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Gin, Television, and Social Surplus: Clay Shirky calls us out of our stupor

Author and journalist programmer Clay Shirky gave a powerfully thoughtful talk at Reilly’s  Web 2.0 conference last week: Gin, Television and Social Surplus. In his relaxed, 16 minute talk, Shirky drew up upon the thoughts of a British historian who theorized that the most significant technology of the early industrial revolution was gin, because it allowed the population to dull the pain and fear that accompanied the switch from agrarian to industrial society; dull it long enough for them to make the switch and then wake up to take advantage of the riches industrialization brought them –

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Hey Look! A brand new newspaper launched in Baltimore

Well, ok, it’s freebie, available in 1,000 bright orange newspaper boxes and at gyms, convenience stores and drugstores (?) across the city. And, well, yeah, it’s a "youth" paper. Oh, and a hip new web site. Sigh. Here’s how the Baltimore Sun Media Group described their new offering, ‘b':

The tabloid newspaper and Web site will focus on news, sports and entertainment news and blogs and listings geared to readers in the 18- to 34-year-old range. It plans to rely on reader-generated material for about a third of its content. The rest will come from its staff

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Surprise Toronto transit strike tests local media

If you like hard news, you should have been in heaven in Toronto on Friday night. Unfortunately the local media didn’t do a hell of a job covering it.
The major union for Toronto Transit Commission workers called a surprise strike last night, giving the city just 90 minutes notice that they were shutting down the nation’s largest transit system. The strike (arising from the rejection of a tentative settlement) stranded thousands of people who were out blithely enjoying a warm spring Friday night in the city’s core.
Breaking, ongoing, late night news like this is about as tough a stresser of a newspaper’s abilities as you can find and it’s instructive to see how it was handled here, in media-rich Toronto.
First the background:
The TTC union executive narrowly accepted (8-7) a tentative contract earlier this week and it was put to a vote of members all day Friday. At about 10:30 pm last night the union issued a press release saying the offer had been rejected by 65% of workers and as a result they would walk out at midnight. The Mayor held a press conference moments before midnight decrying the move and vowing back to work legislation from the province. The system shut down at midnight just as thousands of people began streaming out of movie houses and bars and restaurants. Think of that – thousands of Torontonians pouring out of bars and clubs and restaurants looking forward to nothing so much as their distant bed, and finding suddenly they had no way home. What would happen? Riots? Innocents struck down on darkened streets as they trekked home alone and on foot?
So how did the Toronto media respond to the challenge? Sadly, most did at least modestly well in print – but failed to use the web very well at all. Let’s have a look:

Toronto Sun: Back when I worked at the Sun they would have "flooded the zone" on this story —  held the print run and dragged reporters and editors and photographers out of their beds and bars and fanned out across the city to put together a comprehensive, photo-packed pullout complete with howls of outrage from one or more columnists. As I write this (5:30 am) I haven’t had a chance to see what they’ve done in print, but their web offering is pretty pathetic – a single story that looks be re-purposed print content. No offence to reporter Brian Gray who, by himself, turned in a perfectly respectable hard news story – it’s just that it’s pretty thin gruel on a story that the old Sun would have feasted on. To make matters worse their website left up a story dated Saturday (their original Sat print story?) that began: "TTC workers were expected to ratify a tentative deal yesterday during
an all-day voting process, despite a group of workers grumbling about
the agreement." Ouch.

Toronto Star: The Toronto Star is the flagship of the chain I work for, is the largest paper in Canada and has the largest newsroom at its disposal. Sad to say they appear to have been caught flat-footed by the sudden strike and dropped the ball, at least on their web coverage. You can see that they made some efforts – they’ve got up-to-date video

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How to produce professional-looking video reports online, on the cheap

One of the most common complaints I get from students who get all fired up about doing video for the web is: "but we don’t have any equipment – and there’s no way my boss is going to spend thousands of dollars." The truth is you don’t need a $5,000 Sony or Cannon HD video camera – if you already have a modestly up-to-date Dell or Apple computer you can start producing good looking web video for a tiny fraction of what you’d spend on one of those pro video cams.Last October I produced my Going Digital Without Going

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Brits create The Churner Prize

Nobody enjoys mockery (or, as they put it, "taking the piss" out of someone) as do the Brits and now, it’s the British press’s turn. The Churner Prize has sprung up setting its sights on the british press – "churnalists" in their words.Clearly written by member(s) of the press there, the site explains itself this way:

Why?Journalists are becoming churnalists. Denied the time, money and resources to do the job properly, many hacks now churn out stories without checking facts or sources.But it’s not their fault, and the best (worst) churnalism is worth celebrating.So?So we’ve created The Churner

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Lessons from WebU

I got a chance to do a webinar for the Canadian Newspaper Association and the Ontario Community  Newspaper Association this week, and I must say it’s a very odd experience.I’ve sat in on several "webinars" (webcasts linked via chat or conference call) but this was my first time presenting. It’s kind of creepy sitting and talking to your computer monitor for nearly one straight hour without getting any kind of visual or aural feedback from your audience. I outlined the origins and goals of WebU, walked people through a typical week and then ended with some results  and lessons

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