Jun 17 2009

The power of the social web

Jamie Barrows

I already posted this video in my twitter feed, but in light of the current happenings in Iran, I thought I would post it here as well. That way if you missed it in my twitter feed or if you don’t follow me on twitter you will still see it.
Watch this and you should get a better understanding of how powerful and revolutionary the social web (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Etc.) actually is.

This video really highlights why the social web is so disruptive and game changing for both governments and traditional news. The amazing thing is that you can see it happening right now with the Iran situation. If you really want to know what is going on in Iran, your best source for news is Twitter. And that news isn’t being generated by governments or by news organizations. It’s being generated by individuals who are directly involved.

Feb 24 2009

Paying for News

Jamie Barrows

Coffee and Newspaper
There has been a lot of talk lately from the old school newspapers about charging for news online. Saying they want to force people to pay for news as they read it.

Newspapers all over the country are struggling to find new revenue streams as the old dead tree based streams are drying up. The truth is that people don’t buy newspapers anymore. In fact, people don’t even read free newspapers anymore. More and more people read all of their news online. And that is hurting the newspaper industry that has been relying on subscriptions and print ads for it’s main revenue streams. If people aren’t buying your newspaper, that revenue stream is gone. And if people aren’t reading your newspaper (even if you give it away), then advertisers aren’t going to buy ads in your newspaper. And there goes the other main revenue stream.

On the online side, revenues are minuscule for most newspapers. Subscription based pay walls simply drive readers to other sites, and Internet ads don’t make up for the lost ads on the paper side. Competition for Internet ads is cutthroat and dominated by big giants like Google and Microsoft. And the traffic levels for many newspaper websites are even lower than their subscription list. So revenue from internet ads is often significantly lower than that of the paper edition. All of that adds up to a major crisis for the news industry.

So far the majority response of the newspaper industry is to claim they need to force the online users to pay subscription prices for access to the news content. The only way that is even remotely possible is if the ENTIRE industry switches to a subscription model. Because if even one newspaper or news source offers news online for free, then the whole model breaks down. And to be realistic, there is no way to ensure that all news sources abide by the agreement to charge for news. Even making it required by law (as some journalists have suggested) wouldn’t work in the online world. After all, laws can only be enforced within the geographical boundaries of the nation that implements them. And the Internet doesn’t follow geographical boundaries.

So the future of newspapers looks pretty bleak. No revenue from the old models, and the only new models they have come up with are simply impractical and doomed to fail. All in all, pretty bad.

That is until I read an article today in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal. The best quote from the article that really sums up the entire point was the following.

“For years, publishers and editors have asked the wrong question: Will people pay to access my newspaper content on the Web? The right question is: What kind of journalism can my staff produce that is different and valuable enough that people will pay for it online?”
L. Gordon Crovitz

If you ask that question from the start, then all of the other problems go away. Because when you think about it, the problem with online revenues is a competition problem. Instead of competing with a few local newspapers for readers, you are competing with millions of newspapers all over the world. Most of whom are nearly identical to your newspaper. So there is no incentive for people to pay for access to your news over someone else’s news. And there is no particular reason for anyone to read your news website instead of one of your competitors news websites when it’s the same news.

But if your news is different in some way from that of your competitors, then they will read your website instead of other sites. And if your news provides some tangible benefit to the reader beyond simply keeping them informed, then they will be willing to do something to get it. With a tangible benefit you can charge a subscription for access, and people will pay it. And furthermore you can charge higher rates for your online ads because you can guarantee an audience that fits a specific mold.

This isn’t really a new concept. The problems facing newspapers today aren’t really any different than those any industry faces when it has a lot of competition. It’s just that most newspapers have gotten used to an environment where they didn’t really have to compete. And now that the Internet is forcing them to compete, they don’t seem to remember how.

Jan 19 2009

When is too much information, too much information?

Jamie Barrows


I read an interesting rant over the weekend. It’s titled "Is this the better world you were talking about?" And the main theme seemed to be the information glut that we are daily exposed to. And the point seemed to be that the information glut is causing more harm than good.

I’ve written about information overload in one of my posts before. But other than claiming I need to be better at dealing with it, I am pretty strongly of the opinion that more information is better than less.

The author of the article makes the point that a huge amount of the information out there these days is exaggerated or overreported. And he’s right. A lot of it is just exaggerated opinions and fearmongering. Bias and sensationalism is rampant in our news media. But is that really a difference from the past or a problem that needs to be fixed? As I posted in one of my posts over a year ago, I don’t see that as an issue. ALL NEWS is biased by the opinions and beliefs of the reporter. That holds true no matter what the medium (TV, Newspaper, Radio, Internet, etc.) is. As long as you can identify the bias of the reporter and know that it is there, you should be able to get the facts out of the story.

And as for being overwhelmed by the information, it isn’t all that hard to just turn off the TV, or not read the article. If the weather channel is giving you too much information, just don’t watch it. If you are constantly getting sucked into the conspiracy theories of fringe groups, stop listening to them.

The way I see it, it’s just a question of developing proper filters. People need to learn how to filter out the fringe extremist groups and make sure they get their news from multiple sources to recognize and counteract the bias present in any one source. They need to be disciplined enough to turn off the news feed if it is taking over their lives or becoming an obsession.

There will always be those people who can’t or won’t develop decent critical filters, but that doesn’t mean the world would be better off with less information. If you look at history, you will see that in almost every repressive society, much of that repression was accomplished by a strict control of information and the means of communication. That kind of control, in our information rich and information overloaded society,  is no longer possible.

These days we have true freedom to express our knowledge and opinions. And the luxury of being able to choose our sources of information and control the quantity of the information we receive. I don’t think I would want to give that freedom up or go back to the days of limited information.

Would you? Is there such a thing as too much information?

Jan 12 2009

Israel and Palestine

Jamie Barrows

There has been a lot of news lately about the current war in Israel. And most of what I’m hearing is that Israel is being too aggressive against the Palestinians and Hamas. I constantly hear the term "disproportionate response." And I see on the TV and in the news, images of the devastation in Gaza. Images that show children living in bombed out homes and shelters.

The images are heartrending. And I feel real sorrow for the people whose homes, businesses, schools, and marketplaces have been destroyed. It’s a terrible thing to have your livelihood and homes destroyed. War is horrible and without fail it causes suffering among innocents who have no part in it.

The consensus of most of the world, seems to be that Israel should respond to the rocket attacks proportionately. But what does that mean? Has anyone who is saying this really thought it through. Are people really advocating that Israel should lob a rocket at a Palestinian neighborhood every time Hamas sends one at Israel? That Israel should deliberately target civilians with rocket attacks the way Hamas does?

I’m not one of those people who thinks Israel can do no wrong. They often take a very heavy handed approach to their security and many of the things they have done in the past have not been good. But in this case I’m not sure that we can totally fault Israel for the devastation.

Yes, it is Israeli missiles, bombs, and tanks that have destroyed the homes and infrastructure of the Gaza strip, but I don’t see that Israel has a choice here. Hamas deliberately positions their rocket launchers in residential neighborhoods and in critical infrastructure installations. So if Israel is going to take out the rocket launchers, there will be civilian casualties. And neighborhoods will be destroyed.

Is Israel totally blameless for the sense of hopelessness and poverty that most Palestinian’s live in? A situation that creates great recruitment fodder for extremist groups like Hamas. Of course Israel isn’t blameless. But then neither are the Palestinians who have been given many chances to improve their lives and yet keep handing the reigns of power over to groups like Hamas. There is plenty of blame to go around, but as I said before, I don’t see that Israel has much choice in it’s response here.

It’s great to talk about proportionate responses when we are talking a trade dispute or increased tarrifs. But when it comes to bombs and rockets, I’m not sure it applies. Especially when those rockets are dropping on your neighborhood. The place where your kids and loved ones live! In that case, you want it to stop. And that is what Israel is doing here. They are trying to make it stop.

Try to imagine yourself in a typical Israeli’s situation. What would you do if the country next door to your own was so lawless that militant groups were able to constantly shoot rockets at your home and workplace? What would you do if the official government of that nation either could not or would not attempt to stop these attacks? Would you be able to sit by and just hope that the next rocket attack didn’t kill you or one of your loved ones?

Don’t let the rights and wrongs of Israel being there in the first place, or Israel’s past treatment of the Palestinians, sidetrack you from looking at it from the perspective of a normal working person. Just put yourself in the place of a typical person and ask what you would do in this situation. Would you demand action against the people who were attacking your neighborhood?

I know I would be calling on my government (the job of which is to protect me) to make it stop. Even if that meant my nation had to invade, bomb, and occupy the other nation. Because the safety of my family and loved ones is more important to me than whether the people shooting at me are justified in their anger against my nation.

Dec 8 2008

Stupidity in News and Politics

Jamie Barrows


Sometimes I get so frustrated with our media and the stuff that makes headlines. Take for example, the big Zune controversy that hit the news last week. It seems that someone saw the President elect Obama in the gym listening to music on a Zune. That’s right, a Zune rather than an iPod.

Which is somehow hugely newsworthy. The Tubes were ablaze with speculation and rumors about why he might have used a Zune rather than an iPod. And like the comic above implies, there were huge arguments about what this meant to his moral character. And it really was just silly.  And yet somehow it was a big deal in the eyes of Americans. So much so, that his administration made an official statement that he, Obama, does not own a Zune. 

What is wrong with our country? How is it that whether Obama uses a Zune or an iPod has become more important than what his positions and plans are on issues like Abortion, the War, or the Economy?

Aug 21 2007

Do people want the facts or do they want opinions

Jamie Barrows

Eye Glasses
Techdirt has an interesting article on the changing face of media today. It seems that more and more people worldwide, particularly younger people, actually prefer to get their news from admittedly biased outlets.

That is, they don’t try to get their news from the main stream news outlets. They get their news from blogs and editorials. People actually prefer to read a story that contains the opinions and analysis of the reporter. They prefer it to reading stories or watching news that is just the facts. And more news outlets are taking note of that. Changing their reporting style to fit what their readers want.

Is this a bad thing, or a good thing? Is it good that people want biased news,or analysis of news over straight reporting? Well, I think it can be both bad and good. But mostly I think it’s a good thing.

If you only ever get your news from people who share the same biases and viewpoints you do, you will have a very distorted view of the world. Even if the facts in the stories are all truthful, reading the viewpoints of only one side will not give you a real picture of what is happening. Facts can be easily downplayed or enhanced in an editorial format. So that is bad.

But is that really any different from getting all your news from the normal reporting outlets(Main stream news networks)? I would say not. All news reflects the opinions and biases of the person reporting. The only difference is that in an editorial or analysis format, the bias or opinion is not hidden beneath a vernier of objectivity. In an editorial or analysis piece, you don’t have to try to guess the bias of the reporter.

I think that is really what is happening these days. Most people recognize these days that no matter how much a major news outlet claims to be objective, it isn’t. So they would rather get their news from someone who isn’t in effect, lying to them. They would rather get it from someone who tells them straight out which side they are reporting the story from. I know I do.

Getting your news that way isn’t really a problem, as long as you are careful to read opinions from all sides. That is the great thing about the Internet. You don’t have to look hard to get news from many different points of view.