Archive for September, 2009

I am now a Lycan Hybrid Vampire

Monday, September 28th, 2009

j0444666My excellent adventures with online games in the last few days have included acceptance into a coven of vampires. Definitely more exciting than my day job. Let me tell you all about it in my first audio post:

online gaming

Tastes Good

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Tried the Delicious tool, and found it to work just like it promises. I’ve only bookmarked a couple of pages, but I can see how this will save time. I look forward to getting more use out of it as the semester goes on.

Now Everyone in the Crowd Has a Voice

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
Image from

Image from

Would I want to rely on a group of my peers — friends and neighbors — to keep me informed about the world? Sorry, but as well meaning and intelligent as these fellow citizens may be, I don’t think they have the qualifications or the financial backing to do a very good job. Joe Sanadamena, the plumber who lives across the street, knows a lot about leaky toilets, but I wouldn’t want to depend on him to analyze the war in Afghanistan.

I prefer to get my news from trained professionals who make a living as news gatherers. Reports from volunteer citizens might help to engage me in a particular issue, but when it comes to online journalism, I think the Internet depends more on traditional mass media than its proponents are willing to concede.

Yale professor Yochai Benkler is one proponent who oversells the potential of volunteer citizen reporters and large, non-profit collections of information, while undervaluing the role of existing mass media in “pursuing the core political values of liberal societies.“ In his book, “The Wealth of Networks,” Benkler argues that our “networked information economy” enables average citizens to communicate their opinion to millions of others in a way that is not controlled by the old mass media of television, radio, newspapers and magazines.

Democracy For America
This is true for average citizens, and I agree that the new economy Benkler describes does hold tremendous potential for improving democracy. I see evidence everyday in the current debate on national health care reform, for example, with the non-profit group “Democracy for America” filling my Outlook in-box with message after message, calling on Congress to pass reform legislation.

But a major weakness in Benkler’s argument is that he favors “decentralized approaches to fulfilling the watchdog function,“ such as citizen journalism, too strongly — almost at the expense of traditional mass media. He talks about how the current transformation to decentralized information in the public sphere cannot repeat “the failures of the mass-media dominated public sphere.“ Clearly, mass media is, and never has been, perfect in delivering information. But I believe that the new, decentralized alternative cannot achieve its true potential without acknowledging and valuing the contributions that old media continues to make. In other words, I think the two approaches need to work more closely, while Benkler calls for distancing new media from old.

Who Funds the Coverage?
After all, what group of private citizens is going to band together to provide coverage of the war in Afghanistan? Only the traditional media have the financial resources to do so, though newspapers are not exactly growing their overseas presence in these days of plummeting revenue and bankruptcy. But I don’t see anyone else filling this role, at least not until news organizations can figure out an effective business model for online journalism.

What is citizens journalism?

Amateur Hour?
Citizen Journalism, in the form of blogs, can be valuable in offering new, independent views of news events. But who are the bloggers, what is their training and where do they get much of their content? As author Nicholas Lehmann points out in his article, “Amateur Hour” in The New Yorker, some content on blogs is gleaned from mass media sources, while other writing is merely one’s “take on life”:

“The more ambitious blogs, taken together, function as a form of fast-moving, densely cross-referential pamphleteering—an open forum for every conceivable opinion that can’t make its way into the big media, or, in the case of the millions of purely personal blogs, simply an individual’s take on life. The Internet is also a venue for press criticism (“We can fact-check your ass!” is one of the familiar rallying cries of the blogosphere) and a major research library of bloopers, outtakes, pranks, jokes, and embarrassing performances by big shots. But none of that yet rises to the level of a journalistic culture rich enough to compete in a serious way with the old media—to function as a replacement rather than an addendum.”

Philadelphia CityPaper writer Bruce Schimmel argues that the Internet, by feeding on content from daily newspapers, is only just the latest culprit to do so:

“As an aggregator of news…Google will have to get its information from somewhere — probably newspapers. But that won’t be possible if newspapers are gone.
What’s more, as Google decimates the dailies, not only will their newsrooms wane, so will the secondary media — television, radio and, yes, weekly newspapers — that depend upon the dailies’ resources.

What Google now does to daily newspapers isn’t really new; they’re just better at it. Ancillary media have always ripped off the dailies. Even the best in national broadcasting use them to set their agenda.”

Basic Training
If we are to rely on fellow citizens to keep us informed as members of a democracy, shouldn’t these citizens have some sort of basic training? How do we know if they understand the importance of presenting balanced reporting, of quoting sources accurately or of asking the right questions? A veteran Canadian journalist expresses his concerns:

“I worry that many citizen journalists are basically amateurs who are simply mimicking what they see on TV or in the press, to varying degrees of success,” says Jack Kapica, a former reporter for Canada’s Globe & Mail and current writer and editorial advisor for “Much of the writing I’ve read, on most citizen journalism sites, shows little understanding of the process of gathering the news and writing it in a conventional form.

In “Wealth of Networks,“ Benkler describes mass media as the incumbent in the battle over the digital environment. If individual citizens are the challengers, I think they need to admit how much of their information about events still comes from the old, world-weary incumbent. Bloggers and other individual contributors are not always as fresh in writing as they may think.

Mass media, on the other hand, needs to adapt more effectively to the culture of mass interaction that Professor Halavais described in his recent lecture, by enabling their audiences to engage in conversation on a massive scale. If old media can successfully adapt, I think they still have much to contribute to a democratic society. There needs to be an organization to employ full-time, professional journalists. At least until online news sites fully evolve, mass media must fill that role. Who else will?

Lewis and Clark in Blog Land

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Below is my response posted on the blog, To Wit:

As a first-semester graduate student in Quinnipiac University’s Interactive Communications Program, I’ll confess that until this fall I haven’t given much attention to blogs and blogging. Or at least not as much as I should have. I’m still experiencing the Lewis and Clark feel of the blog culture.

My initial assessment is that finding good content in the blogosphere can be a challenge. My experience involves an assignment for one of my QU courses, which is to post a comment on a blog outside our class. After several hours of searching all kinds of independent blogs on topics from health care and pop culture to conservation and climate control, I wasn’t really hooked by any of them. Granted, the blogs sponsored by news outlets such as NPR and the New York Times were excellent, but I was looking for new, off-beat voices.

I tried online directories that categorize blogs by topic, but those took me to sites with a commercial agenda, such as marketing agency blogs that discuss “10 ways to reach your customers more effectively.”

Finally I came back to the blog I’ve known longest, “To Wit.” Ironically, the reason I know about your blog is through an oldline media outlet, the Hartford Courant, which carries your column of the same name. “To Wit” offers what many other blogs hope for: unique insight, humor and entertainment in one package.

For the general field of blogging not to seem stale, I think there needs to be a better way for readers to find well written, thought-provoking content. Can anyone suggest tips other than scanning blogrolls and doing Google searches?

Clearly blogging is important because it provides a way for any citizen to post an opinion on any subject. But at the same time, this is one of its weaknesses. The quality of the content varies greatly, because in many cases there is no professional editor to edit the writing before the “publish” button is punched. Hey, anyone can write, right?

As someone who is just beginning to take a close look at blogs, I have managed to find some fresh, interesting outlets. But my biggest complaint is that it takes a lot of slogging through the backwater of poor-quality blogs to reach the good stuff. Maybe it’s because I still feel like Lewis and Clark without a good map.

Let’s Call It “Profit Determinism”

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

I think it’s true that early in our history, social need was the driving force behind the advancement of communication and computer technology. But today something much different is at work.

In just 40 years since Doug Engelbart presented “The Demo,“ an early glimpse of computers working with humans to manage complex information, I believe it is a different force — consumer spending and corporate profit — that drives today’s technological advancements. With a global marketplace of iPhones, laptops and MP3 players, we live in an age that could best be called “Profit Determinism.”

During the careers of Engelbart, J.C.R Licklider and, two decades earlier, Vannevar Bush, much of the research was done by scientists working for the government or for universities. In 1945, for example, Bush makes a call to his fellow scientists, who had been applying science to warfare, and urges them to put their efforts toward “objectives worthy of their best” in peacetime. By this he means advancements in communication technology that will help make sure man’s knowledge evolves and endures throughout the history of the human race “rather than that of an individual.” Today Bush’s call to action sounds strangely noble, motivated by the public good rather than any sense of monetary gain. Bush, Engelbart and Licklider also recognized the social needs that existed, and could be fulfilled, by bringing humans and computers together to work effectively.

A mass market for computer technology did not exist when these men published their writings and gave their “demos.” Licklider realized this, and also understood how the lack of a mass market made it harder for his ideas to become realized. “If large on-line communities were already in being, their mass market would attract mass manufacture,” he wrote.

A Corporate Empire
Today, however, global corporate giants such as Microsoft, Apple, and many others base their survival on how much revenue can be generated from computer-based products for the business-to-business and consumer markets. A computer application that may have seemed promising in a research lab in Licklider’s day might be quickly squashed in the corporate environment if, for example, the marketing department determined it could not promote the application in a way that would generate a sufficient level of sales.

These companies don’t consider social need when determining their business plans so much as determining social need with their products. The iPod is an excellent example. By investing heavily in advertising, and recognizing the tremendous sales potential, Apple created not just a trend but a social movement. I work in a typical corporate environment where most people had never tried an iPod several years ago. Today, nearly all my colleagues own one and many listen to them at their desk. And my company is hardly a cutting-edge kind of place.

Spot-On Predictions
Even though Engelbart, Licklider and Bush made their mark in an era before computers became a global industry, it is amazing how many of their predictions have, in fact, made companies wildly successful today. Bush, for example, realizes that “selection is the key” in consulting a vast record of information, the basic idea behind today’s Internet search engines. Engelbart types and sends messages to his colleagues, decades before Microsoft Outlook became an everyday tool. And Licklider talks about “functions and services to which you subscribe on a regular basis and others that you call for when you need them,” much like today’s aggregator programs.

I will concede that these men were brilliant in identifying a social need in each of the cases above. But the use of search engines, e-mail, aggregator programs and other computer-based products would not be so widespread were it not for the incredibly lucrative market that this industry represents to corporate investors.

Who knew aggregating would be so much fun?

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

I’ve opened my account on Google Reader, and am loving this whole new aggregator thing. Like they say, it’s as if you’re creating your own personal magazine full of the stuff that YOU like. It’s immediately addicting. The best blog that I discovered is Margaret and Helen , two women in their 80s who offer up blunt, amusing liberal rants. I guess they remind me of my late Mother, who was as blunt as elderly Midwestern women come.


Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

I work in marketing for the evil, scary managed-care industry, but don’t hold it against me. A lot of people who work at my company are actually interested in helping our customers stay healthy. Really!

That’s a big reason why I enrolled in the ICM program — to learn about using interactive media to help people become more informed about health. Another reason is to explore how voiceovers and digital media are coming together. As a former radio news anchor, my true passion is voicing scripts, and the online opportunities are exploding.

My goal is to become a web producer who can manage content and do voiceovers for an organization’s website. Please, I don’t want to be editing drug formularies and provider directories forever.

I look forward to some good discussions in class. Won’t you help this old dog learn some new tricks?