Monthly Archives: July 2010

Flipboard makes browsing fun again

Pardon me while I gush like one of those cat-eyed girls at Shea Stadium when Ringo and the boys last blew through New York:


If you have an iPad, or if you know someone who has an iPad, download Flipboard as soon as you can to get an idea of what a fresh approach to web browsing – you remember browsing, don’t you? - looks like.

The developers call it “your personalized social magazine.” For once, the buzzwords are justified.

At its heart, it’s not all that unusual, taking automated feeds — topics you like, your Facebook news feed, your Twitter feed — and presenting them in an engaging and visually-pleasing way.

But therein lies the beauty of this app. Because, unlike, say, your usual Twitter feed, which is just 140ish characters and a link, Flipboard reaches into that link and presents the content that’s being linked to. If there is no link, the tweets are presented solo, as pithy pullquotes.

Some samples:

And, while this is primarily a browsing tool, you’re not locked out from the social web as you are in some of the toddling efforts from “magazine” magazines. You can comment on or like a Facebook post, reply to a tweet, etc.

To be sure, there are improvements that would be welcome. The ability to sync with Google Reader would be nice. Also, the app’s sudden popularity makes it non-responsive at times, according to the comments on its page. And, as this isn’t meant to be a full replacement for Facebook or Twitter, there’s no way (yet) to create new posts, only contribute to existing content.

I feel like I’ve finally seen something completely new and uniquely tuned to the pad-browsing environment in Flipboard.

UPDATE: The backstory, from ReadWriteWeb.

Ditching “The View From Nowhere”

Jay Rosen has another valuable rumination on his aptly named PressThink site. This time, he’s taking on what we called for years “objectivity,” but which he posits should be thought of as “The View From Nowhere,” a just-the-facts approach that attempts to bleed (unsuccessfully) any hint of opinion from reporting.

Shifting about in these language games, journalists have kept objectivity more or less the same over the years: a system of signs meant to persuade us to accept an account of what happened because it appears to contain only what happened and not what the composer of the account feels about it. That’s why you should trust it: because it appears unadorned. The way we capture this in popular culture is by reference to Joe Friday: “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

That’s not to say that an account presented this way actually is pure fact. No way. There is no act of journalism that is not saturated with judgment. Even a photograph is framed by the picture taker. When I refer to “Just the facts” I simply mean: that is how the story asks to be understood, not… “that is all there is to it.” There is always more to it.

In other words, the very act of reporting is an endless series of choices and value judgments. So, what to do? Rosen has five numbered idea bombs, meant to spark discussion, each considered and provocative. This is my favorite of the moment:

4. The View from Nowhere may be harder to trust than “here’s where I’m coming from.” Objectivity is often seen as safer by self-styled traditionalists in the mainstream press. But I like to put the accent on what’s tendentious about it. So I make use of my own term, the View from Nowhere, to describe the ritualized uses of objectivity and to suggest that there is something strained about them. Easing that strain is not impossible. It means shifting to a different rhetoric: “Here’s where I’m coming from,” sometimes called transparency. This is a different bid for trust. Instead of viewlessness, “You know where I stand; judge accordingly.”

As the right-leaning law professor, Knoxville homeowner and photo enthusiast Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit likes to say, you should read the whole thing.

A quick question for copy editors

If you’re line-editing the story about the tourist “duck boat” collision in Philadelphia today, do you really leave this in?

Witness Talmadge Robinson said the duck boat was stopped in the river when the collision occurred. A nurse’s assistant, Robinson said he was sitting ashore when he saw the barge approaching the immobile vehicle. “There was a really loud bang. The thing was a sitting duck.” Robinson said he helped pull three children in life jackets out of the water.

To me, that’s just too on-the-nose to keep. Either it’s an unintentional slip, or the witness thought he was being Mister Clever. Either way, I’d strike it. You?

Do ink-stained undergrads have an advantage?

Producing the Cornell Daily Sun. Flickr photo, cc by foreverdigital

Producing the Cornell Daily Sun. Flickr photo, cc by foreverdigital

I’d missed this last week when it was first posted, so thanks to Towson University’s Stacey Spaulding for pointing out a short but convincing essay on why it makes a lot of sense for a college student to work on the university newspaper, even if a career in journalism is the furthest thing from her mind.

No other extra-curricular activity on campus is better for your career — no matter what that is — than the newspaper.

That’s because nothing else … is as complex and deadline-driven.

A Homecoming Committee chairwoman once protested to me, “We host a whole week of awesome and fun activities!”

“Yeah, but you have a whole year to organize it,” I replied. “The newspaper staff publishes a paper every week and updates a website every day — which is much more impressive to a potential employer than taking 11 months to organize a parade and a dance.”

As long as we’re defining “newspapers” as the paper and its digital editions, I think this is good advice.

Declaring independence from proprietary systems

I like what they’re doing at the Journal Register company this weekend: Producing their online and print editions using only free tools. They dubbed it internally the Ben Franklin project, chronicling the project through, what else, a blog.

Here’s a video of one editor as the print edition comes off the (still-proprietary) press:

It’s still very much an experiment. For instance, there’s the “Ben Franklin” edition of the Daily Saratogian’s web site, made in WordPress, and the “regular” edition, presumably built with an expensive, proprietary system. (Personally, I like the temporary version better – it’s much more readable without the usual newspaper-online blast of dozens of headlines on the home page.)

I gather that this will not immediately become business-as-usual at Journal Register, but I hope it informs some longer-term changes. Even better, I hope it strikes fear into the hearts of the sales staffs of the multi-million dollar publishing software suites that have been soaking a gullible less-than-opensource-savvy industry for years.

(Edited because “gullible” was a tad harsh.)

As American as, well, community news


Photo by flickr user are you my rik?

Here we are in the great weekend marking the beginning of the 235th year since we gave notice to old King George. We celebrate July 4th — the instant of the camel’s back breaking, our collective Popeye moment —  but we neglect to mention the many years to come where the British, unsurprisingly, did not simply wish us well and hop onto the nearest eastward-sailing clipper ship.

We also tend to forget amid the fireworks and Bedding Barn sales that, 15 years after our first wobbly steps toward nationhood, we finally adopted a rulebook — the Constitution and its Amendments — the first of which guaranteed, famously, freedom of religion, freedom of gathering and petition, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.

Without those, this would be a very different place.

I’m thinking about this because of the calendar, of course, but also because I’m very close to returning to something I care about very much — journalism.

This time, though, I won’t be barking through a two-way radio at television news crews or working to convince newspapers that they’re no longer in the newspaper business. This time I’ll be joining a team at Aol’s that has the simultaneously simple and audacious goal of helping towns and communities throughout the United States to learn more about themselves through the shared creation of local, community-driven news and information sites.

To transmogrify Professor Jay Rosen’s quote, this is the news formerly known as hyperlocal.

I say that because the news in my community isn’t weirdly small or odd or quirky. It’s not hyperlocal, despite what a hundred newsroom improvement committees said in the past five years. It’s just news. It’s what happened here, and it matters to me. It’s the topic that everybody’s talking about that somehow never makes it into The Sun. It’s the bike shop that opened and the restaurant that closed. It’s our elaborate system for shoveling the blizzard’s snow-heaps long before a city plow is rumored and it’s the kids cartoons projected through the shadows of lightning bugs onto a garage door on a steamy June evening.

Most of us live here, in a community. Whether it’s a town or a neighborhood or just a couple of blocks that don’t fit into the greater scope of the county’s Master Plan, this place is where we begin and end most of our days. We celebrate and we lament, festoon our homes with cardboard storks and greet out-of-state aunts at the door, come to mourn and remember with a folder of photos, a lasagna and a bottle of red wine.

Major metro newspapers have tried to get at this, with spotty success, as have weeklies (many owned by those same daily newspapers). Independent individual efforts have sprung up as well, many capturing the rhythms and news of a community with an attention to detail that the dailies and community weeklies miss.

But there’s never been an effort like Patch. On the network’s about page, the manifesto is clear: “We’re a community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities.” There’s a full-time editor for each of the dozens of sites that have already launched, as well as a budget for freelancers. These sites are not merely aggregators of existing content, or blogs commenting on the comings and goings of their town. Each Patch site generates original reporting about its community every day. Each Patch site is a reliable source of news and information for a community about itself, and, increasingly, an online gathering point for ongoing discussion and community-created content, including news stories, announcements, photos and videos.

For years, when I worked in newspapers, I hoped that we could get there. In just a few weeks, I get to join the team at Patch and throw my shoulder into the best hope yet for unlocking the potential of true community journalism.

More news, as it happens.