Adam Hochberg


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Facing a flood of incivility, news sites make reader comments harder to find

When the Los Angeles Times redesigned its website earlier this year, it became harder to find the opinions of people like iamstun1, jumped2, and Shootist.

Those are the screen names of some Times readers who are among the most prolific authors of online comments. Their writings, like the rest of the reader comments, no longer appear at the bottom of stories on latimes.com.

Instead, comments for each article remain hidden unless users click on an icon along the right side of the screen.

Screenshot from latimes.com

Screenshot from latimes.com

That opens a separate page where readers can peruse the thoughts of iamstun1 on the federal budget bill (“Republicans really are scums”), jumped2 on the Senate torture investigation (“EVERYONE involved in releasing the CIA report and harming our Military should be tried for TREASON and HUNG”), and Shootist on a flash flood that damaged homes and forced evacuations throughout Southern California (“couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of pantywaists”). Read more

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News for the Minecraft generation: Gannett experiments with virtual reality

Screenshot from a video about Gannett's experiment with virtual reality journalism in the Des Moines Register's story Harvest of Change.

Screenshot from a video about Gannett’s experiment with virtual reality journalism in the Des Moines Register’s story Harvest of Change.

One of America’s largest media companies is hoping that young readers want to get their news the same way that video gamers play World of Warcraft and Doom.

Gannett Company this week previewed its first project that allows readers to experience a news story in virtual reality. The project – produced by Gannett’s digital division and the Des Moines Register — requires users to wear a futuristic headset called the Oculus Rift, a small goggles-style video device that responds to the wearer’s head movements.

While the Rift is primarily marketed for gaming – allowing users to flee blood-thirsty aliens or control a 250-story fighting robot, Gannett’s project is significantly less harrowing. Part of a Register special report on Iowa agriculture, the company’s first virtual reality presentation is a 3-D immersive walking tour of a southwest Iowa family farm. Read more

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Case Study: Gannett’s monumental task — A content management system for all

(This case study, the fifth in an occasional series, was underwritten by a grant from the Stibo-Foundation.) Note: CCI Europe is a subsidiary of Stibo, whose foundation made a grant for this series. The funder had no editorial input on the study.

In 2011, Gannett Co. owned more than a hundred newspapers and television stations – each with its own website. To publish its online material, the company was supporting about a half dozen content management systems.

Journalists in most of the company’s broadcast newsrooms wrote and published their digital stories through a homegrown CMS called Newsmaker, while almost all of Gannett’s newspaper websites were powered with Saxotech. But the Arizona Republic had its own system known as Enigma, and the Des Moines Register posted some of its content through WordPress.

Meanwhile, Gannett’s flagship publication, USA Today, maintained its site with a proprietary system it simply called “CMS.”

The assortment of software left Gannett no easy way to share web content among its properties, and some systems lacked basic functions such as the ability to embed hyperlinks or multimedia into articles. Read more

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Conan O'Brien discusses his life and the art of comedy during a forum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Thursday, May 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Conan’s comedy bit hints at serious issues for local TV news

Just before the holidays, late-night comedian Conan O’Brien poked a little fun at local TV newscasts. In doing so, he illustrated some serious issues about the compromises journalists make in understaffed newsrooms.

O’Brien strung together clips of two dozen local news anchors reading an identical story – a consumer report about the supposed trend of holiday “self gifting.” The newscasts were broadcast in different cities – from Boise to Ft. Wayne to Dothan, Ala., but each of the anchors introduced the story with the exact same words: “It’s okay; you can admit it if you bought an item or two or ten for yourself.”

O’Brien has aired similar montages in the past, capturing repetition in local stories about such topics as Cyber Monday shopping, restaurants that serve political-themed food, and the news that actor Mike Myers and his wife were expecting a baby. The compilations are popular fodder for Internet discussions, where viewers attributed the homogeneity to “consumerist propaganda,” “controlled brainwashing,” and “corporations spitting out prefabricated copies of fake news.”

The truth is less conspiratorial. Read more

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The gloves come off as journalists increasingly fact-check other journalists. (Depositphotos)

‘Gloves come off’ as journalists debunk each other’s Obamacare horror stories

When Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik saw Deborah Cavallaro tell her story on television, something about it didn’t add up.

Cavallaro is a real-estate agent and investor in Westchester, Calif. She’s also become a minor media celebrity in the past few weeks, repeatedly sharing her story of how the Affordable Care Act will raise her medical costs. Since October 23, Cavallaro has been interviewed on the NBC Nightly News, CNBC, the public radio show “Marketplace,” two local Los Angeles TV newscasts, and in Hiltzik’s own newspaper.

As all the news reports have noted, Cavallaro’s insurer informed her that it’s canceling her policy and instead offering a new plan with a higher premium. “Her only option is to be forced into a policy she doesn’t want and can’t afford,” reported KCBS-TV. “For the first time in my whole life, I will be without insurance,” she lamented on KNBC-TV. Read more

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The challenges, benefits of consolidated editing & design centers

(This case study, the second in an occasional series, was underwritten by a grant from the Stibo Foundation.)

In a sprawling, windowless office in Hickory, N.C., more than a dozen small-town and metro newspapers come together each night.

Seated in front of rows of computers, about 45 journalists edit copy and lay out pages for World Media Enterprises, a conglomerate that owns newspapers throughout the southeast. At one desk, a recent college graduate edits the crime blotter for the next day’s Dothan (Al.) Eagle. Nearby, his colleagues lay out the comics page for the Hickory Daily Record, proofread the “bridge” column for the Jackson County Floridan, and arrange front page photographs for the McDowell (N.C.) News.

These editing and design tasks used to be done locally in each paper’s newsroom. But World Media Enterprises is among several newspaper chains that now consolidate the work at centralized centers. Gannett, Tribune, and McClatchy are among the other companies that have embraced the trend. Read more

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Disputes over crime maps highlight challenge of outsourcing public data

Colin Drane is an unlikely warrior in the fight for open government.

An inventor and TV infomercial producer, Drane spent much of his career marketing products like the Trunkanizer  for organizing car trunks, a toy called Bendaroos, and Invisi-lift self-adhesive breast enhancement pads.

Six years ago, Drane started a different kind of business – a company called ReportSee, which operates the website SpotCrime.com. The site obtains publicly available crime records from police agencies and graphically displays them on colorful maps.

Drane says the site attracts a million views a month from people curious about the burglaries, shootings, and other bedlam in their towns. The site makes money through advertising and from partnerships with television stations and other media organizations.

“Its primary appeal is folks involved in neighborhood watches and people who want to know what’s going on their communities,” Drane said in a phone interview. He said the information on SpotCrime, which typically is culled from police department logs and incident reports, can make communities safer. Read more

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‘Journalist’ or ‘illustrator’? How self-identification affects designers’ job satisfaction

When veteran newspaper artist and designer Charles Apple worked at the (Raleigh) News & Observer in the 1990’s, he and his colleagues had an ongoing discussion about how they viewed their own jobs.

As they drew up the artwork, maps and infographics that adorned each day’s paper, they’d talk about whether their work constituted “journalism” and whether they thought of themselves as “journalists.”

For Apple, who never hesitated to grab a sketch pad and head out to a crime scene or natural disaster, the answer was obvious. He considered himself every bit a journalist — just as the paper’s reporters and photographers did. But some of his fellow designers saw themselves differently.

“Their point was that they’re not really journalists; they’re just illustrators,” Apple told me from southern California, where he’s now at the Orange County Register. “To them, it was just like working at an ad agency or anyplace else.”

That contrast among newspaper designers isn’t unusual, but a recent study suggests designers’ self-characterization of their jobs may be more than just fodder for newsroom debates. Read more

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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers his concession speech at his election night rally in Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Gaffes defined and defied campaign narratives, but did they affect who won?

As Mitt Romney visited Poland this summer, Washington Post reporter Phil Rucker shouted a question to the candidate that revealed a lot about the media’s coverage of the campaign.

“What about your gaffes?” Rucker called out, as Gov. Romney walked to his car in Warsaw.

The governor didn’t answer, but the question highlighted the focus of much of the media’s day-to-day narrative. Journalists, bloggers, pundits — and sometimes the campaigns themselves — gleefully piled on after either candidate committed a perceived misstep or uttered an inelegant statement.

From President Obama’s declaration that “the private sector is doing fine” (labeled as an “economic gaffe” by ABC News) to Gov. Romney’s admission that “I’m not concerned about the very poor” (a possible “monster gaffe,” declared The Week), the campaign narrative often centered more on the candidates’ offhand ad libs than their platforms or policy records.

Many of the verbal miscues provided media fodder only for a couple of news cycles before being quickly forgotten. Read more

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George Zimmerman’s lawyers hope to win trial by social media in Trayvon Martin case

In the Trayvon Martin case, the court of public opinion has moved online.

Late last month, attorneys for George Zimmerman – the Sanford, Florida man facing second-degree murder charges in Martin’s killing – launched a website, Facebook page, and Twitter account devoted to the case. So far, they’ve used the social media platforms to comment on developments in the case, solicit money for Zimmerman’s defense, and interact with the public.

“[S]ocial media in this day and age cannot be ignored,” wrote Zimmerman attorney Mark O’Mara in an introductory blog post. “It is now a critical part of presidential politics, it has been part of revolutions in the Middle East, and it is going to be an unavoidable part of high-profile legal cases, just as traditional media has been and continues to be.”

O’Mara called his social media presence “new and relatively unprecedented,” and legal experts I spoke with could recall no previous case where a defense team has employed such tactics in a high-profile prosecution. Read more

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