Friday, December 01, 2006

Students podcast Iraq War news

The most impressive example of Web journalism I've found this week comes from a group of Swarthmore College students. War News Radio airs once a week on the campus radio station and is also podcast over the Web, drawing up to three thousand listeners a day. What makes the show particularity impressive though is not the numbers, but the high quality material they produce on a weekly basis. The show explores a myriad of issues regarding the Iraq War and ends up doing a better job of it than most mainstream news organizations.

Instead of regurgitating the administration's talking points or complaining about Bush, they generate really original, thought-provoking stories. They do so by actually calling people in Baghdad and talking to them with the intention of learning about their life, their surroundings and most importantly their context. From their Web site:
We at War News Radio are trying to rediscover the voices of real people. Our show fills the gaps in the media's coverage by airing new perspectives, both personal and historical, in a balanced and in-depth manner. We hope our broadcasts will engage our listeners and inspire them to engage critically with the rest of the world.
Read this story from The New Yorker to learn more about how they function as a college radio station. Its pretty humbling to know students are capable of creating such great work. A couple of shows from their Web site I wanted to highlight:

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ultrasonic Teenager Repellent

Many of us spent this Thanksgiving gathered around a big table with our families. I spent mine around the kids table with five male adolescent cousins. Thanksgiving is not a holiday for them, it’s a challenge. In the roughly four hour duration they managed to say every swear word in the dictionary, make everybody under the age of ten cry, and somehow sculpt the entire human anatomy using only mashed potatoes.

So more than anything else, this Thanksgiving I was thankful that the laser pointer trend is over. They did however manage to make up for it with a dreadful ringtone that apparently only young people can hear. The New York Times' story, 'A Ringtone Meant to Fall on Deaf Ears,' from last June allows you to listen to the ringtone. Do you pass the kids table test? Well I could definitely hear it and trust me anyone who can’t is lucky.

And with that, I’ll leave you with a poem:

I saw the best meals of my generation
destroyed by the madness of my brother.
My soul carved in slices

by spikey-haired demons.

-- `Howl of the Unappreciated' by Lisa Simpson, ``Bart vs. Thanksgiving''

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Digg a hole

I don't usually read the Dow Jones MarketWatch, but a recent article in the "Ethics Watch" column (which I certainly don't read) caught my eye. Thomas Kostigen writes that digg's ranking system is problematic because it will prevent journalists from going after hard news. He writes:
The job of a journalist is to lobby and report stories that he or she covers, or better yet, uncovers. In this way, the story is forced upon readers. At a newspaper that's more easily done because an editor can't point directly to a story's ranking and say, "Look son, no one wants to read about that. Go cover something else." But now he or she can. (Take a look at the NYTimes.com and you'll see what I mean.)
Kostigen doesn't blame digg directly for this problem despite the article's headline being 'DIGG it: Story rankings play havoc with traditional journalistic tenets.' What he does criticize is the trend of ranking news, which echos the sentiments of many journalists.

If I were a professional journalist writing for an online ethics column I would be careful about using the phrase "forced upon readers" as an example of the way things should be done. Newspapers would have utilized this technology at any point in time, editors and reporters alike. Of course novelty stories about K-Fed are going to get the most hits just like a story of your friends dating is going to cause the most gossip. There is a place for novelty and it is rankings. It does not imply the death of good journalism but an open door for people to give their feedback. Twopointouch.com, which is where I learned of the article, makes a valid point Marketwatch seemed to completely dismiss:
Top of digg right now is a story about a man who was tasered, clubbed and committed by the police as a result of his epilepsy. In fact, pretty much all the top ‘world and business’ stories at the moment are about political scandals, anti-war, and anti-establishment news stories. If you use digg as the barometer of what the public really wants, then the front page of MarketWatch might look a bit different.
Considering Jay Rosen's presentation at the Berkmen Center I am guessing he would have a similar response. Rosen thinks about how trends like news ranking can help journalists rather than hurt them. Journalists have always known working at People Magazine is different than working at the Wall Street Journal and I don't think digg was the first to reveal this.

Monday, November 20, 2006

iNeed Help!

A lost mushroom picker was found in the woods after rescuers spotted the glow of his iPod. I can see the commercial now: An adventurous man is hiking through the thick, thorny Oregon brush in search of the perfect mushroom. He is listening to U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" only to really lose his way. He looks at his map for help but to no prevail. Then our trusty hero realizes that his iPod will show him the way. "iPod: Portable Media Player, Portable First Aid Kit."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-repressed

The Chinese-language version of Wikipedia was made available to the country of China yesterday after enduring a year long ban, Reuters reported. Unfortunately the ban was reinstated before the Wikipedians even had the time to update their article on the subject, which ends with the November, 16 2006 Reuters report. The block has not yet been made official by the government and the reasons behind it remain a mystery, AsiaMedia.com reports. So for now, Chinese citizens will continue to be denied the right to read about events they lived through.

Unlike Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, Wikipedia refused succumb to China's free speech violations in order to remain in business with them. The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales told The Observer why he chose to withstand China's censorship requests:
Wales said censorship was "antithetical to the philosophy of Wikipedia. We occupy a position in the culture that I wish Google would take up, which is that we stand for the freedom for information, and for us to compromise I think would send very much the wrong signal: that there's no one left on the planet who's willing to say 'You know what? We're not going to give up.'"
It is interesting to see new media intersecting so vividly with something as repressive as the current Chinese government. Can a government control something as powerful as the Internet? That seems like a mighty ambitious plan. It is hard to say how long the so-called Great Firewall of China can last in a world that thrives on communication.

Wales truly is a crusader of notion that the Internet's purpose is to advance "the free flow of information." Hopefully Wikipedia will help to inspire companies like Google to re-examine their decisions, which was widely criticized by Amnesty International in the Irepressible.Info campaign.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Can you feel the neuroses tonight?

With so many ways to deck out your MySpace profile, it can be easy to forget just how much weight the “relationship status” feature carries in modern day dating. MySpace offers four options for its users, which appear to be pretty clear-cut: single, in a relationship, married, divorced and swinger.

Of course, as most of us know all too well, relationships are rarely straightforward. More and more people are checking their love interest’s profiles to monitor their romantic activity. With just the click of a button, a person can express their romantic desires or wreck heartbreak havoc—or both.

Melena Ryzik writes about online dating in ‘Is It Over? Log on and See’ (unfortunately you have to log into Times Select site to view it, but there’s always BugMeNot for outsiders). Ryzik says relationship etiquette in the digital age is, like many relationships, still in the gray area:

But what are the rules? How long are you supposed to wait to change your status after a breakup — or, for that matter, when a relationship begins? And beyond checking off status, what should you do with sexy comments a fling has posted? Or when do you downgrade an ex’s online avatar from your list of top friends?
Facebook’s “It’s complicated” option is currently the best choice according relationship experts. I think that complicates things more. The “swinger” option on MySpace remains a mystery to most, but is a good option if you want to avoid the question all together and take the comedic route. Ryzik provides a pretty unfortunate example of when your personal life and your digital life collide, only to result in anguish:
After pressuring a guy she had been seeing into setting up a Friendster profile (back in 2004, when Friendster was cool), Shanta Thake, 26, a club booker in Manhattan, was alarmed to find that he had listed his status as “in a relationship.” Though they had been dating for several months, hers still said single because they hadn’t had ‘the talk’ yet, she said.
Recently Britney Spears committed the ultimate crime in digital etiquette when she allegedly dumped K-Fed in a text message. You can’t text message breakup! Don’t you know that’s its toxic?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Red, White and Banned

Despite rave reviews as one of the most provocative and insightful documentaries this year, NBC and the CW Network have refused to air ads for the Dixie Chicks’ Shut Up and Sing. NBC said they "cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush.” Perhaps they shouldn't have aired Tuesday's elections either. The CW Network blamed it on scheduling conflicts. Was there a First Amendment conflict too? View the banned trailer here.