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.

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:

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, 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.

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

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):

NYT Article on Men’s Final

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!