The Infinite Canvas That Is The Internet

Difference between online and print media: the latter is finite while the former becomes infinite.

Unfortunately the creator still remains unchanged in terms of his limits. The length of his day doesn’t change, like a processor upgrade. There remains 24 hours in a single day.

Physically he hasn’t evolved. There remains four limbs, a pair of eyes, a brain and others.

Perhaps he has learnt to multi-task but already, the online medium has stretched faster and vaster before him – it is, after all, the aggregation of the herd mind.

You hear everything and anything at once – as long as you know where to find it.

It is like trying to work with many people at once.

In that sense, if you try to spread yourself over your medium, you are doomed to fail.

If you seek a path of everything, you will end up with nothing. Is this not a cliche? Why then are we still trying to do this – but in a different form?

We need to confine ourselves, locate our thoughts and focus the strength on a spot. To start a spark and then, stoke the flame into a raging fire.

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What We Can Only Achieve Is Tangential Objectivity

An old-time print journalist has defected to an online news portal.

Peter Goodman was, according to the Washington Post, the top reporter for New York Times. I don’t have a familiarity with foreign correspondents though I should because I am after all, a journalist.

In any case, Goodman was covering the national economic beat for the NY Times until recently before he defected to the news portal, Huffington Post. And his reasons? He argued that “The View From Nowhere” makes it difficult for proper reporting. On the other side of the lake, the term for objectivity is “The View From Nowhere” (1).

“For me it’s a chance to write with a point of view,” Goodman says in an interview. “It’s sort of the age of the columnist. With the dysfunctional political system, old conventional notions of fairness make it hard to tell readers directly what’s going on. This is a chance for me to explore solutions in my economic reporting.”

Goodman, who spent a decade at The Washington Post before his three years at the Times, says he will still rely on facts and not engage in “ranting.” And while he was happy at the newspaper, he says, he found he was engaged in “almost a process of laundering my own views, through the tried-and-true technique of dinging someone at some think tank to say what you want to tell the reader.” (emphasis mine)

Media Notes“, Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post,

I posed the question to someone before. Why does reporting sometimes feel like as if I am laundering my own views through finding the appropriate sources to say what I want to say to the reader.

I am lucky because most of the time, I review cars. And reviews are subjective. If anyone tells you otherwise, don’t believe them.

Objectivity is impossible.The notion of Objectivity is like a curve – one that we cannot comprehend. I think Ican only come close to Objectivity insofar as my reporting travels in a tangent to the point in question. I should aim for the best straight-line approximation of the curve but otherwise, I can never draw out the curve.

What we can only do, Jay Rosen, a professor in journalism at NYU suggested, is to provide a plurality of opinions, as many as possible, to let the readers pick a voice.

Then, my reporting becomes tangentially objective.

Footnote:

1) “The View From Nowhere” sounds very much like a romantic notion. Did the media critics come up with this term?

Good journalism will thrive, whatever the format

John Naughton

The web has been a boon for serious investigative writing

If I’ve learned one thing from watching the internet over two decades, it’s this: prediction is futile.

The reason is laughably simple: the network’s architecture and lack of central control effectively make it a global surprise-generation machine. And since its inception, it has enabled disruptive innovation at a blistering pace.

Continue reading

Why Blogging Can Ruin Your Writing


This is reproduced, like all stories are, from John Forde’s Copywriter’s Roundtable No. 447, August 17, 2010.

By Kyle Wagner

“Blogs are an easy way to quickly disseminate information on a regular basis. The downside, obviously, of the proliferation of blogs is that it’s causing writers to lose their ability to write well.”

An editor friend recently confessed that she’d had the toughest time finding a replacement for a food writer position from an enormous pool of applicants from around the country.

The problem? The majority of the hundreds vying for the job had submitted blog-style submissions for a newspaper gig, and when pressed by this editor to resubmit a feature-length piece in a journalistic format, seemed to be incapable of doing so.

After removing the names from the submissions, she sent some of the trial articles over to let me check them out. She was right: They were great blog posts – conversational, casual, and often compelling. Some did contain misspellings and incorrect information, and a few included links in ways that would be far more appropriate online than in a straight newspaper or magazine story. For the most part, though, they were informative and on-topic, concise, and to the point — all the essential elements of a blog.

Few of them, however, bothered with truly smooth transitions between paragraphs, instead jumping from one idea to another in a random, conversational way. Clearly these were first drafts, and little consideration had gone into adjectives, dynamic writing, or active sentence structure.

In fact, many of the applicants hadn’t even taken the time to write a lede or a hook to draw in a reader, nor had many included a “nutgraf” to give the reader something to latch on to as the point of reading the story beyond the main opinion the writer wanted to give. And once that opinion was offered, rarely did the writer offer background or organized information to back up the assertions — usually it was simply lists of reasons as to why it was so.

[Notes: “Lede” and “nut graf” are also written “lead” and “nut graph,” and they’re journalist slang for the “first line or so of the story” and the “sentence or paragraph that sums up what your story’s about, respectively. Just in case you non-journalist types were wondering.]

All of this can be fine – although not always ideal – in a blog post. Readers often come upon blog posts already knowing why they’re there. They’ve searched the web for a topic, and this particular blog has related information to share. It’s not as crucial for the writer of the post to draw the reader in with a catchy hook, overwhelmingly engaging language or solid arguments, nor is it always practical.

Blogs are an easy way to quickly disseminate information on a regular basis. The downside, obviously, of the proliferation of blogs is that it’s causing writers to lose their ability to write well. I call it the flip-flop syndrome: If you look around, many of us can be found in airports, church, and yes, even the White House, wearing those oh-so-ubiquitous flip-flops, in every color imaginable. They’re cheap, easy to slip on, and danged comfortable. Of course, they’re also terrible for our feet, and they look sloppy.

That means folks who wear nice heels and dress shoes stand out as polished, professional, and put-together – just as writers who are able to transition easily
between blog posts and publication writing stand out, as well.

Use your blog posts as a way to practice writing, yes, but don’t get so caught up in the casual, informal nature of the style that you lose your ability to offer strong, creative, well-constructed compositions, too.

Some things to think about that can help keep these two types of writing separate while still exploring them fully:

  1. When you blog, labor over your transitions. Just because you’re blogging, don’t be lazy about starting the next paragraph without any kind of connection to the previous one. This will ensure smooth segues, regardless of the medium, and will make the writing immeasurably more enjoyable to read.
  2. Never turn in a first draft to a any editor. The toughest part about blogging for most longtime writers for mainstream publications is that it can be hard to let go so quickly — now the opposite seems to be true for bloggers trying to break into mainstream publications. Good writers always read over their work and then tweak, fuss, change, fix, rewrite. Rarely is that a bad thing, because a second — or third, or fourth — read can reveal sentence structure and grammatical errors, as well as places where rhythmic flaws and passive voice weaken the story flow.
  3. Look at each writing style as practice for the other. but do both on a regular basis. Many established writers look at blogging the same way painters do
    “studies” for their larger paintings or sculptures — begin a topic on your blog, and then expand on it in a feature story, using the blog as a way to try out some thoughts, offering opinions or getting feedback, and then incorporating your findings into the final, full-length piece.

On Conversations With Stakeholders

In my line of work, I sometimes have to explain why I use Facebook and Twitter for my media platform.

A, an editor of a print publication, asked me: “What’s the use of Facebook or Twitter?”

I hemmed and hawed. Finally I said:

“We don’t really know how such social media platforms will turn out in the future so we’re just staking our presence there.”

B, the managing director of a firm, said over lunch that he is interested in entering the Facebook platform but not Twitter.

If I recall correctly, he dismissed Twitter as something of a fad.

Such dismissals are quite common in Singapore, which largely stems from a couple of reasons.

  1. Newsmakers’ clients are largely conservative and not tech-savy. Based on anecdotal evidence, this sample ranges from 40+ to 50+ years of age, which puts them in the silvering generation. Ipso facto, the majority of the spending power also lies with this group. They are the ones who buy Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Jaguars. And they are probably Mandarin-speaking, consume traditional media and have traditional family values. 
  2. Online media is not as advanced in Singapore as it is in the US. We have the daily broadsheet, The Straits Times, here, which is consumed massively in terms of circulation. Print media is still deeply entrenched in the mindsets of the population.
  3. Online ad units are regressive. Perhaps my biggest pet peeve is that even as technology advances with HTML5, Javascript, Flash, Flex and what-nots (I’m just throwing out names here), online ad units are still so backward and intrusive. They seemingly love to pop out of nowhere and fill up my screen. No wonder people use adblockers to kill off all the ads.

All these reasons, I realised, can be subsumed under one giant set: Compared to print, there is no money to be made on the Internet.

But

What’s the ROI from Twitter? A very difficult question to answer, yet you’ll find the solution if you can also measure: “Whats the ROI of a conversation in real life”. Since many brands have an objective (return profit to shareholders or owners) ensuring this is a high priority task will be difficult for many corporations.

Jeremiah Owyang, “Why Brands Are Unsuccessful In Twitter“, Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang

There are no answers right now. But having conversations with your stakeholders cannot be that bad. It’s called networking.

On Newspapers, Online News & Paywalls

Full disclosure: My opinions could be biased since I do work for an online news aggregator.

I see paywalls, vis-a-vis online news sites, as nothing more than defensive exercises to protect the publisher’s print subscription, and consequently, their ad revenue.

Print readership can be kept thriving – if such an adjective can still be used to describe readership in this contemporary times – by “walling” off the free Internet playground that is the free news site.

Ultimately that is the raison d’etre of paywalls. As much as publishers like to claim, I wouldn’t agree that the walls are there to monetise their content.

Still I think there are other models that work. For instance, a combined model of free news, albeit truncated, and paywalls a la straitstimes.com. But where would the ST go from here?

Then again,

Is it an absurb notion

that because people are accustomed to getting content for free on the internet, they have a right to do so and that charging money for online access to people’s work, whether it’s film, music, television or journalism, is ipso facto a form of extortion.

David Mitchell, “Rupert Murdoch May Be Evil, But That Doesn’t Mean His Paywall Is”, The Guardian

No thoughts at the moment. My fragmented multi-tasking online mind cannot take the singularity of this exercise. Hurhurhur.