Monday, March 18, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N11): Phoenix Flames Out, Pompeii Exhibit, Springer, MOOCs + More

The Boston Phoenix closed down last week. (CJR):
But nobody was expecting the guillotine. I certainly wasn’t. As a longtime Phoenix reader and part-time Boston resident, I’m shocked and disconsolate. The Phoenix is and was one of the best alt-weeklies in the country. From its smart reporting on state and local politics to its tough, nuanced coverage of social justice issues, the Phoenix consistently exemplified the best of the alternative press. Staff writer Chris Faraone’s you-are-there coverage of the Occupy movement was honest, unsentimental, and indispensable; during last year’s presidential campaign, political writer David S. Bernstein offered valuable insight into the Romney cotillion. The paper’s departments were memorable, too—David Thorpe’s loopy The Big Hurt music column; Robert Nadeau’s authoritative restaurant reviews; Barry Thompson’s “Meet the Mayor” series of interviews with various local Foursquare “mayors;” the tenacious local arts coverage. All were lively and occasionally brilliant; all will be missed. 
That’s not to say that the paper was flawless. No publication is. But, from my perspective, the Phoenix’s successes far outnumbered its failures. More to the point, the Phoenix was a legitimately independent weekly in a space largely dominated by conglomerate corporate media. While other alt-weeklies across the country were acquired by national chains, the Phoenix remained resolutely rooted in New England. (The Boston Phoenix had two sister papers in Providence, RI, and Portland, ME, both of which will continue to publish.) Now, the only true alt-weekly in Boston is the wisecracking Weekly Dig, which has a huge opportunity if it plays its cards right. (Many current Phoenix staffers began their careers at the Dig.)
Looks like a fascinating show at the British Museum (where the world comes to see their stuff) about domestic life in Pompeii and Herculaneum (FT):
Paul Roberts, the exhibition’s curator, talks me through the lessons of the double portrait, found at the site of a bakery. “We assume he is the bakery owner. He wears a white toga, which may mean he is a candidatus for political office. But his wife is the amazing one. She is the one with the reckoning tablet. They are equal, and they are shown equal, standing together, members of a confident, mercantile class.  
“And this was the reality of life for a lot of Roman women. They wouldn’t have been little old ladies sitting at home. They were highly visible in society.” Roberts plays down their disenfranchisement. “Think of Edwardian England: no vote, no ability to stand for office but tons of money and tons of influence.”  This is the most complete show, Roberts believes, to illustrate the domestic life of the two cities. It is designed to show the riches that would have adorned the typical prosperous Roman household: its gardens, its dining rooms; its private jokes and its grandiloquent statements of self-importance. The Italian addiction to bella figura, he says, can be traced to the flamboyance of ancient Rome.
Also in the FT, the Springer sale is off earlier than expected since the offers from some selected potential buyers were less than expected. This can mean only one thing. (FT)
But earlier this year, EQT hinted that it may wait until later in the year to start a formal process, after price indications from potential buyers including German media group Bertelsmann fell short of expectations, people with knowledge of the matter said then.
The fact that it is now accelerating the sale process highlights a dramatic shift in sentiment among the largest private equity firms in Europe over the past two months, as debt funding for acquisitions increases amid an investors rush into high yield bonds.
However this time, Bertelsmann says it won’t bid for Springer Science. After signalling for months that it would have a look at the publisher if it went on sale, the German media group said it was no longer interested.
Slightly biased research (which they admit to) on how faculty feel about the MOOCs they have taught (Chronicle):
The findings are not scientific, and perhaps the most enthusiastic of the MOOC professors were the likeliest complete the survey. These early adopters of MOOCs have overwhelmingly volunteered to try them—only 15 percent of respondents said they taught a MOOC at the behest of a superior—so the deck was somewhat stacked with true believers. A few professors whose MOOCs have gone publicly awry did not respond to the survey.

But the participants were primarily longtime professors with no prior experience with online instruction. More than two-thirds were tenured, and most had taught college for well over a decade. The respondents were overwhelmingly white and male. In other words, these were not fringe-dwelling technophiles with a stake in upending the status quo.

Therefore the positive response may come as a surprise to some observers. Every year the Babson Survey Research Group asks chief academic administrators to estimate what percentage of their faculty members "accept the value and legitimacy of online education"; the average estimate in recent years has stalled at 30 percent, even as online programs have become mainstream.

Professors at top-ranked colleges are seen as having especially entrenched views. For years, "elite" institutions appeared to view online courses as higher education's redheaded stepchild—good enough for for-profit institutions and state universities, maybe, but hardly equivalent to the classes held on their own campuses. Now these high-profile professors, who make up most of the survey participants, are signaling a change of heart that could indicate a bigger shake-up in the higher-education landscape.
Also from Wired: Where are MOOCs really going? (Wired):
The initial MOOCs came from a “process business model” where companies bring inputs together at one end and transform them into a higher-value output for customers at the other end — as with the retail and manufacturing industries.

But over time, an approach where users exchange information from each other similar to Facebook or telecommunications (a “facilitated network model”) will come to dominate online learning. This evolution is especially likely to happen if the traditional degree becomes irrelevant and, as many predict, learning becomes a continuous, on-the-job learning process. Then the need for customization will drive us toward just-in-time mini-courses.
And from the twitter feed this week:
How International Pricing Strategy Affects Publisher Profitability EPubDirect
OCLC launches WorldShare Interlibrary Loan service in the US KnowledgeSpeak
Historical audio: Unforgotten songs Economist
Ray Cusick Economist The genius who invented the Daleks. They got him.
ProQuest to Distribute NewspaperARCHIVE to Libraries Worldwide Link

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