Friday, September 4, 2009

Wikipedia Grows Up

I was happy to see the news recently that Wikipedia would be changing its policies to limit changes on articles about living people.

Under the new policy, according to the New York Times, an experienced editor will review changes to articles about living people before the article can go live. As Michael Snow, a Seattle lawyer who is chairman of the Wikimedia board, the nonprofit board that oversees Wikipedia put it, “We are no longer at the point that it is acceptable to throw things at the wall and see what sticks.”

The policy is a huge change for an organization that prided itself on letting anyone be a contributor. But with 60 million Americans visiting Wikipedia every month, it’s a necessary change.

The editorial policy, called “flagged revisions,” is already in effect for some famous people like Britney Spears and President Obama and the German Wikipedia version has had this editorial policy for all its content for the past year.

As The Times points out, it’s not difficult to insert false information into Wikipedia right now. In January, for example, someone inserted information stating that Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Robert C. Byrd had died.

I remember watching Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report” gleefully tell his audience that he planned to solve the problem of elephants being endangered by getting everyone in his audience to triple the number of elephants. Wikipedia eventually locked out users from tampering with the entry but it convinced me. The prank was a great argument for mistrusting information on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia can be useful for background information or to provide original sources since much of the information is footnoted but I would never use it as a primary source of information.

I hope that Wikipedia eventually decides to have editors review all information posted on Wikipedia. Until that happens, I will continue to take information on Wikipedia with a huge grain of salt. It’s a good place to find original sources of information or get background information but even with these changes it’s still suspect.

Wikipedia image from

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On Vacation

Journalism Jitters is on vacation until Sept. 1.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Seattle Times Turns a Profit

It’s hard to know what to make of the fact that the Seattle Times, now the only newspaper in Seattle, is beginning to show a profit.

The newspaper became the only daily newspaper in time after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shut down its daily newspaper operations in March, surviving only as a news website devoted primarily to local blogs.

The resurgence is no doubt due to the fact that the Seattle Times managed to pick up most of the Post-Intelligencer’s subscribers. The newspaper’s circulation rose 30 percent in June from 200,000 to 260,000, according to the New York Times.

The Times itself was apparently nervous about their own demise when the Post-Intelligencer shut down with the newspaper asking whether Seattle would now become a “no newspaper town.”

Newspaper executives had reason to be worried. Many newspapers that are the only daily in town are still struggling to survive, so the Seattle Times is clearly doing something right. But since the Times is a private company it’s unclear exactly what that something is.

Meanwhile, the Post-Intelligencer also seems to be doing well with its scaled down Web operations at and has retained the audiences that formerly read the newspaper online.

The main reason The Times is doing better seems to be that its partnership with the deceased Post-Intelligencer has ended. The papers used to share expenses with the Times handling printing and delivery for the Post-Intelligencer and sharing profits 60-40. The Times had been trying to get out of the partnership, arguing that the partnership was dragging it down, while artificially prolonging the life of its rival.

The Seattle Times’ lean mean operation may also be helping its financial picture. The newspaper has cut staff drastically, going from 375 people five years ago to 210 people today. But many newspapers have cut staff and pared down costs only to find themselves still hanging on to life by a thread.

Perhaps the quality of the newspaper has also helped increase profits. The Seattle Times has a reputation of being a great newspaper and the Blethen one of the few family owned newspapers in the country, according to the New York Times. The family owns 55 percent of the paper with the McClatchey Co. owning the rest. Eight family members still work for the newspaper. I’m not sure how many such newspapers are left but surely the family keeps a better eye out for the newspaper than a media conglomerate would.

Whatever reasons the newspaper is succeeding, it’s a glimmer of brightness in the gloom and doom of media news these days. Let’s hope there will be more glimmers that can lead us out of the darkness.

Photo from

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Newspapers Quest For Dollars From Internet Pirates

Can the Associated Press and companies like Attributor help newspapers battle Internet sites that poach their content and help them get some of that Internet revenue for themselves? Newspapers are hoping the answer is yes but not everyone is convinced.

Attributor is behind a group called the "Fair Syndication Consortium," that hopes to track down sites that are using whole newspaper articles without paying for them through a search engine developed just for that purpose. Many of these sites stealing the stories are probably blog but those blogs do receive some minimal compensation from big search engines like Google. Attributor claims the loss in revenue is as much as $250 million a year.

Attributor seems to have received a warm welcome from the newspapers and syndicates themselves. Chris Ahearn, president of Reuters Media, told the New York Times that the plan “seems to me to be a way to bring order out of the chaos.”

The consortium is made up of The New York Times, The Washington Post, Hearst, Reuters, MediaNews Group, McClatchy and Conde Nast, the magazine publisher.

But the big question is whether Google and other search engines will agree to send some of that nice Internet money back to the newspapers themselves. But so far Google and other sites have said only that they're reviewing the proposal. Saul Hansell, a media blogger for the New York Times, told the NPR radio show "On the Media," that Google and other companies seem skeptical and will likely be reluctant to get in the middle of the newspapers and the pirates.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press announced back in April that it would be tracking down illegal Internet poachers and taking legal action against them, if necessary. The idea would be to code AP stories so that the AP can track down the users.

The newspapers and the Associated Press are shouting "Show me the money." Let's hope someone hears them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On Vacation

Journalism Jitters is on vacation until July 27.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Teens Love Facebook, Ignore Twitter, TV & Newspapers

Teenagers don't read the newspaper, they don't watch much TV except for their favorite shows and they aren't into Twitter. What they are into is social media like Facebook. They love their cell phones, they like movies, they go to concerts but they don't want to pay for music or anything else for that matter. They love their computers and computer games.

That's the summary from 15-year-old Matthew Robson who wrote a report on teen-age media consumption for Morgan Stanley in a wham-bam take it or leave it kind of voice that makes you believe what he's saying even though it's not based on any reports, cites few statistics and is from a kid who's British.

The bombshell from the "report" seems to be that teens don't use Twitter. But as The Guardian's PDA blog points out The Pew Internet and American Life Project found "the median age of Twitter users in the US was 31, higher than 26 for Facebook and 27 for MySpace."

I'm also not shocked that Robson says teens don't read newspapers. It only backs up what I've seen in my own classroom where last semester only one student read a hard copy of a newspaper and only a handful read the newspaper at all. Most students said they get their news from John Stewart and Steven Colbert,if they get any news at all. And these are journalism students!

Teens don't listen to radio much but when they do it's for the music but that's becoming less so since they can now stream music online, Robson says.

I thought Robson's statement that teens don't watch much TV was striking. He seems to be saying that teens will watch certain shows during certain seasons but then will switch off for weeks at a time. I find this heartening but I'm a bit skeptical. This would mean that all those TV guzzling children and tweens suddenly become more discerning TV viewers when they enter adolescence. I hope he's right. He adds that they hate ads and switch offf when ads are on. Yahoo!

As for newspapers, Robson says teens don't read them because of coste but will pick up free newspapers. Again, I'm a bit skeptical of this because presumably most teens are still living at home where their parents foot the cost of newspapers. But it makes sense to me when Robson says that teens are more likely to choose tabloids. He says it's because they're compact and easier to carry. I'm guessing the racy content and Page 6 girls don't hurt either.

I also found it interesting that Robson says teens don't use paper directories. Again, this makes sense. I think most of us, myself included, turn to the Internet before we search for the Yellow Pages.

Another nugget was Robson's assertion that teens enjoy and support viral marketing because they find it funny and interesting. But they hate web ads such as pop-up and find them "extremely annoying." Join the club, teenagers.

We all know that teens don't want to pay for music and so Robson's comments here don't break much ground. He states that they also use itunes but don't like it because of the cost.

Another good bit of news is that teens love the movies, according to Robson, and sometimes go just for the experience. He states that older teens don't go because of the price (British theaters charge full price above age 15). In the U.S., I'm pretty sure kids over 12 pay full price but I've seen movie theaters full of kids so this probably depends on the wealth of the kids.

As we all know, teens love their mobile phones and Robson tells us that they prefer pay-as-you-go phones because of the price (assuming they're paying for it themselves).
While teens love to text, they don't use the Internet on their phone because it's too expensive, Robson says.

Finally, Robson says that as we know, teens love their computers but prefer stand-alone computer games such as the Wii and Xbox to games on the PC.

I think the report is very useful as a snapshot. Whether it's a prescription for today's media, I don't know. If we had a teen write about teen-age eating preferences, we'd no doubt find out that teens like pizza, fries and ice-cream and don't like vegetables. That's good to know but it doesn't necessarily portend the end of vegetables.

Thank you to Rutgers Professor Steve Miller for pointing out this report.
*Photo by Maggic Smith,

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sarah Palin and the Media

Has Sarah Palin gotten a raw deal in the press? I don't think so. She stepped into the spotlight as the vice-presidential candidate and then she didn't like it when that spotlight revealed what many of us suspected: that she was unprepared and largely unqualified to be vice-president.

But even as she stepped down as governor of Alaska on July 3, she was still taking shots at the press. After citing her accomplishments, she lamented that "You don't hear much of the good stuff in the press anymore, do you?" Sigh.

A friend criticized the Times for calling the speech "rambling," but having read the speech I have to defend the Times use of the word "rambling." Not where she states that she is resigning because it would be "apathetic to just hunker down and "go with the flow." She then adds, "Nah, only dead fish "go with the flow." Um OK.

Like many politicians, Palin has always wanted to have it both ways. She paraded her family into the national spotlight when she stepped onto the stage of the Republican National Convention. She showed she was both a devoted mother and a staunch anti-abortion advocate who put her money where her mouth was by giving birth to a baby with Down Syndrome. If that wasn't evidence enough of her prolife bonafides, there was her pregnant teen-age daughter.

But after an electrifying convention speech, she apparently refused to prepare for important national interviews. The recent Vanity Fair article on Palin details exactly how unprepared and uncooperative she was after she was chosen by McCain. (It also shows that, as we always suspected, she was poorly vetted by McCain's people). She had a very poor grasp on national and international issues and so fumbled her interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, neither of whom are the hardball interviewers).

Even after the presidential race was over, she has continued to both take shots at the media as somehow being at the heart of her problems. At the same time, she got into bizarre media tugs-of-war, as the recent Vanity Fair article shows. After the father of Palin's grandchild Tripp told Tyra Banks that he stayed in Bristol's room and that he assumed Palin knew they were having sex, Palin issued a "blistering" statement refuting those claims, for example.

More recently, Palin's lawyers threatened to sue media outlets if they publish defamatory material relating to whether Palin is under federal investigation, according to The blogosphere, including Alaskan blogger Shannyn Moore, has apparently been speculating that Palin embezzled funds from the sports arena project built in Wasilla, Alaska.

"This is to provide notice to Ms. Moore, and those who republish the defamation, such as Huffington Post, MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post, that the Palins will not allow them to propagate defamatory material without answering to this in a court of law,” the lawyer warned. Neither the Post or the Times have published anything about the rumors but the statement was apparently meant as a warning to deter them from doing so.

Whether this ultimately proves to be true or not, this does seem to point out my problem with the blogosphere "publishing" unsubstantiated rumors. But by issuing such a detailed refutation of the charges, Palin succeeded in drawing attention to the very issue she was trying to defend herself against.

Palin's attacks on the press make sense as a way to establish a connection with her conservative base. If she resigned in order to make a run for the presidency, as many people think, she will need those conservatives who still love her, to establish her base.

Jon Friedman, of Market Watch, says that Palin has "mastered the art of using the media to divide and conquer and is using it to solidify her hold on her political base."

"Go ahead. Call her stupid and unsophisticated and goofy and sleazy. But understand that Palin also has more street smarts when it comes to keeping her name in the news than anyone today on the national scene. She has mastered the media by acting like the star of her own reality television series," he says.

And he's right. We are all (myself included) fascinated by Palin. Some of us are fascinated and repelled by her but we are fascinated nonetheless. It will be interesting to see whether she is planning to run for office or just running away.