Sunday, May 01, 2011

MediaWeek (V4, N18): Higher Ed, Author Promotion, Harper Lee, Libraries + Others.

From the Chronicle of Higher Education: Is there a Higher Education Bubble? The writer takes issue with this suggestion (Chronicle)
College degrees have value in the sense that they provide important signals to employers and in many industries serve as a passkey without which access to labor markets is closed. But they have no inherent worth. They are secondhand testimony of something valuable–the knowledge and skills associated with a unique person. You can’t transfer or sell your property rights in a degree to somebody else. There’s no open market where degrees are bought and sold, no cable TV show called “Degree flippers,” no retirees planning to live off the accumulated equity in their degrees, no reverse degree mortgages or associated lines of credit, no shoeshine boys offering doom-portending tips about which degrees are likely to spike in value next week on the degree exchange.
One could argue that the values of both real estate and higher education are dangerously subject to collective delusion. Research suggesting that many college students don’t learn much of anything in college lends some credence to this idea. But it’s a lot easier for hot air to flow in and out of a market where assets can be freely bought and sold. In the late 1990s, stock market investors collectively decided that Internet companies with no actual plan to turn a profit were nonetheless worth billions of dollars. A year later they changed their minds and the stocks were worthless. In the 2000s, cookie-cutter homes in the Las Vegas suburbs doubled and then un-doubled in value. It was imaginary money; the homes themselves didn’t change.
In the NYT Sunday book review an essay on how authors build brand and suggests correctly that it not a recent phenomena. (NYT):
But the tradition of self-promotion predates the camera by millenniums. In 440 B.C. or so, a first-time Greek author named Herodotus paid for his own book tour around the Aegean. His big break came during the Olympic Games, when he stood up in the temple of Zeus and declaimed his “Histories” to the wealthy, influential crowd. In the 12th century, the clergyman Gerald of Wales organized his own book party in Oxford, hoping to appeal to college audiences. According to “The Oxford Book of Oxford,” edited by Jan Morris, he invited scholars to his lodgings, where he plied them with good food and ale for three days, along with long recitations of his golden prose. But they got off easy compared with those invited to the “Funeral Supper” of the 18th-century French bon vivant Grimod de la Reyni√®re, held to promote his opus “Reflections on Pleasure.” The guests’ curiosity turned to horror when they found themselves locked in a candlelit hall with a catafalque for a dining table, and were served an endless meal by black-robed waiters while Grimod insulted them as an audience watched from the balcony. When the diners were finally released at 7 a.m., they spread word that Grimod was mad — and his book quickly went through three ­printings.
In The Telegraph Philip Hensher takes a look at Harper Less and the trouble with being a literary heavyweight (Telegraph):

The novelist of social texture, of the quiet relationships between people, is perhaps one peculiarly vulnerable to the impact of fame. We have plenty of witnesses to Jane Austen’s personal modesty, the way in which she would hide her writing at anyone’s approach. A novelist who had become a celebrity would find it almost impossible to pursue their task of listening, of modest disappearance into the background, of observation. Some writers manage to tough it out; others find the weight of expectation impossible to manage.

The cynic would say that Harper Lee, with a novel which still sells millions every year, over half a century after its pt ublication, hardly needed to go on writing anyway. Would she have wanted her career to work out like this? But writing is not like hedge-fund trading. The author who voluntarily retires from writing, after having made a pile, is a rare creature; it is the strangest of facts about Shakespeare that he stopped writing, apparently of his free will, at the height of his artistic powers after The Tempest, and retired to Stratford.

The secret life of (UK) libraries in the Observer:

Attempts to do so often end up in trouble. "The council once asked us for an assessment of outcomes, not output," says Ian Stringer. "Output was how many books we'd stamped out, and outcome was something that had actually resulted from someone borrowing a book. So say someone took out a book on mending cars and then drove the car back, that's an outcome; or made a batch of scones from a recipe book they had borrowed. It lasted until one of the librarians told the council they'd had someone in borrowing a book on suicide, but that they'd never brought it back. The council stopped asking after that.

"The great untold truth of libraries is that people need them not because they're about study and solitude, but because they're about connection. Some sense of their emotional value is given by the writer Mavis Cheek, who ran workshops within both Holloway and Erlestoke prisons. At Erlestoke she had groups of eight men who so enjoyed the freedom and contact of the writing groups they ended up breaking into the prison library when they found it shut one day. Which authors did they like best? "Graham Greene," says Cheek. "All that adventure and penance. His stuff moves fast, it's spare and it's direct."

Happy thoughts on technology in the Guardian where John Naughton suggests that the unchecked rise of malware could culminate in armageddon that would change forever the way we use the internet (Guardian):

Spamming works because it can be very profitable. It costs very little more to send 10m emails than it does to send 100. If you're selling a packet of Viagra for $20 and you have a response rate of 0.1%, you'll make $20 from 1,000 emails. But if you send out 10m and have the same response rate you'll be earning $200,000 a day. This is the kind of serious money that makes organised criminal gangs sit up.

The idea of covertly suborning networked PCs was a critical breakthrough for malware because it enabled malefactors to set up "botnets" – networks of compromised machines that could be remotely controlled. Nobody knows how many of these botnets exist, but there are probably thousands of them worldwide and some are very large. A list of the 10 largest in the US in 2009, for example, estimated that they ranged in size from 210,000 to 3.6m compromised machines.

In addition to spamming, botnets can be used for a wide variety of purposes. They can, for example, launch "distributed denial of service" (DDOS) attacks on e-commerce or other web sites. Each machine in the botnet bombards the targeted site with simultaneous requests, repeated incessantly, to the point where the site's servers buckle under the load or the site becomes unusable by legitimate customers. More sinisterly, botnets can be used for blackmail, effectively extracting protection money from retail sites to ward off the threat of a DDOS attack. Nobody talks about this in public, but it goes on.

A profile of Ian Hislop in the Independent:

The new editor was young in years but not in his ways as he defined his role as to "criticise vice, folly and humbug". Now, having edited Private Eye for 25 years, the young fogey is not about to go shopping for training shoes. "There is a Ross and Brand culture of not growing up to be a man, of remaining a lad into your fifties," he complained to the Daily Telegraph in 2008. "That would have been alien to our grandfathers' generation. They wanted to join the world. They weren't afraid of being judgemental. That's what I'd like to encourage in my son."

The cavalier Piers Morgan couldn't understand such puritanism and sent reporters and photographers to dig dirt in the Kent village of Sissinghurst, where Hislop lives with his wife Victoria, a successful author, and their two children. One of Morgan's team even pleaded with the local vicar for scandal on one of his church regulars. Morgan, who had promised readers of the Daily Mirror a "Hislop Dossier" but produced nothing, later remarked that "barely a day goes by now when I'm not racked with guilt about how I treated this Mother Teresa of journalism". Despite the sarcasm, Hislop's integrity was untarnished.

Looking at long form journalism: It ain't dead yet (Independent):
The industry is already aware of an enthusiasm for long-form journalism. Former New York Times magazine editor Gerry Marzorati recently observed that the longest pieces in the magazine were almost always the most read.

What is driving this development, according to Longreads founder Mark Armstrong, are apps such as Instapaper, which allow us to save stories for reading at our leisure on phones, tablets and e-readers. "In my opinion," he says, "it's this time shift that's going to make long-form journalism viable."

Armstrong's own interest stemmed from a question he posted on Twitter asking for things to read during his 40-minute commute. "People caught on very quickly," he says, "and the whole thing snowballed." A Longreads event in New York co-promoted with Rolling Stone magazine last week was hugely oversubscribed, and Mr Armstrong earnestly believes a golden age is dawning for storytelling on the web.

There's an irony in the 140-character medium having spawned a resurgent interest in weighty pieces that are allowed to reach their "natural length", as Amazon puts it. But the obvious question hovering over the declining fortunes of print media is where the money will come from to pay for these pieces, which take time to produce.

No room for books at the University of Denver (Inside Higher Ed).

Once the renovations are complete, the university will bring back some books and leave others at the storage facility. The original plans -- which did not cause alarm -- called for 80 percent of the materials to return to the renovated library, leaving behind seldom-accessed journals and those with digital replacements, government documents, and little-used books.

But the university announced to faculty members last week that the renovated library would now only hold 20 percent of its current collection, much to the surprise of professors.

In an e-mail, Allen said the books that will return to the library after renovation "will comprise a teaching collection carefully built with the input of faculty, especially those in the social sciences and humanities who depend in both teaching and research on monographs as the key form of scholarly communication." She said the rest of the collections would remain in the Hampden Center and be deliverable within two or three hours of a request.

Should teaching be outsourced (IHed):

"When you outsource classes like this, you lose a little control over the content," said Mark Paxton, a professor in the journalism department who opposes any broader outsourcing of courses without faculty consent. "If this happens on a larger scale, then what makes us any different than the University of Phoenix? What makes us unique is our faculty teaching courses."

But other faculty members in the journalism department said the characterization of the program as “outsourcing” is incorrect.

Andrew Cline, a professor in the department of media, journalism and film who said he will observe Missouri State’s course closely, stressed that the class was a partnership rather than “outsourcing,” since Poynter relied on the syllabus for Missouri State’s course and a Missouri State faculty member will meet with students in-person throughout the course in addition to contact they have with instructors at Poynter. He also stressed that the program was only a one-semester experiment.

From the twitter:

Data Privacy, Put to the Test in a Supreme Court Case -

Obama ROASTS Donald Trump At Correspondents' Dinner

Pearson bets on growth in US education -

Cengage Learning MindApps™ Partner Program Encourages App & Services.

Why The Nook Upgrade Is A Big Deal For The E-Reader Market

How rock music is saving books

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