GOP to wrangle those Western Ohio voters

“Before a lot of Dockers get twisted into bunches, let it be said that an Obama challenger had (and has) lots of openings to unseat the president. The problem, it appears, is that Romney is the wrong challenger.”

That’s The Plain Dealer’s Tom Suddes on the ineptitude of the Romney campaign, especially in Battleground: Ohio.

And this is a fairly important point (not that it matters much this late in the game, but…). Obama walked into 2012 with the long, bumpy road to November ahead of him. But the Republican primaries, which seemed more like one prolonged drinking game, coughed up perhaps the most backwards candidate for president we’ve seen in quite some time.

So, this week we’ll see Willard hit the I-75 campaign trail, trying to rally the collective groans of Ohio’s more conservative counties.

The state seems fairly locked up for Obama’s camp, but we’ll see if this Western Ohio raid stirs up any percentage points for the GOP.

Just my Monday musings here…

On considering the Romney videos

The most disturbing thing about the Romney video leaks is the disconnect between what he’s saying on the campaign trail and what he’s saying behind closed doors to donors who (for whatever inane reason) decided to fork over $50,000 each to hear this dimwit prattle on.

Here’s WaPo’s Greg Sargent on the matter:

I don’t know if Romney believes this or not. But the fact that he’s claiming to believe this is what matters. He is adhering to a view of the social contract and government’s role in combating the vagaries of fortune that is deeply unbalanced and out of step with mainstream American opinion.

My quick take is that, even though presidential candidates represent two sides of the same coin, there’s a clear ideological shift between them. And both views will serve to distort history in their own *special* ways. Yes, yes, voting is, in its own way, a very unique kind of sham, but elections are often subtly built around which version of history you’d like to see written down haphazardly in your children’s textbooks.

Or, alternatively, which candidate’s smarmy smile makes your stomach churn less.

Cheap media and #MuslimRage

If you give people a way to act on their desire for autonomy and competence or generosity and sharing, they might take you up on it.

That’s Clay Shirky in his book, Cognitive Surplus. The Atlantic’s Megan Garber recalled that quote in dissecting the cynicism behind Newsweek’s latest grab for cheap thrills in the magazine’s cover story about “Muslim Rage.”

To make matters worse, Newsweek saw fit to promote conversation through a neato hashtag, #MuslimRage.

The ridiculous move prompted the very expected outrage and satirical backlash that ridiculous editorial moves always prompt in this age of  EVERYTHING MUST BE SOCIAL.

More to the point, though, Newsweek is showing its readers that it hasn’t got a single fuck to give about serving the truly social elements of good journalism. As the Arab Spring evolves, there’s ample opportunity to discuss its burgeoning historical, cultural and political implications.

But just like when Newsweek zealously followed the Huffington Post down the social media shithole during the Todd Akin story, it’s clear that this magazine’s digital staff just doesn’t get it.

Or maybe they’re right on point. The opium of the masses and all…

Quartz and the phenomenology of news

Anyone who’s visited Mediagazer in the past 24 hours surely took the time to dive into Gideon Lichfield’s explanation of what, precisely, Quartz News intends on doing upon launching later this year.

It’s a worthwhile read because a) Quartz will be an interesting platform as it develops and b) Lichfield raises more than a few very important points for news organizations who are still struggling to “figure it out.”

That’s not to say that somehow Quartz has hit upon the Holy Grail of news concepts. We’ll see about that. But the distance Lichfield puts between today’s news environment and the beat reporters of yore is a fascinating lens through which to look at our evolving habitat.

So instead of fixed beats, we structure our newsroom around an ever-evolving collection of phenomena—the patterns, trends and seismic shifts that are shaping the world our readers live in. “Financial markets” is a beat, but “the financial crisis” is a phenomenon. “The environment” is a beat, but “climate change” is a phenomenon. “Energy” is a beat, but “the global surge of energy abundance” is a phenomenon. “China” is a beat, but “Chinese investment in Africa” is a phenomenon. We call these phenomena our “obsessions”. These are the kinds of topics Quartz will put in its navigation bar, and as the world changes, so will they.

On top of the other ideas presented in this blog post, one of the themes I’m picking up on is the need to revolutionize how the newsroom works day in and day out. Good journalism and reporting requires time and depth of knowledge (breadth, too). But how can we distill those elements into a more meaningful work flow, especially given the saturation of the news market?

Well, that’s certainly a tough question. But Quartz and its rewriting of the drawing board may be a worthy place to begin.

Quality > Quantity

Dean Starkman, editor of Columbia Journalism Review’s “The Audit,” sets forth a rather succinct and important analysis of what a paywall can achieve.

The hamster wheel vs. the quality imperative” raises plenty of interesting points about the various directions in which a news organization can pursue its transition into the digital age. Starkman uses recent news from the Journal Register Company as a backdrop for this approach, while comparing/contrasting that angle against The New York Times and Advance Digital’s efforts.

In discussing Advance’s recent cuts across its newspaper holdings, Starkman reiterates that there’s more than one way to trudge ever onward:

If this free model were the only one available, that would be one thing. But since it isn’t, and since it, as Advance tell us, requires dramatic cuts, and requires them immediately, AND since the model is based on click and post volume, the free model should be opposed.

Starkman doesn’t come right out and endorse any particular paywall structure. But he points out that a digital subscription may serve as a “mini-referendum on quality.” And that’s an important – and much-needed – concept.

It’s a death knell for organizations when they pursue high-volume, low-quality numbers, numbers, numbers. More page views! In the end, that approach compounds and the result is a Facebookized “news” feed that doesn’t really do anyone any good. (And, hey, it’s free, so why would readers care anyway?)

(Disclosure: I work for Sun Newspapers, owned by Advance Publications.)

Oblique Orchestra and the yadda-yadda of jazz

(Telescope note: This article was originally written in May 2012. It was never published.)

The drummer crosses his arms. And as the sax and the bass continue to work off each other, the drummer sits in contemplation.

But what does he think? What keeps him from the rhythm?

He grabs a nearby piece of paper, glances at it, but doesn’t read it. He tosses the piece of paper to the side and it drifts toward the bass player’s foot. The bass player does not break his concentration. The fingers on his left hand work the top of the neck with furious, angry passion. With his right hand, he grabs a nearby bow and crashes it into the screaming tonalities of his four heavy strings.

The drummer continues to stare straight ahead, arms akimbo now. His face is etched in stone.

Before bela dubby closed, the coffee joint hosted a wide range of local musicians.

Oblique Orchestra, one of Cleveland’s most renowned free improvisation jazz groups, is holed up in the dying days of a local coffee joint. If one happened to walk in on the place in the dead of winter, perhaps late 2011, for instance, one would see an array of artwork on the walls. Some would have called it “garbage.” Some would have been right.

In the coming weeks, the place will be converted to a taco stand of sorts. And, as the rumblings among the regulars put it, there ain’t gonna be no wedding. No more jazz, they say. No more noise.

At least not the kind of noise the audience is privy to tonight.

The drummer, who one might mistake for an ancient gargoyle, lifts a stony arm and lets a well worn brush caress the snare. The sound is barely perceptible. No doubt the bass player heard it, though. He may be lost on some other plane altogether, but as his fingers tackle the e, a, d, g, he’s still tuned into the jangly meanderings of his comrades. The drummer’s brush, the sax player’s gentle coo.

Before long, however, that sax player’s gonna melt the wind. His tone is smoky and it calls to mind visions of dark alleys, undocumented meetings with people who have no names. It’s sultry, this ascending lack of structure. And the audience is on in the secret, whatever it is.

In the near future, the bearded priest sitting next to me will quietly choke: “That was incredible.” With a certain eye, one would discern a stray tear on his cheek.

And as the sax and the bass continue to wail against each other, it’s time for more hard drink. It’s time to get lost again.

If there’s one thing that these cats can teach us – and it’s not altogether clear if there even is that one thing – it’s that the only way out is in.

The only way through this mess is to dive right into the ecstasy of it all and enjoy the fallen fruit. Coffee, tacos… It doesn’t really matter what the others do with their time.

The jazz of life will go on.

Listen, the drummer’s tap-tap-tapping the hi-hat now. And isn’t that the beating of your heart?

Kudos, Props and Thank You Very Much

Many thanks to the ceaselessly creative wit and wisdom of Pat Sandy (or, as I like to call him, Dad) for passing along the Beautiful Blogger honors yesterday.

Lake Effect, his cartoon blog, dishes up an awesome variety of illustrative themes and reflective/humorous thoughts each day.

As he mentioned in his recent post, the routine and constant maintenance of blogging is demanding work and it takes the kind of commitment that only the tirelessly creative possess.

Check out his work. You’ll love it.

As per the guidelines of the award, I’ll nominate several other fantastic blogs that are well worth perusing:

– Even passive readers of my blog and/or Tumblr will know that I’ve got some sort of sick obsession with the band Phish. So does this guy. “Mr. Miner’s Phish Thoughts” is one of my must-read blogs, especially when the band’s on tour. Which they are. Right now. So go read his stuff! (And listen to the 6/23/12 Burgettstown, Pa., show for a real aural trip.)

– While it’s not really maintained by a single blogger per se, The Atlantic’s Cities blog offers one of the most consistently engaging collections of articles online. City planning is a burgeoning interest of mine and this is probably my favorite spot on the web to learn more about it all.

Heather Diana Designs offers a close look at the sometimes chaotic world of art and jewelry design. Heather Vaselaney works in the Cleveland area and her art is shown in several locations on both the east and west side of town.

– I love the way Short Form Blog aggregates and comments on the day’s news. Keep this page open throughout the day and you’ll be set with a steady stream of stories and, often enough, thought-provoking questions that really do push the reader to read/learn more.

– Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings is one those delightfully insightful websites that you can’t avoid returning to again and again. She’s got a great approach to Twitter and that’s mostly how I run into her new posts.

– As a political junkie ever in denial, I’ve come to really dig Greg Sargent’s  The Plum Line via The Washington Post. Especially in a year like this one, there’s an absolutely flurry of news and non-news in the political sphere. Sargent does a great job of wrapping up his take on various matters both clearly and succinctly – two fantastic traits for any writer.

– And even more so than the political side of things, I’m an incessant reader of media-related news (or, “news about news”). And, again, in a year like this one, there’s an insane cornucopia of news about this ridiculous industry. Dylan Byers on Media tends to point out both the unavoidable story du jour, as well as some other stories in the media that I may not have stumbled upon otherwise.

– Curation is often the name of the game in online news distribution. Many will scoff at the idea (Still?! C’mon!), but curating and aggregating the news serves an important function that, until recently, was never fully realized in the paradigm of print publishing. Byline Beat, based in New York City, has an editorial board headed by Michael Rusch that knows exactly what they’re doing. “Just as America, and indeed the world, is a juxtaposition of old and new, so too is our name and our mission.” Nice.

OK, so there are some of my favorite blogs. I’ll be sure to post additional recommendations in due time, since there’s an endless Rolodex of daily visits for my news reading habits.

To cap things off, there are a few more items to take care of as per the Beautiful Blogger guidelines. Here are seven things about myself:

1. I’ve always known I wanted to spend my life writing.

2. Playing the guitar soothes my soul. And the only reason I ever picked the instrument up in the first place was because of my Dad. Thank you!

3. I’m 23 and slightly unsettled with how fast time moves.

4. My favorite movie is “The Big Lebowski”.

5. In the same vein as writing, I’m a voracious reader. I’m currently reading Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” and Francis Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order” (Vol. 1).

6. Regarding the Fukuyama book, I’m really into political theory and I miss taking Poli. Sci. classes in college.

7. And regarding college, I went to Ohio University from 2006 to 2010. For the uninitiated, it’s in a little town called Athens. I love that town.

And here are the answers to 10 quick questions:

1. What is your favorite colour? Green
2. What is your favorite animal? Dogs
3. What is your favorite non-alcoholic drink? Water (Boring but delicious)
4. Do you prefer Facebook or Twitter? Twitter (It’s my newswire and my constant byline)
5. What is your favorite pattern? Anything chaotic and unpredictable
6. Do you prefer giving or getting presents? Both, absolutely
7. What is your favorite number? 33
8. What is your favorite day of the week? Saturday
9. What is your favorite flower? Sunflower
10. What’s your passion? Writing and music


Nieman Lab staff offers #ISOJ takeaway

(Ed. note: This is being crossposted from The Telescope @ Tumblr.)

Wow, what a fantastic roundup of insights from the recent International Symposium on Online Journalism…

The Nieman Lab article is a must-read in its entirety, but here are some points that really stood out to me:

“[Google’s Richard] Gingras said news companies spend too much time worrying about their home pages and not enough about their article pages. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if there comes a time when a media company opts not to have a homepage at all”

This is a very interesting concept. I’ve watched media companies invest a great deal of resources into their vertical blogs lately. (See examples at The New York Times and Buzzfeed.)

These are stunning outlets for niche audiences, complete with a churning well of content and a very direct design. Organizations should recognize the interest-driven nature of online news/content distribution. While verticals like the above links may not work well for all levels of media outlets, I think there’s a wellspring of opportunity for editorial staffs to explore.

The [Dallas] Morning News is trying to differentiate itself in two ways: By shifting its production to fit devices like tablets, and by shifting its reporting with a plan they call “PICA,” which stands for Perspective, Interpretation, Context and Analysis.

Here are two other very important points. It goes back to the mantra of “mobile, mobile, mobile” that’s plastered on the walls of editorial boardrooms. News orgs better prepare and devise ways of taking their content to the mobile platform. That will be a driving force both in editorial decision-making and ad revenues (Hmm… let’s hope).

Also, just a quick note: “Perspective, Interpretation, Context and Analysis” is a great little checklist for how to get the job done. PICA. Dig it.

On one last note, below I’ve embedded a slick presentation of data on Andy Carvin‘s social media sourcing methods from his Arab Spring reporting. The Nieman staff writes: “[H]is tweets served as a major amplifier of lesser-known sources.” That’s a big point in terms of international journalism.


The Gang’s All Here

I wanted to use a quick quote from Zach Seward as a launching pad for a discussion about what social media gets right.

“Early morning is a really nice time on Twitter. As in a greasy spoon, there are regulars sitting in their assigned seats, people like David Wessel and Kelly Evans at the Journal, Jim Roberts at the Times, and Heidi Moore at Marketplace…”

Those words come from an interview with the blog, as part of that website’s ongoing “Getting the News” series.

Source: Aaron Riddle,

It hearkens back to the notion of coffeehouses of the 17th and 18th centuries as forums for informal discussions of the day. This concept is nothing new, of course, but it’s interesting to note – especially as a news junkie who spends an inordinate amount of time reading and sharing news on Twitter (or Facebook).

Twitter, as an interest-driven social network, achieves this coffeehouse mentality very well. As a reader, you come to associate particular genres of news or news brands with specific writers.

I’d rather follow a particular journalist than the organization (etc.) for whom he or she works (although I follow plenty of outlets like The New York Times or Slate).

So, to really make this discussion worthwhile, the task of maintaining and curating a robust roster of “followees” becomes quite important. Who do you trust to deliver relevant news with just the right amount of acerbic wit. Likewise, who would you like to sit next to at the coffeehouse: the Tom Waits-looking fellow who tends to spout engaging, thoughtful conversation points that make you think or that guy in the corner with one hand in his pants and the other in the pocket of the closest government official?

It comes back to the tried-and-true element of trust and credibility in news reporting. And, with “social” being the phrase du jour, the onus is placed squarely on the head of the journalist/blogger/innocent bystander who’s willing to put their neck on the line for the goddamned sanctity of journalism.

Transparency in distributing news

Experimentation should be at the heart of a newsroom. Innovation springs from creativity and experimentation.

Indeed. As such, I’m taking lessons from the Register Citizen’s Open Newsroom project and incorporating them into my own work routine.

Transparency is a fundamental element of presenting news to readers and users. Moreso, however, the Open Newsroom project highlights the need for journalists to be transparent in their own approaches to their work. To that end, I began experimenting with my own “Open Newsroom” today in Lakewood, Ohio.

Ideally, I’d like to make this a weekly occurrence. While we’ve opened the channels and pushed for feedback from readers through social media, I think that in-person opportunities are equally – if not more – valuable.

For reporters who have found their eyes focused more on their smartphones than their City Council members’ contributions to local government, hitting the pavement in and around town is more important than ever.

I think that maintaining an open, forward-thinking online presence is such a great development for media people. But what employees at the Register Citizen have been doing in their community is a great practice that highlights an important lesson learned:

We understood learned that “Digital First” really means “Reader First,” or “Community First.”

Yes, “Digital First” has become the mantra of newspaper staffs around the world. But the sentiment goes deeper than that. Disrupt your workflow and keep the end user in mind. Is your online presence benefiting your community in any meaningful way (that is, does your “Digital First” strategy really improve upon what you were doing before the Internet changed everything?)

Experimentation should be at the heart of a newsroom. And there are many ways to innovate in meaningful, worthwhile ways.

Some of those experiments will work. Others will fail.

Get a feel for what readers and non-journalists want out of their online news experience.

I think that’s the best aspect of working within this new digital framework: It allows for such rich (or, in plenty of cases, not so rich) interaction with the people around you.