Occupy Wall Street is not “Birth of Venus”

Probably like most people, I’ve been hearing about the Occupy movement through media, both news coverage and social media. I won’t pretend to understand it, I haven’t been following closely. But it has bugged me how I keep hearing that the movement lacks clarity and focus.

Yesterday I listened to an excellent Radio Open Source podcast episode. Christopher Lydon interviewed Mark Blyth, a political economist at Brown University, about what he’s been learning about the Occupy movement by talking to protestors in Boston — and putting it into a global economic, social, and historic context that I found sobering.

So give it a listen:

Mark Blyth (6): Going to school on “Occupy Wall St.”

One point Blyth made that particularly struck me — and that I especially wish every journalist would take to heart — is this: The labor movement didn’t come out of nowhere. It didn’t spring into being fully formed with collective bargaining and arbitration procedures. It coalesced gradually, in fits and starts, from a society struggling with the “volatility constraint” that comes with rampant inequality.

Birth is messy. Infants aren’t born talking in complete sentences. So don’t look at the Occupy movement expecting this:

Boticelli's "Birth of Venus"

After listening to all the context Blyth offered, I suspect we’re watching the earliest phases of a different kind of labor movement: the labor pangs that precedes the birth of something that might eventually walk and talk. Something that probably won’t go by the name “Occupy.”

I only hope the world can collectively raise this baby right.

Why everything is “technology”

A couple of podcasts I listened to recently reminded me that, in a sense, everything is technology. Including your house. Including your eyes.

Give these a listen and you’ll see what I mean:

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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Google News Archive Search: Old News is Good News

Space Shuttle Challenger
Old news still has value, and can draw traffic. (Image via Wikipedia)

News is never just about what’s happening today — it’s also about context, including what led up to this moment. That’s why lately I’ve been intrigued by the Google News archive search. This feature, introduced September 2008, its worth a look — and maybe worth including in order to make more money off your historical archives, or to augment current coverage.

The Official Google Blog explains in Bringing history online, one newspaper at a time that this service presents archived news articles online — either as they were printed, preserving original format/context (including, in some cases, surrounding stories); or with a link to a news org’s paid archives. It also presents a timeline, showing how popular a search term was in news from past years or decades.

For instance, a Google News archive search for “space shuttle” yields a timeline with significant spikes in 1981 (for the first shuttle mission), 1986 (when the Challenger exploded after launch), and 2003 (when the Columbia broke up on re-entry).

An example of the early shuttle coverage I found here includes this March 24, 1982 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story: NASA sees little problem with lost space shuttle tiles. That’s actually a jump from a page 1 story. Other stories also appearing on the page include: “Begin to stay on after Knesset vote,” “Will match missiles with subs, Soviets say,” and “Military coup ousts Guatemalan government” — an intriguing glimpse into the tenor of that time.

That archived story was available for free — but my search also pointed to several articles for sale from newspaper archives. For instance, the Christian Science Monitor is selling its July 21, 1975 story Space shuttle to involve Europe, too for $3.95.

Not every news org’s historical archives are available in the Google News archive. Apparently Google strikes partnerships with news orgs to scan and serve their archives, or to link to existing online archives.

Participating in this service could be a way to turn your history into traffic. The Official Google Blog noted: “Over time, as we scan more articles and our index grows, we’ll also start blending these archives into our main search results so that when you search Google.com, you’ll be searching the full text of these newspapers as well.” This means that participating news orgs could find their historic wealth increasingly findable, and thus potentially more compelling and/or lucrative.

(NOTE: I originally published this article on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. Thanks to Tech.Blorge for the tip.)

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Listening to Tony Schwartz

Today I was out and about running several errands, catching up on my backlog of podcasts. Two shows that came up in the queue really got my attention, and I think everyone involved in media (especially online or mobile media, particularly any media with an audio component) should listen — REALLY listen — to them both in full.

They’re both retrospectives of Tony Schwartz — an agoraphobic genius who produced over 30,000 sound recordings, thousands of groundbreaking political ads, media theory books and Broadway sound design. He also invented the portable tape recorder and was a pioneering folklorist. He died in June.

I feel like an idiot. For all my work in media, I knew nothing of Schwartz’s work. Until today. Now I’m obsessed. He pulled together the threads of human nature, psychology, the nature and effects of sound, motivation, persuasion, provocation, media and communication in clearly human terms.

So I’ll be learning more about his work. Here’s a sample:

In the meantime, here are the podcasts that grabbed my attention:

Serious motivational music!

In need of some extra ooomph to get you going? This should do the trick: The Helian’ Man, sung by Matt McGinn, a ballad about Scottish raids about a thousand years ago that led Roman emperor Hadrian to build a 73-mile wall across Britain.

I heard this song on the radio about 15 years ago, when I still lived in Pennsylvania. Ever since then, when I’ve found myself in need of motivation or facing a serious challenge, I’ve sometimes found myself bellowing “Grigalie! Grigaloo! Come up and fight, you cowardly crew! I’ll have you for my pot of stew! You fear to fight with me!”

It works pretty well. Sometimes as well as a kickboxing workout :-)

Here are the lyrics…

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Will someone please think of the grad students?

wilde-oscar.jpgI’m in the midst of an intriguing IM chat with Lisa Williams (of Placeblogger and H2otown). I shared a stray thought with her:

Me: Do you think someday someone will post “the collected IM chat transcripts of so-and-so” like they publish the letters of Oscar Wilde?

Lisa: I’m sure of it! Won’t someone please think of the graduate students ;->

Which got me thinking: If Oscar Wilde was alive today, he’d definitely be blogging — and probably Twittering up a storm. And he’d be damn eloquent, witty, and brilliant about it, too.

CA Wildfires: Watershed Moment for Collaborative Online News?

fire.jpg
Alex Miroshnichenko
Freelance photojournalist Alex Miroshnichenko is offering great fire coverage (and smart marketing of his skills) with Creative Commons-licensed photos on Flickr.

For the last few days at Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, I’ve been blogging examples of innovative ways that online media is being used to cover the Southern CA wildfires. It’s been astonishing. There have been cool efforts from mainstream news orgs like SignOn San Diego and the Los Angeles Times and even FOX News.

But also, regular people and even some government officials have been using blogs, forums, mapping tools, social media sites, citizen journalism sites like NowPublic, media-sharing services like Flickr, and even Twitter to share news, information, updates, and assistance.

Personally, I think this is shaping up to be a watershed moment for online news. This time, it all seems to be coming together in a new way.

In particular, the collaborative tone of this content that strikes me as significant: map mashups, databases, forums, photo groups, social media, Twitter updates… You can really get a direct sense of how people fit into this story, what they’re doing, and what they want or need. It’s personal, diverse, detailed, and comprehensive.

This is a whole different concept of “news.” It’s becoming a verb, something you DO — not just a noun (a thing that you passively receive)….

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