March 1, 2014
Much has been written about the decline in fortunes of newspapers, and of the news industry in general. One important point that has been lost in the shuffle is the decline of the middle class.
There was a time when it was normal for a family to subscribe to the local daily newspaper. It was cheap and chock full of a variety of content sure to please everyone. Even the kids could fight over who got first dibs on the comics.
As someone who was recently booted out of the middle class when my place of employment, the Kamloops Daily News, shut down, I can tell you that one of the first things I did was look at my budget — how much I was spending and where I could make savings.
Suddenly, newspapers became a luxury. With tax, the Saturday edition of The Vancouver Sun costs $4 in “outlying” areas. When it becomes a choice between the paper and milk for my family, there is no contest.
Not surprisingly, the Globe and Mail no longer even bothers trying to sell to people who make less than $100,000.
The other thing that got cut was cable TV, which in this area pretty much means all TV since over-the-air is almost non-existent. If I want to watch local news, I have to find it on the Internet. An increasing number of people trying to get by in today’s economy have cut cable and gone with Netflix or other alternatives. That trend can’t be encouraging for local news shows.
Unfortunately, with many companies seeing their employees as little more than line items on a spreadsheet, we will continue to see fewer people willing or able to spend money on news.
February 22, 2014
For journalists — or anyone else — looking to create audio slideshows, the software standard has long been Soundslides. This app has a well-earned reputation for getting the job done, especially among those of us who don’t have time for a steep learning curve.
But it has a couple disadvantages. First is the cost: $39.95 for the basic version and $69.95 for the “plus” version. I have nothing against developers making a living, but with money increasingly scarce in the news industry, and the middle class under threat, anything that saves a few dollars is welcome.
Another disadvantage is that the files must be stored on server space owned by the user. Cost shouldn’t be a huge obstacle if you’re supported by an employer, but unfortunately it often comes into play. And it’s definitely a barrier if you’re on your own.
Because of this, I have been searching for a free alternative to Soundslides. That search fruitless was fruitless until recently with the discovery of an iPhone and iPad app called Explory. The name may be a bit lacking in style, but it packs a lot of features.
What impressed me most is that you can combine pictures, videos, voiceover, music and text into one presentation. I have yet to see another program that does all five.
This means means you can put photos and narration together to make the equivalent of an audio slideshow. The music and text are an nice bonus. And the video — well, that opens all kinds of creative opportunities.
Still, it’s one thing to have features and another to actually use them. As it turns out, creating “explories” is simple. First you add photos, videos and music. Or you can capture photos and video from with in the app. Second, you can record a narration. Third, you can add or edit text on an image. And fourth, you can set image duration, sound levels and other properties.
Images in the storyline are rearranged by tapping and dragging. You can add optional details by dropping one image on top of another. Plus, you can have a music track start on the image of your choice.
The app’s Help file is well worth looking into as the possibilities for creation are extensive to say the least.
On top of all this, a big advantage of Explory is the nice price of free. You are asked to sign in if you want to share your work with other Explory users, but otherwise there doesn’t appear to be a catch.
But what if you want to embed your story on a website? You can do that, too. If you sign in and post your presentation to Explory, it will show up on the explore.com website. From there, sharing gives you the option of an iframe embed code.
The only real problem I see with Explory is that it is one of several similar apps vying for our affections, some of which don’t appear to have a business plan other than hope to become popular and figure out something later. So, while your Explory creations will work great for now, it’s hard to know whether they’ll be around a year or two from now.
Despite this reservation, Explory is definitely worth exploring. The tools are all there for anyone with a story to tell.
Update: Another reservation is that all your content has to be in your iPhone or iPad. This is not helpful if you have a bunch of great photos in your camera that you want to use. Luckily, there is an article at Giga Om that covers all the bases on how to transfer those pictures.
Update 2: Peter Goldie, one of the founders at Explory, wrote to clear up a couple of points: First, they do indeed have a business plan involving payment for extra storage, and have every intention of staying around for the long haul. Second, the company has plans to make it easier for users to access photos from services such as Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox and Google+.
Below is an example of an Explory story called Pizza Night:
February 17, 2014
Can an app really improve your writing? That’s the idea behind Hemingway — a sort of virtual editor now available online.
Language Log had a little fun with it by pointing out that Ernest Hemingway himself would have had a tough time satisfying the app.
So I tried running a few paragraphs from from newsonaut through the editor. Keeping an open mind, I was able to learn a few things.
Hemingway gives an evaluation of readability in terms of grade level. If someone with a Grade 7 education would find it easy to read, that’s good.
The app bases its judgment on five criteria. It doesn’t like sentences that are hard to read or, worse, very hard to read. How much harder than hard does a sentence have to be in ordered to be considered very hard? It’s all explained, but since the app is critical of adverbs, I have to wonder how it can tolerate the use of “very” — regarded by many as the most useless adjective of all.
It also advocates for simple phrases and limiting the passive voice.
In some cases, Hemingway liked my writing and in others it raised red flags. It wasn’t enough to make me want to make changes, but I did consider the criticism food for thought.
I would like to think of Hemingway as a solid first step toward something we need a lot more of on the Internet — editing. These days, anyone can publish. The downside is that many writers are publishing without the benefit of being edited. I’ve seen many long and complex articles by well-intentioned writers whose work might have received more attention if an editor had been allowed to give it a good massage.
Hemingway has a long way to go before it can take the place of a human editor, but it at least recognizes the importance of editing in a world where this function seems to have been forgotten.
February 16, 2014
This is a little scary for anyone who has cheered the large number of retweets received by an article. From The Verge:
Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, which measures real-time traffic for sites like Upworthy, dropped a bomb: “We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading,”
Entire careers have been built on promoting social media — and now we find out that many people are retweeting stuff they haven’t even read? This may not be entirely new behaviour, though. Many times people have told me that they leaf through a newspaper reading only the headlines.
And there is still hope for tweets. Studies have also found that people are more likely to link to an article if they have read it all the way through. It seems to be all or nothing, and a new metric called “attention minutes” may help us understand this phenomenon. Be sure to read the whole article to learn more.
When I first read about this new app called Pop, I figured it was just another fun way for people share pictures, videos and GIFs. Turns out we’re supposed to take it a lot more seriously. From Nieman Journalism Lab we learn that the app is designed to be yet another new way for journalists to tell stories.
I certainly would like to see Pop succeed. I can’t help but feel, though, that if you have a compelling story to tell, you’ll find a way to tell it that is compelling. Finding the right tools (including apps) for the job is important but secondary.
From the San Francisco Chronicle, a couple of rumours we can sink our teeth into:
But Apple is thinking bigger. Much bigger. A source tells The Chronicle that (Apple) met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk in Cupertino last spring around the same time analysts suggested Apple acquire the electric car giant.
And from the same article:
The newspaper has also learned that Apple is heavily exploring medical devices, specifically sensor technology that can help predict heart attacks. Led by Tomlinson Holman, a renowned audio engineer who invented THX and 10.2 surround sound, Apple is exploring ways to predict heart attacks by studying the sound blood makes at it flows through arteries.
Apple has about $160 billion sitting in the bank, plus the company is highly profitable. This would be the perfect time to take a chance on branching out into something entirely new.
In any case, it sure beats reading about those ridiculous iWatch rumours.
January 14, 2014
I’ve picked myself up, dusted myself off and am ready for another ride. I’ve decided to take a blank-slate approach to my search for new work. I learned at lot as new media editor at the Kamloops Daily News, and I’m sure I could apply it in many ways. With that in mind, I have created a web page showing samples of my multimedia projects. It makes me feel good that I can preserve it. Have a look.
January 9, 2014
I never imagined it would end this way.
Here’s what I imagined instead: I would reach a certain age and decide to retire. I would make all the arrangements and set a date.
But here’s the twist: I would be less than truthful with my co-workers about the date. I would tell them I was actually leaving a month later. Then when the real date came along I could just quietly leave for the day — never to be seen again.
Why would I do such a thing? Truth be told, I likely wouldn’t. It’s just that I was hoping to fade off into the sunset at a time of my choosing and, mostly, avoid the emotional goodbyes to colleagues I have worked with through thick and thin for the past 20 years.
Now, with the closure of The Daily News, I am forced not only to hold back tears as I say goodbye to people who have been a part of my life for so long, but do so with the realization that these are talented journalists whose good work may never be seen again. With luck, some will find new jobs in journalism but many will move on to other fields, attracted by better pay and more stable careers. Their voices will be lost.
I knew I would be in for a rough ride right from the beginning of this career. Newspapers, after all, have been laying people off and going out of business for decades. But changing times doesn’t mean good journalism has to die. It may get harder to find the resources needed to produce it, but I hope there will always be people with the skill and determination to make it happen. May they never give up.
January 6, 2014
TV news of the future as envisaged in The Spy from Saturn — in the 1955 DC comic book Strange Adventures.
The spy tried to blend in with Earthlings by taking on the form of one of us. But in the end the people of Earth outsmarted him.
And the planet was once again safe, especially for middle-class American women and children.
The aliens may have been repelled, but are we any less fearful in 2014?
January 2, 2014
John Gruber, at Daring Fireball, counters those in the technology press who seem bored with technology:
There’s a nihilistic streak in tech journalism that I just don’t see in other fields. Sports, movies, cars, wristwatches, cameras, food — writers who cover these fields tend to celebrate, to relish, the best their fields have to offer. Technology, on the other hand, seems to attract enthusiasts with no actual enthusiasm.
He makes a compelling argument and I agree with almost every word.
I was struck, though, by the word “nihilistic” because it seems to apply to some of the comments Gruber has made himself. How else to explain the unseemly way that he rubs his hands with glee whenever there is bad news about BlackBerry.
On Dec. 20, under the heading BlackBerry Posts Huge Loss, he writes: “Last one to leave, please turn out the lights.”
On Aug. 13, under the heading How the iPhone and Bad Decisions Killed BlackBerry, he writes: “I hate to toot my own horn, but I called it back in 2008, while BlackBerry’s (née RIM’s) share price was still over $150, and where by ‘hate’ I mean ‘smugly enjoy’.”
It would be easy to conclude that nothing less that non-existence for BlackBerry would make him happy.
I’ve notice similar comments at The Loop by Jim Dalrymple:
On Feb. 8, under the heading Eulogy for BlackBerry, he writes: “Hey, what’s that noise? BlackBerry circling the drain.”
To be fair, his blog sometimes shows some sympathy. On July 25, under the heading More layoffs at BlackBerry, he writes: “Not a big surprise, but I always feel bad for the workers. I hate seeing anyone lose their job, especially when it’s because a company is being mismanaged.”
I don’t mean to pick on these two writers — it’s just that I’m a fan of their blogs and I take notice of what they have to say. Remarks such as these are found on many blogs about the smartphone industry.
Here’s what I think is going on.
Because smartphones are fairly new, it’s still up in the air as to who will “win” the platform wars. Apple fans would love to see iOS dominate, especially having “lost” the Windows vs. Mac war. Android fans have their own reasons for hoping their system of choice will come out ahead. There are even people cheering for Windows and and BlackBerry.
I’m convinced, though, that the competition among smartphone systems is not the zero-sum game many people think it is. It has matured to the point where iOS and Android will for sure continue to thrive, and Windows has a fighting chance. I know the odds are against it, but I’m hoping BlackBerry makes a comeback. And I like seeing efforts such as the Firefox OS getting some traction.
Why? For the same reason I hope Nintendo hangs in there as a gaming platform. Choice is good for consumers and it compels developers to keep innovating.
I don’t like it when I occasionally see a cool feature in an Android phone that is not available for the iPhone. But I know that if it becomes popular enough, Apple or a third-party developer will — in many cases — bring it over to iOS.
So let all the systems and platforms flourish — even BlackBerry.