The NYT knows not what they do

The New York Times is catching flack for last weekend’s coverage of the Catholic Church’s Easter Mass.  The passage at issue:

Easter is the celebration of the resurrection into heaven of Jesus, three days after he was crucified, the premise for the Christian belief in an everlasting life. 

The Times caught the mistake later and issued a correction, noting that Easter celebrates Jesus rising from the tomb but not his ascension into heaven.  Newsbusters calls the error “mortifying,” but it’s more revealing about the paper itself.

If you don’t understand the faith, it’s a matter of semantics.  Jesus came back after being crucified, and went to heaven – so being “resurrected into heaven” may seem like an accurate shorthand description to the reporter and copy editors responsible for the gaffe.  Sure, it’s wrong, but understandable for the ill-informed on the topic.

It’s probably not a good idea to get your religious information from the New York Times, anyway.  You don’t get your news at church, after all.

Be vewy quiet; the FCC is hunting wabbit ears

Over the weekend, Outside the Beltway had an excellent critique of a New York Times op-ed from Helen Rubenstein, who was suddenly upset that she couldn’t siphon internet from her neighbors.  Rubenstein is a Brooklyn college professor (thankfully of writing and not ethics), and apparently feels that she should get a service for free that other suckers pay hundreds each year for; OTB rightly calls her out for her self-centered attitude.

Buried in her complaint letter to no one in particular, though, is a hint that his is more than simply an op-ed from a spoiled academic who demands everything for free:

In an ideal world, the Internet would be universally available to anyone able to receive it. Promisingly, the Federal Communications Commission in September announced that it would open up unused analog airwaves for high-speed public wireless use, which could lead to gratis hotspots spreading across cities and through many rural areas.

In 2011, there may be similar announcements to the one Rubenstein references.  The Obama FCC makes no secret that they like the idea of pushing broadcasters off the airwaves to make sure there’s more room for the internet.  Their vision of the future would keep traditional TV stations on cable, but would limit their ability to broadcast over the air.  (If you don’t use rabbit ears, you might not notice; if you do use rabbit ears, it would be time to call Comcast.)  Wireless internet providers and cable companies would win; traditional over-the-air broadcasters would lose.

The sales pitch to the consumers will likely be similar in tone to Rubenstein’s op-ed: Wouldn’t you love for the internet to be everywhere, like TV is now?

Notably, the FCC’s goal of replacing over-the-air TV signals with internet signals isn’t due to a lack of available bandwidth, but because the segments used by television is the prime segment of the broadcast spectrum (or, as a former FCC official once described it to me, the broadcasting equivalent of “beachfront property”).

This is a Washington, D.C. policy battle where a five-member panel will determine winners and losers.  Voters can expect both sides trying to drag them in – and whether or not she was recruited by the proponents of re-allocation to pen her op-ed last week, Professor Rubenstein has kicked off the fun.

(Disclosure: I previously worked at a public affairs firm that represented the National Association of Broadcasters – who, as you might expect, were and are very concerned about this issue.  I don’t work for that firm anymore and NAB is not a current client. Sure, I sympathize with them… but they haven’t paid me to do so.)

Paul Krugman is a regular Alfred Einstein

If you are an avid watcher of the History Channel’s series The Universe (as I am), you may have seen the episode that discusses an interesting paradox: While Einstein’s theories pointed to an expanding universe, Einstein himself believed that the universe was in a “steady state” – that there was no Big Bang, and thus the universe had always been – and always would be – the same size.  Einstein refused to believe the facts which his own work put in front of his eyes.

I thought about that again this week when I read Paul Krugman’s opinion piece complaining about profitable Wall Street companies – not because they are profitable, but because their profits are drawn from what he calls socially destructive behaviors.  As an example, he points out that Goldman-Sachs engages in high-speed trading that uses technology available to large brokerage firms that small brokerage firms may not have access to.  Krugman likens it to insider trading because these firms take advantage of a faster flow of information and analysis of trends; it’s a risky move, he says, and it sucks money out of the economy that could go to more responsible players.

Risky behaviors lead to higher profits, but government backstops take away the risk without limiting the reward.  In another recent column, Krugman grouses about Wall Street profiting from bailouts – yet, in the same column, argues that banking rescues are necessary.  When children reach out to touch a hot stove, they get burned and are more cautious in the future; Krugman seems to be the type of parent who would keep a toddler out of the kitchen altogether but then wonder the child is so fearless and reckless around a neighbor’s range.

Krugman is obviously smart – they don’t publish “Winning a Nobel Prize for Dummies” – but he’s a smart columnist, not an economic policymaker.

(By the way, before you correct me on the title, go back and watch Kingpin again…)

All the news that’s fit to crib

Maureen Dowd lifting language from a blog post for use in her column is proof that, as it has been for decades, the New York Times is the defining example of print journalism in America.  After all, this news comes less than two weeks after reporters at various papers were exposed for relying too heavily on Wikipedia to write obituaries for composer Maurice Jarre.   With the mainstream media becomes reliant on digital sources, what’s to stop the media consumer from doing the same?

Consider a short, oversimplified summary of the development of our modern media:

Media evolved as a way to let us know what the most important events of they day are; the people who owned the printing press would learn as much as they could and summarize it for the masses.  Then, to get as much information as possible, the press owners hired reporters who cultivated sources, from whom they collected information and distilled the most important parts – which was, again, summarized for the masses.

In this model, the journalist is an extremely important link in the chain of information.  There’s far too much news out there tucked away in the nooks and crannies of politics, government, sports teams, companies, movie studios, or anything other institution for the average citizen to find it all on his or her own.  Unfortunately for the journalist, this model is no longer the case.

Today, most reporters get their news from RSS feeds.  I make this point often whenever I’m asked to talk about either public relations or building a digital strategy for an organization (since nowadays, the two really go hand-in-hand).  Therefore, if you are in PR – in other words, if you want to be a reporter’s source – you have to make sure your organization distributes information over RSS feeds.  In essence, RSS feeds are the new “sources.”

And since you can go around the web signing up for just about any RSS feed you want, you have access to those sources as well.  And instead of reading about President Obama’s next Supreme Court nominee in your local paper, you can instantly see what The National Review, Daily Kos, the Huffington Post, Human Events, and a host of other media outlets from all over the political spectrum have to say about him.

All of this makes the reporter or the columnist much less useful than he or she used to be – especially when he or she is sloppy and cribs almost directly from his or her source.

Of course, this isn’t the end of journalism – the information has to come from somewhere, after all.  But it does mean that a journalist has to work harder and report information that his or her readers wouldn’t be able to find otherwise.  Like many other industries, the media must find new ways to generate value.

All the news that’s fit to click

I wouldn’t have even noticed a difference in the New York Times‘s online layout this morning if it hadn’t been for Mashable calling attention to the new “Extra” layout. In addition to publishing their own stories, the Times links to related stories published by other news outlets and blogs.

This isn’t groundbreaking – other news sites have used the “aggregator” strategy for years. But by listing other news outlets, the Times embraces its role as a true online news source, focusing more on providing relevant information than on feeding users an exclusive diet of Times-generated content. It’s another example of how, in the modern media environment, control and influence are not necessarily synonymous: by giving putting other news sources at your fingertips, the Times paradoxically makes its own site a more valuable news source.

With old-school newspaper circulation failing, America’s most iconic newspaper is showing that old dogs can learn new tricks.

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