Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Reader Discussion Guide Excerpts

I just finished reading a killer classic fiction mashup (literally), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It’s a parody of the Jane Austen novel (which I tried to read in college and found unbearably tedious).

I must admit, though: The addition of a Night of the Living Dead-style zombie plague made all the endless fretting and plotting over how to present  oneself as appropriately marriageable in polite society surprisingly entertaining and understandable.

Because the thing is: The strictures of British aristocratic society — particularly how women were held in chattel status, and the ceaseless power plays of verbal indirection — were indeed nightmarish, soul-destroying, and cannibalistic.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s a stretch to consider this book a seminal feminist treatise. (God knows we need more entertaining seminal works of feminism!)

If you read this book (and I recommend it) don’t miss the reader’s discussion guide at the end. It contains 10 questions. Here are a couple of my favorites…

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What’s “Media?” Time to Update Default Assumptions

Yesterday it occurred to me — as I heard about yet another “multimedia workshop” for journalists — how dated and useless the term “multimedia” has become. It’s now normal for media content types to be mixed. It’s also normal for anyone working in media to be expected to create and integrate various types of content (text, audio, photos, video, mapping/locative) as well as delivery channels (print, Web, radio, TV, podcast, social media, e-mail, SMS, embeddable, mobile applications, widgets, e-readers, etc.).

Ditto for the terms “new media” and even “online media”, which imply that channels other than print and broadcast are somehow separate or niche.

The best take on why it’s important to update and integrate assumptions about the nature of media (and how that affects news) is shown in this hilarious skit from Landline.TV:

Here’s where media is at today: In the current integrated media ecosystem, every print and broadcast organization has an Internet and mobile presence — and most of these now go beyond bare “shovelware”. Also, more and more of these organizations are distributing their content online first, making print and broadcast secondary channels (if not secondary markets). In contrast, most media outlets and public discussion venues that began life on the Internet do not have a print or broadcast presence. These vastly outnumber print and broadcast media outlets.

Consequently, when you consider the number and diversity of media outlets, print and broadcast media have become the exception — not the rule…

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MediaCloud: Tracking How Stories Spread

Last week, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society launched Media Cloud, an intriguing tool that could help researches and others understand how stories spread through mainstream media and blogs.

According to Nieman Lab, “Media Cloud is a massive data set of news — compiled from newspapers, other established news organizations, and blogs — and a set of tools for analyzing those data.

Here’s what Berkman’s Ethan Zuckerman had to say about Media Cloud:


Ethan Zuckerman on Media Cloud from Nieman Journalism Lab on Vimeo.

Some of the kinds of questions Media Cloud could eventually help answer:

  • How do specific stories evolve over time? What path do they take when they travel among blogs, newspapers, cable TV, or other sources?
  • What specific story topics won’t you hear about in [News Source X], at least compared to its competitors?
  • When [News Source Y] writes about Sarah Palin [or Pakistan, or school vouchers], what’s the context of their discussion? What are the words and phrases they surround that topic with?”

The obvious use of this project is to compare coverage by different types of media. But I think a deeper purpose may be served here: By tracking patterns of words used in news stories and blog posts, Media Cloud may illuminate how context and influence shape public understanding — in other words, how media and news affect people and communities.

This is important, because news and media do not exist for their own sake. It seems to me that the more we learn about how people are affected by — and affect — media, the better we’ll be able to craft effective media for the future.

(NOTE: I originally published this article in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

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What ABCnews.com got really wrong about social media and Mumbai attacks

On Nov. 28, ABCnews.com published a story by Ki Mae Huessner called Social Media a Lifeline, Also a Threat? about the role of Twitter and other social media in the coverage of, and public discourse about, last week’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Huessner interviewed me for this story because I’ve been blogging about it on Contentious.com and on E-Media Tidbits. She chose to include a few highly edited and interpreted quotes from me that I think grossly misrepresent my own views and the character of our conversation.

Yeah, being a journalist, I know that no one is ever completely happy with their quotes. I’ve been misquoted plenty in the past, and normally I just roll with it. But this particular case is an especially teachable moment for my journalist colleagues in mainstream media about understanding and covering the role of social media in today’s media landscape.

Today’s a pretty busy day for me, but I didn’t want to let this go unsaid any longer. So I made a little Seesmic video response to this story. Here I am speaking strictly for myself — not on behalf of any of my clients or colleagues. Yes, I am very emphatic here and somewhat critical. Please understand that my frustration is borne of seeing this particular problem over and over again.

Tracking a Rumor: Indian Government, Twitter, and Common Sense

This morning, as I check in on the still-unfolding news about yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, I noticed a widely repeated rumor: allegedly, the Indian government asked Twitter users to stop tweeting info about the location and activities of police and military, out of concern that this could aid the terrorists.

For example, see Inquisitr.com: Indian Government trying to block Twitter as Terrorists may be reading it.

Rumors — even fairly innocuous ones — really bug me. Mainly because they’re so easy to prevent!

I’m trying to track this particular rumor down, but haven’t been able to confirm anything yet. At this point I’m skeptical of this claim. Here’s what I’ve found so far…

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Can you commit journalism via Twitter?

Today on Twitter Tips, Jason Preston asks:

“Journalism requires that stories been constructed, facts be tied together, narratives presented, and context created. In short, journalism is the big picture.

“No one would argue that you can get the pig picture in 140 characters. But what about aggregate tweets? One person over a long time, or many people over a large subject?

“Is Twitter a viable, standalone medium for journalism?”

I think this quesion misses the mark regarding the nature of journalism. It confuses the package with the process. That’s understandable, because in the history of mainstream news, journalists and news organizations have often taken a “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” approach to revealing their own processes. When all the public sees is the product, it’s easy to assume that’s all there is to journalism.

Here’s the comment I left on his post:

Hmmmm…. I do journalism, and I know a lot of journalists, and I’ve seen what Twitter can do. It seems to me that any medium — from Twitter to broadcast news to smoke signals — has potential journalistic uses.

Journalism is a process, not just a product. For many professional journalists and other people who commit acts of journalism, Twitter is already an important part of their journalistic process (i.e., connecting with communities and sources, and gathering information). And it can also be part of the product (i.e., live coverage of events or breaking news, or updates to ongoing stories or issues)

So yes, Twitter CAN be a real news platform. As well as lots of other things. Just like a newspaper can be the Washington Post, the National Enquirer, or a free shopper’s guide. It all depends on what you choose to make of it.

And also: These days, almost no news medium is “standalone.” Every news org has a web presence, and many have a presence in social media, and also in embeddable media.

…That’s my take. What’s yours? Please comment below — or send a Twitter reply to @agahran

Nokia Talks More (Much More) About US Service Problems

Nokia Conversations Blog
Nokia’s Conversation Blog has launched an extended discussion on its myriad US service problems.

I’m happy to report that there has been some progress (small, but real) from Nokia in terms of addressing it US service problems, which I’ve written about extensively.

First, here’s their most concrete step forward so far: Today, Nokia announced that the long-awaited firmware update for the US N95-3 should be available by early June.

Note that this does not mean Nokia has improved its firmware update process — which (as Beth Kanter, Robert Day, and I noted) is PC-only and very cumbersome, confusing, and annoying. And, in my experience, Nokia’s firmware update process is also risky — it’s what bricked my N95 in April.

…But still, a lot of US N95-3 users have been waiting (and waiting) for this firmware update. News that it’s coming soon appears quite welcome in that community, judging by the initial comments to the announcement.

Also, I’m encouraged to see that Nokia’s Conversations Blog yesterday launched a series of posts on its myriad US service problems. So far, there’s been:

I think the fact that Nokia has made this discussion so public, and is respecting and addressing concerns raised by users, is a very positive step. Frankly, this is far more than most major companies are willing to do. Nokia is willing to publicly acknowledge its significant problems, and doesn’t seem to consider this inherently risky or bad for business. Many, many companies and organizations could take a lesson from Nokia on this front.

That said, Nokia’s blog does try (understandably) to put as positive a spin as possible on its US service problems. As far as I can tell, they’re not painting a specifically inaccurate rosy picture — but so far they haven’t directly tackled the hardest issues.

Therefore, it’s still up to current and would-be US users of Nokia N-Series phones to keep pushing for clear answers to our most pressing questions and concerns. This is going to take time, folks.

Here’s what I mean…

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Breaking Out of the Echo Chamber

OpenDemocracy, via Flickr (CC license)
What might this Malian girl and I have in common, and what might we learn from each other? How could we know if we can’t really connect?

This morning I listened to an excellent Radio Open Source interview. Host Christopher Lydon was talking to Global Voices Online founder Ethan Zuckerman and GVO managing editor Solana Larsen. I’m a huge fan of GVO and read it regularly — mainly since I enjoy hearing from people in parts of the world I generally don’t hear much about (or from) otherwise.

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion concerned how homophily shapes our individual and collective view of the world. Homophily is a fancy word for the human equivalent of “birds of a feather flock together.” That is, our tendency to associate and bond with people we have stuff in common with — language, culture, race, class, work, interests, life circumstances, etc.

Zuckerman made a profound point: Homophily makes you stupid. Which is another way of saying something my dad told me a long, long time ago:

“You’ll never learn anything if you only talk to people who already think just like you.”

Here’s what Zuckerman actually told Lydon about how homophily makes it hard for people from around the world to relate constructively…
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