Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Final Post: A reflection on the lessons of JOMC 240

This afternoon, I came across this coin operated newspaper rack for the Herald Sun:




Had I not taken JOMC 240, I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought.

The rack says "More Local News," which made me think about several conversations we've had in class about how news will become more localized. Well, actually our class took two different approaches to the localization of news theory. The first was that major news outlets will publish more local news in an effort to personalize their news content. The second was that local news outlets will out survive bigger newspapers. Either way, we discussed the great value in local news.

JOMC 240 has taught me a lot about the future of mass media, but most importantly, it's encouraged me to think about the future. Yes – news media is changing. Technology and digital devices have forever impacted all types of mass media, and we're the journalists who will navigate this transition.

The future is scary, especially when the future brings radical changes that could potentially take away jobs. But JOMC 240 has shown me that within these changes are opportunities for success.

Several classes we talked about Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, Napster, Huffington Post, and other mass media that happened because of an idea. The creators of these media took advantage of new technologies to meet a need. They allowed people to communicate through pictures, instantly send messages, download music and read articles online.

JOMC 240 has taught me that although traditional print journalism is on its way out – although a potentially slow decline – media will live. There will always be a market for news, even if that market exists only on laptops. Viewers will always want to "Keep Up With the Kardashians." Listeners will always want to download their favorite songs. And tragedies, like the Chapel Hill Shooting, will highlight the importance of honest, fair reporting, even when the story doesn't quite fit the expected narrative.

Although the medium will change, news will never die.

It will be our role as millennial journalists to guide news from the printed page to computer screens. It may not always be profitable. It may not always be fun, but I believe it is our responsibility to make news relevant and accessible to the digital generation, if only for the benefit of democracy.

Now is the time for journalists to seize the day. The phrase "carpe diem" comes from a poem by the Roman poet Horace. The line in the poem is translated: "Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow (the future)."

As journalists of the future, we can't trust tomorrow to make the print-digital transition. We are being presented with the opportunity to reinvigorate and reestablish news for the digital audience.

I think our future looks pretty bright.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Digital Libraries

The following is part of a piece I wrote for magazine writing class. The article was about robots entering libraries, and how they may revolutionize the way libraries function. What I find most interesting about this article is that even traditional analog media (aka books) are being surrounded by more and more digital interfaces. Now we are using computers to handle and retrieve books, which highlights how in the future, I see most (if not all) media turning to digital. 

______

Robots in some libraries are actually eliminating one of the basic jobs of a librarian: storing and retrieving books.

Robotic storage and retrieval systems have been used in shipping facilities and warehouses for almost two decades, but the technology was introduced to public libraries only about five years ago.

The British Library unveiled one of the world’s first and most advanced robotic systems in 2009 that has the ability to stores and retrieve about 7 million barcoded items. More recently, the James B. Hunt library opened at North Carolina State University in 2013 with “bookBot,” — a robotic system that can retrieve any one of 2 million books within minutes. The high-tech library was expensive, costing about $115 million, but the system has earned its keep.

“It has never lost a book,” said Honora Eskridge, director of Centennial Campus research services at N.C. State University. “The machine can self-audit, meaning it inventories every book on every shelf, and Hunt library has never reported a missing book.”

The system eliminates problems created by open stacks in traditional libraries. When the public is allowed to enter the stacks, books are inevitably misplaced and stolen. With really large libraries — especially those on university campuses — it’s impossible to perform comprehensive inventories. Eskridge said in traditional libraries, it’s generally assumed that 20 percent of a library’s collection is lost or missing.

BookBot ensures the collection is complete and eliminates the need for 10-digit call numbers. The robot orders books by size and not by genre or category, which means books aren’t permanently assigned to a shelf. The robot automatically sends returned books to empty spaces. And by ordering books by size, the robot takes 1/9th the space of traditional stacks.

Eskridge said the greatest advantage of the robot is not it’s really fast high-tech retrieval, or that it keeps people from constantly sorting through the stacks. She said the greatest advantage is its ability to make more space for people.

“At one point, there was so much space devoted to books, there was almost no room for people,” she said. “That’s what a library is about — space for people.”


This is what Nancy, Vincent and bookBot have in common. The robots are really not about the technology; they’re about the people.

Why hasn't digital sheet music caught on?

The digital book industry has become exceedingly popular with the widespread availability of e-readers and tablets. Books have been available online for decades, but the digital book industry only became popular when digital books — like their paper counterparts — could be transported. The same characteristics of digital sheet music—cost, ease of transport and access—also apply to digital books. A study by Ricoh, a multinational imaging and electronics company, in 2012 published market research about the future of the book industry. “The Evolution of the Book Industry: Implications for U.S. Book Manufacturers and Printers” found the instantaneous download feature of ebooks trumps any user’s preferences for the sentimental features of printed book. In other words, they found that even most people who love the smell, feel, texture, taste and sound of paper books are more likely to download ebooks because they can be read instantly. Ricoh’s 2012 market research also predicted that in 2016 ebooks would capture 60 percent of the entire book market, which is unlikely because ebooks in 2015 only capture 30 percent of the market.  It may be possible that in all cases digital e-reader technology catches on more slowly than predicted.

Although printed music and printed books are quite similar, it should not be overlooked, however obvious, that reading words and reading music are quite different activities, and these differences may explain why digital sheet music is less popular than digital books. When someone reads a book ­– unless it’s for class – they will read through the book only once. Musicians often practice sheet music in anticipation of a performance, which means repeatedly flipping through sections of the score and writing notes about performance practices. Musicians often study the music they play, which makes the digital format more difficult to manage. Likewise, this may explain why digital are not as popular as printed textbooks.


            Characteristics of sheet music may preclude itself from being qualified as mass media. Although sheet music distributes information to a wide audience, it’s more of a “mass medium once removed.” Sheet music is marketed to a select group of people (formally trained musicians) who then translate the musical score into music consumed by the masses. Unlike books, which are directly distributed to the consumer, digital sheet music must be distributed to a performer before being consumed by listeners. This niche market of performers may explain why digital sheet music is less popular. The market for sheet music may be less receptive to technological changes, for example, because many performers are older.   

Saturday, April 11, 2015

How online communication changes communication

From my very unscientific observations, I've concluded that abbreviations are no longer acceptable on social media or texting. In fact, abbreves are now "shibboleths"– a fancy way of saying people will judge you for using them. 

TTYL8R and G2G are archaic. They were acceptable when people used T-9 word on Razr cellphones in 2006, but in 2015, there's simply no excuse. Some may argue "lol" is an abbreviation for "laugh out loud," which I will concede they're correct. But it's function is different. "Lol" functions like a smiley face emoticon, helping readers understand the tone of a sentence that could perhaps be interpreted as too serious or overly literal. And other practices of abbreviation, like shortening sentences by deleting verbs and subjects, are no longer acceptable. 

In 2015, text messages, Facebook comments, etc, should all be written in complete prose, but interestingly, a few people still use the language of 2006 T-9 word. I read the following comment on my Facebook this morning: 

Do not watch BBC news anymore due to bias

There are many problems with this comment. 

1) The subject "I" is missing, which makes the writer's message unclear. Is it a statement or command? In other words, is she not watching the BBC or is she commanding me to not watch the BBC? 

2) Likewise, "due to bias" could be referring to the news network's bias or her own bias. Is she biased about news networks, or does she think BBC news delivers biased news? I assume that she believes the network is biased – but still, it's unclear. 

3) Her statement is unsupported. Yes, she didn't have enough time to include the subject of the sentence, so of course she wasn't going to offer any supporting claims. But that would've strengthened her argument. 

4) It doesn't have punctuation. Periods and commas are essential in written communication whether it's online, offline or on paper. Punctuation helps readers navigate the written word. So unless you're E.E. Cummings, I'll expect periods. 

In 2015, her Facebook comment should appear: 

I do not watch BBC news anymore due to the network's bias. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

When news makes mistakes

An independent study recently found the Rolling Stone article about gang rape at the University of Virginia to be untrue. The error is serious. Gang rape is serious, and accusing a fraternity of such heinous behavior will not go without consequences. 

When mainstream media makes such egregious errors, it makes me worry about the future of mainstream media. But it also makes me wonder--what caused those errors? 

The New York Times said the investigation found that the editing process failed at nearly every step. Could these failures be from scaling back as a result of the decline of print media? If so--this wouldn't be good news because it means that more horrible mistakes, more failures of the editorial process, will be almost certainly inevitable at other newspapers and magazines. 

Hoping the press conference at noon will shed more light on the situation. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Tidal Empire

This weekend I've binged watched the television show "Empire." And without the drama, back-stabbing and sexual content, the Empire music industry – the subject of the show – resembles the new "Tidal" music service.

Let me first praise the "Empire" television series. The plot lines are exceedingly developed and the characters complex. The best shows have characters that aren't simply good or bad. They are both, which makes the show feel more realistic. Empire is truly the Downton Abby of pop music.

Empire, despite its dramatic plot and string of murders, is relevant to today's music industry. The company "Empire" is a lifestyle brand, where the artists aren't just producing records. The company produces videos, shoes, t-shirts and online content for the biggest pop and rap artists. The fictional company puts the biggest names under one label. (Hence the name "Empire.")

Similarly, the real company Tidal seeks to combine pop music's biggest stars into one label. Jay Z, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, J. Cole, etc. etc., will soon be selling their music through the same service. If Tidal is successful, it may bring pop music's biggest stars closer together.

Watching "Empire" has made me wonder what this could mean for pop music. In the show, Empire artists often perform duets because their agents work for the same company. I wonder if Tidal succeeds, could the company create more friendships within the industry? And because Tidal's artists have an invested interest in the success of the company, I think that absolutely, these pop musicians will want to play off each other's success.

Which could bring more duets. Seriously.

Yes--I think the success of Tidal could mean more pop music duets. And let it be known, I will be first in line to buy the new Beyonce and Madonna album.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On the future of news

I read an article in USA Today (Ironically, I didn't actually read it in the paper. I read it online, but at one point it appeared in print) about Michael Wolff's somewhat optimistic attitude toward the future of the newspaper.

He writes:

"We are, however (no getting away from it), not working for Facebook, a job that at this moment probably feels pretty good. Wall Street clearly doesn't give great value to what we do. Often our own children seem to wonder why we do it. But on the brighter side, the powers that be aren't so much taking our livelihood from us as they are giving it back. Ready or not."

I  agree with his view. Yes, the print newspaper is dying. Printed material just doesn't work today. They take too much time to print; they deliver yesterday's news, and people don't want yesterday's news when they can read today's news online. 

So at the moment, it's pretty scary for traditional print newspapers and journalists because their industry is dying. Interestingly, Wolff describes their industry as a "manufacturing industry" because newspaper companies manufacture physical products. Of course, the industry is changing. Newspapers aren't selling much of the physical product. 

While we are in the crossroads of the newspaper industry, it's important to remember that written news will never disappear. Written news is still the most efficient way to consume news because watching news through video or audio takes more time (for example, audio books take a lot longer than reading the book), and news must be condensed and simplified to be understood by a television audience. 

So journalism isn't dying, while the printed paper is. Unfortunately, no news medium has yet replaced the printed paper. We still need something, a new platform – the next iTunes for news – to come along and shake the newspaper industry. 

As we sit in limbo and the clock ticks, it's impossible not to have anxiety as a journalist. We're just waiting for this medium to strike. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

SeaWorld: Monkey Sea, Monkey Don't

Katherine's blog about SeaWorld  discussed the problematic situation where controversial companies invite the public to make controversial comments through social media. SeaWorld recently did this when they started the #AskSeaWorld. The conversation was quickly dominated by activists who'd rather see #TheTanksEmptied.

I think Katherine's assessment of the social media team's handling of the negative comments was accurate: quite frankly, it sucked. If you're receiving negative social media attention, the best PR move certainly isn't fighting back, lest you reveal yourself as an aggressive idiot.

Sea World had the audacity to blame the negative tweeting on PETA, and didn't stop there. They blamed their opponents for ruining their publicity stunt. Complete lunacy.

If you're representing a company and a publicity stunt backfires, the best thing to do would be to squelch the fire--to stop the campaign. When a company fights back on social media, they are fanning the flames of controversy, which is really bad PR.

Some people think there is no such thing as bad publicity, or bad PR, but this certainly isn't true. Bad publicity, leads to public outcry, which leads to policy change, corporate action, or other serious consequences.

But as Katherine suggested, maybe an end to SeaWorld is deserved.

The Tinder hack

An interesting piece of news concerning social media has been the Tinder hack, which caused men to think they were flirting with attractive women, but in reality, they were flirting with other men.

Such a cruelty.

However, there is a lesson to be learned from this hack. Many of the guys who were targeted by the hacker, according to the conversations posted on Huffington Post, were ready to meet up with the "women." And in many of the conversations, the Tinder users were even referring to themselves as "men." I think this shows how people trust online profiles a little too much. 

We put so much trust in pictures and profiles, sometimes we fail to see the truth. 

In reporting, our professor always said, "If your mother tells you she loves you -- check it out!" If someone on a dating app says he/she loves you, then you should most definitely check it out. Ironically, dating apps often cut out the "dating." They shorten the amount of time couples spend getting to know one another through small, casual dates, which means couples are going on longer dates--or connecting intimately--without knowing very much information about the other person. 

Everyone should learn a lesson from this cautionary tale. On social media, people aren't always who they appear. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spotify and the future of streaming music

We talked in class this week about the future of streaming music. Our professor said he thought that the current model--Spotify offering unlimited streaming for free and paying artists only pennies in royalties--is unsustainable, so eventually more streaming sites will offer freemium services or start charging users.

However, I think it this were to happen, then illegal downloading and streaming sites like "Napster" and "Limewire" would be resurrected from their 2010 executions. (Well...actually courts issued injunctions against these companies, so it would be more of a rebirth rather than a ressurection.)

Which would be the worst thing to happen to the music industry. With the file sharing model, artists made $0 on royalties. At least with Spotify, artists--even when Cee Lo Green's "Happy" earned him only a few thousand dollars after several million people streamed the song--are still making some money.

I also feel we unfairly criticize Spotify when YouTube is offering the same service just with an attached video file. And artists are CHOOSING to make their content available on these sites. That means that everyone, save Taylor Swift who pulled her music from Spotify, feel they are benefitting by making their content "free."

Taylor Swift also said in an OpEd in the WSJ:

"Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is."

Unfortunately, saying something should be valuable doesn't make it valuable.

Once people start getting any commodity for free, they feel entitled to that resource. It would be unrealistic to expect people to pay for music like they did through the 1990s. It's no secret that Digital has made media content cheaper, and media industries--and record labels--have experienced declining profits ever since. Musicians and producers will inevitably have to accept the decline or invent a new way of listening to music that requires people to purchase physical objects. Sadly, we can't reinvent the record player. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The fun of editing Wikipedia

When I'm bored, instead of turning to an iPhone game or scrolling through Reddit, I'll edit Wikipedia articles. You may not realize it, but Wikipedia is full over errors, those extra spaces, misplaced commas and double-spaced periods that are consequential of over hasty writing.

Next time you're scrolling through a Wikipedia page, read it like and editor. The mistakes will drive you crazy. 

But it's not the errors that amaze me about Wikipedia. I'm inspired by the great writing, analysis, organization, and sourcing that have come from volunteer contributors. Wikipedia is a fantastic resource because it allows anyone – particularly experts – to share their knowledge and update the world's largest collective encyclopedia. 

Experts are not always crusty scholars sitting in their dimly lit offices poring through academic journals. No, what's great about Wikipedia is it allows smaller experts to contribute their knowledge. I've worked at Körner's Folly, a historical house museum in Kernersville, N.C., for four summers. I've given several tours, and one summer I helped rewrite the informational storyboards, and over this time, I became an expert (well to some degree) of the house's history. 

Last week, I noticed the Körner's Folly Wikipedia page was inaccurate and rather scant, so I gave it an update. Hopefully, my additions will benefit someone interested in learning the history of the house museum. 

It's awesome that several thousand people, mini experts like me, can contribute to one resource. 

It's amazing what can happen when you aggregate so much knowledge. Truly, Wikipedia is among the greatest societal accomplishments to happen in my lifetime, and we, the people of the world, have accomplished it. Not that the crowdsourcing has been without problems – yes people have vandalized the site, but when you trust people with the pen, it's amazing what can happen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The blessing of social media

I read Jenny Surane's blog post how news media should be making it easier to share their content on social media, which made me think of a problem social media has fixed  – the forwarded email of a bygone era.

Long ago when email was the primary form of online communication, I remember receiving really long sensational emails from family members, often containing strange pictures and jokes. There were emotional stories of disease and suffering, cat photos, political messages and religious testimonies. 

Here is one of the first emails I received in 2011. It's one of those "forwarded" messages that guilts people into sharing the email through statistics saying things like, "93% of people won't forward this message." 

 
 Friday is world cancer day - I'd appreciate it if you will forward this request 

 

93% won't forward

A small request.. Just one line.

Dear God, I pray for a cure for cancer. Amen 




All you are asked to do is keep this circulating, even if it's only to one more person.
In memory of anyone you know who has been struck down by cancer or is still living with it.

A Candle Loses Nothing by Lighting Another Candle..

Please Keep This Candle Going



OK so the email was well intentioned, it just doesn't belong in by Gmail inbox. Fortunately, social media has provided an outlet for the Grandmas, second cousins, and crazy aunts who can't resist sharing such emails. Occasionally, the spamming still happens, but fortunately many of these junk-emailing relatives have migrated their habits to Facebook and other social media sites, which is really good. 

Because on Facebook I can hide their posts.

Traveling with the media

Over spring break, I travelled to London and Scotland -- by myself. Traveling alone would've been  terrifying, had I actually felt alone. My iPhone was my travel companion, which was capable of connecting me with continents of people. Ten years ago, my spring break trip would've been a lot scarier. Without a smartphone and access to the internet, social media, and helpful apps like "CityMapper," traveling alone in foreign countries would've meant more asking strangers for directions and wandering around lost.  

Our access to media and or our ease of communication, has made international travel so much better, and less anxiety inducing. Navigating the spaghetti noodles of London streets would've been impossible, had my phone not been there to save me. It was truly my right hand man. 

Media also enhanced my tourist experience. 

Apps like "Trip Advisor" helped me decide which museums were worth seeing, and what I'd be better off just skipping over. This crowd sourcing of content was infinitely helpful. In the same way, Wikipedia also enhanced my experience. Before, we relied on information from signs and the knowledge of tour guides for the history of foreign places. But not anymore. I could search "Trafalgar Square" -- using the free internet on Trafalgar Square -- to learn about the square. 

Once, after using "City Mapper" to tell me which bus I needed to ride, I accidentally picked the wrong one. The bus I picked terminated at a station in London quite far away from my intended destination. It was rush hour in one of the biggest cities on earth. No worries -- GPS knows where I am, and helped me find another route. Although I was technically lost, I never felt lost. 

Mass media has certainly enhanced the travel experience, and although I haven't traveled by myself before the era of smartphones, I'l pick Google Maps over its paper predecessor any day. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The importance of privacy

Our professor surveyed the class yesterday, asking our class how much we valued privacy. I was surprised at how little the class seemed to value it. "We have nothing to hide," was the main response. If we have nothing to hide, then we shouldn't care if the Federal government barges in, sweeps though our house and empties our trashcans on the floor. Right? 

Wrong. 

I disagreed with the class. I think we value privacy, whether we realize it or not. As humans, we like to have the choice to withdraw, knowing we aren't being monitored, watched or judged, which is why prison is such horrible punishment. Inmates don't have privacy. They can't withdraw into their cell, and they are constantly subject to invasions and strip searches by prison authorities. 

Privacy is an important part to living a happy, healthy and meaningful life. I'm glad some stuff I've written on Facebook were private because if they weren't, well, I wouldn't have a chance at being President. Not that my messages were illegal, they were just are not representative me. They were representative of my growth as a person, or my ignorance in youth. 

That being said, I don't think the internet is completely without privacy. A Facebook post is public and a message is semi-privae. An email is even more private. It's important that websites clearly express how they will use information. In the real world, I know what I can say in my house verses a public space. I think the internet, social media in particular, should have similar transparency. 

Tinder's not so smooth move

My roommate asked me if I would pay $10.00 a month for Tinder. I said no. He said it would "seem desperate" to pay for the app, I agreed.

I admit that I've used Tinder in the past (with varying degrees of success), but deleted the app after finding the endless swiping and trivial conversations exhausting. Maybe I'm just bitter and single, but the app isn't that great.

A redeeming feature, however, is that apps like Tinder, Grindr, OKCupid, etc., have usually been free to download and use, so at least you weren't charged for any unpleasant psychological effects induced by the apps. But Tinder recently revealed it would start charging users for a premium service and would charge more for people over 30 -- $20.00 a month.

That really adds up, and I'm certainly not willing to pay $120.00 a year for mediocre app dating. Ultimately, this will be a bad move for Tinder. People won't pay for premium service--especially on they can get for free--unless the premium service is substantially better.  Tinder's upgrades aren't that much better. Premium allows users to "rewind" or swipe right when they meant to swipe left, which (to me) is not worth a monthly fee. When people use Tinder, they aren't looking for serious relationships, usually just chatting and the occasional date.

If people, especially those of 30, are serious about online dating, then they'll probably use a more legitimate service like eHarmony. And since other apps and websites, like Craigslist, are providing the same mediocre and slightly creepy experience for free, I'd be shocked to see many people jump on the premium bandwagon.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Dress

I'm going to talk about the dress. The dress that has divided celebrities and politicians. The dress that local news stations have broadcast like their mascot. Yes, the dress that some say is ugly, some say is blue and black and others says white and gold. The dress, the dress, the dress.

Why did this -- as my friend Tyler's mom would say -- damn dress make national headlines anyways?

The answer is simple. Oddity makes something newsworthy. The dress, we can agree, is odd. Whereas most optical illusions that show multiple colors and images in the same image, the dress divides us. It's nearly difficult or impossible for someone to see the other set of colors. People are captivated by the extraordinary.

The dress afflicted the internet Friday with a viral voracity. The image appeared on Tumblr in a remote Scottish island, and quickly blew up Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Buzzfeed, any news station not preoccupied with snow, and cable networks. It became the talk of the town. My parents were even calling me asking me about the dress. Yes, my parents.

A lot of people were annoyed about the seemingly endless conversation about the dress. (Which I'm aware my meta-commentary is contributing) A lot were fascinated and captivated. But what I find most interesting about viral content is that it connects humanity. Globalization is most visible through viral episodes, like the Alex from Targets, that for a moment catch the world's attention. My friends in London were even tweeting about the dress.

Jorge Feb 27
I couldn´t give a shit about this dress anymore
1 favorite



Yes, across the Atlantic, people were annoyed about the dress. And although it may be a stretch, maybe--just maybe--viral content could show people that although we may look different, speak different languages, and worship differently, when you get down to it, we're all captivated by #TheDress.

Snapchat Strippers

Nick Bilton wrote a successful column "Strippers Go Undercover on Snapchat" in the New York Times last week. By successful, the column makes you think differently – it gives a new perspective on technology and the porn industry.

The article's title is basically its thesis. Bilton talks about how strippers use social media to connect with clients in ways not possible before the smartphone, and smartphone apps now have built-in pay features, lending themselves to the business of sex.

Contrary to what the article may suggest, however, Snapchat maintains a pretty good image. When describing how Snapchat works – users taking photos, sending them, and then they're automatically deleted – it seems the app would have the reputation of, say, "Omegle" or "Chat Roulette," but this hasn't happened.

Snapchat has maintained a good brand. Focusing on messaging and news, they actually banned sexual snapping. Here's their complete community guidelines:

What not to Snap:
-Pornography
-Nudity or sexually suggestive content involving minors (people under the age of 18)
-Minors engaged in activities that are physically dangerous and harmful
-Invasions of privacy
-Threats
-Harassment or Bullying
-Impersonation
-Self-Harm

When Snapchat first hit the app store in 2012 and was popularized in 2013 and 2014, people associated it with sex, and in the early days, it probably was more of a Sexchat than a Snapchat. I remember colleagues at work scoffing when I described the app."Hmm, wonder why anyone would want that?" they said, shaking their heads. 

Really, just for chatting. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Columbine and the Media

I came across Columbine by Dave Cullen on my dad's bookshelf this weekend, and desperate for a book, I decided to crack it open – well some of it. The book is like 450 pages long, and quite frankly, is terrifying. I don't remember this event. When the shooting happened, I was 5 going on 6, and the world was pretty different. Cars had cassette players. People used VCRs and "rewind" actually meant something.

Cullen describes the tragic shooting in harrowing detail. The book's descriptions, memories and eyewitness accounts were made possible by a rapidly growing technology: the cell phone. Several students in Columbine's affluent surrounding community had them, and used them to call the media, mainly television stations. This really hadn't happened before. Hostages were calling reporters and talking about events while their lives were in immediate danger.

This presented several problems. Students trapped inside the school could potentially compromise their location. Reporters could reveal too much about police plans, and if the shooters were watching, could thwart law enforcement. Interviewing witnesses in crisis often compromises honest, truthful and sensitive reporting.

Which spelled disaster in the wake of tragedy.

"It would take years before the detective team would explain why," Cullen writes. "The public couldn't wait that long. The media was not about to. They speculated."

Speculation by news media made it more difficult for investigators to determine what actually happened. Newspapers were printing headlines that mis-numbered the victims and shooters, and interviews with unreliable sources – from people who had never met the Eric and Dylan before the tragedy – mischaracterized the assailants' motives.

"This was the first major hostage standoff of the cell phone age, and they (the cops/everyone) had never seen anything like it," Cullen writes.

I'd like to think 16 years later, the cell phone hasn't made hostage situations more dangerous, and that reporters have gotten better at balancing what the public needs to know, has a right to know and determining when they need to know it. But news hasn't slowed down. The smartphone and social networking have probably made accurate reporting of violent acts more difficult. The Boston Bombing comes to mind.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Eric's Official List of Best and Worst Red Carpet Looks, Oscars 2015

This counts as "about the media," right? Just kidding.

I have no real sense of fashion and certainly no authority to judge other people's, but I'm gonna pretend I do. Classic hollywood vintage looks and neutral colors characterize this year's red carpet at the Oscars. Frankly, many of the dresses are vintage, boring, and a bit old-fashioned with so much draping and floral prints that I may need to put a lock on my grandmother's linen closet. 

Photos credit: Noel West, The New York Times 

Best looks:

3. Faith Hill- Her dress is pure elegance. The patches of shimmer on the neutral cream keep the dress interesting. Perhaps the tailoring distorts her proportions, but love it overall. She could be on the cover of Glamour with that hair and makeup. 






2. Georgina Chapman in Marchesa Eternal Collection. The floral pattern and diamond accents remind me of a couch my parents bought in the early 90s, but if the couch had been this sophisticated floral pattern, I might have convinced them to keep it. Exquisite. 







1. Meryl Streep in ??? This choice may by biased. Meryl is my hero, and tonight she might tie Katherine Hepburn for most Academy Awards. Glad she broke the mold and decided to ditch the dress. She rocks it. Also love her pose –  just like a mannequin.





Worst Looks: 

3.  Lady Gaga in a costume-like princess dress. Of course Gaga has to go against the grain. Although her dress is just that – a dress – it's just too much. Her hair cut and color reminds me of the wife's in "American Gothic." (All that's missing is her fiancé with the pitchfork)







2. Octavia Spencer in Tadashi Shoji. It's not terrible. It just looks like my grandmother's drapes. Too much fabric and the color reminds me of a museum artifact. 







1. Patricia Arquette in Rosetta Getty. Okay it's not that bad. Like she probably won't be on any real worst dressed lists, but I just don't like the dress. Black and white is boring, and there is nothing there to snazzy it up. It's a shame the hair and makeup don't redeem the look. 







Honorable Mention: Oprah Winfrey in Vera Wang. Let's just say she really kicked 'em up for the show. 






I HEART the NEW YORK times

The New York Times is leading the pack when it comes to the digital transition. Lauren doesn't think so, but they totally are.

They announced a plan to revamp their website, possibly make their app free and a new method to increase revenue from digital advertisements. All of which are great, but the Times is mainly leading the pack because they produce content that meshes with the ever popular click-baity news like Buzzfeed and Mashable.

Some reasons why their digital presence works:

1. The format of the New York Times app appeals to screen-swiping millennials. The app gives pithy summaries for the time strapped reader, and for longer features, the app generously provides an estimated read time. If the app says it'll takes 30 min. to read, you bet I'll pass.

2. They publish content that captures the eyes of readers who prefer screen to paper.  Last night, I read an article about the Notorious R.B.G. (older people may know her as Ruth Bader Ginsburg) who has become a recent pop icon and martyr for young Democrats. Check out the story here.

3. Most importantly, the New York Times Now app successfully convinces users the app is worth paying for. After a brief trial period, users have to decide whether it's worth $2 a week. Without a doubt it's worth it. Everyday I look forward to reading the "Morning Briefing"– a comprehensive summary of important current events – and the "Evening Briefing," which is presented as photojournalism. When I'm bored, instead of turning to Facebook, I'll swipe right on the NY Times Now app to "Editors Picks" and scroll through an aggregated list of popular internet stories from various websites. I'm always interested in reading about the origins of "HTTP" or a Buzzfeed article about a sculpture on Hollywood Boulevard of an Oscar snorting crack.

The NY Times is learning to embrace digital journalism. Truthfully, and perhaps their greatest accomplishment, the NY Times editors are better than my Facebook friends at picking Buzzfeed articles. They've joined 'em cause Lord knows print media can't beat 'em.