My 2009 Most Influential Media

Last week, I posted a summary of the year’s Most Influential Media About Media as defined by suggestions from others. (Earlier, I summarized the year’s highlights in Chicago media.) What follows are the links that influenced my thinking about the Internet.

The media event of 2009 was Michael Jackson’s death. (Pending a major disaster or revolution, the media event of 2010 will be the World Cup.) At the time, I was struck by our use of Twitter and Facebook to spread the news. While traditional news organizations were silent, we slowly began to accept TMZ’s report. I capped that odd day by listening to a live tribute mix by Maseo on DeLaSoul’s Dugout. Later,  John Kass’s criticism of “the deification of Jackson” rang true.

Chad Ochocinco. I’m not generally a fan of flashy football players (there are  some exceptions), so it took his social media evangelism on HBO’s Hard Knocks for me  to come to appreciate Chad Ochocinco. Ochonico created his own iPhone app, and announced plans, with Motorla, for the “Ochocinco News Network.” His responses to the death of his teammate Chris Henry, on UStream and Twitter, were touching, odd for the genre, and his use of the web to interact with fans was fun and good for the sport. I’m glad he backed away from his threat to shut things down.

Andrew Brandt:

He is still the player who complains about his contract on an annual basis, flaunts the rules and regulations of the league and engages in much “look-at-me” behavior such as running a race against a horse. However, he has strategically and cleverly built a nice brand, aided by the recent success of the Bengals and his genuine suffering for the loss of a friend last week….Ochocinco perfectly illustrates the anxious relationship between the NFL and its players, wanting them to be the marketable commodities yet not overly individualistic in their expression.

Keith Cunningham asked if Chad is the new king of all media. (The old king of all media resurfaced in the TV ad of the year.)

While it’s early in the game for the OCNN, this is another sign that traditional media is being challenged on every level.  When you think that it was TMZ that broke Michael Jackson’s death – not CNN or NBC – Ochocinco’s concept doesn’t sound so crazy.  It’s also proof that anyone with motivation, creativity, access, and resources has the ability to participate in, or even change, the entertainment and news landscape.

One of my takeaways from 2009 is that talent matters. I think of that every time I listen to This American Life–Ira Glass is so good that even his pledge drive spots are interesting.  (It’s hard to pick one episode, but Switched at Birth, from 2008, comes to mind.) Public radio chat mavens Warren Olney and Brian Lehrer find capable, professional vacation replacements for their respective shows, but none have the ability to craft and manage a conversation the way they do. Likewise, my reading of  EveryBlock’s acquisition by is that a bunch of really, REALLY smart people working their asses off for a couple of years, with help, can succeed.

Mixing sharing and privacy. One of my challenges in 2009 was figuring out how to talk about my wife’s pregnancy, our plans for our daughter, and, well, her existence. (Mandatory YouTube link to babbling infant.) I started off cautiously, with some anonymous Twittering, but when I attended a birthing class and learned more from my social media conversations than I did from the class itself I realized that anonymous was not going to cut it, and opened up a bit more. Eventually I started, along with some other Nuevo Dads, a Google Group, which has been an invaluable source of guidance, product advice and humor during my first weeks of fatherhood. (I heard Harper Reed explore the power of email in a question he asked Craig Newmark last month and am waiting for his follow-up blog post.) Similarly, I’ve noticed that commenting on the Facebook activities of close friends is increasingly irrelevant as  inside jokes and other context-dependent references are lost on the majority acquaintances not seen since 5th grade.

When Rupert Murdoch threatened to go off the Google grid, Nick Carr and Umair Haque had the two most interesting responses, from opposite perspectives.


Murdoch’s suggestion that he’ll pull News Corp content out of Google’s database could turn out to be a brilliant signaling strategy, one that could alter the balance of power on the Net….There are signs that the signal is working. Bloomberg reports today that the publishers of the Denver Post and the Dallas Morning News are now considering blocking Google in one way or another. Faced with a large-scale loss of professional news stories from its search engine, Google would likely have little choice but to begin paying sites to index their content. That would be a nightmare scenario for Google – and a dream come true for newspapers and other big content producers.


If Murdoch “wins,” society is worse off. Readers lose, because choice in news is limited, and prices inevitably jacked up, without better news having been created…. the challenge for newspapers is scarcity — real scarcity, not artificial. Can newspapers offer distinctive perspectives, rich with knowledge, expanded into topics, that make readers authentically better off? That’s what scarce, distinctive news might look like.

Twitter, plusses and minuses.

Evgeny Morzov on Twitter’s “Power to Misinform.”

Anyone trying to make sense of how Twitter’s “global brain” has reacted to the prospect of the swine flu pandemic is likely to get disappointed. The “swine flu” meme has so far that misinformed and panicking people armed with a platform to broadcast their fears are likely to produce only more fear, misinformation and panic.Thus, Unlike basic internet search — which has been already been nicely used byGoogle to track emerging flu epidemics — Twitter seems to have introduced too much noise into the process.

Erik Hersman’s more optimistic take:

Many individuals who have information are not on Twitter, Facebook, or any other big social network. So, while there is a great deal that can be done with the open channels available in the developed world, most of the world is not on those channels when it matters most…..What we have is the beginnings of an ecosystem for emergency and disaster information. The projects are disjointed and unconnected, and there’s little hope of making them one cohesive unit (nor should the necessarily be). What I do hope to see in the future is that the protocols, tools and processes for gathering, making sense of, and then disseminating crisis information becomes more open and standardized.

Morozov‘s TED Talk, How the Net aids dictatorships, was also noteworthy.

, as was his Moldova’s Twitter Revolution and thoughts on slacktivism. He sparked interesting reactions and disagreements, including from Patrick MeierEthan Zuckerman and Juliana Rotich. Zuckerman, the proto-conference blogger, summarized the “dueling views of digital activism” presented by Morozov and Xiao Qiang at the ARS Electronica Cloud Intelligence conference. Curated by David Sasaki and Isaac Mao, the conference was full of good stuff— as was Sasaki’s Democratizing the Geography of Information.

Future of News

Richard Sambrook summarized the Twitter Iran meme:

Social media can be a huge benefit in news coverage – not least it was one of the few ways for people in Iran to communicate with the west. But mediation by people who understand the story and don’t have a particular agenda to advance is still needed to get a grasp of what has, and hasn’t, actually happened and a measured sense of proportion. What was evident on Twitter this weekend was the accelerating effects of a continuous news cycle and appetite. Just as 24 hour news channels must stay on air with some kind of coverage, social media is even hungrier. And noise fills the void when events or facts can’t. Of course, it’s not “either/or”… you can have the BBC, CNN, The New York Times, Al Jazeera and also have Twitter, which this weekend has reinforced its place for the energy of debate, discussion, links, rumour, gossip and more. Enjoy – (I will!) – just don’t take it all as fact.

Key in the future of journalism section was Clay Shirky’s Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable essay.

Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting…This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. … So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs? I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it….When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

I come to closer to Shirky, but found Richard Posner ‘s argument salient:

If eventually newspapers vanish, online providers will have higher advertising revenues (because newspaper advertising will have disappeared) and may decide to charge for access to their online news, and so the critical question is whether online advertising revenues will defray the costly news-gathering expenses incurred at this time by newspapers. Imagine if the New York Times migrated entirely to the World Wide Web. Could it support, out of advertising and subscriber revenues, as large a news-gathering apparatus as it does today? This seems unlikely…Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion.

Other links I recall from earlier in the year:

The StupidFilter Project: “Because the internet needs prophylactics for memetically transmitted diseases.” (Thanks to Fitz for the heads up.)

The BBC’s Digital Revolution. Cassette Boy’s remix of one of its documentaries was silly, but fun.

The Financial Times’ Matthew Garrahan on The Rise and Fall of MySpace

Daniel Hernanez’s blogging on the swine flu outbreak in Mexico City.

Andrew Sullivan

The Texas Tribune, which looks like an online newspaper.

Larry Lessig on the limits of transparency.

Strained by Katrina, a Hospital Faced Deadly Choices, a collaboration between the New York Times Magazine and Pro Publica. Emma Heald described how the collaboration worked.

Fake Steve Jobs on Net Neutrality, mobile networks, and innovation, A not-so-brief chat with Randall Stephenson of AT&T.

When you’re lucky enough to create a smash hit product…you do not go out and try to fuck it all up by discouraging people who love your product. What you do, instead, is you fix your fucking shitty ass network you fucking shit-eating-grin-wearing hillbilly ass clown!…He says, Yeah, but we’re still not going to do it. See, when you run the numbers what you find is that we’re actually better off running a shitty network than making the investment to build a good one. It’s just numbers, Steve. You can’t charge enough to get a return on the investment.

EFF’s review of Facebook’s changes to its privacy policy, its Terms of Service Tracker,  and How Online Tracking Companies Know Most of What You Do Online (and What Social Networks Are Doing to Help Them)

Jake Weisberg on the Kindle

What we should worry about is that the system supports the creation of literature, if grudgingly. There’s a risk that what replaces it won’t allow as many writers to make as good a living. But there’s also a chance it could allow more writers to make a better living. For newspaper journalism, the future looks bleak at the moment. As the economic model for daily reporting collapses, we’re losing the support structure for large-scale newsgathering. At the same time, the Internet has radically expanded the potential audience of every journalist while bringing a new freedom to experiment and innovate. When it comes to literature, I’m optimistic that electronic reading will bring more good than harm. New modes of communication will spur new forms while breathing life into old ones. Reading without paper might make literature more urgent and accessible than it was before the technological revolution, just like Gutenberg did.

Benjamen Walker, late of Theory of Everything, started his new show on WFMU, Too Much Information.

Josh Catone in Mashable: Why NPR is the Future of Mainstream Media

A New Spin on Inside Stories

Yaroslavsky’s deputy for special projects, Joel Sappell, seems prepared for the extra attention and also determined that the 3rd District supervisor’s revamped website, to launch in October, will “go beyond flackery.” The intention is to transcend ribbon-cutting photos and news releases about Supervisor Zev to create stories on little-known county programs and issues…”If the stories are interesting and tell people something they didn’t know, something that is significant, then we have done our job,” said Sappell, previously an editor at the Los Angeles Times.

The MLB Network on TV, and the MLB iPhone app; Chan Finn talked about the net’s impact.

Google’s Jonathan Rosenberg on The meaning of open.

The imagined Tiger Woods animation from Apple Daily in Taiwan.


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