Sunday, May 10, 2009

Media Week 19: Newspapers, BookClubs, Television, George Orwell

Frank Rich in the NYTimes shares his opinion the state and possible future of newspapers:
In the Internet era, many sectors of American media have been re-enacting their at first complacent and finally panicked behavior of 60 years ago. Few in the entertainment business saw the digital cancer spreading through their old business models until well after file-sharing, via Napster, had started decimating the music industry. It’s not only journalism that is now struggling to plot a path to survival. But, with all due respect to show business, it’s only journalism that’s essential to a functioning democracy. And it’s not just because — as we keep being tediously reminded — Thomas Jefferson said so.Yes, journalists have made tons of mistakes and always will. But without their enterprise, to take a few representative recent examples, we would not have known about the wretched conditions for our veterans at Walter Reed, the government’s warrantless wiretapping the scams at Enron or steroids in baseball.
A few months ago I made a similar observation (PND):
Last week, I was discussing this topic with an acquaintance who lives in a fairly affluent part of Central New Jersey. He noted that, in a wide swath covering eight to ten townships and a number of counties, he wasn’t aware of more than one journalist assigned to that market from the larger state-wide newspapers. In Hoboken (regional HQ for PND), where mayoral and city council budget incompetence has seen our property taxes increase 50% in the past six months, there is rarely any local media coverage nor any attendance at city business meetings by traditional media. And forget investigative reporting - even in a state where you could throw a rock in any direction and hit a shady politician. The lack of journalistic attention means that one of the mainstays of democracy (the fourth estate) is eroded and this is seen starkly in Hoboken, where private citizens are forced (on their own initiative) to file freedom of information requests to gain access to basic public interest materials such as meeting minutes and financial statements.
And Rupert Murdoch was vocal this week becoming the self-interested shrill for paid newspaper content (Guardian)

Nature Publishing is launching Nature Education and their first project is something named Scitable (ZDNet)
The first deliverable from the Education group is Scitable, an incredible combination of social media and a vast library of articles “commissioned, edited, and reviewed by NPG editors.” While Nature Education intends to expand Scitable’s offerings to include cellular and molecular biology and ultimately tackle the physical sciences, their initial focus has been on genetics. Exploring Scitable makes it very clear that this strategy of sticking with a single area of expertise and dealing with it expertly and in-depth makes a great deal of sense. I’m not a geneticist, but I spent enough years in the publish or perish world of biomedical research to know that they nailed this. The content is accessible, deep, relevant, and understandable. Entire college courses could be taught around this material and there is more than enough content to keep high school students digging deeper into their Advanced Placement Biology courses or to build introductory genetics curricula.
Watch the first series of Wallander stories on PBS happy in the knowledge that there will be a second series - and they won a BAFTA. (TheBookselller)

Publishing Trends took a detailed look at Book Clubs (PublishingTrends)
Online retailers’ deep discounts, however, have lured away readers who might once have joined book clubs because they wanted cheap books, and any book can be found online, so today’s book clubs must offer something beyond price and selection. For PBC, that means an active online community; in fact, the club is online only. To expand its reach, PBC has linked with 37 “Alliance Partners,” including the Huffington Post and Daily Kos, and e-mails these organizations’ members about new books once a month. “Those people may buy books through us or may go on to Amazon,” Rosen says, claiming, “We just want to help these books sell, the books to do well, and the authors to do well, and this is our mission.”A look at how in failing health
George Orwell was able to finish 1984 (Observer)

This is one of Orwell's exceedingly rare references to the theme of his book. He believed, as many writers do, that it was bad luck to discuss work-in-progress. Later, to Anthony Powell, he described it as "a Utopia written in the form of a novel". The typing of the fair copy of "The Last Man in Europe" became another dimension of Orwell's battle with his book. The more he revised his "unbelievably bad" manuscript the more it became a document only he could read and interpret. It was, he told his agent, "extremely long, even 125,000 words". With characteristic candour, he noted: "I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied... I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB."And he was still undecided about the title: "I am inclined to call it NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR or THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE," he wrote, "but I might just possibly think of something else in the next week or two." By the end of October Orwell believed he was done. Now he just needed a stenographer to help make sense of it all.

Fears of new technology on incumbent businesses - in this case television - are often found to be unfounded. The Economist notes the impact of Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) that we supposed to destroy the television advertising model but have had nothing like that impact. In the words of one interviewee, DVR's have become "a hit saving machine" (The Economist)
Far from being revolutionary, in some ways DVR has made television more stable. With the exception of live events it is broadly true that the most popular programmes are recorded the most. Mr Wakshlag describes it as “a hit-saving machine”. Broadcast television receives a bigger boost from DVR playback than cable television. The device has made it harder to introduce a new television programme, particularly at 10pm when people are likely to be playing back shows they recorded at 8pm or 9pm.

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