Friday, December 12, 2008

An we have a host!

Hugh Jackman will host the 81st Annual Academy Awards Sunday, February 22, 2009. I was thinking awards season began yesterday with the announcing of the Golden Globe nominees, but the season is now in full gear, with producer Laurence Mark and executive producer Bill Condon of the Oscar telecast announcing the news today (12/12).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A great ad campaign

The recent free coffee on Election Day Starbucks ad, which I saw during last weekend's "Saturday Night Live," is simply brilliant and brilliantly simple.

Because I started SNL a little late, I could have fast forwarded through the commercial but I noticed it and watched it; I was intrigued. I was not sure who the advertiser was but I loved the text and use of movement.

Take a look:



Now read the text again:
What if we all cared enough to vote?
Not just 54% of us, but 100% of us?
What if we cared as much on Nov. 5th as we care on Nov. 4th?
What if we cared all of the time the way we care some of the time?
What if we cared when it was inconvenient as much as we care when its convenient?
Would your community be a better place?
Would our country be a better place?
Would our world be a better place?
We think so, too.
If you care enough to vote, we care enough to give you a free cup of coffee
Come into Starbucks on Nov. 4th. Tell us you voted, and we'll PROUDLY give you a tall cup of brewed coffee on us.

You and Starbucks. Its bigger than coffee.

The song used in the commercial is "Trillium Glance" by Michael Montes. What a great choice.

It was reported today that in order to comply with election laws in some states, Starbucks is offering its free cup of coffee to everyone as long as they ask. But that doesn't mean not to vote, of course.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

NBC’s massive coverage of Beijing begins

Post Details:
• NBC has unofficially begun its coverage of the Beijing Olympics
• Video on NBC’s site uses Silverlight
• Opening ceremony is Friday night
• Prepare yourself for 17 days ‘round the clock coverage


The opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing are Friday, but from the looks of NBCOlympics.com the coverage has already begun. “Today” began broadcasting from Beijing on Monday with Matt Lauer from the Great Wall of China, and early this morning – beginning at midnight Eastern – visitors to the site could see male gymnasts practice live during “podium training.” While nothing spectacular, the event shows NBC’s commitment to coverage and even a we-paid-$900-million-for-the-rights-to-broadcast-the-games-so-we-might-as-well-SHOW-absolutely-EVERTHING motto.

NBC Universal is planning a massive 3,600 hours of online and broadcast coverage; that’s more than the total of all previous televised Summer Olympics in U.S. history. But add the pre-coverage of last night and the three hours per day “Today” will spend when a majority of its broadcast is from Beijing (starting next week), plus Matt’s coverage this week alone… and you’ve got yourself ‘round the clock coverage – and then some.

One thing that interests me about NBC’s site is the software for its streaming video is not a standard Flash-utilized player, but a Microsoft Silverlight-utilized player. Thus, if you want to watch live coverage online you have to download the software to use the slick player. It’s a good experience and an instance where Microsoft is really pushing its player. Plus, Microsoft is a major sponsor for the site – go figure.

The opening ceremony airs on NBC beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch it live, you’ll have to find a CBC station (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the rights holder up north), which I luckily receive being close to Windsor, Ontario. Coverage continues in the U.S. after the ceremony on the networks of NBC over the course of the 17 days; they include: MSNBC, USA, Telemundo, CNBC, Universal HD, Oh! (Oxygen Network) and NBCOlympics.com.

Get ready for the Summer Olympics, here they come!

To prepare yourself, watch the opening for the 2006 Torino Games (it’s a great meld of music, pictures and narration):


Links:
Read
L.A. Times’ coverage of “Today” in Beijing
NY Times has a great
interactive schedule on its Web site

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Harry Potter Excitement

Post Details:
• New “Harry Potter” trailer debuts
• Excitement ensues


Today, I digress…

Last night the official trailer was posted for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” on AOL. The sixth movie will open in American theaters in 114 days – on Nov. 21, 2008.

(Click on photo to left to enlarge.)

I was very excited to watch the trailer – to say the least. Reading the book can be compared to riding an emotional roller coaster. I was a wreck upon completing the book – after experiencing many debilitating moments. (But no spoilers here…)

The trailer was darker and more nerve-wracking than earlier trailers in the series. While less than 90 seconds, the preview provided fans with sneak peeks at young Tom Riddle, among other characters, and Professor Dumbledore’s adventure inside the bewitched cave.

All and all, it’s going to be tough to stave off my excitement until November, but since reading the final book in the series, “Deathly Hallows,” last summer, there’s always something to look forward to. In the meantime, I’ll continue re-watching the movies, rereading the books and re-listening to the soundtracks.

Here is the synopsis:
Voldemort is tightening his grip on both the Muggle and wizarding worlds and Hogwarts is no longer the safe haven it once was. Harry suspects that dangers may even lie within the castle, but Dumbledore is more intent upon preparing him for the final battle that he knows is fast approaching. Together they work to find the key to unlock Voldemort's defenses and, to this end, Dumbledore recruits his old friend and colleague, the well-connected and unsuspecting bon vivant Professor Horace Slughorn, whom he believes holds crucial information.

Meanwhile, the students are under attack from a very different adversary as teenage hormones rage across the ramparts. Harry finds himself more and more drawn to Ginny, but so is Dean Thomas. And Lavender Brown has decided that Ron is the one for her, only she hadn't counted on Romilda Vane's chocolates! And then there's Hermione, simpering with jealously but determined not to show her feelings. As romance blossoms, one student remains aloof. He is determined to make his mark, albeit a dark one. Love is in the air, but tragedy lies ahead and Hogwarts may never be the same again.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sad news for Bloggers

Post Details:
• Redlasso suspends use of beta site
• My reaction
• The company’s reaction


An essential element to blogging is visuals. What’s better to discussing what you saw on TV last night than using a video and showing, rather than telling? But in order to link to that video someone has to put it on the Web. If a blogger does not have fancy technology to record and capture TV on his or her computer, or let alone capture the precise moment in question, it can be very difficult to find a video on the Web.

Redlasso changed this. The Web site, whose slogan is “find it! clip it! share it!”, was revolutionary in that beta users could search through 24 hours of footage on a vast selection of channels for the last week or two. Then, users could create a clip from the footage and embed the video on their personal Web sites or blogs.

I recently became a member of the site and enjoyed my experience.

Last week, however, Redlasso was forced to suspend its service to beta users “for the immediate future.” The site went dark on Friday (7/25). Here is the letter to its users:


To Our Loyal Users:
We would like to thank you for your continued support of Redlasso. You have been essential to making Redlasso a household name online. Unfortunately, due to the legal actions taken against Redlasso by two networks, we are left with no alternative but to suspend access to our video search and clipping Beta site FOR THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE. The networks have provided a big blow to the blogger community’s right to exercise the first amendment and comment on newsworthy events. It is anti-Web. During this service suspension, we will continue our conversations with content providers, with the goal of establishing formal partnerships that will quickly help us restore access to the Beta site.

For our business and Radio To Web clients, Redlasso will continue to operate and provide those services to you without interruption.

Again, thank you.
REDLASSO


Thus, it has been a sad weekend for bloggers.

For now, media companies have gotten their way – their copyrighted content is secured and contained. YouTube survived the battle, while Redlasso’s future does not look so bright.

As it said in the letter, the action is “anti-Web.” These companies are trying to protect their brand, but I argue that sites such as Redlasso help spread their brand – though admittedly, it is hard to control exactly what type of content is captured.

Media companies and networks – such as NBC Universal and Fox, which filed a lawsuit last week – should embrace new media sites and work with them, instead of against.

“Clip usage by bloggers is an exercise of first amendment rights to provide social commentary on newsworthy events,” Redlasso said in a press release.

Here is reaction from Ken Hayward, CEO of Redlasso:

We are very disappointed in the actions of select networks. We believe we have always acted within the law and have been respectful of the networks’ rights. Unfortunately, they have forced our hand and are denying the blogging community access to the Redlasso platform that beneficially tracks the usage of newsworthy clips across the Wed.

Redlasso’s goal is to develop a platform that provides content owners and bloggers a viable solution to tracking and monetizing content online, not to engage in lawsuits. In the eight months the Beta site has been in operation, we have built wide brand awareness and equity amongst the blogger and media communities. The wide spread use of our tools and platform demonstrates that the Redlasso model is a simple and elegant solution for all content owners to track and monetize content usage on the Web; content that would otherwise be untraceably spread across the Internet and used for free.


I only hope we can find solutions to these ongoing new media questions. And fast. At least for Redlasso’s sake.

Good news in the mean time: it appears that previously created clips using Redlasso still work.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Front page text on texts

Post Details:
• Free daily publishes front page editorial on texting charges
• My texting story
• An editorial on the FRONT?!


Yesterday (7/10), I noticed something unique on the cover of the Tampa Bay Times – called tbt* and a free daily published by the St. Petersburg Times. It was an editorial. While not a hard-hitting political topic, the editorial did catch my eye – it was a photo of the new (I assume) iPhone surrounded by a sea of text with the headline “Text Robbery” at the top.

The full text follows:


A tbt* EDITORIAL
TEXT ROBBERY
It really doesn’t cost the cell phone companies anything to transmit a text message, so why do they keep jacking up the price?


The new Apple iPhone 3G, which comes out tomorrow, is just the latest example of this gouging. iPhone buyers used to get 200 text messages as part of the basic voice and data plan; now they will pay $5 extra for those 200 texts.

And if they go over the limit, look out. Since 2005, rates to receive and send a sin­gle text message on the major phone net­works have doubled, from 10 cents to 20. (As blogger Marguerite Reardon noted in a posting on cnet.com, that’s a bigger in­crease in the last three years than even the price of gasoline.)

There’s genius in the phone companies’ strat­egy, of course. They are forcing consumers to fork out for $20 or so a month for an unlimited texting plan, or to risk a budget-breaking bill.

Text messaging is essen­tially an alternative form of e-mail for people who can’t afford a smart phone. In other words, a lot of younger people. And while smart-phone users send and receive gazillions of bytes of data, they’re not paying much more each month than the poor soul confined to sending a 160-character (max.) text to his girlfriend that he’s running late.

Someone needs to send the phone guys a message. — The Editors, tbt*



For teenagers and their parents who pay the cell phone bills, it’s tough to swallow that texts are so expensive. Even 10 cents per text was ridiculous. When my plan only included 250 messages (sent and received) per month, I would very carefully try not to go over, but it was very hard not to. My sister especially had a hard time - once or twice slapped with a triple-digital text overage charge (my mother was not happy).

Luckily for me, I have unlimited texts now.

The editorial brings up a great point though. Overage charges are the bread and butter for cellular companies. Everyone will at one point or another go over their minutes, their texting allotment, or other digital date services. AT&T and Apple really understand this. Why give something away for free when customers would – begrudgingly, of course – pay for the service? The other interesting item with the new touchable phone is that, while the phone is less expensive, all the subscription fees have increased. Thus, the phone really is not less expensive at all.

So be warned cell phone users.

One final thing that got me thinking on this Friday… and it’s not just about the message but the editorial/viewpoint idea. Most times one would only find an editorial on the front page of a European newspaper. The front page is sacred space normally reserved for news. But then again, the editorial is very timely and coincides with the new iPhone 3G launch today (Friday). Here’s hoping the new iPhone users buy an unlimited plan.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Rethinking the facts

Post Details:
• A look at a Washington Post profile of an Ohio town where some residents seem to believe Obama rumors
• Quotes from local media coverage following the article and response
• A New York Times article discussing the effect of Obama’s middle name
• My thoughts

A Washington Post article published last Monday (6/30) about my corner of the world – northwest Ohio – has stirred a debate in the local media and an outrage from some residents here.

The piece by Eli Saslow details Findlay, Ohio – nicknamed “Flag City, USA” and about 45 minutes from where I live – where Sen. Barack Obama’s story seems to be twisted:

On the television in his living room, [resident Jim] Peterman has watched enough news and campaign advertisements to hear the truth: Sen. Barack Obama, born in Hawaii, is a Christian family man with a track record of public service. But on the Internet, in his grocery store, at his neighbor's house, at his son's auto shop, Peterman has also absorbed another version of the Democratic candidate's background, one that is entirely false: Barack Obama, born in Africa, is a possibly gay Muslim racist who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
While I know these facts are false, I cannot help but confirm I’ve heard them here in Ohio. It’s disheartening as a journalist and resident to know some people will believe this nonsense, though by no means am I calling those believers stupid, just unfortunately confused and misinformed.

When people on College Street [where Peterman lives] started hearing rumors about Obama – who looked different from other politicians and often talked about change – they easily believed the nasty stories about an outsider.

So far, those who have pushed the truth in Findlay have been rewarded with little that resembles progress. Gerri Kish, a 66-year-old born in Hawaii, read both of Obama's autobiographies. She has close friends, she said, who still refuse to believe her when she swears Obama is Christian. Then she hands them the books, and they refuse to read them. "They just want to believe what they believe," she said. "Nothing gets through to them."
I have seen an Obama ad daily on local TV stations. Now I know why.

Letters to the editor regarding the article were published on the Post’s Web site. Here is a sampling:

Mr. Obama's campaign won't change minds overnight. But it may be surprised to find that towns such as Findlay harbor a few avid supporters. (AMY STULMAN, born in Tiffin, Ohio, and grew up in Findlay)

It is obvious to me that reporter Eli Saslow came to our city with an agenda -- to show that only unenlightened racists who believe wild and untrue stories about Sen. Barack Obama could possibly be against the candidate. Mr. Saslow chose an older portion of town with older residents and then ascribed their supposed views to our entire city. (RON MILLER, from Findlay)

Rather than require a photo ID for voting, maybe we should require an IQ test. (JEANIE McANDREW, from Bethesda)

The man [Obama] is running to be president of the United States. Is there anything more patriotic than that? (PAM FAITH, from Alexandria)


Local media coverage: “The reporter – Eli Saslow – wrote ‘Residents easily believe the nasty stories about an insider’ and implied Findlay was racist.”

Sources quoted in the article were said to be “furious.”

"I think he had this story figured out in his mind on how he was going put it before he even talked to us," Jim Peterman told one news station.

"The Washington Post and the reporter both owe my neighbors and my city a public apology for misleading the rest of the world," College Street Resident Don LeMaster said.

The Findlay Courier contacted Saslow about the reaction.

"That's a major bummer," the paper quoted Saslow, who said he was disappointed by the neighborhood’s reaction.

He said he did not intend for the story to be inflammatory. Instead, he hoped to showcase how interested in the election Findlay residents are — but also how rumors influence people's opinions.

"They're talking about it, people really care there," Saslow said.

He described Findlay as a "retrospective place," and admired its patriotism. He said he visited about 25 houses in Findlay, but settled on Peterman and his neighbors because they were a good "representative place."

"They had some of the best things to say," he said.

He said he did not mean to misrepresent Findlay and is sorry if some think he did.

A New York Times article highlighted some of the same points: that Obama and his supporters are trying to stop the inaccuracies circulating about the presidential hopeful. How? Followers are informally adopting Obama’s middle name Hussein, in order to “show how little meaning ‘Hussein’ really has,” according to one adopter (Ashley Holmes).

“Some Obama supporters say they were moved to action because of what their own friends, neighbors and relatives were saying about their candidate,” the Times reported.

Supporter Emily Nordling told the Times: “People would not listen to what you were saying on the phone or on their doorstep because they thought he [Obama] was Muslim.”

What I take away from these stories is that whether or not voters will admit to believing these or any other rumors, Obama (and even Sen. John McCain in other instances) have a big problem – the facts. This is not the first time and will not be the last – for Obama, McCain or any other public figure.

Please note: journalists do not go into a story with a vendetta planned or “agenda” mapped out. Saslow went to Findlay, known for its patriotism, and asked questions to its residents and found some compelling material, on which he reported in his article (as he said in interviews a day or so after his article was published). While his profile of Findlay may not have been representative of every resident, it did show part of the mood – if you will – of the city. The residents seemed to speak with candor, but they might not have liked the quotes Saslow used or the story he found.


Links:
Find the full Washington Post story
here
Find the Courier’s article
here
Find the New York Times piece
here

Monday, July 07, 2008

What a weekend for tennis!

Post Details:
• Wimbledon provides some great tennis
• Clip Reel from the Championships


The weekend (and even the fortnight of tennis matches) has gotten me pumped up for Aug. 8, when the XXIX Olympiad begins at Beijing. The results of Wimbledon are just as inspiring as the storied games beginning in 32 days – where upsets reign and underdogs soar. Americans Andy Roddick and James Blake were out in the first round. Russian Maria Sharapova, 2004 women’s single champion, found herself out in the second round from a quick victory by fellow Russian Alla Kudryavtseva. Marat Safin became the first Russian man to make it to the semi-finals for the first time ever. Chinese player Zheng Jie, ranked 133 in the world, had to write a letter to plead her way into the Championships, and she was the first person from her country to make it to the semis of a major – and gave Serena Williams a notable run.

Williams went on to battle her sister, Venus, Saturday for the women’s championship. After Venus won her fifth title 7-5, 6-4, the sisters joined together to win their third doubles title 6-2, 6-2. After such a memorable day of tennis, who knew it was just a warm-up for the men’s final?

It was dinnertime before Breakfast at Wimbledon was over yesterday.

The last point was played as darkness fell – at 9:16 p.m. local time. Rafael Nadal won his first Wimbledon title by sending five-time (in a row) defending champion Roger Federer home as runner-up 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7.

Nadal lost to the Swiss Federer in the 2006 Wimbledon final in four sets, and the 2007 final in five. On Sunday, a “changing of the guard” took place on Centre Court, from Roger Federer to Nadal, NBC commentators noted. Now Spain – led by Nadal – has its first male singles Wimbledon title since Manolo Santana took the trophy home in 1966.

History was made at the All England Club.

Yesterday’s match was the longest singles final in Wimbledon’s 131-year history at four hours and 48 minutes. Nadal is also first man to win the French Open and Wimbledon in same year since 1980 (since Bjorn Borg). Another impressive stat noted by the Associated Press: No man since 1927 had come back to win a Wimbledon final after losing the first two sets, and none had overcome a match point to seize victory since 1948. Federer looked poised to break those records but felt just short in his first Wimbledon loss since 2002. But what a match it was and what a superb fortnight of tennis we saw. Here’s hoping my favorite sport continues its surprises.

During a rain delay Sunday evening, NBC Sports aired a very well-done clip reel (this is something to look forward to at Beijing):


Links:
NYT Article on Men’s Final
NBC Sports.com
Wimbledon.org

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A missing masthead?

Post details:
• Did a newspaper forget to include its masthead Wednesday?
• How important are mastheads?
• Have a good Fourth of July!


Yesterday’s (7/2) front page of The Bakersfield Californian was missing a very important element above the fold. Or, one can ask, was it even the Californian?

Yes, that’s right – it looks like the page designer Monday night forgot to include the paper’s Old English styled masthead. Maybe the designer could not decide on a color to match the “Hancock” photo, so that person chose invisible.

Normally I disregard odd front pages I find on Newseum and attribute it to an error in uploading or some other type of malfunction. (Some days, a Newseum front page browser can find a full page ad or the sports page instead of that paper’s A1.)

After receiving an e-mail from a friend and colleague interning there this summer, I figure the masthead really was missing. (By the way, I would like to congratulate my friend for TWO – count them, one, and two – bylines on the front page Wednesday! Thus far this summer, he’s had about seven or eight stories on the front page. Another A1 byline is coming tomorrow, too!)

If the masthead really was missing from Wednesday’s front page, it is not the end of the world for the Californian, which has a unique style all its own – one of only a few in the United States that can be easily recognized without its masthead.

Think about that last statement for a second. A news design blog awhile ago posted a test in which it removed mastheads from various front pages. To my surprise, a number of papers appeared closely similar, and only a few – such as The New York Times and USA Today – stood out for their unique styles.

So from the Californian’s possible mishap yesterday let’s take the following lesson: developing a unique, recognizable style for your newspaper is an absolute necessity – particularly from a marketing perspective. Look at the recently launched (last month) redesign of the Orlando Sentinel. While the design maybe not be as colorful as the Californian and a little dark for my tastes, the designers are developing stronger brand recognition. Good for them for developing an independent style. (Sorry for the corniness.)

Tomorrow, let’s celebrate America’s birthday – and try to include those mastheads, maybe embedded with Old Glory or some fireworks.

Happy Birthday, America!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A dog you need to see...

It comes around once a year... the world's ugliest dog.

So on this Wednesday, here's something to cheer you up:

Thanks to the Tampa Bay Times front page on Monday. (And click on the photo for the larger picture of Gus. Beware.)

Enjoy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Opinion: Shame on you AP

Post Details:
• James reacts to an AP article about the newspaper industry

The Associated Press, known for its reporting around the world and supplying the news media with succinct articles, compelling photographs, graphics and multimedia, was a little too succinct (maybe even a little callous) in one of its articles published last week.

The article discussed the Chicago Tribune and its efforts to redesign and create a smaller paper beginning in mid-September continue to shoot itself in the foot.

Here is the article:

Chicago Tribune to use Saturday paper to try ideas
Associated Press
12:08 PM CDT, June 20, 2008

CHICAGO - The Chicago Tribune will be using its Saturday editions to test new ideas as it prepares for a smaller, redesigned newspaper starting in mid-September.

All Tribune Company newspapers are shrinking their news sections and trimming pages as part of a cost-saving plan announced earlier this month.

Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski discussed the coming changes in a staff memo Thursday but didn't say how many newsroom jobs will be cut. She told the staff that internal committees will recommend staffing levels within 60 days as they also evaluate what content to keep.

Tribune Company CEO Sam Zell ordered the cuts as part of efforts to pay off a heavy debt load at a time when the newspaper industry is in steep decline.

I will discuss the Tribune situation in another post, but I am upset at the AP for summing up the woes of the newspaper industry by saying it is “in STEEP DECLINE.” Sure, I know the AP writer meant something like “circulations, ad revenue and net income are in steep decline throughout the newspaper industry.” Why not just make a sweeping, misleading statement that the entire industry in general is in STEEP DECLINE? Save yourself some seven words!

I would like everyone to know the newspaper industry is NOT (!!) in decline, one definition of which is (by Dictionary.com) “a failing or gradual loss, as in strength, character, power, or value.” While the newspaper industry may be struggling (unarguably financially) to adapt to a world where “breaking news” and the Internet reign, it is NOT waning in value. Newspaper companies such as The New York Times continue to outshine other sources of news – even the AP at times.

I just wanted to express my disgust at such a sweeping statement and refute what may be the general notion that the newspaper industry is dead. And as for the AP for publishing such an article, I have to say, “Shame on you!”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Recent Star cuts represent growing trend

Post details:
• Kansas City Star announced job cuts
• Graphic designer creates Google Map to track cuts


On Tuesday’s front page (6/17), the Kansas City Star staffer Dan Margolies wrote the Missouri-based newspaper is cutting 120 jobs (about 10 percent of its work force) – about 20 to 22 positions are expected to be eliminated in the newsroom.

“These cuts are part of the way we must respond as we strategically realign our company for success in this digital age,” said Star Publisher Mark Zieman, who also called the move “a painful but necessary step,” in a memo to employees Monday.

Zieman cited reductions in revenue because of increased competition and the current economic downturn as reasons for the cut.

The Star is “struggling to replace lost print advertising revenue quickly enough with new online revenue,” the article stated. (Having one of the worst designed newspaper Web sites in the country and one that is hard to navigate, I can see why the Star is having problems online.)

Other facts in the story:
  • The cuts are part of the Star’s parent company’s elimination of 1,400 positions companywide:
    o The Star’s parent, The McClatchy Co. of Sacramento, Calif., said the companywide cuts, amounting to a 10 percent reduction of its total work force, are expected to save the company $70 million annually.
    o It said in a statement that it needed to move more aggressively now.
    o McClatchy, the nation’s third-largest newspaper company, reduced its work force by 13 percent between the end of 2006 and April 2008.
  • The layoffs are biggest newspaper-wide staff reduction at the Star since mid-2001, when it announced plans to cut 125 positions, or 6.7 percent of its then-work force of 1,869 employees. Late last year, the Star announced a voluntary severance program, which 24 employees accepted.

In announcing the layoffs, McClatchy joins other major newspaper chains that have announced similar staff reductions in recent months.


Hearing about all of the newspaper cuts can drive one crazy. To get a better picture of all of the announced cuts, Erica Smith, a journalist and multimedia designer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, started a project last year to follow the cuts visually. On her Web site, http://graphicdesignr.net/papercuts, Smith plugs in her collected data of U.S. newspaper layoff announcements into a Google Map. For June to December 2007, she noted 2,185+ paper cuts. Thus far in 2008, she has documented 4,434+ cuts.

Story of our lives, isn’t it? As a journalism student graduating next May, it is definitely discouraging – to say the least – to see such rapid change and job cuts in an industry in which I will soon be trying to get a job.


Find the full article about the Star here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Something to think about

Post details:
• Global gas Graphic in Virginian-Pilot
• Europeans pay a LOT more at the pump because of taxes


On Tuesday’s front page (6/10), The Virginian-Pilot published an enlightening graphic about gas prices around the world, based on Associated Press statistics from May 30. The AP article written by Angela Charlton in Paris featured the stats and discussed the main reasons for the vast differences: taxes and subsidies.

Surprisingly, the price at the pump varies greatly— “from Venezuela, where gas is cheaper than water [at 12 cents!], to Turkey, where a full tank can cost more than a domestic plane ticket [at $11.29!!],” stated the article.

Venezuela and China have no tax on gasoline; and there may be extremely high taxes in Europe and Japan but those prices do not take consumers on a roller coaster as much so as we have seen in the United States. While the prices there are still high and painful, the strong euro is helping somewhat, along with the fact that less expensive mass transit is more widespread – something I benefited from while abroad in France last fall.

"The pain of a rise in prices is much less in Europe, because we may be paying a lot more here, but the rise in a percentage sense is a lot smaller," Julius Walker, oil analyst at the Paris-based International Energy Agency, told the AP.

Some other stats from the AP article:
There are now 887 million vehicles in the world, up from 553 million vehicles just 15 years ago, and on track to nearly double to a billion by 2012, according to London-based consultancy Global Insight.

Something to chew over: the U.S. may not have the highest gas prices in the world, but it’s still hard to swallow.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rethinking Downtown Toledo

Post Details:
• Life in Downtown Toledo far from extinction
• New arena, opening fall 2009, design unveiled


2002 was a good year for my hometown, Toledo, Ohio. It was the year the new downtown ballpark –Fifth Third Field, home of the Toledo Mud Hens, our minor league baseball team – opened to much buzz and excitement. I was most excited, however, about the investment being made in a beautiful part of town, along the Maumee River downtown. What had seemed like a downward spiral to extinction for non-business-related events downtown was looking to spiral back up – at least to some extent.

Last summer, I worked downtown at the Toledo Free Press, a stone’s throw away from the stadium. At lunch, I would either walk down to the river to eat lunch with colleagues or find a nice eatery to satisfy my hunger. Downtown was bustling with people at lunch, but in the evenings or on the weekends, it was deader than dead – a ghost town just waiting for a new day.

The exception: when there are baseball evening games, like all this week; or an event at the convention center, such as a Carrie Underwood concert Tuesday night.

Beginning late next year, there should be even more exceptions, when the new arena opens down the street from the convention center and two blocks away from the stadium.


The design of the $105 million arena was debuted last week. The red brick exterior emulates a similar look to Fifth Third Field. Outside, there is a sculpture honoring Toledo jazz legend Art Tatum. The façade features an ivy-covered “green” wall that will help cool the building. The building price is higher than the originally projected price because of added features, including making it an eco-friendly facility, something county commissioners told local media they wanted in order to “do it right” and make the best arena possible.

Come fall 2009, we’ll see just how nice this new addition to downtown is and if the area can continue its spiral upward.


Links:
More images -
Arenaplans.pdf
Arena Web site

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rethink Overload

Post details:
• A look at the new "Early Show" graphics

CBS News has been trying to find its voice. Since Katie Couric debuted as the anchor and managing editor of the “Evening News” in September of 2006, the news division’s flagship program has struggled for ratings even hitting rock bottom with record low numbers towards the end of last month (May 2008), according to TVNewser. What began as a refreshing take of the news – meant, I suppose for a younger audience – changed into a somewhat lackluster carbon copy of its fellow evening newscasts – meant and mainly watched by a much older demographic.

I note that this twentysomething writing this blog is a huge fan of Ms. Couric and of the newscast – including the graphics package, set and music composed by Academy Award winner James Horner.

But today I’m not writing to focus on the “Evening News.” Instead, I want to look at another CBS News program: “The Early Show.”

The show is a youngling compared to NBC’s “The Today Show” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Early” premiered Nov. 1, 1999 – NBC, Jan. 14, 1952, and ABC, Nov. 3, 1975 – and is relatively still trying to find its voice.


On Monday (6/10), a new graphics package debuted, showing an investment by CBS into its morning news entity. Since I’m interested in news graphics, I have a brief history (see photo): The first logo for “Early” that I can remember was used from fall 2002 until Oct. 27, 2006. The soft logo and graphics set were replaced by a more hard-hitting look more closely resembling the newly debuted “Evening News.” I was not a fan of this period of graphics. Then at the beginning of this year, the show was rejuvenated with a nicer set and a three-dimensional, shinny logo which spun and swooped around. While an impressive logo, lower thirds were mainly static and a personal touch was missing from the graphics package, while the set was very nice and modernly designed. The new logo and open, along with lower thirds, are quite impressive. I particularly enjoy the half sun/CBS Eye logo over the title. The theme colors are vibrant and closely resemble (funny, not the “Evening News”) NBC and ABC – with used or reds and oranges; though the main logos are slightly different. The theme music was a decent upgrade from before, with hints of resemblance to James Horner’s theme. However, I would like to see anchor mugs in the open, but the anchor format is a little different than over at NBC or ABC, and there is a growing trend against longer introductions and TV titles longer than five seconds.

For all of these reasons, along with a plethora of executive producer and anchor changes, I titled this post “Rethink Overload,” for CBS is in this mode currently.

But maybe all of the changes are working…

For the 2007-2008 TV season, “Early” may have been a distant third with a 2.89 million total viewer average (compared with “Today” and “GMA” at 5.69 million and 4.76 million, respectively), but the CBS show grew the most of the three network morning shows, according to TVNewser.

With that, I wish CBS News luck. And I hope the current format of “The Early Show” will stick around for more than six months. If not, I’ll have to revisit the topic… and who wants that? :-)


Update:

I found a clip of the first 10 minutes of Monday's "Early" HERE.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A case of déjà vu?

Post details:
• A look at the similarities of newspaper design

Looking through front pages on Newseum yesterday (6/3), I found myself with a case of déjà vu? Or was it?

Starting alphabetically, I thought the Bakersfield Californian chose a great Associated Press photo of Hillary Rodham Clinton taken Monday by Elise Amendola in Sioux Falls, S.D., when Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., was coming from her campaign plane. The paper’s designer utilized great treatment of the photo putting text on top (“Will she stay or go?”).
Continuing my perusal of Newseum, I found the San Jose Mercury News went with an almost identical photo (the second in the series by Amendola) with similar treatment. This time the text was “Is this the end?” This was not the first time similar photos and treatments have been used on the same day’s front pages. Thus, I moved on.

Then I came across the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which used the same photo as the Mercury News, along with very similar text (“Is it over?”).

My reaction: great designers think alike. If you have a great photo, use it. The two photos were made for putting text on.

So déjà vu? Maybe not. It is more like well-designed newspapers thinking alike.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Online document creation in a Flash

Post details:
• Adobe introduces Acrobat.com
• A review of the features

Microsoft and Google, watch out for Adobe.

On Monday (6/2), Adobe released the public beta of Acrobat.com, a product for online document creation and sharing. Think Google Docs, but by Adobe and all in its powerhouse software Flash.

The new Web site allows users to create simple documents and collaborate with other users (using Buzzword) and when you are finished, you can export the file as a PDF, Word document, among other file types. With Share, you can upload up to 5.12 gigs of files, share the files with others and create PDFs. ConnectNow, the third part of the semi-disconnected set of offerings, allows users to communicate multifariously via different "Pods": chat, Web cam, file view, white board, screen sharing and note sharing - all at one URL. You can even use microphones to create a true conference. And remember, this is all done in Flash. No software required (except Flash, that is) and only one member of the group needs to be registered with Acrobat.com.

Create an account and you're off flying.

This year Adobe seems to be on fire online. With its online version of PhotoShop and its somewhat unknown media player, Adobe TV, the San Jose-based company is really pushing its online features.

After some shorts trials, Adobe's new online software offerings are impressive for what they do (the ease of networking especially), but I do not see them replacing desktop software anytime soon. And why would software companies want them to? These online ventures are free – for now – for the consumer.

Adobe's new online word processing software is taking on Google Docs and Microsoft Office Live Workspace to name a few of the top offerings. One of Adobe's issues with its new offering is that it is not in connection with some existing e-mail account (think Gmail, here), though registration is very simple and you can begin working in about a minute. Google Docs are connect with a Google account so it's one-stop shopping. Plus, with Microsoft's Office Live I would be sharing documents I created in Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint so the idea is that it would be easier. Adobe just needs to prove itself.

But if the software is good, users will come.

Links:
Acrobat.com Information

Monday, June 02, 2008

A sign of the Times

Post details:
• Washington Times to stop printing Saturday edition
• Redesign premieres today
• Sunday Times makeover
• Web site overhaul


On its front page, The Washington Times announced Friday (May 30) that it would no longer publish a print version of its Saturday edition. Instead, subscribers will receive the electronic edition for free.

Blame it on poor circulation.

Executive editor John Solomon told the Associated Press that Saturday had the lowest circulation of the week.

But again, this is not surprising. Last summer, Tom Pounds, publisher of the Toledo Free Press told me that the Saturday and Tuesday editions of the daily paper were basically worthless. Think about the last time you actually read a Saturday edition of a paper – or even subscribed to one. One of my family members subscribes to the local paper and receives the Thursday, Friday and Sunday editions. I thought it was odd, but it makes sense.

This is not, however, the only change for the D.C. daily. Beginning today, the Times debuts its redesigned paper, which features blue “News Tabs” as eyebrows.


They are “one of the biggest innovations, and readers told us during focus groups they loved this new navigation tool,” the Times says on its site. “The tabs sit atop most stories and include a one- or two-word description of the topic, person, place or event that is at the heart of the story. At the beginning, these tabs act as a navigational tool to quickly help you to identify the subject of the story, even before you get to the headline.” This is my favorite new feature. They pop off the page and make navigating stories easier.

While today’s (Monday) redesign may not look too significant, another change is coming Sunday. We’ll have to wait for Sunday to see how significant it will be, but here is a preview: “The Washington Times' new Sunday edition will be a unique product in the newspaper industry. A tabloid news-and-features magazine will be wrapped around a traditional broadsheet with the latest news,” the site says.

And that brings me to my final point. The Times launched an incredible new Web site (http://www.washingtontimes.com/) around Friday after testing a prototype beta site which came online last Monday (5/26).
The “News Cube” on the homepage is the best feature, hands down. It allows the Web surfer to three-dimensionally spin the cub to select different top stories.
In general, the new site frees the space of clutter and makes the experience of reading the new enjoyable – from a design perspective especially. Compare the WT site to one of the worst – I think – newspaper sites out there: http://www.kansascity.com/ for the Kansas City Star. There’s no organization and if I were a regular visitor, I would have constant migraines.

Thank goodness newspapers are finally realizing Web sites, a.k.a. online editions of the newspaper, are significantly important. No longer can the media just post the printed story and a photo. But that’s another post topic all together.

That’ll do it for my first post. If you know of any awful newspaper sites, comment and share it so we can all be appalled together.

Links:
Read about all of the design changes here.
Here is a video which shows off the Cube:

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Welcome to ‘Rethink.’

As promised, this Web log – http://jmolnar.blogspot.com – is back with fervor. It all begins Monday, June 2, 2008. In each post I’ll be covering the media and other news items I see in regards to the idea of “rethinking” traditional media or past ideas. I will also highlight designs in newspapers, magazines and other media outlets. I cannot promise that every post will contain excellent journalistic ideas or reporting (for example, there may be a few Harry Potter posts now and again), but I will try to stick to this blog’s topic.

If you have any suggestions or news items you want to share with me, comment on my latest post. What I want to create here is a forum about rethinking – you’ll see this word a lot – the way our society does business, the way news is presented, and anything else you can think of.

As you can see, the new design is in place and ready for Monday. Let’s begin this journey, shall we?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Renewed Interest in Blogging

This blog was started – I admit – for the simple sake of blogging. However, it became more than just a Web log. Some events I saw happen or experienced seemed worth sharing, but I never felt there was a true message of the blog.

The first post was February 07, 2005, when I spoke about the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” A few months later I discussed a neighbor who made me smile. Since 2005, I never posted regularly, just whenever I felt compelled to share my thoughts.

Starting in June, this blog will be changed. Into what exactly? I have yet to figure that out, but it will focus more and more on thoughts I read about in the media and the media in general. I would like to take a look at journalism design – an interest of mine – and interesting news items or Web sites I find.

If you – the reader of this blog – have any suggestions, I’m all ears.
See you in June :) ///////////

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Where in the World

One of my favorite TV news segments is back starting Monday. It's "Where is the World is Matt Lauer?" The clue for Monday: "We'll travel great distances in almost no time and let a fair wind take us to a place where the people look in their prime, but the prime rate won't bust the bank." I'm looking forward to seeing where he going and learning about each culture.