot for a news magazine show such as “60 Minutes” with a much larger crew.  However CNN was able to put this together with a crew consisting of only two people. Cubie King, one of the producers of the piece had this to say:

“Dan Chung’s statement that “cinematic techniques [allow] people [to] connect to and care about news” is quite apt.  Indeed, one could argue that the rapid ascendancy, commercialization, and general audience acceptance of feature-length (and short) documentaries over the past decade – combined with easier, more economical, access to professional grade equipment and software – calls for a reevaluation of how certain news is gathered and presented.  And the new pixel-rich platforms of mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and colossal HD screens complement a “cinematic” approach more than their predecessors ever did. ”

As these cameras continue to permeate through news organizations, it will be fascinating to see which techniques become accepted for news gathering.

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Tweeting in Class

April 26, 2011 1 comment

Today in Journalism 24/7, we attempted our second class tweeting seminar. The goal was tweet our notes as Professor Selvin lectured on Net Neutrality. We would take whatever information we felt was relevent, mark it with the hashtag #Selvin247 and tweet it out.

Reviewing the feed after the class was over was fairly interesting. It certainly gave the class clowns (I myself am completely guilty of this) the opportunity to make remarks on the lecture. Professor Selvin herself tweeted after class that the experiment was a failure due to students not being able to resist the urge to be clever.

But I believe calling the experiment a failure misses the point. Like Thomas Edison trying to find the proper fillament for a lightbulb, perhaps it will take many tries to get Twitter to work in a classroom environment. If nothing else, Professor Selvin has just received valuable feedback on exactly what students are thinking during a lecture.

Although some of the remarks may have been witty and off topic, others clearly attempted to breakdown the lecture into a manageable form. The trouble with using Twitter for serious academic use, is that it still has the “toy factor.” None of the students really took it seriously. But what would the result have been if class participation points were on the line in exchange for on-topic tweets?

I think a truly interesting experiment with this techonology would be to try it over the course of the semester, adding a second hash tag with the date of the class. You could theoretically create an online repository filled with chunks of knowledge from the different lectures, just by searching through the hashtags. This could help when preparing for exams, working on papers or when trying to remember something from the class years down the line.

Twitter isn’t ready for full time use in educational institutions. But it certainly has the potential to engage a class if properly implemented.

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