Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Why Net Neutrality Matters

20.12.2010 (5:15 pm) – Filed under: Media,Technology ::

(Originally posted as a comment on the Huffington Post)

In contrast to the title of Dave Winer’s post, Net Neutrality is an important issue for all users of the Internet, for exactly the reasons he details. Can you imagine being charged more for when using a telephone to talk about politics and less when discussing football? The idea that some traffic on the Internet is more valuable than others is valid as relates to operational services such as DNS, etc. However, users should be free to visit sites of their choosing without censorship, performance penalty, or additional charges levied by common carriers.

Internet traffic is every bit as much of a commodity as electric power, yet no power company would dare attempt to charge more for watts used to operate a television and less for those for air conditioning. Bandwidth providers must be reminded their role in the greater Internet is to provide connectivity without prejudice or favoritism. If common carriers – emphasis on "common" – wish to provide content, they must do so based on the merits of that content and not because of their powerful position as the gatekeepers of our personal and business connection to the electronic world.

Ron Paul Kills on WikiLeaks

11.12.2010 (3:27 pm) – Filed under: Media,National Security ::

@RonJeffries “Ron Paul’s questions listed here are as good a defense of WikiLeaks as I’ve seen.” http://bit.ly/f8HrmT

These are great questions that deserve answers, answers we almost certainly never get. Why? Because no one in power wants to pay the high price of setting the principle bar high enough to require the transparency we both want and need from our government. It’s too hard for politicians of the modern stripe, save for Mr. Paul perhaps.

Amazon Taking Heat for Doing the Right Thing

11.11.2010 (8:45 am) – Filed under: Media,Stupidity ::

Amazingly, Paul Carr of TechCrunch has come out against Amazon’s decision to remove a pedophiliac’s handbook from its e-shelves. His rationale? The same information is available elsewhere.

This is exactly the sort of unprincipled non-think that has would-be intellectuals second-guessing the Cold War now that it’s over. Principles matter, Paul, and people in the media ought to know that and applaud anyone who does what’s right rather than spouting nonsense about how it doesn’t matter.

Sorry, but Amazon is entirely within their rights to sell or refuse to sell any product, at any time, for any reason. If the company’s judgment is that selling a perv’s guide to kiddie porn hurts their image and/or bottom line then that’s Amazon’s business, not yours.

Little Green Footballs Take Bad Bounces

21.12.2009 (11:04 pm) – Filed under: Media,Politics ::

Charles Johnson, proprietor of Little Green Footballs, is someone who used to make some sense, particularly with regard to the dangers of Islam. Sadly he’s recently dropped the ball and is now running like a headless chicken toward the wrong end zone, all the while shouting, “I’ve left the right! I’ve left the right!”

Johnson’s latest anti-Republican hit job is on Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota who, Johnson says, is anti-science and anti-gay.  Why? Because he believes in a Creator, that traditional marriage deserves its elevated position in society, and that local communities should have the right to define their own standards.

The horror! The horror! By denouncing Pawlenty, the erstwhile Johnson embraces the snake oil salesmanship of the radical left, a disassociative splinter group whose credo is “If it feels good, do it – unless it’s something we tell you not to do.” And Johnson has the brassies to comment on Tim Pawlenty’s “cognitive dissonance”? Sounds to me like it’s time to break out the lithium, ’cause Chaz’s head is about to explode from the internal shock waves.

Listen, if you want to believe that the trillions of stars in the universe, all of their surrounding planets, and all the rest of the incredible stellar phenomena that are known to exist sprang into existence without the organization and planning of an amazing mind, I say fine, believe what you want. But it’s a ridiculous argument on the face of it.

How can such a claim be made, you ask? Occam’s Razor clearly points to the origins of the universe being a planned, highly-controlled event. That’s simple logic. When compared with random chance, there’s no comparison. So am I anti-science?

Though Charles Johnson would undoubtedly say otherwise, that’s hardly the case, for I believe that true science can explain every mystery in the universe. I also believe that mankind will never reach the level of understanding required to answer the fundamental questions that we have about the world around us. But that doesn’t make me anti-science, merely realistic.

The Tragedy of the Week

28.08.2009 (5:19 pm) – Filed under: Literature,Media ::

image With Ted Kennedy and Dominick Dunne passing on this week you might think this article is about one of them but you’d be wrong.  No, the real tragedy of the week is the end of Levar Burton’s Reading Rainbow, the PBS show the Roots and Star Trek star used to pass on his love of literature to children all over the country.

Kennedy and Dunne have left a temporary void, but their shoes will be filled and most likely sooner rather than later.  Conversely, the Reading Rainbow, the 3rd longest-running PBS series of all-time, will likely not be replaced.  New techniques in reading education, it is believed, make Burton’s motivational techniques irrelevant.

more »

Jury Runs Amok Fining Woman over Bootleg Songs

19.06.2009 (12:19 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Media ::

A federal jury convicted Jammie Thomas-Rasset of illegally downloading 24 songs and fined her an eye-popping $80,000 PER SONG in the re-trial of the first such copyright infringement case in the United States.

Attorney Joe Sibley said that his client was shocked at fine, noting that the price tag on the songs she downloaded was 99 cents.

She plans to appeal, he said.

She pretty much has to, given the massive fine, which is utterly ridiculous and vastly disproportionate to the “crime”, such as it was.

Sounds like Sibley didn’t do too good of a job during jury selection; I’d like to think that it would be rather difficult to find 12 Americans stupid enough to levy a fine 8000000% greater than the retail value of the merchandise in question.

The RIAA was smug in victory, admitting no shame over the possibility of bankrupting a family over $24 of its music:

Cara Duckworth, a spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America, said the RIIA was “pleased that the jury agreed with the evidence and found the defendant liable.”

“We appreciate the jury’s service and that they take this as seriously as we do”

More so, it seems.

The Travails of Citizen Journalism

19.04.2009 (12:56 am) – Filed under: Media ::

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I attended the Houston tea party on April 15th and came away with some nice pictures of the protesters signs/messages, some good audio clips that I’ve now posted, and a new respect for field journalism when it is practiced well.

Of course journalism isn’t always done right, as CNN’s Susan Roesgen showed us in no uncertain terms, and that’s part of the reason for the decline of the great American newspaper, among several others.  Edward R. Murrow, where have you gone?

Perhaps we don’t need CNN anymore.  Jay Rosen of NYU is one of the leading proponents of citizen journalism which he defines thusly:

When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.

So how did my venture into the field go?

Like most new media types I generally write from an editorialist perspective.  Things happen, I note them, and give an opinion on whether the event was good or bad and why.

Field reporting is different because you’re in the event, recording the facts as they happen, and, as Jay says, using your first-hand knowledge of the event to inform others about it.

A “real” journalist has some advantages over the amateur, one of which is a support system that comes in the form of a home office, other aligned personnel, and dedicated equipment.  All of these aids, unseen by the news consumer, are important.

On Wednesday the “equipment in my possession” was a multimedia-capable phone, a digital camera, and a note pad/pen.  This was almost enough.  But I was traveling light and ran into a couple of snags due to lack of practice at being in the field and lack of proper equipment. 

The tea party was both an auditory and visual event.  My phone has a decent camera for its size, which was important.  All of the hot-off-the-presses photos came from the phone cam at 640×480 rez, which is perfectly fine for online publication, and attached to an SMS to Michael’s gmail account, were easily submitted back to base.  The one thing I did have going for me that not every blog writer can count on was an engaged editor in the form of Michael vdG.

I mostly made it a practice to shoot everything twice, once with the phone and again with my real digital camera, a point-and-shoot 8 mega-pixel Nikon.  Most of the photos I published on the my final photo round-up came from the Nikon since they were significantly sharper.

My first hang-up came while trying to do 5 things at the same time: talk to people in the crowd, make notes, formula copy for Michael, photograph the cool signs, which were everywhere, and capture the speakers’ audio.  Not an easy thing to do with only two hands and one phone.

The dedicated camera helped at this point because I could still snap the odd pic here and there while using the phone to text Michael my report.  This did mean an interruption in the flow of pics, however, since the Nikon has no connectivity.  Multitasking was also hindered by texting because it tied up the phone that I planned to use to make the recordings.

As Jay says, it’s the equipment in one’s possession that counts.  My phone is an LG Vu CU920, which is a pretty nice phone, particularly at the going price.  Ideally a one-man-band would have 3 fully-capable phones at hand so as to be able to shoot pics, record audio, and send copy at the same time.

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It was when I made the decision to switch to recording audio that one of the Vu’s subtle flaws made itself known.  I’d fired off several messages to Michael containing text and video before starting recording and he replied to some of them.  Unfortunately, when a text message is received the Vu stops recording – without notifying the operator.  This caused several recordings to be prematurely stopped and audio lost.  Another Vu oddity is that it only records in 6 minute chunks, meaning the recording had to be constantly monitored during long speeches.  A dedicated recording device would have prevented gaps in the audio record of the event.

Another area in which time in the field would have helped was in conducting interviews.  The event was attended by 8000 people and there was a band up prior to the speakers.  Noise was an issue, as was not having a set game-plan for the interviews.  A list of prepared questions would have helped a great deal.  One thing that was a little surprising was how willing people were to talk – no one refused.

The worst problem for me began to occur when the event was about half over.  At that point my texts began to fail to send for unexplained reasons.  I wasn’t able to transmit most of the audio back to Michael, which meant that it couldn’t get published in a timely manner.  Eventually I gave up trying to send messages out.  Ideally I would have had access to a second communications network when AT&T’s started giving me problems. 

A final issue that caused a problem with the delivery of audio to our readers was the file format in which the Vu’s audio is saved.  The AMR format is highly compact and is normally played back by Apple’s QuickTime, a popular media player on Windows, as well as Mac.  Unfortunately it is not a standard MIME type known to all web servers.  Apparently this caused the upload of the audio I was able to send back to fail.  A one-time tweak to the web server configuration would have solved this problem, had it been known in advance.

Although it’s well after the fact now, several of the speeches are well worth a listen and I still highly recommend checking them out.

In conclusion let me say that the news reports we see on television look simple.  But the logistics involved in actually getting the news is more difficult than it appears, particularly when one is going it alone hundreds of miles away from home.

Jay Rosen, Dave Winer, and others are bullish on the future of citizen journalism as an inevitable replacement for the current for-profit model of journalism. 

Certainly the business model for newspapers as we know them is not sustainable.  It can never be so when readers – i.e., customers – see the market price for news as zero.  We expect to get our news for free these days and one effect is that the cost of production must also be zero or as close to it as possible.

Citizen journalism meets that criteria.  My concern is that the integrity that we’ve become accustomed to seeing demonstrated by our leading reporters would be lost if the reporting of news were handed over to ordinary citizens like me.

However, judging from the absolutely shameful reporting and commentary produced by CNN and MSNBC while covering the tea parties, that concern seems less important.  Could John Q. Public have done any worse than David Schuster?

Schuster’s bully-pulpit – Olbermann’s really – gives him both an unearned air of authority and a responsibility to act like an adult while reporting the facts, a responsibility that he failed to even attempt to live up to.  CNN’s Roesgen has gone off on a “vacation” after abusing her interviewee in front of the world.  MSNBC’s Schuster – also of Chelsea Clinton “pimped out” fame – apparently enjoys the full support of his network in lieu of the termination notice he richly deserves.

For these offenses against journalistic integrity CNN and MSNBC should be banned from the link list of all respectable blogs.  They deserve no props for their work and no links from ours.  Their articles should go unread and their videos unseen until such time as they begin to practice their profession with a proper of decorum.

Perhaps in their place a thousand individual flowers can bloom.  I strongly suspect that accountability and quality would both improve in that event.

Misunderstanding Want and Need in Media, Life

09.04.2009 (11:52 pm) – Filed under: Business,Media ::

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Jane Hamsher’s a busy girl.  Busy, that is, following the rote formula of bashing the conservative competition before launching into her agenda, which in this case is all about keeping that lefty blogger no-one-wants-to-pay-us-for-our-hard-work theme going:

It’s staggering just how ignorant right wing bloggers are about how the business of media works, or business in general. Which wouldn’t be so ironic if they didn’t run around thumping their chests about the virtues of “free markets” and capitalism all the time.

The problem is that groups who send us their press releases expecting “earned media” just as they do the New York Times get the same “earned media” from us that they do from the New York Times. The difference is that they aren’t factoring us into their “paid” media budgets, and like the New York Times, without that, we don’t have a sustainable business model to keep offering “earned” media. As groups increasingly depend upon us as the only news outlets covering their issues (which we do without consideration as to whether they advertise with us or not), participating in a sustainable structure is something they need to be thinking about.

News flash – if a group or company can get your services for free, as part of your defending the cause or whatnot, then they’re going to do that.  If that doesn’t make you happy, try to charge them for your services.  If your work is valued at a premium compared to others willing to provide similar content – and there are a lot of them, aren’t there? – then they’ll meet your price.  If not, well, you don’t have a sustainable business model, do you?  No, not when the going price for writing ideological put-up material is effectively zero.

It’s just staggering, the ignorance that underlies this denial of reality.  It’s as though Jane, Kos, et al, are brain-locked into the opening sequence of the TV show Myth Busters in which Adam says, cheesy grin in place, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.”  If only that were possible.

The idea that FDL and dKos are somehow owed patronage by the groups whose agenda they helped catapult into power is preposterous.  Business is about what value a server provider will have for a customer going forward, not about what happened yesterday.  For them to show you the money you have to have something to offer in return, something unique that justifies the expense of doing business with you, the payback for which is timely from the customer’s perspective.

At the risk of taking too great a detour, this story about small business owners in Hawaii is demonstrative of the essential point here, which is that in order to get the results you want, hard work targeted to the immediate need at hand is required. 

Seems the businesses were having trouble getting something for nothing out of their patron, the state of Hawaii in this case.  Seeing the difficulty this put them in, the owners decided to stop complaining about what they weren’t getting for free, roll up their sleeves, and solved their own problems all on their own.

So when Kos complains about the AP trying to establish a market value for services it’s been providing essentially for free to sites like his, realize that it’s because he has a need for AP’s content, is unable to generate it on his own, but is unwilling to meet AP’s as yet unset price. 

Perhaps AP will realize that harassing bloggers and/or charging them will not help them meet their objective of raising revenue.  But it’s their right to try and create a business model that is sustainable by setting a price on their content.  This is what FDL – and the PoliGazette as well – will have to do in order to survive in a very competitive environment in which the competition is often willing to work for free – establish value for businesses on their sites and price space there accordingly.

The new bottom line is that, like the Hawaiian business owners, modern news hounds expect to get news content for free.  That’s why the Times shut down its pay service – because the eyeballs were all going to free sites.  Perhaps as news organizations continue to go bankrupt consumers will realize that value has been lost and will begin to support the surviving news organizations.  But I doubt it.

The consolidation of news providers will end the same way that the phenomenon of on-line retailers ended, with a few survivors dominating the majority of the landscape.  There is no need for multiple on-line book stores.  Similarly, there is no need for fifty different newspapers and cable news networks to interpret President Obama’s latest speech.

All citizens require is for the White House to publish the videos on YouTube and perhaps provide transcripts of official events.

When opinion and commentary are wanted, people will pay for it by supporting writers who add value to the real news analyzing it in unique, useful ways.  By support I mean doing it the Michael Totten way, by providing them with the means to do their work for as long as that work has real value.  When it doesn’t, the money will move to someone whose work offers more.

That’s the way the media business of the future is going to work.  Not as a sustainable arrangement of interleaved, interdependent, multi-level media marketing schemes but in a chaotic, vibrant environment in which very small organizations supplement a few large news organizations by doing all the little things that people value that the remaining big guys can’t do.

Dave Winer had this to say yesterday (emphasis mine):

Focus on what you love about news, and then bring more of that to the insatiable users of news. If you’re making people happy, they’ll find a way to keep you doing it. It’s like Napster in 2000, the music industry was complaining while millions were freshly excited about music, for the first time in 25 years. People were talking about music on airplanes, in supermarkets. There had to be a way for them to make huge money from that, instead they tried to stop it. AP — same thing, now in 2009. We love news. We don’t love what the cable networks are providing us. The papers are folding. Get on top of the Internet, don’t try to crawl under it.

That’s your sustainable business model – make enough readers happy and your tip jar will stay full.

Indiana University: Press Favors Republicans (and Hell Freezes Over)

24.02.2009 (9:23 pm) – Filed under: Media,Politics ::

Maria Elizabeth Grabe and Erik Bucy, both associate professors in the Indiana University’s Department of Telecommunications say that Republicans were the beneficiaries of media bias during the 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 presidential elections:

In their research, Democrats were more likely to be subjects of the “lip-flap” effect, while Republicans more often got the last word. GOP candidates were favored in terms of having the last say in all but the 2004 election. In 1992, the difference was distinctive with Republicans having the final say 57.9 percent of the time. In 1996, Republicans had eight times as many last-say opportunities as Democrats.

Findings for camera angle clearly illustrate the Republican advantage. Overall, Republican candidates were covered in more low-angle and fewer high-angle shots than Democrats.

Doubters would quickly note that George Bush 41 and Bob Dole lost the elections which the researchers highlight, making theirs a not quite convincing case.

Grabe:

“We don’t think this is journalists conspiring to favor Republicans. We think they’re just so beat up and tired of being accused of a liberal bias that they unknowingly give Republicans the benefit in coverage.  It’s self-censorship that journalists might be imposing on themselves.”

Having just lived through the 2008 election cycle, it seems obvious that any predilections the mass media might have once had about at least pretending to be neutral are history.

Lies, Damn Lies, and We’ll Force You to Listen to Them

14.02.2009 (12:07 am) – Filed under: Media,Politics ::

More members of the Democratic Congress are revealing their desire to re-regulate the talk radio marketplace by breathing new life into the corpse of the Fairness Doctrine. 

The reason behind the plans is obvious and it has nothing to do with the public welfare.  AM radio was essentially worthless until conservative political talk shows began to spring up on the low-fidelity airwaves.  Most are sharply critical of liberal policies and agenda items. 

Unable to stifle these voices, some of which are abrasive even to conservative ears, Democrats want to censor them by forcing radio stations to find and air opposing points of view.

Fundamentally this is an issue of free choice that the marketplace has already voted on.  Liberal talk radio died for one simple reason: no one wanted to listen to the same left-wing dogma that they could read in print.  Conservative voices were fresher and more relevant and won the day.  Democrats now want to steal that victory away.

Make your voice heard – tell Congress to mind their own business.