Mr. Minshew’s Online Wonder Emporium

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Charles Minshew’s lecture on free online tools is the most immediately useful lecture topic so far. Minshew demonstrated that there is an online tool for every aspect of multimedia story-telling.

One of the first tools presented was the social network aggregator Rebel Mouse.

My Rebel Mouse profile page unedited, immediately after creation. Launched last summer, the site is new enough to be unknown to Wikipedia.

My Rebel Mouse profile page unedited, immediately after creation. Launched last summer, the site is new enough to be unknown to Wikipedia.

When I created the website I allowed it to link to my Facebook, Twitter, and Google + accounts and it was populated with stories from those sites with little apparent regard for time. Seemingly random Youtube clips I tweeted from the summer share space with recent tweets from accounts I follow.

The current system of story selection reinforces accountability across all social media platforms all the time. While there are settings to manage stream of information, the default settings could punish those with embarrassing past posts.

The site itself looks very much like your own personal Huffington Post, which makes sense as it was developed by former HuffPo CTO Paul Berry.

Another online tool Minshew introduced was Timeline JS, a tool for making multimedia timelines.

The short-lived Youtube video fad "Sh*t (insert adjective) People Say" is organized chronologically using Timeline JS.

The short-lived Youtube video fad “Sh*t (insert adjective) People Say” is organized chronologically using Timeline JS.

While user-friendly, Minshew was quick to warn against over-use of this, or any, multimedia tool. He encouraged journalists to move beyond the mindset of throwing in a multimedia element arbitrarily and instead to find the most effective tool.

While many previous lectures have stressed the importance of good reporting, this lecture lecture’s unique angle came in its focus on the importance of relating the already obtained information most engagingly to the user.

And if the perfect tool for the job doesn’t exist yet, Minshew touted online resources for learning coding directly such as Code Academy and W3Schools.

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The problems with comments, and hope for the future

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   The Daily’s Show first book, “America: The Book”, had a joke where is explained that the presidential election process is so convoluted because there is no way to quickly and accurately engage the opinions of the entire nation. Then, the book provided a website link where all the readers go to vote on whether or not they agreed with that statement.

   It was funny in context, really. But the idea that we’ll vote for president online is not without its own problems. The pitfalls of serious online interaction is apparent to any visitor to a website with a comments section. 

   There have been many attempts to make online discussion fulfill the long promised “town-hall forum of debate” of media. One method is to employ democracy at the most basic level.

   CNN.com has an up-vote/down-vote system in their comments section. While fair, the conversation usually devolves into jokes and serious opinions are ignored. The comment section in this opinion article was doomed from the start since it set a comedic tone. However, a serious article about child abuse also had its comments devolve into a debate on furniture metaphors.

   Websites like BuzzFeed use Facebook integration, in the hopes that malice is removed by removing some level of anonymity. BuzzFeed itself has an article about what websites have the worst comment section

   Comments aside, voting systems too are easily taken advantage of. Kim Jung-Un was voted Time Magazine’s “Reader’s Person of the Year” thanks to lax cyber security and some small-time organization.

   In order to take advantage of the potential for discussion on news stories, I think the problem is the scale not the system. The solution then is hyperlocal news sites. By making information most readily available to only those with a vested interest, there is a less chance for spam or joke remarks. 

   One hyperlocal site that has managed to stay afloat is Patch.com. Coverage, hover, is spotty. There is no Columbia, MO Patch. The comments in the St. Charles, MO Patch are less numerous but also nicer. “Turd” is offensive enough to draw a personal reminder from an administrator. 

  Hyperlocal sites have a long way to go, but they do offer hope for meaningful online discussion. 

  

United States destined for “miserable destruction”

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Whenever the “media conglomerates control America” argument rolls around, it’s easy to pass it off as watchful paranoia at best and mad ravings at worst. Sometimes, the arguments are so poorly conceived they can ignored completely.

As bad as anyone wants to pretend media control in the United States, North Korea is worse than anything we have ever had. According to a 2006 report on media censorship by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ):

“The world’s deepest information void, communist North Korea has no independent journalists, and all radio and television receivers sold in the country are locked to government-specified frequencies.”

This is the same country that just threatened the United States with “miserable destruction.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that North Korea is entirely unfit to make that claim. (Though North Korea is also in need of rocket scientists.)

I believe that by keeping their people in dark, the government of North Korea has similarly disillusioned themselves. By letting any public media outlet atrophy without competition or innovation, real information has become scarce. A glimpse of the dream-like world of false information can be seen in the following propaganda video:

 

Not to say state-run media outlets are always the devil. The BBC and Al-Jazeera are owned by Great Britain and Qatar respectively and both are well respected media sources.  The United States has similar public media, PBS and NPR, though they are not owned directly by the government.

By looking at international media models, we can see there is no magic bullet to media ownership. A state-run media outlet may be free from the threat of advertising taking over content but it also runs the risk of becoming a government puppet.

I would much prefer my media selling out to Coke and Pepsi than to Kim Jung-Un. So while there will always be critics of the US and it’s media model, I still believe we have one of the better functioning media in the world. At least if this country does experience “miserable destruction” we will know about it.

Pope joins Twitter, quits Vatican

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Pope Benedict XVI started tweeting last December. Two months laters, he becomes the first Pope in 600 years to step down voluntarily. These events are not unrelated. Twitter, which has already found Kony and liberated Libya, has toppled the Pope.

A face only his followers could love. Photo from Twitter.

A face only his followers could love. Photo from Twitter.

But the mistress that lured away the Pope has turned cruel quickly. The news of his resignition generated over 1.5 million Twitter comments in a day and a half. Not all of them were positive:

“We are receiving tweets that I consider not worthy of a human person,” said Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

 

Twitter is only the latest in a history of proving true Marshall McLuhan’s theory of technological determinism, in which he coined the phrase “the media is the message.” Twitter has taken some of the attention away from more real issues that could have possibly affected the resignation, such as scandal cover-ups.

It’s natural for the Pope to get intertwined in the new media. Benedict XVI used Twitter in an effort to assert himself as a more modern Pope.  This itself also created minor controversy as it was unprecedented. This can be taken as a sign that the Vatican is itself trying to become more modern.

However, instead of updating their stance on social policy (homosexuality, abortion) to reflect the changes in popular attitudes, a Papal aide created a Twitter account. Both the media covering the Vatican and the Vatican itself seem content to allow Twitter to be their story.

Though their stance on social issues may not be changing in the foreseeable future, the medium by which we receive the message may undergo drastic change. Following with the ideas in McLuhan’s theory of technological determinism, the message from the Vatican will be shaped by the new medium whether they want it to or not.

While the comments the Pope received may have been ugly and “not worthy of a human person,”someone high up in the Vatican had to seem them. The message got through. Hopefully the message that is returned by The Vatican responds to these criticisms without succumbing to the uglier aspects of social media.

 

The Media Builds a Bike Lane

Media

The last time I was crowd-surfing was at Warped Tour a couple years ago. I was struck by the kindness and solidarity of the 2,000-odd sweaty revelers. When a great circle pit erupted in front of my crowd-surf flight-plan I was gently let down at the edge. When everything I owned spilled out of my pockets, those who carried me were quick to help recover my stuff.

I’ve heard crowd-sourcing media content is a lot like crowd surfing at a concert. Just as crowd-surfing supports the scrawny bodies of 16-years-old to occupationally frustrated security at the front of the stage, crowd sourcing supports the pretentious ideas of unemployed 26-year-old to occupationally frustrated editors at  The Guardian.

After years of show us what we are told we want, the one-way highway that was the media of old has built us bike lane going the opposite way. For example, Conan created a whole show a week ago out of clips sent in from viewers.

CNN will occasionally allow website viewers to select what video clip is played on the TV news report. Recently they’ve also made expanding use of their iReport feature, which allows anyone to upload newsworthy media.

Sometimes the crowdsourcing is subtler, like the recursive scenario of searching to word “crowd source” on Google.  All the search results are pulled from other sources and the order of the list is partially determined by crow sourced user data on the websites themselves. Just Googling crowdsourcing is crowdsourcing in action.

In the subtle arena, there isn’t a lot of room for creative feedback. But in the first, more direct approaches of crowdsourcing we could see more individualized, unique content. While the Conan episode was unprecedented in user content, it was all based on his previously aired show and everyone operated within that boundary.

I would bet that in the near future of crowdsourcing we see a shift from viewers choosing predefined to content towards users creating and selecting the content. It’s cheaper and easier for a show’s producer and it pulls viewers in.

Wikipedia stands as a shining beacon of crowd-sourced potential. While not without faults, it provides both a constantly expanding pool of current information and an easy punchline for every high school English teacher going over the research paper rubric.

Image from http://xkcd.com

Employers Are The Axe-Murders of the New Internet

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This is one of the creepier links I’ve ever allowed to have all my Facebook information: http://www.takethislollipop.com/.

The website is basically the Jib-Jab e-card version of a Liam Neeson-style hacker movie. A short clip of a derelict man obsessing over a Facebook profile and then seeking out the person on screen plays for 3 minutes. But this time, the pictures are coming from inside the house. Here’s a picture of my Facebook profile picture taped to the dashboard of the above pictured man’s car:

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I thought of this website as I went about making my current online identities more “employer-friendly.” I’m throwing contact and personal information to anyone who will click. I’m not worried about creeps like the guy in the video because that was the old internet.

The old internet of geocities and MySpace may have actually been fraught with danger. I don’t know, I didn’t know anything existed outside of WordPerfect 2000 until I was 14.

Now instead of axe-murders, I’m being told I need to be weary of future employers. This is the new internet. What was once earnest looking WordPad documents with bright colors and background sound are now cookie-cutter blogs with hyperbolized, nonsense titles to draw attention because every website looks the same. (See: “Employers Are The Axe-Murders of the New Internet”.)

According to Google’s auto-complete search feature, I’m not the only one who has been told to be careful about what information put online….

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 12.12.46 AM

….because the only thing worse than losing your life is your job.

Not that I don’t take online identity seriously. I just think it’s interesting how there seems to be a niche for an Internet boogie man. Maybe since Web 1.0 was built in the shadow of the Cold War, imminent death was America’s greatest fear. Now that we’re in a recession, unemployment haunts the users of Web 2.0.

As the internet becomes increasingly mobile, I believe our next fear will go in the opposite direction. The next fear will be that of never being found. As location data becomes standard on Facebook and other apps, we will take for granted the knowledge of everyone’s location. One day, that chain e-mail will come around about a Michigan mother of 4 who turned her location services off and went missing in the woods, never to tweet again.

Until then, however, I’m going to follow the herd and appeal to the ominous shadow of future employers. In case there are any employers reading this, I am very proficient in all aspects of WordPerfect 2000.

Introduction

Media

            I was born in a hospital in Chicago, IL completely covered head to toe in a fine, black hair. This hair, or body-length lion’s mane as I’d like to imagine, was quickly shed in a manner never fully explained to me.

            I moved to Bloomington-Normal, IL at age three after a mob of torch and pitchfork wielding Chicagoans chased my parents out for giving birth to Wolfman. That has to be the reason. I refuse to believe we moved out of a house that was within walking distance of what I later found to be this really great Mexican restaurant because of “work.”

            The twin cities are a treat though, in their own special way. As corporate headquarters of insurance giants State Farm and Country Companies, I was fortunate to befriend a lot of really interesting kids who’s lives were suddenly uprooted from all over the country. 

            We’d play tennis, basketball, and Mario Kart until Overlord Good Neighbor decided our neighbor Mr. Dufek was the only man in the world who could sell auto insurance in California. Wash, rinse, repeat. Not that I’m bitter. But whenever I get a speeding ticket, I call my Country agent to discuss any possible change in my rates.

            Recently I discovered Columbia is home to the corporate headquarters of Shelter Insurance. That wasn’t mentioned during the campus tour. What I did learn during the tour was that Mizzou had a campus that looked like what I thought a college should look like in my head.

            Plus everyone says Mizzou’s the only place to study journalism if you were born a monster mere minutes from Evanston, IL and no New Yorker has ever liked you. I’m more shuffle than hustle and bustle and I guess everyone is cranky since the city never sleeps. There’s no pushing and shoving at Rock Bridge State Park or on the MKT Trail.   

            Now that I’ve been at Mizzou for a year and half without dropping out even a little bit, I’m looking forward to this J2150 course I’ve heard so much about.  I envision a class that gets me out of the classroom. I want to tell my roommate not to wait up for dinner because I’ll be out taking pictures of a local Roller Derby practice. I want my roommate to tell me there’s only one clean plate left anyway because I was too busy interviewing Roller Derby players to do dishes when it was my turn. It doesn’t have to be Roller Derby. I just want to go to a lot of places while not washing many dishes.  

            I’ll have plenty of time to do dishes if this journalism thing doesn’t work out. I’m serious. I worked at Olive Garden over the summer. The dishwashing machine has a sweet conveyor belt and everything. I can pick up six dirty glasses with one hand. Nice people over there, too. Management said I’m welcome back anytime.

            That being said, I would like this class to give me skills in operating professionally a variety of video equipment and editing programs. I want to put “Proficient in the use of _____” for as many things as I can on my resume. I want to learn how to troubleshoot too, in the field and in the studio. I want this class to help me to become some lucky news company’s go-to guy who doesn’t get laid-off.

            I am willing to put in as much time as it takes to learn the ins and outs of all the tools we use. I am ready to take the first steps of a technological life-long learning process. And I know how long life-long will be. I genuinely believe I will know my time is up when I am Mufasa-level hairy once again.

Pictured: Rep. Aaron Schock’s office window. He’s from Illinois, like me. 

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