Wiley Cartoon


Harper’s Senior Editor Bill Wasik is correct when he says that amateurs can compete with big media though youtube and other free sites. The noise and static on the internet means that only so much can find its way into the public conscience. Sometimes it’s these youtube videos that make it there, not a feature in Harper’s. That’s also what makes shorter content so accessible – it’s an easy sound bite rather than a detailed analysis. We are so used to having these types of information streams for free online, that I don’t see how news organizations can start charging for it. Wasik also makes a good point that the way people browse the internet is not conducive to a pricing model for shorter content. Unless some sort of auto-payment is established on a site beforehand, people aren’t likely to stop what they’re doing to give payment information for every tiny story they see. As a scary conclusion to all of this, Wasik predicts that pricing models for shorter newsy content may eventually be inevitable after most media organizations go bankrupt. When free, quality content becomes scarcer, people may be more likely to pay for it. However, a new pricing model is unlikely to emerge until these media shutdowns force the market in that direction.


The debate over whether or not to charge for Hulu reminds me of the evolution digital music has made over the years.  When Napster and other free file-sharing programs first appeared on the scene, it seemed like no one in their right mind would pay for digital music.  Then, the music industry got scared, filed lots of lawsuits and generally found ways to shut the programs down.   Now, paying for music online isn’t such a big deal.  The major reason for this is Apple (which can be credited with success partly because of iTunes, but also because of their incredibly successful mp3 players).  Whereas it was once unthinkable for someone to pay for their music online, now it’s incredibly common and easy.  Easy is the key word here.  Apple gives consumers a way to purchase music that is so simple, consumers will trade (a little) cash for the security of knowing that their music will be easy to download and free of viruses.  Hulu consumers may currently be accustomed to getting content for free, but I think they will pay for it if the alternative is finding clips of their favorite shows in random spots all over the internet.   The convenience factor alone may be worth their money.

On the other hand …

Departing CBS digital chief Quincy Smith points out: “What I don’t understand is, why license all that content to something that works that well, that seamlessly, yet–without the economic model around it?”  Hm.  That sure does sound a lot like the musings of another troubled industry right now.   And, in comparison, news websites that have charged for content that was previously free haven’t fared so well (remember TimesSelect?).

On the other (third?) hand …

The whole debate on paying for TV also came up back when cable first came out, and that seemed to work out just fine.  The initial change may be a shock, but if Hulu finds a distribution model that prices its content fairly and makes access to that content easy, paying for online TV can become an accepted standard.

Now, how will this impact the content itself?  Will this commoditization of content commercialize the web beyond repair, cementing the uneven playing filed enjoyed by the big content creators?  Yes it will (further) commercialize the content, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a place for those smaller competitors.  Look again at iTunes – the top ten downloads are always from the heavy-hitters in the music industry – but the entire library still has diversity. (I think) Itunes even lets you request music it doesn’t currently offer.  These are all things I can see Hulu doing in the TV realm.

“The narrativity of pictures is virtually a nontopic for art historians.”

Hogarth This was absolutely my experience as a student of art history.  We were taught to examine clues for narrative structure yes, but more important was the iconography, the form and the symbolism.   Most of my professors abhorred contemporary artists like Thomas Kinkade (painter of light); an artist who falls into the literalist category of narrative painting.  I also agree with Steiner’s quote because I loved studying the modernists and pop artists, of which, a clear ready understanding was usually not immediately apparent (this is the very same reason that I think modern and contemporary art tends turns off casual museum goers – they would prefer an immediate explanation of what they’re seeing).

Hogarth’s series “Marriage a la Mode” was an interesting example.  It’s a classic morality tale, similar to a political cartoon.  But it’s wrapped in a package (the title and genre setting) that would imply otherwise.  As Ryan explains: Hogarth illustrates (rather than tells) us a story.  I think (or at least hope!) that these same storytelling methods can translate to a web interface.   The question is in the delivery.  A website doesn’t really loan itself to pictorial narrativity, in that it’s very transient by nature.   We aren’t expected to consume it with the same level of detailed analysis as we do with one of Hogarth’s paintings.

However, as products of our own culture, we have been conditioned to consume certain visual cues universally.  An example: in Japan, children draw (and build) their snowmen with two snowballs instead of three.  Why do they do this?  They’ve been culturally conditioned to view two snowballs as a proper way to create a snowman just as we Americans have accepted that three is the standard.  I think this same principle can be applied to pictorial narrativity on the web, we just have to develop these universal visual cues with the immediacy of the web in mind.


Also (on an unrelated note) our reading this week on Neilson’s survey reminded me of a little story I’d like to share:halo

My roommate has Xbox live.  He’s teaching me how to play “Halo” and using the live technology we can set up battles against people playing remotely from all over the world.  When you first log into a new battle, a dialogue box appears next to a few players’ avatars and you can hear them talking.  We usually choose to mute it immediately – I don’t need to hear anyone gloat about how many times they killed me.  I made a comment a few games in that I was surprised how many women’s voices I heard over the system before we muted them, as I assumed most of the players on a war game like “Halo” would be men.   “Those aren’t women” he said “they’re little boys.”


I hope to never be this cold again.

“Wait, what are you studying?”

I get asked this question almost every time I tell people I’m getting a master’s degree in Digital Media.  I then usually joke by way of explanation that it’s really a master’s in Facebook or Twitter.

I chose this program because I was getting fed up with my options for growth in my old job as a researcher and reporter for a Japanese newspaper in Washington DC.  The work was very engaging on some levels; I was essentially getting paid to read the newspaper every day.  I covered a lot of challenging and exciting stories and (although it sounds corny) was a witness to some big moments in history.   However, there was no way to move up in the company.  To stay in media it was clear to me that I needed to develop my skill set beyond what I had learned at the newspaper.

I’m not planning to reinvent the wheel – I don’t think there’s some magic code that will save the industry if only I can crack it.  I’m a little more pragmatic; I’d like to work for an existing media organization and manage their online content.  Possible job titles include online editor, content manager, or interactive producer.  I think in the future, jobs in news will shift toward aggregate content and its management.

I chose the MCDM specifically (as opposed to other programs that were a little more technically-focused) because I wanted a broader understanding of the business and cultural meaning behind these emerging technologies.   Just learning the straight technology would only make my degree relevant for a few years.

Finally, I have a BA in Art History.  I’ve yet to use the degree specifically, but I wouldn’t be at all opposed to working in some sort of digital educational outreach role for a museum.   And, even if I don’t end up working for a museum, I’d like to think my degree has given me a set of visual tools that will help me to communicate in this new digital landscape.

The first thing that popped into my head when asked to analyze video content in a predominately print outlet was the New York Times.  In the past, I’ve found that they are very skilled at posting new and interesting multimedia features to add substance and background to the print stories on their site.

In particular, I want to focus on journalist David Rhode’s five-part series: “Held by the Taliban.” This incredible story is a first-person account of Mr. Rhode’s seven months spent in captivity when he, his translator, and driver were kidnapped by the Taliban.

The interactive feature uses video clips from the region and maps that pinpoint where the narrative is taking place.  David Rhode narrates the videos by reading segments of his story into the camera.   Rhode has a very dry narration style, which is disappointing because the story is so completely compelling on paper.  This letdown may be in part because we’re so used to seeing polished journalists on TV.  Rhode clearly wasn’t meant to be an on-camera reporter.

Adding some type of graphic explanation to this story did make sense as the action is centered in remote locations in Waziristan (tribal Pakistan) and Afghanistan.   I liked being able to understand exactly where in the world Rhode was kidnapped, as my (and I assume most readers’) knowledge of the region is very limited.

I’m not sure why they call it an “interactive feature” as it’s a video summary of the print story, and I can’t find much that’s truly interactive about it (although part of the package is a blog q&a with the author and Executive Editor Bill Keller).  I think things like “multimedia” and “interactive” have become buzzwords in the newsroom.  Editors may be forcing the creation of this content when it really isn’t necessary.  In this case, a simple map would work better, and give me the same level of understanding.

However, I had to rethink my entire analysis when part four of the five part series was released today.  The print story focuses on how Taliban video propaganda was watched as entertainment by Rhode‘s captors.  The video feature that accompanied it showed clips of those videos and really brought the story to life.

In conclusion, I think this series would have benefited by adding video content to parts, but not every installment.  Video features  can be an extremely powerful compliment to a print story (see: Part 4).  However, there are times when video content can seem forced (see: Part 1), added simply because newsrooms are feeling the pressure to provide more multimedia content, even where it isn’t warranted.

Pricing models? Where we’re going, we don’t need pricing models.

Chris Anderson’s book “Free” has scared quite a few journalists and for good reason.  He sees a digital future where any kind of pricing model is irrelevant.  I haven’t read “Free” and therefore am basing most of my observations on Anderson’s detractors, namely Malcolm Gladwell.

One of the more interesting points Anderson makes in “Free” is how much more space there is for content in the digital world.  You can put anything on YouTube, there are no editorial or space restrictions.  So, we’ve got enough bandwidth to stick everything on YouTube – but is this necessarily a good thing?  It limits the amount of accessible content because what is of value is stuffed under a million other things that aren’t worth your time.  Anderson addresses this by advocating for content creators to evolve into content managers or “community managers.”  This works, but still doesn’t mean that the final product is free, as Gladwell points out in a metaphor:

Generating and distributing electricity, however, requires a vast and expensive infrastructure of transmission lines and power plants—and it is this infrastructure that accounts for most of the cost of electricity. Fuel prices are only a small part of that.

In this case, the community manager would be the one generating and distributing.  YouTube (the fuel), can still be free – but the end product isn’t truly free – you’ve still got to employ the manager.

There is one criticism Gladwell makes about “Free” that I think is a little thin:

The Times gives away its content on its Web site. But the Wall Street Journal has found that more than a million subscribers are quite happy to pay for the privilege of reading online.

The Wall Street Journal can charge for its content because it has a niche market.  The New York Times is broader; it’s competing against a different audience.  The Wall Street Journal can focus on business as its expertise.  The NYT has to focus on everything: features, sports, breaking news, etc.

And, Mark Cuban writes:

Whether its on a central website, a co produced website, in print or on a hologram in the evening sky, I should go to the NY Times because they have demonstrated to me that they have the very best articles on the subjects I am looking for. That they are the best source for breaking news about the topics I care about. THEY NEED TO MAKE SURE I DONT HAVE THE CHOICE OF GETTING IT ANYWHERE ELSE BUT WHERE THEY DICTATE.

This is exactly what the WSJ is doing.  They a) have developed an audience that believes they are the authority on the subjects they cover and b) can both charge for content and (to some degree) keep that content only accessible via subscription.*

I think the future of web-based storytelling will rely on some kind of hybrid of the two issues I looked at above.  I think Anderson is completely right that editors will evolve into content managers, and I also think Cuban is completely right when he yells (electronically) that storytellers must have some way to manage how people see their work.  Is all of this going to involve a new pricing model, or no pricing at all?  That remains to be seen.  I’ll have to take Gladwell’s side in all of this when he concludes: “The only iron law here is… that the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold that there are no iron laws.”

*Yes it is possible to pirate bits and pieces of content from the WSJ’s website by cutting and pasting, but their subscription lock certainly makes the whole of their content that much more inaccessible.

I’d like to propose a simple topic that we joked about in class on our first day. Since so many of us are new (and for some reason all sat on one side of the room), it was suggested that we take a class duck tour, or scavenger hunt. Why not make our topic “Seattle”?

This can be as broad or as narrow as we want to define it. For example, it could be “A Tour of Seattle” or “What Makes Seattle, Seattle?” or “Underground Seattle” (and while I don’t mean that literally, I suppose there might be something interesting about the sewer system).

This topic would give those who know Seattle intimately a platform to introduce the new ones to an insider’s perspective, and it would give the new ones an excuse to explore our adopted city. The content is also very accessible, as we all are in the city at least once a week for class. I think this would be a great way to engage with fellow classmates through the use of social media in a way that’s fun and applicable to our lives as Seattleites.