Microblogging-as-News Gets Real: Will it last?

It’s been one watershed moment after another for Twitter, as the microblogging platform has emerged as a  source for breaking news from the Iran elections to news of Michael Jackson’s sudden death, and a lot of smaller stories in between.

In the past couple  of months we’ve seen the evolution of Twitter in the public eye as a online time-waster for narcissists and salespeople, to a playground for celebrity gossip-watchers,  to something that is approaching a credible newsmedium. But how long will this last?

Hell if I know. The swiftness of this particular evolution is pretty unprecedented, though keeping with the lightning-fast speed of social media’s rise, I guess. But Twitter in particular is increasingly serving as a crucial tool for journalists, not just to report news, but occassionally newsgathering and verfication too.

Twitter may come and go (and it probably will) but I think in the coming years we may come to see microblogging emerge as a respected news medium in a way that traditional blogging has never been able to accomplish. Why? The immediacy is probably the main reason. The real time reporting that is microblogging’s hallmark makes it a particular boon for reporters. Add to it microblogging’s multi-platform portability, the ability to report via smart phone, text and the web, and it’s possibe journalists – “citizen” and otherwise – to report whereever they are.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Twitter’s real-time functionality has made such verfication difficult, as breaking news flows in. Some forward-thinking journalists are already thinking of the issues of how to verify crdible sources via Twitter. Check out this blog post on how to verify tweets from Breaking Tweets founder Craig Kannalley , and then read more at the blog Twitter Journalism (there is some use to long-form writing, ocassionally) for more resources on microblogging as a journalism resource.

Blogging’s great! So when do we @#$% get paid?

internetI don’t think you have to be a “new media expert” or a journalism scholar to realize that:

1.) The news business is in the toilet.

2.) The journalism profession as we know it is going the way of the dodo.

3.) It’s kind of the fault of the Internet.

Anyone reading this blog certainly doesn’t need a primer on the state of the news industry. It’s probably been a big chunk of your daily discourse for the past 2 -3 years. But the past year or so has been particularly brutal for the news business, and as I see many laid-off journalists look to online news outlets like Huffington Post as a possible model for the profession, I cringe.

Because all I see is a big black hole.

There’s no money in online writing. You don’t have to be a new media expert to figure that out either, but at the same time, there are too many underemployed journalists and media professionals write for online news startups for paltry micropayments, or even worse, just for potential web traffic. It’s depressing.

Now I don’t mean to single out HuffPo, that website is certainly not the sole offender when it comes to paying with pageviews. I don’t even think it’s the fault of the internet. I think it’s us, the scores of writers (myself included) who have devalued our own work over the years by doing professional-level work for free — or for far too little.

We write for exposure. We write for practice. We write for press passes. We write for beer/diaper/vacation money. We write for lulz. But we don’t write to support ourselves. And we end up screwing ourselves everytime.

I know this for a fact because it was a good chunk of my 20’s. And also because I still do it. I have a day gig that I love and that supports me, so I can afford to freelance/blog for beer money, but that’s not enough for the unemployed journalists who are now attempting to make a living as freelancers or find full-time staff work. So what can we do? I don’t have any easy answers, but I am a big fan of starting one’s own damn blog. Stop trying to get HuffPo’s attention and set up a Google Adwords account for your own blog instead. Start a coop with other like minded bloggers that focus on similar topics. If “we are all freelancers now”, as Gawker likes to point out, then maybe we should take advantage of that and exploit it, by spearheading a new age of entrepreneurial spirit in media.

Now this is a good idea in theory, borne of naivety, zeal and a couple of glasses of Dornfelder. I understand that it’s hard to make money from blogging on one’s own, and that people need to eat. But honestly, while we are all still waiting for old media to come up with the wonderful new media model that will save journalism, maybe in the meantime we could work on being that model, on our own.

Planet Money: NPR’s digital stepchild?

So I wasplanet-money-200x200 late to the game regarding the giant kerfuffle between NPR reporter Adam Davidson and Congressional Oversight Panel chairperson Elizabeth Warren. If you didn’t hear it, here it is, but to make a long story short, on the May 8th production of Planet Money, Davidson and Warren sparred heatedly about the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). It didn’t get personal, but it was pretty damn close.

Some PM listeners were offended by the aggressive tack that Davidson used to question his guest. It did get a bit FOX news at times and Davidson did cross the line a couple of times into condescension (would he have been so cavalier with a male guest?) Overall, it was a rare misstep from what is normally an informative and even-keeled production.

Alicia Shepherd, the NPR ombudsman, weighed in after an investigation of the production:

Planet Money is a relatively new venture for NPR, and the network is still experimenting with the format. “Planet Money has been an extraordinarily successful, popular project, with all it does,” said Uri Berliner, deputy national editor who edits Planet Money. “If you look at the way it has built an audience that responds and is engaged, it is pretty much without precedent at NPR.”

Here at TLF we are both fans of Planet Money, as a production, and as an effective model for traditional media outlets to engage listeners via social media projects. So it dismayed me (K.) to read the following:

Planet Money’s podcast does not have the same degree of radio production or intense editing and supervision as NPR’s regular shows.

In my months of listening to Planet Money, it did not occur to me that the podcast was not subject to the same level of editorial scrutiny as any other NPR broadcast. Honestly, I never thought of PM as anything less than an NPR show, albeit a show that was not being aired on terrestrial radio. Davidson was appropriately repentant, and  even admitted that he chose to edit the interview in a way that highlighted its most confrontational moments. But it did trouble me that Davidson, for whatever reason felt like Planet Money was a good place to check his journalistic integrity at the door. Because, you know, it’s only a podcast.

The admission of NPR’s ombudsman that the organization sees the podcast as a “lesser entity” of sorts is a bit disheartening for me as a listener, because I afforded the podcast producers the same level of trust, despite its digital roots.

In general, I do think NPR handled the situation well, by making the entire interview available for listeners, but I do feel like this is a bit of a blow for Planet Money‘s journalistic reputation and for the reputation of online-only news podcasts to be respected as real journalism, rather than just being a digital playground for amateurs. I keep making the argument that it’s about the content, not the medium, but if NPR doesn’t see Planet Money as “real NPR” then why should I?

I got my propaganda, I got revisionism: Book Review: Che’s afterlife : the legacy of an image

Is art (always) resistance?

Popular version of original photo by Korda

The paradox is to wield Che in an attack on [capitalism], its critics must participate in it. They engage in the act of consuming Che.

As Michael Casey describes in his excellent social history, Che’s afterlife : the legacy of an image, the meme of one captured moment in the life of Argentine/Cuban revolutionary Ernesto (Che) Guevara has an amazing cross-cultural resonance (pdf). According to the curator of a 2006 art exhibit of Che-based art, this is the most reproduced image in the history of photography.

Casey says that

Che is now everywhere. In its common form as a two-tone abstraction of Alberto Korda’s famous 1960 photograph, his image is simultaneously a potent symbol of resistance in the developing world, an anti-globalization banner, and a favored sales vehicle among globally engaged marketing executives.

Jim Fitzpatricks Che

Jim Fitzpatrick's Che

So how did this happen? The book details how while

the compelling events of his real life and the story of its violent end perpetuated his legacy, it took the mass replication, reproduction, and marketing of the Korda photo to years later transform him into a pop superstar of immense iconic pow

But this visual meme happened due to a confluence of influences:

Political opportunism, the publishing industry, photography, silk-screening, pop art, graphic design, computers, the Internet, copyright laws, and consumer-marketing theories have all collaborated in the maintenance of Che’s afterlife.

According to Susan Scafidi on Counterfeit Chic, the flattening of the original meaning has been flattened in a way to allow for all of these varied meanings:

The specific message of the image, however, has decreased in inverse proportion to its popularity. Viva la revolucion? Power to the people? Overthrow the capitalist pigs? Or just a dramatic, vaguely rebellious image? You decide.

The Warhol Che -- though not created by Warhol, nevertheless authenticated

The "Warhol Che" -- though not created by Warhol, nevertheless authenticated

This book has much to give to those interested in history, art, marketing, and the flow of culture, and especially appropriation art, but it also has lots of interesting gems regarding intellectual property — including moral rights. Because the author isn’t a lawyer, sometimes he doesn’t always use the correct law-talking terminology, but the description is vivid.

For example, Casey discusses the complicated issues surrounding the picture to the right. Taken from the Fitzpatrick art print of the original photo, an anonymous artist created a work that was attributed to Warhol — who then certified the work as authentically Warhol — even though it wasn’t!

But where Casey really explains the complexity of intellectual property and its relationship to culture is when he describes how the copyright and trademark of the image is now closely protected, though

During the preceding thirty-seven years of legal inaction, the image effectively roamed the world copyright free as producers of derivative art exploited it without paying fees. It functioned much like an open standard …it was a freely available template to which others could apply their inventive talents. This de facto public domain status facilitated an explosion of creative expression, as artists, satirists, and political commenters took to the image with glee. Some were faithful to the Cuban government’s socialist representations of Che; others not. Neither group had to worry about lawsuits.

The present situation of public domain versus ownership of the image is complicated by differing international standards concerning the copyright (Cuba had rejected copyright in 1967), trademark, and moral rights. Casey expands on how the IP-protected version of  “Che” competes with the publics version of Che — and how difficult it is to undo the public ownership idea of this image.

And according Ben Ehrenreich in the L.A. Times, Che continues to influence us, claiming that Fairey Obama poster is based on the famous Che imagery:

Fairey’s Obama is not wearing a beret, and he’s looking left instead of right, but his face tilts at the same angle as Che’s. His jaw is set with the same willfulness and strength, and he too is gazing recognizably upward into the future …. Obama’s eyes, though, are filled not with righteous anger but with vague and lofty hope.

So that does mean that the Hope poster is really a mashup between Che and the AP photo? It seems at least it is intended to be at least evocative of our cultural memory!