Update

I'm trying out new blog templates. What do you think?

Reporting "Lies" and "Liars" ...

In my personal blog, I posted about the problematic use of the "lies" and "liars" frame to express disagreement with one's political opponents (using the Congressman Wilson shout last night as a springboard).

One of my Facebook friends just posted a note referencing an article from Fox News reporting that President Obama called Sarah Palin a liar, wondering if the president would apologize to her.

I chuckled at that, and then paused. I had assumed the article was referencing some moment from the campaign trail. I certainly didn't recall candidate Obama ever calling anyone a liar, certainly not directly, but I certainly didn't consume every single moment of the campaign trail coverage, either.

But the article was not addressing the campaign trail. The article, titled "Obama Calls Palin a Liar During Speech" was referencing LAST NIGHT'S speech.

Confused (I didn't remember the president mentioning Sarah Palin in the speech last night), I called up the Fox News article. Turns out it was simply a headline with a one-sentence blurb and an article link. The article link refers to an AP story, Obama: Claims of death panels are a 'lie.'

First of all, rewriting headlines to AP stories is hardly an uncommon occurrence. In the newsroom, editor often rewrite headlines to localize the story, conserve space, or any of a number of other reasons. But this is more than merely economizing words. This is a direct reversal of the statement. The AP's story reports that Obama stated that certain claims were "lies." The Fox News article composed the statement that since Sarah Palin had made such a claim, that Obama was (in effect, though this point is lost) calling Palin a "liar."

That's a stretch, even in these detail-challenged times.

Second, I find it interesting that Fox rewrote the headline of a three-paragraph story and then didn't even run the actual story. Just the rewritten headline and the first line of the story, with a link to the article (the link source is also not explicated). This practice is also not particularly unusual, but when an outlet significantly rewrites a headline and then doesn't run the entire text of a story, it looks bad. It certainly fooled my Facebook friend, who used the headline to wonder if the president would apologize to Palin for something a Fox editor wrote.

Third, this extension of objective logic to the statements of others is a slippery slope. If I say that a statement is a "lie" (I try really hard not to ever do that unless I know the other party knows better than their words), does that mean that I have now accused every person who passes along the statement of lying? Where is the space for misunderstanding? Ignorance? Faulty logic? Mistakes?

It's well-established that Sarah Palin did not originate the "death camps" argument, only the wording. The original statement originated with Betsy McCaughey, and McCaughey herself has backtracked from her original remarks.

If McCaughey made a mistake of logic, comprehension, or even if she had deceit as her motives for her statements, does that lead one to conclude that Palin lied when she repeated the statements? Is it not possible that Palin believed McCaughey's words were true? How would one establish that?

And even if one could establish that Palin KNEW the statements were false and repeated them anyway, does that make her a "liar"? How many lies does it take to make one a "liar"? One? 20? 100? 500? Is it a calculated percentage of truth/lies in public statements?

This is why rewriting headlines to extend a statement to an indirect object are so dangerous in a democracy. The headlines alone spread false impressions. In this case, the headline infers that the president might appear to be a hypocrite for seeming to call for an apology (which he did not actually do) for an action that he himself appears unwilling to apologize for (an action he doesn't seem to have actually performed).

Though it might seem that I'm picking on Fox News for this practice, I've seen quite a few rewritten headlines at CNN's site that also don't appear supported by the stories to which they refer. I remember a couple of months ago, CNN headlines seemed to include the word "slammed" and "slapped down" as an action verb in headlines for stories in which no motive or intention was discussed. Particularly in stories related to the White House response to the "birther" movement.

The difference between "disputes" and "slaps down" is rather large. We teach our journalism students to adopt more objective terminology, if only to maintain accuracy (one never knows, much less can prove, the contents of another's mind enough to establish motive without evidence).

Perhaps I'll look in on MSNBC. Maybe we have an epidemic on our hands.

The President's School Address

Unexpected controversy has arisen over the President's plan to address the nation's school children this week. Personally, I think most of it borders on the absurd. Even if this president were planning to deliver a politically partisan message to our youth, do we really live in a world where we think 15 minutes of video can overcome the hundreds of hours of punditry that will follow, much less the conversations that parents can hav with their children afterward?

Well, regardless of the underpinning social context of these events, you can view the President's message to our children below. Enjoy.

Irony Re: the Death of Print

You can't make this stuff up.

Today, I noticed that Jeff Gomez' new book, Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age, is due out July 5 ... UNLESS you have a Kindle. Kindle readers can download it right now.

Irony, anyone?

Thinking about the News Business (again)

Today, I had the privilege of meeting with the CU SJMC Advisory Board to listen to their thoughts about journalism education.

More thoughts to come on that later.

During the session, the group was allowed to interact with Chris Matthews of MSNBC Hardball fame, through Skype.

Matthews spoke at length about the concerns of cable news personalities concerning the plight of newspapers. Acknowledging that newspapers bear the brunt of the reportage costs and efforts, Matthews suggested that his program “relies almost entirely on daily newspapers.”

Matthews also bemoaned the effects of Google on the news business, colorfully characterizing the company as “like an old guy, wandering around collecting bottles … the worst part is that Google didn’t even make the bottles, much less the coke in them.”

An amusing simile that will be with me for a while, I’m sure.

Former Rocky Mountain News Editor/Publisher/President John Temple was the guest speaker for the lunch session. Temple echoed some of his thoughts about journalism education that had appeared on his blog, and then discussed how he saw the newspaper industry’s challenges.

Citing a lack of innovation and a lack of the evolution of the print offerings, Temple portrayed newspaper publishers as being in the “manufacturing business,” and suggested that the daily grind of the production and distribution process discourages publishers from taking risks in favor of “keep[ing] the machine running.”

Key quote: “Instead of the owners changing the business, the business changed the owners.”

Temple also expanded on these thoughts on in a new blog entry.

Brief Review of The Kindle 2

As part of my research (the part that delves into usability and design of formats that will likely replace print journalism forms), I recently acquired a Kindle 2.

I fear this is going to sound like a laundry list of complaints. It’s not. There are some great executions represented in the Kindle 2. If you check out the official Amazon page (linked above), I think most of this content is more than just promotional hype.

But I think most potential consumers need to think through their media uses and expectations to determine if this device is suited for them.

Early thoughts:

  • The screen is truly remarkable. In an age of rising concerns about sustainability, Amazon has produced a zero power (or low power) screen. And though it is black and white, I think the contrast and clarity do well to replace books and printed materials.
  • The physical interface is interesting. After almost a year on the iPhone 3G (I didn’t spring for the original, so this was my first experience with Apple’s interface), the Kindle’s interface seems quaint. Using a small stick to move around is reminiscent of my old Palm Treo, but it more remind me of a joystick interface on the travel Sega and Coleco games from the mid-1980s.
  • The physical “next page” buttons work extremely well. Though I still struggle a bit with the left-hand buttons. Even when I read with one hand, my affordance for the left “next” button is that it will turn “back.” The “back” button is right above it, but because the two “next” buttons are on the same latitude of the device, I continually hit the left-hand “next” button when I want to go “back.” Maybe this will be the new convention, but it is certainly not an intuitive affordance.
  • The software interface is a bit clunky. There’s a sound logic to it, but it is not intuitive to those familiar with Apple’s hand-held philosophy. But after a few minutes, it starts to make sense.
  • Not a fan of the menu structure from the Home screen. My newspapers and magazines get segregated into their own category (which mean they are not included in the main “Library” (Kindle doesn’t use this metaphor, probably because Apple uses it in its iTunes interface, but I think they should have). BUT, I can’t seem to organize my books by genre or even Dewey-decimal boundaries. Jane Austen is right in there with Thomas More and Lawrence Lessig. Sure, I can choose to arrange by Author or Title (and by the way, the software doesn’t skip over the initial articles such as “A” or “The” the way most library systems do. I foresee future integration problems). This makes browsing the thousands of titles my device can potentially hold an irritating endeavor. At least, for academic like me, who need to switch books regularly. For those settling in for a long read, I don’t think this is an issue.
  • The “page numbering” system will take some getting used to. Because users are able to determine variable font display sizes, traditional page numbers don’t translate to the machine. The Kindle does not scroll. You turn “pages.” So, a seemingly arbitrary numbering system (called “locations,” the default screen size brings you a range of about seven locations per screen. The largest text setting seems to include two locations per screen and the smallest text size appears to contain 10 locations per screen). Newspapers and magazines (and blogs) don’t seem to have locations. As an academic, I don’t know how useful it will be to bookmark (or footnote) “locations,” since the majority of my colleagues will need a page number translation. Maybe this is room for a future app?
  • The Subscriptions feature is nice, though has some problems. Magazine content seems well-suited for this environment (minus the color). Long-form reading is this device’s specialty, and I find reading magazine content easier to consume on the Kindle than in print form (I’m that guy who get irritable as a magazine crinkles and smudges, detracting from the content experience). The newspaper model needs some work. Most important problems for newspapers: the distribution model. Though I can test the format of a magazine by downloading a single issue ($.50 for most), I have to subscribe to at least a month’s subscription to view newspaper content. I subscribed to the Denver Post ($5.99). I was hesitant to subscribe to the New York Times ($13.99), because I already have the NYTimes iPhone app.
  • This brings up the problems with Whispernet, Amazon’s 3G network service. Unlike the iPhone, which can switch back and forth between its 3G data network and Wifi, the Kindle is in an exclusive marriage with its 3G network. What does this mean for me? Living in the mountains, where 3G is simply not possible, but Wifi spots are available, I can’t update my subscriptions until I am back in a major metropolitan area. Sure, I can drive to a Wifi spot, refresh my Archived Items on my laptop, download new books (still haven’t figured out how to do this for newspapers or magazines) and manually transfer the content to my Kindle via USB. This effectively means that my iPhone Kindle app has more access than my Kindle, since the iPhone can run on Edge, which is available wherever cell service is available. This issue falls prey to the digital divide in the worst way: only users who live in large metropolitan areas (where most of the 3G networks are present) will be able to capitalize on the network convenience factor. And, as an aside, Whispernet seems inferior to Apple’s 3G interface. Even with three or four bars in Boulder, Whispernet seems twice as likely to drop signal when I request a sync than the iPhone.
  • By far the biggest problem with the Kindle is the content management component. I don’t mean the ability to acquire new content. Amazon is actually really impressive at that part. But I have literally spent tens of thousands of dollars on books with Amazon over the years. And I have no way to acquire that content for the Kindle without spending tens of thousands of more dollars. Even in the early days of the iPod, I could import CDs into my library. This, I think, will be the Achilles heel of the Kindle business model. It actually needs the print industry to decline for the selection of offerings to look more attractive than amassing a print library. Of course, I could express concern about the lack of scholarly books in Kindle mode (I click the “I’d like to read this book on Kindle” button (which sends a notification to the book's publisher) about four times each day. But I expected that. The Kindle, like the iPod before it, will have to focus on short-tail best-sellers first and slowly build its library of niche publications. But I can’t believe it would be too difficult for Amazon (which maintains a record of everything I’ve ever purchased thorough their site) to allow me to download for free those books for which I’ve already paid the higher print price.


Again, I know most of these points will seem like I find more at fault than good with the Kindle. Not so. I know I’m not really the target of this device. I read a lot, but most of what I read isn’t available for this device. And I am multimedia-centric (it’s quite obvious that this device was designed to constrain the noise normally associated with digital content to maintain reading integrity).

My primary interest is how to design new content for the intended audience of this device. This may offer insights into the future of print interfaces, at least those removed from the multimedia convergence model preferred on the Web.

I’ll likely expand the various points raised above in future posts, as I grapple with nuanced understandings of the issues and hopefully begin to come up with suggestions to either overcome short-comings or improve user expectations about why such shortcomings actually improve the text experience.

Facebook clarifications

Wow. I keep forgetting what a diverse audience I have for my Facebook status (this is why I cut so far back on my Twittering, I think all of this should be two-way communication, and I usually don't have the time to responsibly hold up my end of the bargain).

Yesterday I mentioned on my status that I was "'Kindling' interest in electronic journalism." This was, of course, a reference to my playing around with the Kindle 2 I received on Friday. I'm getting ready to do another round of design usability analyses on different communication platforms and thought that it would be good to start thinking about the design issues related to getting content onto the Kindle.

I immediately received two responses from Facebook (and real-life) friends of mine. One asserted that the Kindle could not save journalism which was too far dead to revive. The other dissed the Kindle itself.

So, in communicating with those friends, I was reminded that I should clarify my terminology with regularity.

I rarely mean "industry" when I talk about the future of journalism. Journalism predated the current corporations that provide America's news commodity by a couple of millennia. If and when those companies and corporations fall, journalism will simply look different.

Most journalism I consume is a mixture of the corporate commodity and the emerging models that have nothing to do with the corporate sphere. So, since my Kindle now allows me to subscribe (and pay for) blogs as well as newspapers, magazines and books, one of my interests in is how these sources outside the dominant corporate sphere can generate subscription revenue.

For example,
  • Now that I can pay a couple of bucks to get Gizmodo on my Kindle, how does that content need to be tailored for that environment?
  • How much will that cost in terms of time and effort? Is the market for the Kindle a likely crossover for Gizmodo?
  • If so, what's the cost benefit analysis of designing content versus shoveling blogbloat into the interface?
  • If not, are their other platforms that can take advantage of this distribution channel?
  • Will the combined platforms distributing this format down the long tail offset the cost in time and resources to redesign content for this medium?


I'm not interested in saving the industry we have. My research has always been about what comes next. The industry can either join in or not, as far as I'm concerned (I'm pretty jaded on this point since I've been arguing adaptation for more than 10 years now at conferences and meetings with little serious engagement).

On the platform side, I can offer about a dozen critiques of the Kindle after only 12 hours, most centering on the network architecture. BUT, I don't investigate tech for the "ultimate gizmo." That's why I have an 2nd generation iPhone, an iPod Touch, an iPod video nano, a traditional iPod nano, I recently gave up my Treo, I recently cannibalized my last "dumb phone" to make a 1st Generation iPhone work, etc.

My view of diffusion is that high-end users like me are actually a small percentage of our culture. And we are trying to think about how to communicate with the WHOLE culture, not just the techno-elites.

The Kindle has sold a LOT of units. There are people who love books and hate video, and this is a device designed to capitalize on them. So, how should content be designed to reach them? Once someone buys a Kindle, how do we reach them? What will their expectations and tolerances of multimedia be?

Because my suspicion (and I have done not a shred of research on this yet) is that Kindle owners will not crossover as much with iPhone and iPod users as is conventionally thought. I can already see how could hack the "Text-To-Speech" function to include an audio file. Like an interview supplement to a newspaper story. But would anyone want that? Isn't the point of the Kindle to disengage the dynamic universe of multimedia content and approach content from a more static and simplified way? That some people will want static content that does not encourage interactivity but simple consumption?

(In my first few hours, I suddenly realized this was a device for the cultural elite and older generation. It seems to built around some older expectations of interface design. I think by comparison, Apple and the Blackberry are going after a completely different crowd).

So, I'll trying to make sure I understand the design and usability constraints (as well as the target market of users) for different distribution methods. Because though I am a VERY concerned about the digital divide, I am even more concerned about the platform divides that will come after more of our content is digitally distributed.

I don't think in 10 years much content will be consumed on a desktop computer. Which means we've got to think about how to design content in redundant language forms to ensure that someone doesn't miss a key part of the story because the Kindle has different capabilities that the iPhone.

Maybe it's important to also point out that all of these devices are transient. We barely have the infrastructure available to support mobile phones, much less the capability of distributing most of the multimedia forms we're capable of producing to most people.

My head is always in a particular place, and I forget how poorly my words convey what I'm thinking about, particularly when I'm so clumsy with the language.