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The media shift from reporting to resistance

Thursday, 29 December, 2016 0 Comments

Michael Wolff predicts that media wars will replace culture wars in Trump Era. To support this thesis, he asserts that “an agape media, full of umbrage, disbelief and panic, has elevated his cabinet picks to daily drama and turned Trump’s business affairs into an impeachable offense weeks before he is even to take office.”

In the Hollywood Reporter, Wolff heaps contempt on the Fourth Estate and he locates the behaviour of some journalists in the annals of terrorism:

“This is part of the sudden new journalism credo about not ‘normalizing” the 45th president (a concept originated by pro-Palestinian groups trying to restrict or ban any ‘normal’ activities — including kids soccer games — between Israelis and Palestinians). In other words, Trump, despite the paradox of his election, ought to be considered a rogue occupant of the White House. And, too, that the media should not commence ordinary relations with him.”

Wolff posits that part of the Trump goal might be to change the narrative of modern American life from “urban-global-multicultural to middle-American-nationalist-populist.” If that’s the case, going after the media, “the chief representative of the former, is bound to solidify his standing with the latter.” The mistrusted media is, says Wolff, a “better, more inclusive enemy in the cultural wars — much better to rally around these days than gays and abortions.” The smug media shift from reporting to resistance means we’re in for a fun four years.


Time well spent

Tuesday, 29 November, 2016 0 Comments

Award-winning storyteller, filmmaker, poet and media strategist Max Stossel is concerned about where the Attention Economy is headed. Exhausted by endless screen-time, he’s calling for a debate about “values”. Max asks: “What if news & media companies were creating content that enriched our lives, vs. catering to our most base instincts for clicks? What if social platforms were designed to help us create our ideal social lives, instead of to maximize ‘likes’? What if dating apps measured success in how well they helped us find what we’re looking for instead of in # of swipes?”

With AR, VR and AI about to radically change the ways in which we’re entertained, Max Stossel and friends have started Time Well Spent to “align technology with our humanity.” Max and his pals mean well, no doubt, but they’ve helped create the problem and one more website, no matter how clever the title or noble goal, is just another website. Still, that dancing panda is so cute, isn’t it?


Sebastian Thrun: The world is becoming flatter

Wednesday, 26 October, 2016 0 Comments

Sebastian Thrun is the Founder-President of Udacity and the brains behind a lot of California’s brightest ideas. He is also a senior advisor at the Credit Suisse Lab in Silicon Valley, which is why, perhaps, Daniel Ammann and Simon Brunner of Credit Suisse spoke to him for the bank’s “Entrepreneurs” content offering.

Technology gives us super-human powers” is the headline of the Ammann-Brunner interview and Thrun is as optimistic as the title. Snippet:

When we think about digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence for instance, are we also thinking about the nature of human beings then?

Exactly. With each new technology, we reexamine the human condition, humanity’s existence and our understanding of ourselves as human beings. It always revolves around the same thing: giving human beings super-human powers. We could not have talked to each other 150 years ago because our voices alone were not loud enough to be heard from the US to Switzerland. We could not swim across the Atlantic either; we’re simply not built to do it. Today, however, we talk over the Internet — or fly from Los Angeles to Zurich in 12 hours.

Daniel Ammann and Simon Brunner put it to Thrun at the end of their conversation that he must have enjoyed reading the science fiction of H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick, but he replies: “I preferred Heinrich Böll or Max Frisch. I’ve always been more interested in people than technologies. Technology is just a tool. In the long run, what concerns me in everything I do is people.”


@WPOlympicsbot

Saturday, 6 August, 2016 0 Comments

The Washington Post will use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to report on and from the Rio Olympic Games. Its “Heliograf” technology will automatically generate short multi-sentence updates, offer a daily schedule of events, update results, calculate medal tallies and send alerts 15 minutes before the start of a final event. These updates will appear in the paper’s blog and on Twitter.

“Automated storytelling has the potential to transform The Post’s coverage. More stories, powered by data and machine learning, will lead to a dramatically more personal and customized news experience,” Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at the Washington Post, told Recode.

Heliograf will also play a role in the paper’s coverage of the November US elections, where it will generate stories for some 500 races. Heliograf is part of a suite of AI tools at the core of Arc, the Washington Post publishing platform.

PS: The world’s first website went online 25 years ago today. Created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, it was a basic text page with hyperlinked words that connected to other pages. Berners-Lee used the launch to promote his plan for the service, which would come to affect so many aspects of life and business in the 21st century. From hyperlinks to AI bots filing reports on the Olympic Games, it’s been an extraordinary 25 years.


Marshall McLuhan: today’s media and today’s terror

Wednesday, 15 June, 2016 1 Comment

After Larossi Abballa had killed a French police officer and his partner near Paris on Monday evening, he posted a 12-minute video from the scene to Facebook Live. Speaking in a mix of French and Arabic, he smiled evilly as he urged his viewers to target the police, declared that the Euro 2016 football tournament would “be like a cemetery,” and pondered what to do about the dead couple’s three-year-old son.

“When people get close together they get more savagely impatient with each other,” said Marshall McLuhan in a television interview in 1977. Anticipating the arrival of Facebook Live, he accurately predicted the downsides of social media platforms: “Village people aren’t that much in love with each other, and the global village is a place of very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations.”

With France in despair and the European Union in disarray, McLuhan foresaw the current rage, the hooliganism and the hatred of the elites: “All forms of violence are a quest for identity… Identity is always accompanied by violence… Ordinary people find the need for violence as they lose their identities, so it’s only the threat to people’s identity that makes them violent.”

McLuhan also anticipated that the likes of Larossi Abballa would use social media to broadcast their nihilism: “Terrorists, hijackers — these are people minus identity. They are determined to make it somehow, to get coverage, to get noticed.”

And in the same interview he predicted the current clash of civilizations: “The literate man can carry his liquor; the tribal man cannot. That’s why in the Moslem world and in the native world booze is impossible. However, literacy also makes us very accessible to ideas and propaganda. The literate man is the natural sucker for propaganda. You cannot propagandize a native. You can sell him rum and trinkets, but you cannot sell him ideas. Therefore, propaganda is our Achilles Heel, our weak point”

Note: Four hours after Larossi Abballa had made his statement on Facebook Live, French police stormed the house in Magnanville, and shot him dead. (The three-year-old boy was unharmed.)


Who will buy the New York Times?

Friday, 6 May, 2016 0 Comments

“We have tried everything we could but sadly we just haven’t reached the sales figures we needed to make it work financially,” New Day editor, Alison Phillips, on Facebook yesterday. Birthed on 22 February, the newspaper was buried on 5 May.

How can the world’s remaining newspapers avoid the grim fate of New Day? Well, the New York Times is getting into the food delivery business, Bloomberg reports: “This summer, the New York Times will begin selling ingredients for recipes from its NYT Cooking website as the newspaper publisher seeks new revenue sources to offset declines in print. The Times is partnering with meal-delivery startup Chef’d, which will send the ingredients to readers within 48 hours.”

The NYT is also placing a bet on travel. “Times Journeys” charges readers thousands for tours of theocracies and autocracies like Iran and Cuba. “Chernobyl: Nuclear Tourism” is packaged as “A journey focused on science & nature,” while “An Exploration of Southeast Asia” is undertaken “Aboard the 264-passenger L’Austral, designed to serve both the chic and the casual.” The vessel is “sleek and intimate” and “you’ll feel as if you were on your own private yacht.” With the “Owner’s Suite” priced from $18,390, one would hope so.

Earlier this year, the Financial Times, in a “Big Read” piece by Henry Mance titled “UK newspapers: Rewriting the story,” pronounced the newspaper business dead on delivery. There is no viable economic model for a written news product, Mance concluded. There is, of course, the FT’s solution to the problem. It sold itself to Japan’s Nikkei last summer for $1.3 billion. So, who will buy the New York Times?


We’ll fix it with video!

Thursday, 28 April, 2016 0 Comments

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was…” So begins A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and while it would be bordering on the sacrilegious to compare the fates of Facebook and Twitter to the epochal events that took place in “the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five,” the rise and fall of the great (social media) powers is the stuff of which history will be made. The fact that the tumbrels are virtual these days, makes the digital revolution less gruesome, for which we should be grateful.

Yesterday, Facebook exceeded Wall Street forecasts on almost every critical metric. The social network made $5.38 billion during the first three months of this year and grew its base to 1.65 billion monthly users. Profit was 77 cents a share, which blew away the 63 cents analysts had been expecting, and the the stock jumped nine percent in after-hours trading. During his conference call with investors, CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted: “Today, people around the world spend more than 50 minutes a day using Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. That doesn’t even include WhatsApp yet.”

COO Sheryl Sandberg put her finger on Facebook’s success secret when she said the company is on a mission to help marketers adapt their ads for a mobile world — where messages must be shorter and often without sound. The auto-captioning feature, she added, has led people to spend 12 percent more time with an ad.

mobile video Contrast all this with Twitter, which has disappointed investors yet again with first-quarter results that showed stagnant revenue growth. Twitter, simply, doesn’t have the scale to compete with Facebook. It’s 320 million monthly users are no match for the 1.65 billion Facebook bring to the game. So, what’s the strategy? Twitter’s answer is the same that everyone else on the web has: We’ll fix it with video. That’s what Peter Kafka says in Twitter is going to have a hard time fixing its ad problem. Snippet:

“The company says it wants to convince its advertisers to upgrade their old text+photo Twitter ads with video ads, which sell at higher prices. This sounds like a good idea, but then again, it’s the same idea everyone else has — and Twitter’s already having trouble competing with everyone else.”

In Your Media Business Will Not Be Saved, Joshua Topolsky, co-founding editor of The Verge and recently head of digital at Bloomberg, pours a big bucket of water on the notion that video will fix it. “Video will not save your media business. Nor will bots, newsletters, a ‘morning briefing’ app, a ‘lean back’ iPad experience, Slack integration, a Snapchat channel, or a great partnership with Twitter.”

To paraphrase Dickens, all these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year two thousand and sixteen.


Dilma & Hillary, Thelma & Louise

Friday, 22 April, 2016 0 Comments

Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor-in-Chief of the Economist, is offering readers two covers this week. Latin America gets “The great betrayal,” which is about the economic crisis in Brazil and the upcoming impeachment of its president, Dilma Rousseff. The country is in a state of despair as it fights its worst recession since the 1930s, and the real should stop at Ms Rousseff’s desk, but the Economist is magnanimous: “The failure is not only of Ms Rousseff’s making. The entire political class has let the country down through a mix of negligence and corruption.”

For the rest of the world, the Economist cover features Hillary Clinton. “Could she fix it?” America, that is. It’s a lukewarm leader, peppered with reservations such as “Mrs Clinton’s solutions too often seem feeble,” and “her policies are fiddly.” As she rolls up her sleeves to retune the USA’s rusty engine, the lack of enthusiasm is startling: “Yet, rather than thrilling to the promise of taking the White House or of electing America’s first woman president, many Democrats seem joyless.”

The Economist Latin America The Economist Clinton

It’s been 25 years since Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis hit the highway in Thelma & Louise, Ridley Scott’s road movie that put women in the driver’s seat, finally. The film kept them at the wheel all the way to the vivid end as they flew into the blue yonder above the Grand Canyon in a green Thunderbird convertible. In Paste Monthly, Amanda Schurr remains transformed by it all. Snippet:

“… their flight from Oklahoma to Mexico is urgent, telling and inimitably American. Leave it to Ridley Scott, taking visual inspiration from Terrence Malick’s Badlands, and the sweeping flyovers of fellow Brit cinematographer Adrian Biddle to capture the promise and danger of the scorched West — the film was shot largely in California and Utah, and it’s never looked more stunning, nor strangely unsentimental and unforgiving.”

A bit like the electorates in Brazil and the USA, “unsentimental and unforgiving.”


Twitter @ 10: life with hashtags

Monday, 21 March, 2016 0 Comments

It’s Twitter’s 10th birthday today. The first tweet, sent on 21 March 2006 by CEO and cofounder Jack Dorsey, then an NYU student, read: “just setting up my twttr.” Three years later, Twitter became the news when Janis Krums beat the pro snappers to the punch by tweeting a photo of US Airways Flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River.

Twitter on the Hudson

If there’s a negative, it’s the amping up of public shaming, which has been well documented by Jon Ronson. PR manager Justine Sacco joked on Twitter: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” The ensuing cyber tsunami of vilification was such that Sacco lost her job and became an object of hate. Dr. Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil the Lion, faced similar Twitter shaming.

The upside, however, is that everyone can share an opinion on Twitter, which has expanded and democratized global debate. Just look at the current US presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton has 5.7 million followers, Bernie Sanders has 1.75 million and people retweet the utterances of Donald Trump thousands of times:

With its platform, Twitter has become a go-to source for breaking news; with its minimalism, it’s a minor art form and with its reach, it has morphed into a powerful marketing tool. But there’s competition from visual formats like Instagram & Snapchat and the result is that Twitter is now worth $11.6 billion, down from $40 billion in 2013. Still, @twitter is 10 today and that’s cause for celebration. Happy Birthday! #LoveTwitter

Twitter @ 10


We become what we behold

Sunday, 13 March, 2016 0 Comments

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” — Marshall McLuhan

While this quote is often attributed to McLuhan and is said to be found in Understanding Media, it does not appear in his book at all. In fact, it was partially coined — “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” — by Father John Culkin, SJ, a Professor of Communication at Fordham University in New York and a friend of the Canadian intellectual, who explored the idea in A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan, published in The Saturday Review on 18 March 1967.

Johnny's hands


Nostalgie de la boue in Manhattan: 1970 and 2016

Wednesday, 9 March, 2016 0 Comments

Today’s BuzzFeed headline reads: DeRay McKesson To Hold Fundraiser At Banker’s Manhattan Home. For those who may not know him, DeRay McKesson is a “full-time activist” and the most public face of the Black Lives movement. “People have been voting since the civil rights movement & we are still here,” is a typical elliptical DeRay McKesson statement. McKesson will speak tonight in the Upper West Side home of Ted Dreyfus, a former Citibank executive, who has also worked for the Clinton Foundation.

Nostalgie de la boue is a 19th-century French term that means “nostalgia for the mud,” and its white guilt connotation was leveraged by Tom Wolfe in one of the all-time great piece of modern journalism. Published by New York magazine in June 1970 and titled Radical Chic it captured the craziness of those times perfectly.

Background: The scene that Wolfe so (in)famously depicted took place in the Manhattan apartment of Leonard Bernstein. The legendary conductor, composer and Democratic Party supporter assembled many of his wealthy friends to meet members of the Black Panthers to discuss how they could help their cause. Black Panther The director Otto Preminger was there and so, too, was the TV reporter Barbara Walters. With their armchair agitation and high fashion, they were, in Wolfe’s eyes, the “radical chic” pursuing revolutionary ends for social reasons. Snippet:

“One rule is that nostalgie de la boue – i.e., the styles of romantic, raw-vital, Low Rent primitives – are good; and middle class, whether black or white, is bad. Therefore, Radical Chic invariably favors radicals who seem primitive, exotic and romantic, such as the grape workers, who are not merely radical and ‘of the soil,’ but also Latin; the Panthers, with their leather pieces, Afros, shades, and shoot-outs; and the Red Indians, who, of course, had always seemed primitive, exotic and romantic. At the outset, at least, all three groups had something else to recommend them, as well: they were headquartered 3,000 miles away from the East Side of Manhattan, in places like Delano (the grape workers), Oakland (the Panthers) and Arizona and New Mexico (the Indians). They weren’t likely to become too much… underfoot, as it were. Exotic, Romantic, Far Off… as we shall soon see, other favorite creatures of Radical Chic had the same attractive qualities; namely, the ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs and Somali leopards.

When Time magazine later interviewed a minister of the Black Panthers about Bernstein’s party, the official said of Wolfe: “You mean that dirty, blatant, lying, racist dog who wrote that fascist disgusting thing in New York magazine?”

When DeRay McKesson speaks tonight, will BuzzFeed have its Tom Wolfe on site? Will the Manhattan dialogue captured in 2016 match the music and madness that Tom Wolfe put down on paper in 1970?

Quat is trying to steer the whole thing away — but suddenly Otto Preminger speaks up from the sofa where he’s sitting, also just a couple of feet from Cox:

“He used von important vord” — then he looks at Cox — “you said zis is de most repressive country in de vorld. I dun’t beleef zat.”

Cox says, “Let me answer the question —”

Lenny breaks in: “When you say ‘capitalist’ in that pejorative tone, it reminds me of Stokely. When you read Stokely’s statement in The New York Review of Books, there’s only one place where he says what he really means, and that’s way down in paragraph 28 or something, and you realize he is talking about setting up a socialist government —”

Preminger is still talking to Cox: “Do you mean dat zis government is more repressive zan de government of Nigeria?”

“I don’t know anything about the government of Nigeria,” says Cox. “Let me answer the question —”

“You dun’t eefen listen to de kvestion,” says Preminger. “How can you answer de kvestion?”

“Let me answer the question,” Cox says, and he says to Lenny: “We believe that the government is obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income . . . see . . . but if the white businessman will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the businessman and placed in the community, with the people.”

Lenny says: “How? I dig it! But how?”

“Right on!” Someone in the back digs it, too.

“Right on!”

Julie Belafonte pipes up: “That’s a very difficult question!”

“You can’t blueprint the future,” says Cox.

“You mean you’re just going to wing it?” says Lenny.

“Like . . . this is what we want, man,” says Cox, “we want the same thing as you, we want peace. We want to come home at night and be with the family . . . and turn on the TV . . . and smoke a little weed . . . you know? . . . and get a little high . . . you dig? . . . and we’d like to get into that bag, like anybody else. But we can’t do that . . . see . . . because if they send in the pigs to rip us off and brutalize our families, then we have to fight.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more!” says Lenny. “But what do you do—”

Cox says: “We think that this country is going more and more toward fascism to oppress those people who have the will to fight back —”

“I agree with you one hundred percent!” says Lenny. “But you’re putting it in defensive terms, and don’t you really mean it in offensive terms —”

“That’s the language of the oppressor,” says Cox. “As soon as —”

“Dat’s not —” says Preminger.

“Let me finish!” says Cox. “As a Black Panther, you get used to —”

“Dat’s not —”

“Let me finish! As a Black Panther, you learn that language is used as an instrument of control, and —”

“He doesn’t mean dat!”

“Let me finish!”