Mar 032017
 

With several of his graduate students NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has just published the second annual “What’s Changing in Journalism” guide, which “depicts trends that are influencing the business now, and are still new enough that even experienced journalists may not understand what’s going on. Each development gets its own page, with a concise summary, links to learn more, key people to follow: everything you need to get up to speed.”

This is marvelous and helpful work. The trends:

Under the principle “go where the people are,” newsrooms are now making stories and features that are fully native to social platforms.ONE This is easier in the case of chatbots,TWO harder when it comes to audio,THREE which is just starting to adapt to the social media age. To reach people directly — without platforms in the middle —journalists are doing more with mobile push notificationsFOUR and reviving the email newsletter.FIVE Meanwhile, artificial intelligenceSIX is becoming part of the work flow, as new forms of storytelling emerge, like drone journalism,SEVENvirtual reality and 360° video.EIGHT With technologies and platforms proliferating, news companies have to get much better at UX designNINE and make subtler use of metrics,TEN since many of the traditional measures no longer apply. And with the discovery that people will pay for news, it’s time to get smarter about membership models.ELEVEN

I’ve folded a recent post re Jay Rosen’s work into this one. The two are closely related, obviously, political concerns being implicit in the first and explicit in the second –>

My first mentor keeps a list of things in journalism that worry him the most. His first three (“ranked by urgency”):

1. The President of the United States is proceeding as though he were liberated from the distinction between true and false. His spokespeople are following on this dubious lead. What does the press do in response?

2. It’s possible we are sliding toward authoritarian rule. That’s a development journalists ought to oppose with all their might. But they are reluctant to think that way. They don’t want to be on the opposing team— or anyone’s team. They just want to report the news. “We’re not the opposition,” they say. Yet they may have no choice. From what traditions can they draw to rise to the occasion, and find the will to fight?

3. With Trump in power there is a surplus of eventfulness, too many things to report, track, investigate, critique. Too much news! How does the press keep from exhausting itself and fracturing our attention into too many pieces?

Jun 232016
 

I’m pretty much an open book to my building manager. If I ever have to move into another rental, though, the services provided by a British data-mining company might unnerve me. Writes Stanley Q. Woodvine in Vancouver, BC’s Georgia Straight,

Tenant Assured is a web-based service first made available two weeks ago to landlords around the world. The service essentially forces people to open up their social media accounts to the prying eyes of landlords as part of the process of applying to rent an apartment. …

This is how Tenant Assured works:

A landlord who’s signed-up with Tenant Assured sends all of their rental applicants to a special link on the Tenant Assured website. They are then asked  to provide full access to up to four of their social media profiles—on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. These are then thoroughly crawled, scraped, and analyzed by Score Assured. The scrutiny includes conversation threads, private messages, and contact lists. …

Concerns that the service is a gross violation of personal privacy were brushed off by the company, which trotted out the oldest authoritarian assurance about surveillance in the book, namely, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear“. Or, as [the company’s] cofounder Steve Thornhill put it … “If you’re living a normal life then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about.”

Thornhill further pointed out that people had to give their consent to the Tenant Assured process and that it was really not much different from a background check or credit rating.

Of course it’s very different … . There are long-standing laws governing credit and background checks and there are processes in place to allow people to see their credit reports and correct inaccuracies.

Although landlords anywhere in the world can sign up for the service—including right here in Vancouver—it’s is not clear what laws in any given jurisdiction could hold such an online service to account.

As a professional communicator, I take great pains not to post anything at all controversial online: very little politics or religion … or anger. (I always ask myself, “What would my students think? My future clients? My Mom?”) The persona I therefore project is a good deal sunnier and more welcoming than the real thing. Last year a girlfriend from high school wrote me, “Bob, I like you so much better online.” Good to know.

May 102016
 

For almost a decade marketers, educators, and students have been using the social media “dashboard” created by Vancouver, BC’s Hootsuite to monitor their social networks, analyze the effectiveness and reach of their messages, “listen” to the many buzzes of the online world, and engage with their customers and influencers. It’s a superb platform. (Bias alert: Several former students now work at Hootsuite. I have also used Hootsuite University in my digital media marketing classes at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.)

The company also publishes a lot of content. I find Hootsuite’s blog especially useful; its writers keep me up to date on just about everything in the world of social media. With this morning’s cup of coffee I perused Emily Copp’s Social Media Acronyms All Marketers Should Know and found several I didn’t know: SaaS (“software as a service”), ELI5 (“explain like I’m five”), and … LMK (“let me know”). Copp’s annotations are clear, and the links she provides are helpful.

Other recent blog-posts I have found valuable:

Finally, the blog’s monthly round-up of Social Media News You Need to Know is a really great cheat-sheet – comprehensive and likely vital to your work.

Apr 272016
 

FirstDraftNews

FirstDraftNews.com is a beautiful and wide-ranging resource created for journalists “who source and report stories from social media.”

What is the best way to search for eyewitness media when a story breaks? What are the most efficient and effective ways to verify what you find? How should you approach and credit social sources? What role can you play in stopping the spread of rumours and hoaxes? How can you do all this while remaining commercially competitive? …

Here on First Draft News you will find relevant features, reviews, case studies and analysis authored by members of the First Draft Coalition alongside a library of free training resources for use in the newsroom and the classroom.

First Draft is also, I have found, a godsend to non-journalists who write and teach professionally and who need to navigate and fact-check enormous amounts of information in order to do their jobs at a high level. The site has sections devoted to News Gathering (Mastering Google Search to find eyewitness media and How to find geolocated videos on YouTube, for example), Verification (How to use TinEye to find the oldest version of an image online), and Ethics and Law (What are the legal implications for accidental copyright infringement? and A simple guide to the complexities of copyright law). The site also focuses on Fakes and Hoaxes (Lessons from The New York Times Super Tuesday hoax: Five ways to spot fake news and, my favourite, The ‘giant’ rat found in London is almost definitely not 4 feet long).

University educators can create “packs” useful articles and share them with their students and/or colleagues. Even better, in my experience students eat up the kind of online platforms and tools vetted and annotated here; these lessons and resources will not go unused. And finally, First Draft provides a number of detailed and contemporary case studies that make research – and discussion of research methods – vivid and fun.

A handy-dandy starting spot for you: 5 Vital browser plugins. They include Storyful Multisearch (gives you customized and filtered searches of numerous databases at once), Google Translate (provides automatically translated posts originally written in languages you don’t know well), RevEye (performs a reverse image search “to see if the image has appeared elsewhere before”), Distill Web Monitor (“let[s] you know about changes to a web page via a pop-up on your computer, email or SMS”), and Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer (checks “whether a picture is all it claims to be” – “time, date, device used” – by examining its metadata).

Jan 252016
 

Dana Fontein, a fine blog writer over at Hootsuite, posted a really helpful piece this morning, “So You Think You Can’t Write: 8 Writing Resources for Non-Writers.

Many believe that they simply cannot write, or that they aren’t a “writer,” when the truth is that they really just believe they are not a good writer.

For content marketers, writing is obviously an integral component to most, if not all, aspects of the job. Everything from drafting blog posts to crafting the perfect video script requires the ability to write. While of course the act of stringing words together to form sentences can satisfy the basic requirements, writing is a skill that with time, dedication, and a desire to improve, can be mastered to an exceptional level. Just like the perfect set of graphite pencils helps with drawing, there are numerous tools available to help you improve your chances of writing success.

Bless her heart, Fontein includes two nondigital resources (books!) that I can highly recommend as well: Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (remember the birds, my KPU students?).

Among those digital resources she lists, I follow Copyblogger (“the bible of content marketing”) closely. Others were new to me. Portent’s Content Idea Generator is whimsical and fun and occasionally absurd – and therefore a fine boost to brainstorming blog-post ideas. Others include Co-Schedule’s Headline Analyzer. (The headline “Why I love kittens” earned me a lowly 51/100 score, but with some precise guidance on how to improve it.)

Fonteyn annotates these and each of the other resources beautifully.

Dec 192015
 

Picture 1My new favourite website is NewsDiffs.org, which tracks and archives changes made to online news articles over time. Currently it follows nytimes.com, cnn.com, politico.com, washingtonpost.com, and bbc.co.uk; no Canadian publications yet, alas. Click on the image to see how a New York Times article from today has been revised.

This website can be a wonderful resource for high school and university students in writing classes.

Nov 062015
 

Maxines_Alexandra_Imperial “Memory” – or memoria – is one of the five canons of classical rhetoric. Write Brett and Kate McKay in their excellent blog “The Art of Manliness”:

Anciently, almost all rhetorical communication was done orally in the public forum. Ancient orators had to memorize their speeches and be able to give them without notes or crib sheets. Note taking as a way to remember things was often looked down upon in many ancient cultures. …

Because the orations of ancient rhetoricians could last several hours, they had to develop mnemonic devices (techniques that aid memory) to help them remember all the parts of their speeches. The most famous and popular of these mnemonic devices was the “method of loci” technique.

The method of loci memory technique was first described in written form in a Roman treatise on rhetoric called ad Herennium, but it also made appearances in treatises by Cicero and Quintilian. It’s an extremely effective mnemonic device and is still used by memory champions like Joshua Foer, author of the recent book, Moonwalking With Einstein.

To use the method of loci, the speaker concentrates on the layout of a building or home that he’s familiar with. He then takes a mental walk through each room in the building and commits an engaging visual representation of a part of his speech to each room. So, for example, let’s say the first part of your speech is about the history of the Third Punic War. You can imagine Hannibal and Scipio Africanus duking it out in your living room. You could get more specific and put different parts of the battles of the Third Punic War into different rooms. The method of loci memory technique is powerful because it’s so flexible.

In his excellent blog, LawProse, Bryan Garner makes a good case for trying to memorize the prose of good writers.

What did David Foster Wallace and Robert Louis Stevenson have in common? They taught themselves to write better using the same technique: reading short passages from superb writers, trying to re-create from memory the passages they’d just read, and then assessing how their own versions compared with the originals. The assumption was always that the original was superlative—and that each departure from exact replication was a slight failure. It’s a superb technique to improve your command of syntax, punctuation, and phrasing. …

Here’s what David Foster Wallace said about the exercise: “If you’re like me, it will be in your failure to be able to duplicate the passage that you’ll actually learn what’s going on.” Robert Louis Stevenson called the exercise “playing the sedulous ape.” He said: “I was unsuccessful, and I knew it; and tried again, and was again unsuccessful and always unsuccessful; but at least in these vain bouts, I got some practice in rhythm, in harmony, in construction and the coordination of parts.”

So even though the best exercise is to repeat the drill using the same passage, this technique is not an exercise in rote memorization and reproduction. It’s a technique to improve your attention to the building blocks of superb writing and to develop your feel for them. As you do that, you’ll be able to appreciate the cadences, syntax, punctuation, etc. in your own writing.

Read the whole post and try one of Garner’s nifty practice exercises.

—-

photo by Bob Basil

 

Oct 192015
 

Sophos, the esteemed network-security company, is starting a new series on its always erudite blog. It is called “What Is …,” and it promises to turn “technical jargon into plain English.”

The inaugural post, written by Paul Ducklin, is called “What is … a VPN?

VPN stands for “virtual private network.” Writes Ducklin:

On your own network, you get to set the security rules.

You can make sure your router has a decent password; you can keep everything patched; you can run security software on all your devices; and so on.

But once you’re on the road, whether it’s free Wi-Fi at the coffee shop or the business network in the airport lounge, you don’t have the same control.

For all you know, the network you’re using might not merely have been hacked by crooks, it might have been set up by crooks in the first place.

One solution is to be careful, and stick to secure websites for sensitive work such as uploading documents or online banking.

But you are probably giving away plenty of information anyway:

  • Some secure websites include links to insecure sites, which leave a visible trail.
  • Some applications use secure connections, but don’t bother to check if they’re talking to an imposter server.
  • Some applications use insecure connections, but don’t tell you.
  • When a program connects to, say, https://bank.example/, it first asks the network, “I need bank.example. Where do I find it?”

In other words, your computer’s internet connection is a bit like a conversation two rows behind you on the bus: even if most of it is inaudible, you can nevertheless be pretty sure what it’s about.

That’s where a VPN, short for Virtual Private Network, comes in.

The idea is surprisingly simple.

You get your computer to encrypt all your network data (even if it’s already encrypted!) before it leaves your laptop or phone, and send the scrambled stream of data back to your own network.

When the scrambled data is safely back on home turf, it is decrypted.

Only then is it sent onto the internet in its unscrambled form, just as if you were at home.

The encrypted internet link, known in the trade as a tunnel, acts like an long, secure, extension cable plugged into your own network.

Unless the crooks can crack into the encrypted tunnel itself, they’re no better off at hacking you than if you were back at home or in the office.

So, you have neutralised any advantage the crooks were hoping for because you were on the road.

And that, very briefly, is a VPN.

Read the whole thing. It is completely lucid.

This is a wonderful start to the series.

Oct 082015
 

Picture 2

CMO’s always valuable social media infographics and slideshows have been staples in my classrooms the last few years, in particular its “Social Media Landscape” series. The one for 2015, thumbnailed above, takes a bit of a new approach, focusing on “overall customer experience” and non-North American platforms. Download the 2015 guide here.

Oct 062015
 
"Buffalo, New York. Swingshift workers on the sidelines at the weekly swingshift dance held at the Main-Utica ballroom."

“Buffalo, New York. Swingshift workers on the sidelines at the weekly swingshift dance held at the Main-Utica ballroom.”

This photograph, shot in April 1943 by Marjorie Collins, is part of a delightful & important project in which more than 100,000 images – taken from 1935-1944 by photographers working the Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information – have been made available online. The website has an amazing interactive map that allows you to search by place *and* time. Read more about the largest photographic project every sponsored by the USA federal government.

I’m charmed by the possibility that some of the young adults in these Buffalo, NY photos became the grandparents of my running, writing, and drinking buddies decades later.

[Note to my colleagues in academia and publishing: According to the Library of Congress, “Most photographs in this collection are considered to be in the public domain; however, labels on a few images indicate that they may be restricted. Privacy and publicity rights may also apply.”]

cross-posted from basil.CA

h/t LLBM