Thinking Different ... again

The world has changed.

Yesterday, Apple held a special event in which it announced the new Apple iPod. No, not the nano, that cute little music player that slips into the smallest pocket … this is the big one. The Apple iPod TV.

Now, and an iPod roughly the size of my iPod Photo, users can play music, display photos, listen to podcasts and now, finally, watch video. And we’re not talking .mov files of movie trailers; we’re talking about whole television shows and (presumably) movies.

And Apple was well-prepared for this innovation, retooling a portion of the iTunes music store to sell video files of popular television shows like “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost,” “NightStalker,” “The Suite Life,” and “That’s So Raven.” Each episode can be downloaded for $1.99, or season packages can be purchased for a discount.

Apple often claims to be on the verge of changing the world, but this is the first time since the introduction of the original iPod that I’ve felt its claims have been justified. Portable broadcast television. Portable DVR recording and playback capability (for the savvy among us, anyway). Truly one is closer to living in an interconnected media world than ever before.

And it didn’t hurt that they announced the whole project with an exclusive U2 music video segment.

Of course, I’m looking at this device for its potential. I care less about transferring all my DVDs or downloading broadcast content to my iPod than I care about the potential for video podcasting. Truly original video content distributed through electronic content services? THAT’s a change our media world has needed for some time.

Allowing cheap distribution technology to the masses gives us one more tool to ensure that more content is produced outside of the executive suites because of the large amount of capital investment needed to launch a new television program or movie. The potential gains for the documentary film industry alone are enough to create excitement.

Thinking locally, I can’t wait for our broadcast journalism students to be able to serve up their news programs through a digital network where individuals in any part of the world can download them automatically every morning for playback on their computer or portable video player.

Oh, yeah. Apple also introduced its new streamlined G5, a digital media center with increased power in a tight streamlined package. But that’s just a new computer …

An Evening with Kurt Eichenwald

I just came from the 2005 Rosine Smith Sammons Lecture in Media Ethics Featuring Kurt Eichenwald.

For those who don’t know, Kurt Eichenwald has been a writer and investigative reporter for The New York Times since 1988, and primarily covers Wall Street and corporate topics such as insider trading, accounting scandals and takeovers. Eichenwald’s work has earned a number of awards and nominations: the George Polk Award in 1996 and 1998, and a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Eichenwald also authored the 2005 bestselling book on the Enron accounting scandal, Conspiracy of Fools.

The evening was quite enjoyable. My wife and I were late additions to the pre-lecture dinner, and both the food and conversation around the table were as enjoyable as they were intriguing.

The lecture itself was a gem. Eichenwald focused on the institutional biases inherent in an occupation built around knowledge dissemination: too many reporters unable to acknowledge a simple truth about most topics they cover: “I don’t know.”

Eichenwald argued that truth is far too complex to present in 800 words or 2 minutes of air time, and journalists should remember that their job is not about delivering truth, but the incomplete facts that can lead to truth.

Though he cited many reasons for the recent decline of integrity in the field, Eichenwald’s central point was to illustrate the pack-mentality — that journalists pursuing a story too often deliver the journalism that the audience desires, conflict frames that reinforce the audience’s view of the world without challenging conventional wisdom.

When taking a systemic view of this phenomenon, the deterioration of the quality of information presented by journalists makes the world more confusing, not less so, and the level of critical debate soon degenerates into celebrity personalities screaming at each other while no one critically listens to the content of their opponents argument.

In this way, Eichenwald argues that rather than challenging the status quo, journalists often reinforce it by allowing incomplete data and evidence to pass muster unchallenged, creating a shallow sort of social “fact,” surrounding a given story.

Perhaps the highlight of my evening was hearing one of my students ask Mr. Eichenwald about his take on Weblogs. This particular student has consistently raised concern about the impact of blogging on the field of journalism, and it was pleasing to me to watch him adapt his concerns into the public realm. Clearly, more conversation will be forthcoming.

All-in-all, a fine evening for those who enjoy thinking critically about the field of journalism.

Commander-in-Chief: the WB meets The West Wing?

So, I’m going through my normal Tuesday night routine. Well, normal except for the fact that the baseball playoffs began today and my usual routine of reading and writing with the television on became more difficult as the evening wore on.

Seeking relief, I flipped channels for less distracting background noise. And then, I came across ABC’s new political drama “Commander-in-Chief.” Geena Davis playing America’s first woman president, elevated to the office after the death of her running mate.

Now, I love politics. And I love political drama (I am an avid "West Wing" fan). And while Rod Lurie’s The Contender wasn’t quite a masterpiece, I found it interesting. So, I decided to sit and watch and episode of Lurie’s newest entry into gender-based national politics.

So how was it? In a word … disappointing. The show seems to clash between wanting to be a snappy West Wing-type drama and a folksy "Jack and Bobby"-type family drama. And the two moods do not seem to mesh easily. Add to this the lackluster performances across the board …

Davis seems even more woody than normal. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by "The West Wing," but I just can’t buy her as the president. Or perhaps I simply don’t care to.

The filming is a bit cheesy, and there were several times in tonight’s episode in which the music rose to a majestic crescendo as a dramatic speech was delivered, but each and every one of these moment was too over-the-top. The great thing about this technique in shows like "The West Wing" is that the viewer DOESN’T notice the music building behind the words.

Finally, the episode story was interesting but really shallow. The plot centered on the political reality of power, for all the talk of sticking to the issues, none were discussed in any depth.

All that having been said, the story arc is laudable, and I think the series could improve over time. Unfortunately, I will simply have to look in later on. There’s little to hook me at this point.

Tivo begins to sell out

As reported in the Washington Post yesterday, Tivo is beginning to cave in to network pressure to place limits and restrictions on a user’s ability to record certain programs.

In its latest upgrade, Tivo apparently included a patch that allows the content provider to flag certain programs for automatic deletion after a certain date. The patch also prevents flagged programs from being transferred to other hardware platforms (media servers, DVD, etc.).

Is it coincidence that the two programs that were “accidentally” flagged on September 10, The Simpsons and King of the Hill, happen to be among the most popular television DVD sets on the market? Here’s a pic of some of the Fox shows red-flagged. Another screen shot shows the user’s inability to reset the delete preferences for the red-flagged recordings. And finally, here’s a screen shot of the restriction explanation.

It would certainly make sense for networks to desire a more temporary storage format for such programs (and other successful DVD sellers like “The Family Guy” and ABC’s “Lost”).

A recent viewer captured a screen shot of the red flag on the IFC channel. The info screen also shows the delete flag is not unintentional.

Tivo denies any such motive. But what other purpose could such architecture serve?

Here’s the official FAQ about the Macrovision Copy Protection from

Swallowed by the Web

And, just as people began to read yesterday's blog about Fairfield receiving national media attention, the recycled its content. Easy come ...

This does represent a unique problem on the Web. When USAToday changes the content of a story, what happens to the content that is ommitted? Well, to the user, it simply disappear The Web is a great medium for building context, but what happens if that context is ephemeral? Aren't we then looking ata a glorified broadcast model of journalism?

USAToday should keep log archives or at least provide links to other photos within a story (like the New York Times and Washington Post do).

How irritating ...

Fairfield mentioned in USAToday …

In an amusing turn of events, my hometown of Fairfield, TX has gained national prominence today as the traffic increase resulting from the flight from Galveston and Houston has jammed Interstate 45.

For the unitiated, Fairfield lies approximately 90 miles south of Dallas and approximately 180 miles north of Houston on Interstate 45. Most of the time, when people have heard of Fairfield, it is for Sam’s restaurant (a deserving favorite pit stop for thousands annually), the Freestone County peach festival (Fairfield is the county seat and Freestone peaches are famously flavorful) or the Fairfield State Lake.

I was born in Houston and spent most of my early years in the suburbs, but I did attend Fairfield High School and graduate from Fairfield ISD. It’s amusing to see it listed in prominent national news media. Fairfield has been on the map before as being the hometown for Winfred Tubbs and Tony Brackens, but rarely does the little (est. population 3,000 - 3,500) sleepy city get so much attention.

If only all those cars were trying to get TO Fairfield, instead of desperately trying to streak past it …

… but I bet the local restaurants are seeing some favorable results.

The Sexual Identities of Cartoon Sponges

Exactly how tolerant should a cartoon sponge be of those who possess a different “sexual identity” from his? What may appear to some of us to be an absurd exercise in animated existentialism is driving others to send hundreds of form emails to media outlets demanding satisfaction. In the past few days, the email Inboxes of The New York Times columnist Mauren Dowd, MSNBC's Keith Oberman, NBC's Matt Lauer, CNN's James Carville and freelance writer Michael Ventre have been filled with email forms sent out by users of the Focus on the Family Web site.

The battle lines are being drawn, though it now appears that the media, and not the producers of the video in question, are the new targets of the battle over how much inclusion we should allow in our inclusiveness videos.

The video was created by the We Are Family Project as a part of the national healing process following the events of September 11th. Eleven days after the attack, 200 celebrities were gathered together by songwriter Nile Rogers and Tommy Boy Music president, Tom to record a new rendition of Nile's famous song "We Are Family." Shortly thereafter, the organization produced a children's version of the recording that included more than 100 popular cartoon and children's television characters. The children's video aired on PBS, Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel on March 11, 2002 (the six-month anniversary of the attack) and again on September 11, 2002.

This coming March 11, which the We Are Family Foundation is proposing be designated “National We Are Family Day,” the foundation plans to send copies of the music video to elementary schools across the nation.

According to the Focus on the Family Web site, neither Dobson nor the organization have criticism of the music video itself or the characters who appear in it. Their opposition to the video's distribution is based on a close reading of foundation's Web site that yields a “tolerance pledge” stating:

“Tolerance is a personal decision that comes from a belief that every person is a treasure. I believe that America's diversity is its strength. I also recognize that ignorance, insensitivity and bigotry can turn that diversity into a source of prejudice and discrimination.

To help keep diversity a wellspring of strength and make America a better place for all, I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own.”

Eighty-one words promoting tolerance and acceptance, and only two of them that send up red flags for Dobson: “sexual identity.” These words, according to the Focus on the Family's Web site are the two words that indicate the pledge “crosses a moral line.”

Not satisfied with assurances that the offending words do not appear in the video that children will be seeing, Focus on the Family claims the video would leave elementary students “with the impression that their teachers are offering their endorsement of the values and agenda associated with the video's sponsor.”

It would be interesting to meet the elementary student who connects the video to its nonprofit distributor and actually logs in to read the tolerance pledge. Such a child would not appear to have much need of the primary education he or she is receiving and should be advanced to more daunting academic challenges.

But would even a child savvy enough to identify the distributor from the video, Google search the organization's Web site and navigate to page containing the tolerance pledge be able to understand the implications the phrase “sexual identity”?

And what about he rest of us? As each new outrageous statement is made in this controversy, one begins to wonder if adults are faring much better than this hypothetical youngster.

“Sexual identity.” It's not a phrase one tends to use in everyday conversations.

Has anyone considered the possibility that there is simply a huge communication issue at the heart of this controversy? That the "sexual identity" We Are Family refuses to discriminate against may not necessarily be a direct equivalent of the "sexual orientation" that so terrifies Dobson?

The category of "sexual identity" could potentially include physical gender (like "man" or "woman"), recognized behavioral patterns (such as "adulterer" or "faithful husband") or even serve to describe functional roles in the home (consider "he's a girly man" or "she wears the pants in that family").

To be sure, “sexual identity” can include sexual orientation and preference, as evidenced by the many books listed on that use this language to talk about the identity politics associated with homosexuality. But to assume that the broad categorical term "sexual identity" must be reduced to one single variable ("sexual orientation") is a rather narrow assumption. We Are Family's tolerance pledge does not include gender among its inclusionary variables. Perhaps this opens the possibility that the organization would see listing “gender” next to “sexual identity” as redundant?

In any event, it seems those on the right and left of our political spectrum may once again be unable to agree on their terminology and rhetoric. And that's why those motivated by this controversy over how an invertebrate considers those different from him is more yelling that talking. Perhaps it's a function of their respective “lingual identities,” neither of which in the end seem to promote much tolerance.