Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Who is a Journalist? Ask Apple

Thanks to the holiday weekend I'm a little behind in my reading. I tried to take in a bit more "real life" this weekend and a bit less of the online world.

In any case, a colleague sent me Charlie Cooper's piece from Friday about the most recent ruling in the Apple case. Basically, a blogger put out what Apple said were trade secrets, so Apple sued. At the heart was whether the blogger was a journalist and protected under California's shield.

The court held that yes, a blogger is, in fact, a journalist.

Last week Charlie Kravetz of NECN stopped by our offices and I had a chance to talk with him about the shield law he and others proposed for Massachusetts (I've written previously on the topic). They wrote the definition deliberately to include bloggers, but I still hold that it protects anyone who puts out information, such as PR people. Kravetz, of course, disagrees, saying that a court probably wouldn't hold that a PR firm could be considered a journalist.

But I guess that all depends on the judge and the lawyers involved.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Putting Up, not Shutting Up

If I'm not blogging as often recently, it's because other activities have gotten in the way. Most notably is a foray into citizen journalism along with Kristine of Krissy in Boston. Taking a page from H2oTown's book, we've launched TheGardenCity.net.

Our goal is to have a community resource for news and information in our little slice of the Boston area. Newton has a population just on the shy side of 85,000 and only one weekly paper covering it. It's a great city with a lot going on, even if you just look on the north side, which is where we're focused. We'd like to get community involvement rather than becoming the only reporters ourselves. Still, I'd love to get deeper into reporting again, doing stories on the need for a new local high school, property issues and local events.

But that's all a matter of spending time. The more people who can be involved, the better off we'll be.

I figure it's time for me to stop just TALKING about the changes in journalism and become part of the movement.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Where is the Audience Now?

One of the interesting after-effects of Howard Stern's move off of commercial radio is the boost it's given NPR. In a nutshell it goes like this: listeners who have spent years driving in to work listening to fart jokes and didn't want to pony up the cash for Sirius radio, have instead locked the serious-toned "Morning Edition" into their radio dial.

NPR knows this pretty well, as I heard a promo during a recent fund-drive that used clips from Howard Stern. Although, I doubt that means Steve Inskeep is going to be interviewing strippers.

Mark Jurkowitz isn't sure of the connection between the two shows, but I think that's the point. Retailers have already figured out that just because someone shops at Wal-Mart, that doesn't mean they avoid high-end retailers. In fact, many Wal-Mart shoppers can probably be found on Newbury Street as well. Just because they want a bargain, doesn't mean they don't have money.

In the marketing world we often try to pigeon-hole people, but it doesn't always work that way. People who like fart jokes also want to hear about Mike Wallace's career.

Is there a connection? No... and that's what makes this new media world all the more interesting.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Deluge and Desert

It's been raining.

That phrase doesn't do justice to what we've been experiencing here. When the weather forecasters start talking about rain as they normally would snow (4 inches, 5 inches, 6 inches, etc.) you know you're in trouble.

I live less than a half a mile from the Charles River, far enough to be outside of the flood plain, but close enough to be concerned about all the water. On the TV news the cameras were up where the major flooding was, as is expected. But every once in a while they'd flash up a graphic showing the list of rivers of concern and that list included the Charles. BUT, the Charles is a long and winding river. Where is the concern? Is it in my backyard? Up in Waltham? Needham? Cambridge?

The news gave me no answers. So I turned to the online presence of the local Newton paper. There I found only one thing: a blog entry asking for people with information to post. The phrase "flood us with comments" has yielded none.

I'm sorry, but this is inadequate. I think the pictures of people getting flooded out of their homes in the Merrimack Valley are horrible, and I feel for them, I really do. But what about my neighbors? Will they need to pack up? What about the people living along Cheesecake Brook (which feeds into the Charles and runs past a school)? Not information of importance to a lot of people, but certainly something of importance to me and a few hundred others around here.

Not many people know about the Newton blog, and they're not trained to become reporters themselves. It's great in theory, but getting the public involved is about more than just putting up a post and asking questions, it's about creating a resource they can use and build themselves.

More importantly, the Newton paper should be sending out reporters with cameras and feeding information online. Yes, I know it's a weekly paper, but it's time that it realized how to become a news source, not just a magazine.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

For What It's Worth....

While I'm on the subject of local news, I've noticed a change in tone, recently, of the Newton Tab, it seems more relaxed and chatty. I'm not sure if this change comes from the editors, from the fact that it sold (and was previously on the block) or a conscious effort by the overall CNC group, but it's worth noting.

Also worth noting is the paper's new blog. The editors are practically begging for comments by ending just about every post with a question, which can be a bit annoying, but it's certainly a good start. I'd like to see how this develops over time.

One shortcoming the paper has long had is it's weekly publishing schedule. This means that the Newton paper regularly gets scooped in its own backyard by the twice-weekly Boston Globe West section, as well as the Metro section for larger stories. It would be nice to see the blog become a true daily news source in addition to a place for amusing commentary.

The Local News Leader?

In the middle of a Boston.com story about declining circulation there is a link for a quick survey asking "where do you get your local news?"

Now, keep in mind that the survey is online so it pretty much chooses its own audience. My guess is that a phone survey of people chosen at random would yeild different results. But when I clicked on my answer, of the 508 respondents a whopping 70.9 percent answerd "online news sources." The next in line was newspapers with 16.9 percent followed by TV at 7.1 and radio at 3.5.

I'm not surprised at the low radio number, but I am a bit shocked that even in this sample, TV came up so low.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Saving Local News

One of the things that doomed me in journalism was my misguided belief in local TV. I'd cut my teeth at a local radio station covering zoning board meetings, town board meetings and local events. I saw the effects announcements about jobs could have on the long-time residents in Binghamton, and truly believed that local TV could, if it wanted, make a difference.

The reality is, I care about a fire on my street but don't really care about the one two towns over. It may look great on TV and provide scintilating video, but it certainly doesn't offer me anything that has to do with my life. The sad fact is, I don't really watch local TV news much any longer.

But I still care about local journalism. I read the Newton, Mass. paper on a regular basis and lamented the day that two became one. Now it appears that the Herald has sold CNC (the group that runs my local paper as well as a number of others in the Boston metro area) to a midwestern group. There's some speculation on what it will mean, but I'm pretty sure that journalism will probably change, I'm sure some papers will be consolidated and others will lose staff. If you haven't noticed the speed with which newspapers are shrinking, then you haven't been watching.

But I hold out hope that this could mean great things for local journalism. Why? Because people DO want to know what happened next door, and people like Lisa Williams of H2oTown will keep them updated. Maybe more people will find these sites. Or better, maybe the sites will start doing more promotions.

Also, it's possible that the new owners will look to online as a way to distribute content that may not otherwise pay to print. So they may be willing to pay freelancers for coverage of smaller villages that otherwise would go without news coverage.

There's a problem when it comes to "local news," however. How do you define "local?" In an article this month in Commwealth Magazine, WBUR General Manager Paul La Camera tells Dan Kennedy "I just believe that if we’re going to make as full a contribution as we ought to make to an informed citizenry, part of that has to be local reporting."

But that means Massachusetts. Sure, I care about the race for Governor, and perhaps I care about some of the major power brokers in the state, but do I really care who wins in Holyoke? Not really. Even for public radio, however, audience size means something, so you need critical mass in order to make it all work.

But what does this mean on the PR side of things? Any time there are fewer outlets, it's a challenge, especially for those campaigns such as medical devices and drugs that focus on local programs.

But if people turn to the online world for these stories, then it's just another outlet.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Victim or Perpetrator?

I continue to be fascinated by the Kaavya Viswanathan story. I want to feel bad for her. I want to believe that she didn't fully understand what she was doing and wasn't trying to do something wrong. But then there is this quote at the end of a Harvard Crimson story from Salman Rushdie, from whom Viswanathan is also accused of stealing:

"I do not accept the idea that this could have been accidentally or innocently done," Rushdie told CNN-IBN, an Indian-based network. "“The passages are too many and the similarities are too extensive."”
But what I still don't understand is how she got the contract to start it all. I recently wrote a children's story and called a friend, who is a published children's author (her book spent time on various best seller lists). When I asked her about being published she told me that she, a published author, was having trouble getting her calls returned. In fact, most publishers didn't want to look at any new material from unpublished authors, choosing instead to work with known quantities, such as celebrities. There are thousands of talented writers out there all vying for some recognition, but can never get it.

So, what does that mean for Viswanathan? I think she was a marketing ploy. Her packager/ publisher saw some raw talent, figured it could make some hay with a young, attractive, talented writer who received a book contract along with her acceptance letter to Harvard. It all worked perfectly, right up until the point she was found out.

But what I can't decide is if she was a victim, or just a teenaged girl in over her head who just made a few mistakes.