Tag Archives: Newsweek Productions Inc.

The Economist’s Secret: Its Limits

Interesting piece by Rafat Ali on paidContent.org quoting Michael Hirschorn of The Atlantic as to why The Economist is doing OK, while Newsweek and TIME are in free-fall:

“By repositioning themselves as repositories of commentary and long-form reporting—much like this magazine, it’s worth noting, which has never delivered impressive profit margins—the American newsweeklies are going away from precisely the thing that has propelled The Economist’s rise: its status as a humble digest, with a consistent authorial voice, that covers absolutely everything that you need to be informed about…The Economist has reached its current level of influence and importance because it is, in every sense of the word, a true global digest for an age when the amount of undigested, undigestible information online continues to metastasize. And that’s a very good place to be in 2009.”

Apart from the obvious reasons–the global thing (rather than Newsweek etc, who catered only for Americans Abroad)—I think the key thing here is that The Economist is digestible.

This means it’s finite. It’s a promise of a definitive digest in return for a commitment of time. It’s an odd equation: Give us some money and then we’ll give you back your time. (I’ve whittered on about attention being the scare commodity these days elsewhere.)

The other thing they point to in their critique is the web. The Economist folks aren’t link whores—linking in. They’re not link journalists—linking out.  (This doesn’t mean The Economist shouldn’t be online; it’s just that it shouldn’t try to be just another part of the big wide-web.)

There’s a lesson in here for all mainstream media. Well, several, actually:

  • Don’t focus on eyeballs. Concentrate on attention. Your readers won’t thank you for wasting their time with more stuff to read. They want the digest.
  • Don’t try to be trendy. The Economist looks little different than it did in the 1970s. That, actually, is the selling point.
  • Online has lots of different opportunities. I don’t think they’ve made full use of them yet, but at least they haven’t thrown out the baby with the bathwater. That may prove the smartest thing they’ve done so far. As Hirschorn says in the TV clip, when you can get a subscription to a magazine for virtually nothing, what kind of commitment does that demonstrate (on either side?)

Hirschorn: The Economist Benefited From Being Semi Competent About the Web | paidContent

The Real, Sad Lesson of Burma 2007

Reuters

I fear another myth is in the offing: that Burma’s brief uprising last month was a tipping point in citizen journalism. Take this from Seth Mydans’ (an excellent journalist, by the way; I’m just choosing his piece because it’s in front of me) article in today’s IHT:

“For those of us who study the history of communication technology, this is of equal importance to the telegraph, which was the first medium that separated communications and transportation,” said Frank Moretti, executive director of the Center for New Media Teaching and Learning at Columbia University.

or this, from Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project and an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, quoted in the same piece:

“By shutting down the Internet they show themselves to be in the wrong, that they have something to hide,” he said. “On this front, even a closed-down blog is a powerful blog. Even silence on the Internet is a powerful message.”

There are a couple of things here. None convinces me either of the above is true.

First off, the first Burma uprising, back in 1988, was not conducted or repressed in a media blackout. Journalists were able to get in, and get out extraordinary, iconic images. One still sticks in my mind, and I wish I could find it: a photo splashed across the cover of Newsweek of an impossibly beautiful female demonstrator, blood soaking her longyi and her face a mask, as she was carried by comrades through the wet streets of Rangoon. The junta took its time in closing down the media, but 1988 was no different to 2007: when they did pull down the shutters, they did it completely.

It’s true that there have been a lot of images, videos and information finding its way out via both the Internet and sympathetic agencies and embassies. This is not greatly different to 1988. People had cameras back then, and were extremely inventive in how they got information out. I would get calls all the time in Bangkok from people smuggling out cassettes, photos and other material. When I visited Rangoon in 1990 the NLD headquarters was a mine of printed and other information of strikingly high quality.

Burma’s generals are cleverer than the image they portray. Back in 1988 they bided their time, allowing all those who opposed them to show themselves, from students and monks to government departments and even soldiers. Their parading in the streets, watched by spies and plain clothes officers, made it easy for them to purged later. The same thing, it seems, is happening today: As another story in the IHT on the same day by Thomas Fuller wrote, loudspeakers on trucks and helicopters are telling terrified citizens

“We have your pictures. We’re going to come and get you.”

They may lack the sophistication of a more civilized form of repression, but Burmese leaders understand the importance of photographs and videos as evidence, and I fear all those pictures posted on blogs, on YouTube, on television, in emails sent out of the country, will all resurface in show trials in months to come.

Xiao Qiang’s point about the blackout showing the world who these generals really are is to me naive. No one, I believe, was under any illusion about what these people were like, or the lengths they were prepared to go to preserve their position. The ‘democratic’ process that was underway was a fig-leaf as old as 1990, when the NLD won the election I witnessed. In other words, 17 years old.

More importantly, as far as technology is concerned, I don’t think that silence on the Internet is any different to a news blackout. It’s the most effective way for people to stop paying attention. Initially there’s outrage, then people shrug and move on. Soon Burma will be back to what it has been for the past 19 years — a peripheral story, a sad but forgotten piece of living history. Soon the Facebook groups and red-shirt days will fade.

I would love to think it was and will be different. I would love to think that technology could somehow pry open a regime whether it pulls the plug or not. But Burma has, in recent weeks and in recent years, actually shown the opposite: that it’s quite possible to seal a country off and to commit whatever atrocities you like and no amount of technology can prevent it.

By holding the recent uprising as an example of citizen journalism and a turning point in the age of telecommunications we not only risk misunderstanding its true lesson, but we also risk playing down the real story here: the individual bravery and longtime suffering of the Burmese people who had, for a few heady days, a flickering of hope that their nightmare was over.

CD-Rom Business Cards. Huh?

I know I may be missing something here, but what is this all about business cards on a CD Rom? Newsweek reports increased sales of these things — either full size or credit card sized and shaped — which people hand out at trade shows: “General consensus in the biz world: why spring for color brochures at $5 a pop when CD cards average a buck each? For much more cash—$3,000—New York’s HYLife Productions can squeeze up to eight minutes of video on its cards.”

I have to say I have enough problems with real business cards that aren’t the right shape or where the text is the wrong way up. Out here in Asia these small CD sized name cards came and went — at least in my line of work — a few years back, and I’m pretty sorry to hear that they may be making a comeback. First off, how exactly is 100 MB of Flash really going to help? And if the ones I received are anything to go by, folk would usually jazz up even the most basic contact details with fancy graphics so you could forget about simply copying and pasting the salient details into Outlook. Sorry but I’d rather the guy say ‘Here’s my name card but I’ll email you my vCard”. Or “Are you all Bluetoothed up? Let me beam it to you now.” Or, if you like the guy and want to make a firm commitment, ask him: “Are you on Plaxo?”

Sure, I can understand the use of CD-Roms to hand out data about reunions, parties and whatnot, but most folk who would know what to do with that sort of thing are wired, so why not email it to them? I already have way too many CD-Roms in my den; the last thing I want is funny shaped ones to add to them.

The Future Of The Net

Newsweek takes a look (via TechDirt) at a future Internet controlled by corporations and governments through Digital Rights Management, secure chips and micropayments. It’s an interesting article, and makes me ponder some interesting supplementary questions:

Are spammers, for example, the enemy of ordinary Internet folk, or virtual Robin Hoods eluding corporate control of the web? We all hate them now, true, but may we look back on them — at some future point when corporate and governmental control dominates the web — as tolerable evidence of the Internet’s chaotic freedom? By trying to push them off the Internet through legal means, are we just tying our own future in knots?

Another thought: are micropayments the saviour of small business on the Internet, or just a trick by big corporates to tie us into their trickling subscription model? Living in Indonesia — banned by PayPal and many smaller online sellers, which won’t accept any payments from such a lawless country — I know a little of what it feels like to hostage to the bigger e-commerce sites, because they’re the only ones to accept my dollar. In the future, will it only be the big companies who have the risk models and infrastructure to do online business in a world of online IDs, DRMs and micropayments?

I’m confident that the anarchic tendencies of the Internet will undermine many corporate efforts to lock in customers: The online music site that thrives will be the one with the broadest range of file formats and the smallest limitation on how those files are used, stored and copied. Methods to cripple or limit use of software will always be cracked. Indignation will limit the advance of chip-based IDs — in your computer, around your neck, in your handphone.

But I think those of us calling for regulation, standardisation and crackdowns on the Internet to make it safe for the ordinary user need to think harder about other threats to its future, in particular anything that punishes or banishes anonymity, anything that discriminates against the user accessing the web based on his/her point of entry (country, state, neighbourhood) and, in particular, any corporate which tries to set up tollbooths to grab a nickel every time we do something we used to be able to do for free.