media ecology

Academic performance: Portsmouth writer to sing at ECA Providence

Read and download. Original photo by Stephanie Gibson.

According to an acceptance e-mail received this morning from the Eastern Communication Association, this author will be performing live on a panel at the annual conference, to be held in April in Providence.

The panel, one of those featured in the Interpretation and Performance Studies Interest Group (IPSIG) track, will explore the ideas of Marshall McLuhan through words, music and images, in the tradition of his groundbreaking "I don't prove, I probe" approach. The lineup for the panel, as announced by the ECA:

DEW Lines, Loans, and Lineages: Poetry and Poetics After Marshall McLuhan

Sponsors: Interpretation and Performance Studies and Media Ecology

Chair: Carole Bennett, Oakland Community College-Orchard Ridge Campus

“McLuhan Kaleidoscope”
Mary Ann Allison, Hofstra University

Lance Strate, Fordham University

“Messy Necessity”
Adeena Karasick, Fordham University

“Flash in the Pan”
John McDaid,

This panel features readings and performances from the poetry and creative writing anthology DEW Lines, Loans, and Lineages: Poetry and Poetics After Marshall McLuhan. Inspired by McLuhan's media ecology approach, literary criticism, and poetic style, the participants probe and play with and off of McLuhan's ideas and insights with words, music, and images.

"Flash in the Pan" is a track from "Media Ecology Unplugged," a collection of McLuhan-flavored tunes recorded with fellow hypertext author Bill Bly. It will be included in the forthcoming book DEW Lines Loans, and Lineages from NeoPoesis Press, edited by Lance Strate and Adeena Karasick.

Big thanks to Lance, Adeena, my fellow panelists, the team at NeoPoesis, and the program committee at ECA. Looking forward to April (and building up my finger calluses again — it's been years since I played out.)

Localblogging, 02871, media ecology

Mike Daisey, Kathleen Glanville, and the problem of "reporting" [Update 2]

This was not a good week for journalism. On Thursday, an editor at The Oregonian was fired after admitting that she deliberately misrepresented the facts surrounding the death of a fellow editor. There's no "allegedly" in that sentence; she admitted as much on Facebook. Then, yesterday, the National Public Radio (NPR) program "This American Life" was forced to issue a retraction for their coverage of Apple critic Mike Daisey's monologue "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" which brought national attention to alleged worker safety abuses at Chinese electronics supplier Foxconn. There *is* an "alleged" in that sentence because, as the American Life retraction puts it, the story contained "numerous fabrications."

On the face of it, these are unconnected data points. On the one hand, you have a monologuist who performs on stage, and weaves together stories from a visit to the Foxconn factory. Daisey said on his site last night that he stands by his work, and that his "only regret" is allowing NPR to run his piece on a news program. "What I do is not journalism," Daisey says. "The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism."

On the other hand, you have a veteran hard-news editor knowingly lying to protect a friend's family from embarrassment. She had inside information about where and how her colleague died, but, acting as an unnamed "family friend," offered a fabricated story. "I understand the need my newspaper felt to punish my violation of journalistic ethics in some way," Glanville said in her Facebook post, accepting her firing by the Oregonian.

That leads to the thread connecting these episodes: the fundamental role of the reporter as first-hand witness. Notice that I did not say "journalist," because, to my mind — and apparently, to Daisey's — not all reporters are journalists. I'm using "reporter" in a wider, but still specific sense, of someone who comes into possession of a fact and communicates it to others, a situation much more common in today's world of social media and citizen journalism.

Now no one expects playwrights to subscribe to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics or the American Society of Newspaper Editors' Statement of Principles. Broadway houses don't send interns off to fact check All My Sons before mounting a production, and we don't require opposing quotes for balance in Spalding Gray's description of psychic surgery.

And there is an inescapable tension here because facts, by themselves, are meaningless. An individual data point, like a manufacturing defect in an airplane part or the suicide of a Chinese worker, only takes on meaning when it is embedded in a narrative. It's only when grouped together with other facts and synthesized that the fact becomes meaningful. Media theorist Gregory Bateson defined information as "a difference which makes a difference." Entangled in that notion of "making a difference" is the inherent bias of reporting: the very act of noticing already presupposes some intent, some perspective of the observer from which the difference matters. To notice a difference is to already be implicated, and the selection of facts and their assemblage is always the result of choices (whether acknowledged and examined or not) by the reporter.

So we depend on the "reporter" to be, at the very least, a fair witness to the facts. As Rebecca Rosen put it yesterday in a piece about Daisey at The Atlantic, "We live in a world fueled by emotional narratives (see, e.g., Kony2012) but that does not mean that facts are irrelevant. Factual accuracy is the currency by which sources -- news outlets -- establish credibility."

When we find the reporter's thumb on the scales — whether through Glanville's intentional deception or down Daisey's slippery slope of narrative expedience — we feel betrayed. We know, intellectually, that true objectivity is an impossible goal (as that quote from David Weinberger up there in my masthead attests) but we expect at least the standard of care implicit in the scientific method: Had we been observers, would we have seen or heard the same thing.

This is not just a requirement of journalism, but a foundational principle of culture. The reliability of knowledge is crucial to our ability to make life-or-death choices about things like climate change, health care reform, or attacking Middle Eastern countries. Media critic Jeff Jarvis puts it bluntly: "When anyone — performer, politician, blogger — says he has a license to lie because he’s not a journalist, he's lying."

As we are red-shifted away from the world by the widening synapses of electronic media, this becomes the central problem of reportage, and its implications are profound. People decide to act (or not) because of what they learn of the world through media, and no matter how noble the intention — and I do not doubt that Glanville or Daisey acted with anything but the best intent — there can be no justification.

There is no noble lie.

Full disclosure: I saw and enjoyed Mike Daisey's show in NY last week and had been working on a review to appear in these pages.

Update: Listen to the full This American Life show, "Retraction" online, or download. There's some painful audio there. Journalism critic Jay Rosen also has some smart commentary.

Update 2 (3/31/12): Adding a link to Prof. Jay Rosen's piece, "I'm there, you're not, let me tell you about it" which captures in a much more journalistic frame the notion of authority and responsibility I was trying to articulate. Him press think good.

Localblogging, 02871, media ecology, citizen journalism

New "non-partisan" site fills the gap left by paywalled ProJo

With the venerable online Providence Journal (no link available) disappearing behind a $200/year paywall, how will Rhode Islanders get their fix of fair and balanced news and commentary? By happy coincidence, today marks the launch of the Ocean State Current, a new offering from the nonpartisan Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, described in a press release as "the state's leading free-enterprise public policy think tank."

Veteran editor of the conservative blog Anchor Rising, Tiverton's Justin Katz, has come onboard as managing editor.

"I definitely have a point of view," said Katz in the release, "but for the core content of The Current, I intend to pull it back to where it will only enable me to ask questions and follow leads that others might not consider."

The release says, "Although their relationship is one of funding and mutual support, the Current will enjoy wide latitude for independence from the Center."

As Charles Foster Kane once said, "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper."

Editorial note: Written substantially from a press release.

Full disclosure: Obviously, I live on the other side of the Sakonnet River from Tiverton's Katz. I live on the left side. Left side. Too subtle?

Localblogging, 02871, media ecology

The second coming of Hypercard: Apple introduces iBooks Author

At a press event at the Guggenheim Museum in NY, Apple yesterday introduced a new, free application for creating electronic books called iBooks Author, and while it has some notable limitations, it promises the kind of step-function increase in user empowerment not seen since the days of Hypercard. Seriously, it gave me flashbacks to 1987. And I don't say that lightly.

The iBooks Author software is essentially a page-oriented multimedia creation tool; that is, you can imagine PowerPoint on steroids, or for those familiar with high-end production, Quark or inDesign. But in addition to allowing you to easily create pages with rich media assets, it takes you to the next step, automatically packaging everything up in an electronic publication format distributable on the iPad.

In half an hour, I was able to build a basic e-book including pictures, interactive widgets, links, and alternate layouts for portrait and landscape. Another hour and I was up the curve enough on the developer back-end tool, Dashcode, to create a little custom HTML widget, integrate, and deploy the whole thing to an iPad.

This could give everyday users — like, say, Apple's stated target market of educators — the kind of tablet-publishing capability that will drive an explosion of diversity and experimentation.

Yes, to take full advantage of the interactivity, you need to use Apple's iBooks app on the iPad, although you can also output as an Adobe Acrobat PDF, readable across devices, which preserves some functionality. But that's clearly not its sweet spot.

For anyone who's tried to build e-pubs using existing tools, iBooks Author is a "glass of ice water in hell." Existing free or low-cost apps all aim at creating sturdy, validating, cross-platform epubs; the high-end extensions of tools like inDesign support rich media, but are expensive and often require proprietary deployment systems. Apple has lobbed an enormously powerful tool into this mix, and by giving it away, they are clearly aiming to amp development for the iPad. Vendor lock-in is always a Faustian bargain, but considering the terms of the license — if you give iBooks away for free, there's no cost; any sales must go through the Apple store where they take a reported 30% cut — many might find it reasonable.

Hypercard flashbacks. Big time. Anyone with a Mac now has a tool you can learn in an afternoon that can create a professional-level ebook. This is exactly the feeling we had in 1987 when Hypercard gave everyone the ability to build interactive screen-based applications point-and-click style. Do I miss the ability to control the entire UI? Do I wish there was a more fully-integrated scripting language like HyperTalk? Am I concerned about deploying on other platforms and open standards? Yeah, sure.

For those inclined to worry about Faustian bargains, just remember that publishing tools have unintended and unimaginable consequences. Once you give people access to the means of production, it's very hard to shove the genie back in the bottle. Hypercard may have died out as a platform, but the ripples of hypermedia read-write enablement are with us still. Will iBooks Author do the same for publishing? We shall see.

Full disclosure: Our family owns Apple stock.

Localblogging, 02871, media ecology, education

harddeadlines goes iOS and Android with Google currents (and more)

harddeadlines on Google currents

Google launched a new digital content subscription app (what we used to call, in the old days, a "magazine") for iOS and Android devices this week, and harddeadlines is now available on this spiffy new platform. In addition to the long-form content, currents is also a slick RSS reader that works, out of the box, with all your Google Reader subs. And it's got all sorts of social goodness, too, with trending topics and one-click sharing to Facebook, Twitter, and, of course, Google+.

If you're on an iPad, iPhone, or Android device, just browse to this url: If you don't already have the free currents app installed, it will take you to the download page in the appropriate app store.

And if you prefer a different app, no worries. You may already know that the harddeadlines feed (copy this link: plugs right in to news readers like Google Reader or MyYahoo. It also works great with other dedicated tablet and smartphone reader apps like Flipboard.

Would love to hear any thoughts or feedback if you try these out.

Localblogging, 02871, media ecology, News

Buh-bye, ProJo. And take your ugly teaseware with you.

We're talking Ark of the Covenant ugly
Feast your eyes, glut your soul upon my accursed ugliness! (1)

Rhode Island's newspaper of record has announced plans to vanish into the black hole of a paywall, leaving behind a hideous, malformed shadow of news lingering at the event horizon.

The free site,, is a catalog of things not to do in news 2.0: enormous adware, a center column width that defies logic and best practices (MORE ROOM FOR ADS!), an apparent inability to use bulleted lists, automatic reload scripts to boost their page views, and no interaction beyond commenting and uploading photos (that is, providing free content to a newspaper that charges you for theirs. Nice, huh?)

You can't read their e-Edition without offering up your e-mail address for their spambots, and the interface is a painful Flash-driven clickfest.

This make three redesigns in the past week, and while one of them, got it exactly right, ProJo joins the Newport Daily News in showing their cluelessness about the digital.

What's their strategy? In a front-page story, publisher Howard Sutton said, "The Journal is moving to the paid eEdition to protect the investment it makes every day in gathering and publishing Rhode Island news."

And here's my ultimate bone to pick with those who seek to prop up old business models: they are *business* models, not ways of serving the information and connection needs of the community. Look at everything EastBayRI or Patch get right. Now look at the ProJo.

Or, rather, don't look at the ProJo. Unless you're willing to pay.


(1) Lon Chaney, Phantom of the Opera, Universal, 1925.

Full disclosure: As a citizen journalist, I obviously have a significant axe to grind. And I'm a-grindin' it.

Localblogging, 02871, media ecology, News

EastBayRI redesign rocks so hard it hurts

East Bay redesign
Redesigned Sakonnet Times landing page

The web site has been redesigned, and it is a pitch-perfect implementation of everything a "news 2.0" site should be. Go look at the SakonnetTimes landing page to see what I mean.

Look at the information architecture: big, clear section heads, visible but unobtrusive top menus, a logo header that takes advantage of every pixel, and ad space that respects the content. It's a thing of beauty: you can scroll down the page, take in all the stories, and get the headlines from all sections at a glance. Brilliant.

But the awesome doesn't stop there: the site is packed with interactive goodness. You can sign up (either anonymously or as a verified "real name") and you can comment and blog, sign up for e-mail alerts, and upload photos. It does an e-mail validation and you're off and running.

And it's FAST. The page loads and page-to-page speed is outstanding, compared to other local interactive sites (sorry, Patch).

Congratulations to the EastBay team for a site which will meet the needs of our community and make them competitive in the digital space. They have made it look effortless, and it's not. Folks in the web world know just how hard it is to get all this stuff right (and how easy it is to get it horribly, horribly wrong.)

I love it so much, I just renewed my print subscription as a gesture of support, and I hope you'll consider doing the same.

Localblogging, 02871, media ecology, News relaunches; runs aground

Ooh, look, they have "blogs!" Uh..wait..that's just an empty page...

The flacks at the Newport Daily News just sent out a breathless e-mail piece announcing the relaunch of their interactive community site,

We've just relaunched, and it's more interactive than ever! Log in, add events and business listings, and post comments.

ZOMG, it's an ad-dominated trainwreck, with a wheedling, desperate "thow it all at the wall and see what sticks" esthetic and an incomprehensible information architecture. The home and section landing pages are just a tangle of subheads, eyebrows, and boxes lacking any apparent grid or breathing room. Story pages are no better: content is pushed more than 600 pixels down the page by a barrage of craptastic banners and widgets.

Come to think of it, this site is an insult to train wrecks. At least those can be a source of scrap metal. The folks at Newport Now and Newport Patch have nothing to fear.

Mr. Lucey, fire your clueless web strategists. You're welcome.

Full disclosure: I was critical of the hapless digital efforts of the Daily News long before they chose not to endorse me in last year's election. Nothing personal.

Localblogging, 02871, media ecology, NDN