Friday, March 31, 2006

A silent exercise in absurdity OR a concerto in passive aggressive

No explanation necessary

Well maybe just a little.

On the left is the before and hench (logic would follow) on the right the after.

A while back, I came into the Spartan Daily to find my computer thethered with an anti-theft device... wait for it... to a table leg of a very light table. Yes, folks this is the measure of protection my computer waranted, and just in the nick of time no less, a day later and some weak and lazy thief could have walked off with the unit.

Seeing this, I decided I was really going to hit the point home. I removed the cord from the table leg and tacked it on the wall. Absurd -- you bet. Funny -- heck yeah! Annoying to the brass -- the best part!

Plus now I can walk the computer anytime I want. Read your manual folks, the iMac needs to be taken for walk every week.

Old skooler, Ceppos speaks of the future of media

Former Executive Editor of the San Jose Mercury News, Jerry Ceppos spoke to San Jose State University students in a talk entitled “The future of mass media in a changing economic and technological environment,” a discussion about the future of the news and how people get the news.

Ceppos spoke to a nearly packed audience, which according to he Spartan Daily numbered in the vicinity of 200, and the audience was very responsive.

I attended his presentation and much of what he was saying agreed with me. As the current online editor of the Spartan Daily I knew that what he was saying is exactly where we need to be headed.

Ceppos introduced the state of newspapers with some startling figures: between 1994 to 2004 newspaper circulation has gone down eight percent and 4.7 million papers have disappeared. Readership has fallen as well, 39 percent among 18 to 34 year-olds and 70 percent among 65+ year-olds. The bread and butter of a newspaper, ad revenue and classified listing, has also been on a steady decline.

As this tread continues, it doesn’t look good for the future, but Ceppos points to the web as a new medium for newspapers to exploit, and if history has taught us anything, it’s that everything changes and innovation fuels the industry. When “the wire” was introduced, it changed the news and the technology made it possible to give the people news faster. When advertisers became a viable revenue source, newspapers started to become more journalistic. Meaning that the removal of the reliance of political favor for production costs paved the way for the watch dog role and paid journalist. When magazines started using color, newspapers quickly realized that this was the sign of the times and it was time to change or be left behind.

While print numbers are falling, the numbers on the web are promising: Web revenue is up 54.5 percent in one year. And more people are accessing the web every year, from 18 percent in 1997 to 54.7 percent in 2003.

Ceppos then asked how many of us read a newspaper, and out of our nearly packed room of Journalism majors, only half of the attendees raised their hand as readers. Immediately he posed this question, “how can we save newspapers,” he said.

The crowd offered up various suggestions and a trend emerged. Many of the ones offering up suggestions were centering their ideas around technology and making use of the web.

The ideas ranged from the simple: RSS feeds to personalized news according to reader interests. To the bold, such as creating a new newspaper targeted at a younger audience and run by a younger audience.

Everything being suggested I jotted down. As the online editor, I was using the opportunity of hearing what students wanted as my own personal focus group.

In brief, here’s a few points the group brought up along with some of my remarks in parentheses:
  • Outreach programs that require sixth though eleventh graders to read the newspaper. The aim being to get them in the habit of being informed and realize just how important it is.
  • Add new sections to draw in younger readers, such as the recent success of a videogame section on Saturdays. (I suggested this to the Mercury News in 2001, but I’m not bitter.)
  • Create a stronger web presence and promote it so people are aware of it. (Promote it, what a concept!)
  • Aim for a younger audience. (Perhaps by hiring younger people to management positions?)
  • Update news online as it happens, throw on pictures and footage as it comes in.
  • Offer Podcasts. (How about a digest of the news for people on the go?)
  • Change the name, don’t call it a newspaper.
  • Edgier news. (Perhaps a team of columnist and writers in a more magazine style section? I believe the San Francisco Chronicle has proven this can work with SFGate.)
  • Re-design the paper to be more graphic. (Anything that mean more work for photojournalist is fine with me!)
  • Print in foreign languages.
In essence, the point was to adapt to the times and to use the technology available to your advantage. A major paradigm shift for our industry, which often gets comfortable and stuck in its ways.

As a prime example for how the media can use the web to its advantage, Ceppos brought up the Muslim cartoon controversy. Many papers were having trouble trying to figure out how to deal with talking about the cartoon and weather they should reprint it for readers. Some did reprint it and some did not for fear of offending others. What as far as anyone in the room was not able to cite an example of was a newspaper using the web to publish the cartoon. This scenario makes it possible to only let those people who want to see the cartoon see it and at the same time avoids any controversy in the print version. In print a paper would only use words to describe the cartoon and a blurb would be placed in the article to go to the website of the paper to see the cartoon. Makes sense to me.

After all the tech talk, Ceppos was careful to also make another very important point. It wasn’t all about the delivery or the new ways of making news, Ceppos kept it simple and went back the foundation. He summed up his ideas in two rules: write better and use the technology out there. Yet again he re-iterated his commitment to the web.

“If I was exec right now, I’d devote half my staff to online,” Ceppos said. Just look at the numbers, it makes sense to go more online since that’s where the readers are. If I can see it and Ceppos can see it, why isn’t it happening?

As of now the San Jose Mercury News has two full time online staffers and 250 staffers for the print edition. “Does that make any sense? No,” said Ceppos, “I would take 100 people and try to make the best online website in the world… maybe even charge for it.” That sounds like a viable future to me.

Overall I enjoyed Ceppos presentation, even if it seemed more of a back and forth rather than a structured presentation. I’ve heard many people disagree with his style, some saying they felt exploited. Some have said he did not really present anything new or actually talk about the subject of his talk’s title. Some have expressed that it seemed like he had nothing to say and all the ideas were coming from the audience.

It is true that he did ask and take a lot from the audience, with the majority of his time devoted to quarrying us for ideas that he would write on the white board. It may seem like this is all he was doing, but that’s not a very accurate conclusion.

Ceppos was asking us for ideas, but he was also commenting on those ideas, discussing those ideas, and reflecting on his newspaper past and discussing how what we are suggesting would fit into the future of media and how it can be used in newspapers. More importantly he discussed how all the things we were suggesting are doable and then tried to explain why it is not being done.

I liked his approach. I personally don’t like the dry behind the podium one-sided “talk at you” speakers that come through SJSU every week, and during my time as a photographer on the Spartan Daily I covered more than my share of these. Ceppos tried to get the crowd actively involved with the discussion and that is perfectly in keeping with the ideas he was trying to get across.

The future of media and newspapers is like Ceppos speech. An interactive, “talk with you” ever-evolving, changing on the fly according you your feedback, revolutionary in delivery, and unique take on a classic traditional style.

I have a feeling that the loose nature of his discussion is a product of his environment. It makes perfect sense to ask journalism majors what they think is the future of mass media. I’d be interested in attending his public lectures on March 13 and March 30, to see how he approaches the subject with a non-journalistic audience. It stands to reason that the public presentations would not be run the same way.

*Not enough Ceppos for you? Read all about Ceppos' Critique of the Spartan Daily.

"Just" a bit more radio around a Phantom Planet

More Radiohead goodness (last time!). This time, I've come across a video for Radiohead's "Just," only it's a cover by another favorite of mine, Phantom Planet.

I shouldn't even have to say anything. Go now! But make sure you come back.

*56K warning: It may take a moment to load, be patient.
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The art of communication

I ran across an interesting website today.

Rockstar, the publisher of the infamous Grand Theft Auto" series, has announced the winners of Rockstar Games Upload IV.
"Now in '06, we are pleased to present the cream of this year's edition of our long running digital media competition - the very best creative works, as deemed by Rockstar Games, our esteemed judging panel of industry professionals, and our category sponsors, Independent Film Channel, XLR8R Magazine, Flaunt Magazine and Design Is Kinky."
This year Rockstar received a record number of entries and the showcased crop is quite notable. Of interest to photographers would be the Best Multimedia Design section.

This year Rockstar received a record number of entries and the showcased crop is quite notable. Of interest to photographers would be the Best Multimedia Design section.

Runner-up "Streams of Thought" by Brendan Bruce presents the mundane everyday in an impressive package. His incorortation of text and animation along with photographs is something worth checking out. He's not a photographer, but the pint is, presentation is just as much a wow factor as actual pictures. You wouldn't send out a portfolio without a neat CD and folder would you?

Also noteworthy are Best Short-Subject Films, "You Drive" by Jason Koxvold and "Oedipus" by Jason Wishnow. "You Drive" is a study light and mood that also comes with a nice song and for the film inclined there's some nifty editing worth checking out. "Oedipus" is the original tradedy re-told with stop motion, and stop motion as we know is pure photography (it also blew me away on the auderal side).

What's this have to do with photography? Well aside from examining the effectiveness of communication in the new media and the inheriant visual nature of photography and trying to deduce its place in said media, strictly speaking not much. But the double meaning this blog beyond SLR is "Surrender Laughter Regularly."

So click, go forth, and surrender!

I've spent nearly two hours on runner-up Ollie Rankin's Multimedia Design project "Ten or Eleven" entry alone, and my custom concoction is paying behind this window as I type this. Word to the wise, empty your bladder now, you'll be mixing tunes and exploring for hours.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Researching for the interview

Recently I was given an assignment to examine the techniques employed by interviewers and how they conduct an effective exchange.

I decided to listen to “The Journalist Who Wouldn't Write Straight,” which can be found at NPR online.

The interview is with Marc Weingarten, the author of “The Gang That Wouldn't Write Straight,” a book that explores the journalistic style developed by the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, and Truman Capote. A style which threw out the conventional norms and celebrated the journalist as part of the story.

The interview begins with a very smart question. It’s related to Capote’s novel that inspired the recent film, a topic that is introduced before the interview begins and a topic that is very timely and familiar at the moment. The interviewer correctly assumes that this is an easy question that will help the interviewee and the listeners get deeper into the topic of discussion.

The interviewer knew a bit about the subject matter and introduced it nicely before delving into the bigger discussion. During the interview, the interviewer drops bits of knowledge and it comes across that they have done much research in preparation. They don’t just ask the interviewee for more information, but engages him in an actual discussion. She references parts of the book, which gives the impression that she has read it and jotted down some notes. She also references things outside the book, such as the history of the time and of the subject, which must mean that some considerable research and preparation went into the interview.

After a bit on Capote, the interviewee steers the discussion towards other bits of “New Journalism,” an approach described as “novelistic” by the interviewer. I get the impression that the interviewer felt that enough time had been spent on dipping into the topic with Capote and now it was time to jump into the deep end with the larger topic.

Weingarten also refences blogs in the piece. In summery: we write too hastily and could use editors to polish our work. There’s a lot to be said for that. (An aside from myself, I really hate the term “blog.” It doesn’t even mean anything! Short for weblog you say? What’s a weblog, it’s nothing as well. We have a shortened term for a term that makes no sense to begin with. For all intensive purposes, SLR is my column. It’s a column, quit trying to be hip. Rant over.)

Towards the end of the interview the interviewer asks some questions about the state of journalism and what she thinks is going wrong and expresses some concerns. Only a person familiar with the industry and the state of journalism would be knowledgeable enough to ask these questions, and once again it becomes apparent how important research is. Not only to ask good questions and be knowledgeable, but I also realized that being informed will help you get your interviewee comfortable. The person being interviewed will feel like they are not wasting their time and also will be more at ease in a conversation with you, instead of a lecture.

It may be our jobs as journalist to inform the public, but it is also our job to learn a subject well enough that we can ask the right questions when we talk to the real experts.

Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks passed away. He's one of the guys I looked up to, and he's one of the photographers and filmmakers I aspired to follow in the steps of.

I'm not going to try and say much more of anything here, rather I'll just share of the pictures that have resonated with me.

Harlem, LIFE November 1, 1948
LIFE, May 31, 1963, accompanied by Parks's essay "What Their Cry Means to Me—A Negro's Own Evaluation."

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Raw tracks for your mixing pleasure, sign of things to come?

It doesn't have much to do with photojournalism, but I'm a sucker for this stuff. A DJ to an audience of none, but I rock my headphones from time to time with my own homemade mixes and samples.

Fort Minor, by way off a partnership between its label Warner Brothers and Creative Commons, has posted raw studio tracks for a remix contest. The contest doesn't interest me much, but having raw studio elements readily available is pretty exciting.

If you're still scratching your head... Fort Minor, is a side project of Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda.

Aside from the novelty, it's a big step in making music available for creative use in non-commercial endeavors. What's that mean for us? Well as students, we may soon be able to use copyrighted music legally in our photo projects. From slideshows to long form documentaries, if you've ever attempted to create a presentation, you'll quickly realize that the audio is just as critical to the product as the visuals.
But in the meantime, if you're like me, then you'll want to download these raw tracks and get to mixing.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Eternal insight of the judges minds

The SportsShooter 2005 student photographer of the year was chosen recently.

And the best part is, you get to hear the editors -- Deanne Fitzmaurice, Kim Komenich, John Lee, Michael Macor, Jim Merithew, and Russell Yip -- discuss and critique the portfolios.

"For the most part, a portfolio celebrates your ability to see great light... there are pictures you take to put out a paper and there are pictures that really show how you can recognize and celebrate light."

They touch on the importance of organizing your portfolio, how to crop, the debate of color and BW images sharing the same portfolio, questions of category shots vs. your best pictures, and various other important and intriguing topics.

A single from Chris Detrick's winning portfolio

Most profound to me was the discussion these respected professionals had about what your first picture says about you.

We all know that we want to start strong in our portfolios, but for some reason it never occurs to many of us, that your first picture also sends a message about who you are as a shooter in terms of what type of shooter you see yourself as. So it doesn't help to place an excellent sports photo at the front if you don't see yourself as a sports photographer.

Looking at my first picture, I can see how the rules of photojournalism: light, composition, emotion, storytelling, and impact influenced me to put it there. Yet it never occurred to me if a feature photo is what I want to use to introduce myself. That picture sends a sub-conscious message, that I am a newspaper photographer than can shoot features. But is that really what I want? I've always told people that in an ideal world, I would like to be a documentarian (and I would have the latest and greatest gear-- in an ideal world). Yet, now with the words of these editors in my head, I'm wondering if my passion is reflected in my work.

Part of me is hesitant, it's the Asian in me (we've been taught to be modest, thanks mom and dad, now Bob got the promotion!), and I'm not so sure I'm there yet. But I do think I'm close, some people have seen it in "24 on | 24 off" my documentary on a shift of firefighters, and have paid me a few compliments.

That always feels good, to know that your work is resonating with someone. My proudest kudos, came from an editor, whose work I really admired, on the east coast. In fact this editor was the only reason I applied for the internship at the paper, which had political leaning in the complete opposite direction from my own. I didn't get it, but the editor (who I've never met before) liked my documentary project enough to the point where they sent me a pretty lengthy letter thanking me for sharing it and how it was so different and effective compared to the dozens of others she'd seen.

With that much praise, one wonders what held me back, but it's better not to compare yourself to others. There will always be someone better. It's better to just keep doing what you're doing and strive to prefect it. Whoa... I'm getting a little after-school special in here. (BTW is that term too old these days? They haven't aired since the 70s. I've never even scene on except for in school.)

*What what it's worth I am not a member of ShortsShooter

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Evolving media explored by new media

Vbloger Steve Garfield recently visted New England Cable News TV for a report he filed on Rocketboom.

What's interesting is the way NECN has partnered up with The Boston Globe and has been able to implement the two mediums and then been able to pull it off. In the Bay Area we've seen this trend emerging for years. KTVU has an on going partnership with The San Francisco Cronicle. Closer to home (at least for me) NBC affilate KNTV is a news partner with the San Jose Mercury News. A partnership that has resulted in much cross medium coveregae and, in my opinion, more in-depth stories for both sides. Of course this is a fairly new trend ... but with the excitment and the gusto that NECN's Director of Digital Media Steve Safran presents it with in Garfield's report, it seems to be a part of the new journalistic landscape.

Which sounds great, but makes me wonder, and should too get other photojournalist thinking. The question arises, that in this increasingly broadband era, where video isn't a pipedream and TV news stations are combining with newspapers for one joint online destination. If the newpapers provide the deeper, longer, and more detailed stories and the TV News provides the visuals with video spots and features... then what's let for photogrpahers in this equation?

The San Jose Mercury News photographers for one, has begun to experiment with video and personally on my college paper, as the online editor, I've been pushing for more multimedia and trying to give any photographer in sight a chance to learn something that could become a part of the job in a few short years.

Personally, I feel there will always be a place for photojournaislt, but it's a debate worth having. Just what is the value of photographes in the new media landscape and how must we, as photojournalist, adapt to it?

What's a meme?

Well I've been tagged... or something. Apparently it doesn't mean it's time to chase your friends around the the tan bark (okay seriously, why did it take schools so long to realize the woodchips were nothing but rocks with dirt and spliters?).

After looking it up, I learned that a meme is basically an online version of the chain letter.

I hate the concept, but I like Fling93. He's a good guy. So just for that reason, I've going to "meme"... or is that a noun? But I draw that line at "tagging" other people, let it die with me!


Four shows I enjoy:
Four movies I can watch over and over:
Four jobs I’ve held:
Four places I’ve vacationed:
  • My bed
  • My car
  • Friends couch
  • On the beach
Four cool toys:
  • Legos
  • Sound mixing equipment and sequencer
  • Koosh ball
  • Guitar Hero on PS2
Four websites I visit daily:

Peace! I'm out!