Goodbye ‘BCN.

Yesterday was a sad day for people who listen to the radio in Boston.

RIP WBCN.

Yes, WBCN was no longer the rock haven it once was. It’s largely ceded that territory to WFNX. And yes, it aired the incredibly stupid/annoying Howard Stern and Toucher and Rich (who it will keep airing). But it still played better music than 99% of the crap radio stations in the nation. And the real tragedy is what it’s being replaced with. Sports talk radio. Because this challenger to WEEI will work, unlike multiple previous attempts to dethrone the station that basically invented sports talk.

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I love higher education wonkery

I tweeted about this earlier, but I want to quote more from the Edge Magazine essay on “The Impending Demise of the University,” specifically this bit, which as a college student, I can tell you is a very real phenomenon:

Consider one of the smash hits on YouTube last year, a short video called “A Vision of Students Today”.

Created by Michael Wesch, an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, it is a stinging indictment of the education delivered by standard large-scale American university. Wesch recruited 200 student collaborators to describe their view of the education they’re receiving. Their verdict: Nothing much has changed since the early nineteenth century, when the blackboard was introduced as a brilliant new way to help students visualize information. They painted a grim picture of university life — huge classes, teachers who didn’t know the students’ names, students who didn’t complete the assigned readings, multiple-choice exams that were a waste of intellectual capital.

I know many bright students who feel the same way. The big thing these days is to get an “A” without ever having gone to a lecture. When the crème de la crème of an entire generation is boycotting the formal model of pedagogy in our educational institutions, the writing is on the wall. (Emphasis mine)

While I would never attempt the bolded task, I know many kids who have and several who have suceeded. One class at UMD in particular is infamous for basically not requiring students to attend. Why? They are 600 kids in the class and the professors always post slides online. Another interesting point:

Growing up digital has changed the way their minds work in a manner that will help them handle the challenges of the digital age. They’re used to multi-tasking, and have learned to handle the information overload. They expect a two-way conversation. What’s more, growing up digital has encouraged this generation to be active and demanding enquirers. Rather than waiting for a trusted professor to tell them what’s going on, they find out on their own on everything from Google to Wikipedia.

If universities want to adapt the teaching techniques to their current audience, they should, as I’ve been saying for years, make significant changes to the pedagogy. And the new model of learning is not only appropriate for youth — but increasingly for all of us. In this generation’s culture is the new culture of learning.

The professors who remain relevant will have to abandon the traditional lecture, and start listening and conversing with the students — shifting from a broadcast style and adopting an interactive one. Second, they should encourage students to discover for themselves, and learn a process of discovery and critical thinking instead of just memorizing the professor’s store of information. Third, they need to encourage students to collaborate among themselves and with others outside the university. Finally, they need to tailor the style of education to their students’ individual learning styles.

Because of technology this is now possible. But this is not fundamentally about technology per se. Rather it represents a change in the relationship between students and teachers in the learning process.

Anyway, as the kids say, read the whole thing. After the jump, the aforementioned YouTube video.

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“The Road to Wigan Pier” and how things never change

I just finished George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier. For the unitiated, the first half of the book is about Orwell’s experiences living with poor coal mining families in the north of England. The second half is a description of why he thinks socialism has failed to gain a following in England, despite it being (in his opinion), so obviously right. As part of the reason, he says the following:

In addition to this there is the horrible – the really disquieting – prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.

Now, does anybody remember this?

The tone of the two attacks is similar, and I feel like “sushi-eating” in 2004 = “fruit-juice drinker” in 1934.

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Great Britain and the United States are different, part #8,752

From Jack Shafer’s overview of “genocidal tyrant” Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World hacking the phones of celebrities:

A police investigation of charges against the News of the World and the Murdoch-owned Sun have been launched, and the scandal has spilled over into the political sphere: The current spokesman for Conservative Party leader David Cameron is former News of the World Editor Andy Coulson, who resigned after the Goodman affair. Coulson claimed in 2007 that he knew nothing about Goodman’s rogue methods. Davies, however, reports that the thousands of phone intrusions took place while Coulson was one of the paper’s top editors.

The News of the World is the kind of paper that puts half-naked women on page 3 every day. It is trashy. Very trashy. And the Conservative (!) Party leader hired its editor as his spokesman? (In fairness, The News of the World does have a conservative editorial outlook.)

The American equivalent of this would be John McCain/Sarah Palin/John Boehner (or whoever the leader of the Republican party is) hiring the editor of the New York Post to be their spokesman. That would be a cold day in hell.

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The rewards of being intrepid

Wow. It’s been a month since I’ve blogged. But I just wanted to make a few notes on my internship:

  • A good portion of my stories terrify me. I’ve written about how suspected terrorists can buy guns, how Mexican drug cartels can buy guns, and about how the GAO was able to sneak bombs in to federal buildings.
  • Most of my stories are behind CQ’s paywall, which means no one can read them. This has given me hope that paid content will work. (Most journonerds have seen this already: but read Anderson and then Gladwell on Anderson)
  • Today, I woke up at 6:50 a.m. and really, really didn’t want to drive Bethesda for a swine flu summit. I tweeted the following: “It is very early. I don’t want to drive to NIH. Must. Be. Intrepid. Reporter.” I’m glad I decided to be intrepid. About 3 1/2 – 4 hours later, I was at a press conference with three cabinet secretaries, a governor, and the homeland security adviser. I looked to my left, and there was a reporter for the NYT. A reporter from TIME was a few seats to the left. I love my job.

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‘Complete Community Connection’ and revenue

I finally got around to some long-delayed reading today and am currently working through the “Blueprint for Complete Community Connection,” a document that’s been making its way through the journalism world since it was first published late last month. The blueprint, as I’ll call it, was written by Steve Buttry, the director of content for The Gazette in Eastern Iowa. Anyone interested in the future of journalism should read the whole thing. It’s well thought-out and contains dozens of fantastic ideas.

I was really interested by the third section, when Buttry begins to talk about revenue:

Revenue generation traditionally isn’t a journalist’s job, but helping develop a business model for the future of journalism is every journalist’s job today… Content and revenue must be planned together, so any innovation plan must address both needs.

First, I think a lot of old-school journalists would balk at the first sentence and to be honest, mixing business and editorial makes me queasy as well. But at the same time, Buttry is 100 percent correct and more and more journalists are beginning to accept this idea. A lot of the courses Christopher Wink is suggesting should be offered here are based around journalists becoming more informed about business models, etc.

Buttry goes on to offer several ideas on how to better link content and advertising. Basically, these ideas all revolve around goods being sold from a news organization’s website. The news organization would then take a cut of the profit. Buttry explains the underlying ideas:

Our approach will offer businesses a chance to pay based on performance, which gives them higher confidence as well as higher value. More important, it turns our company from an expense line in its customers’ budgets to a revenue line. The current advertising decision is a choice of making a commitment up front to a substantial investment based on the hope of generating significant business. In this recession and in the economic vise of a community recovering from disaster, we are seeing that when businesses are cutting expenses, advertising is a large expense without an obvious dollar-for-dollar connection to revenue. It becomes an inviting place to cut. But advertising works, so the business that cuts advertising sees its revenue decline (but may not recognize the decline’s relationship to the decision to cut advertising, since the economy is such a handy scapegoat). So the business needs to cut expenses again and there is that advertising expense line — a bit smaller than last time but still inviting.

Generally, I think these are all quality ideas. But I do have three critical thoughts:

  • This gives the news organization a lot of incentive to sell the product, which raises all sorts of obvious ethical concerns. Yes, journalists can consider the business side of the operation while still remaining ethical, but putting links to make reservations or buy gift certificates next to restaurant reviews seems to be a step too far. After all, that means a negative review could directly lead to decreased revenue for the news organization. Bulwarks against this need to be installed.
  • This also gives the business free advertising, because even if people don’t buy a product right away, the business is still getting their name out there and possibly leading to future business that doesn’t come directly from the newspaper’s website. But the news organization doesn’t profit from this. There are ways around this, of course (i.e., charging a flat rate and getting a smaller cut of the revenue).
  • Lastly, they’re based off what I consider to be a flawed premise: people won’t pay directly for news content. Buttry – and a lot of other innovative journalism thinkers – don’t think people will be willing to pay for content. Their reasons for thinking so are certainly sound, but I’m not so convinced. People have paid for content in the past and will (or at least could) be willing to do so in the future. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey indicates that people are willing to pay 62 percent of what they pay for print content for online content. The survey has caveats – younger users are willing to pay less than older ones, but it still indicates that charging people for content can at least be a part of the solution.

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The use of Twitter in journalism

So many things I would previously have blogged about, I now find myself twittering about. I, like many people, hated twitter until I actually started using it.

But I still have my doubts about using it as a reporting tool. As Matt Thompson frequently points out, one of the main jobs of a journalist is to add context. Twitter’s 140-character limit obviously doesn’t allow for much context. Using Twitter to cover this story, for example, would require tweeting like this:

  • CP Mayor Brayman isn’t going to run for re-election, leaving former Dist. 3 City Councilman Andy Fellows as the only declared candidate for mayor.
  • Brayman isn’t likely going to run for higher office, but will likely campaign for some council members and against Dist. 2’s Jack Perry.
  • Fellows orginally said he was going to run in 2007 and the mayor said then he wasn’t going to run.
  • Earlier this year, however, Brayman indicated he may have changed his mind.

And so on and so forth, except the posts would be in the opposite order, with unrelated posts in between if the user was looking at their main twitter feed. The result would be annoyingly difficult to read.

But while Twitter’s usefulness in actually reporting is obviously limited, it can still be useful as a social networking tool. This tweet, for example, is a way to grab the attention of a reader who might not visit the Gazette’s website everyday:

Or an even better version.

  • College Park Mayor Stephen Brayman announced he won’t run for re-election. What are your thoughts? http://tinyurl.com/ntor2b

Basically, Twitter’s primary use to journalists should be to expose stories to readers and to collect ideas and thoughts from those readers. While other social networking sites – Facebook being the most obvious example – enabled journalists to do this, Twitter is a more limited system. If a journalist wanted readers to be able to give him feedback via Facebook, he also had to let them see his family photos, etc. until relatively recently. But all you share on Twitter is your thoughts, which makes it a more comfortable environment. This is probably why the chattering classes – Jake Tapper, David Carr, etc. – have all embraced Twitter so eagerly. It’s quicker than blogging, even if you kept your blog posts really short, and enables them to severely limit what the general public can see. Basically, it maximizes exposure to what they want people to see, while minimizing exposure to what they don’t.

It’s also worth nothing that intrepid Diamondbackers Ken Tossell and Aaron Kraut have launched Twitter accounts for The Diamondback and for Diamondback Sports.

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