Instapaper: Because the Device Shouldn’t Matter

Kindle next to iPhone
Image by alexhung via Flickr

Now that I own (and use daily) a laptop, iPhone, and Kindle, I’m developing a new relationship to text content. I realize that I shouldn’t have to care about the device. The news and other content I choose to read should just be there — available on whichever of my devices I prefer at the moment, in a format friendly to that device.

This is especially true for anything longer than about 750 words. I’ve found that’s my personal limit for reading through a Web browser, either on my laptop or iPhone. Yes, I can and do occasionally slog through longer Web-based content on those devices. But honestly, after about 750 words I tend to stop truly reading and instead scan quickly through the rest to gauge whether it’s worth further reading.

So I was pleased to recently discover an online service called Instapaper, which makes it easier to read electronic long-format content and to share that content across multiple devices.

Here’s how it works…

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What do journalism students really need today? Poynter event Monday

On Monday, Mar. 23, 1 pm EDT, the Poynter Institute will host a live online chat: What Do College Journalism Students Need to Learn? It was spurred by a recent (and excellent) post by my Tidbits colleague Maurreen Skowran, Reimagining J-School Programs in Midst of Changing News Industry, which attracted some intriguing comments.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to participate in the chat since I’ll be heading to the airport at that time. However, I have had a great deal to say about this topic earlier on Contentious. Here are my posts from last year:

  • April 9, 2008: Journalism remains a smart career, despite shrinking newsrooms. This theme in my posts began in response to Elana Centor, who asked me: “Is journalism still a smart career path?” My answer began: “Personally, I think that developing journalism skills and experience is valuable for many career paths — but I think that betting that you’ll spend your career working for mainstream news orgs is a losing proposition in most cases. I think most j-schools are setting bright students up to fail, and that bugs me. A lot….”
  • April 10, 2008: New J-Skills: What to Measure? This followup post is a reply to Mindy McAdams’ thoughtful response to my earlier post. She challenged me to translate my original quick list of what j-schools should be teaching into a something more testable and measurable that could be translated into a curriculum.
  • April 16, 2008: Overhauling J-School Completely. This begins: “I’ve heard from some journalism educators that the kind of preparation I’ve proposed is far beyond what most existing j-schools could offer. I understand that. Really, I think what may be needed is to completely re-envision and rebuild j-school with today’s realities and tomorrow’s likelihoods in mind…” (This post also includes links to many other posts sparked by my previous posts on this topic.)

Again, I wish I could sit in on the Poynter chat. But hopefully this material might help inform the discussion. I look forward to reading the live blog and chat transcript after I land.

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She’s Geeky: Great Opportunity To Step Outside Journo Culture

Computer History Museum Logo
Image by vanderwal via Flickr

I’ve written before about how the culture of traditional journalism tends to be rather insular, self-referential and — increasingly — toxic. This is especially true of the events that journalists typically attend, and the communities with which they typically mix.

Journalists mainly go to conferences specifically about journalism or specifically for journalists. While they also attend other events, this is usually for research or reporting — not to be “part of the crowd.”

…And that, I think, is a huge missed opportunity. Increasingly, community building and team building are becoming core skills for a career in journalism. The fast-shifting news business requires that journalists personally know and be able to work well with technologies, business people, marketers, community organizers, financiers, nonprofits and advocates, and other people from complementary fields. Every profession has its own culture and its own events. Attending these events — not just for aloof observation, but in order to join those communities — can be a great way to expand your career options.

Today and tomorrow I’m attending an event that represents a perfect opportunity to connect with geek culture. It’s She’s Geeky, a periodic “unconference” held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA…

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Skype: Why you should at least learn to use it

Recently, like many people, I ditched my landline (which I rarely used, and the most basic service I could get still cost me about $35/month). Now my cell phone is my only telephone.

This is a better deal for me, since generally I don’t talk on the phone much — except last month. I was working on a magazine feature story that required many interviews. And also, since I got known as a source on the role of Twitter in covering the Mumbai terrorist attacks, I was called by several reporters (including ABCnews.com) to give interviews on that topic.

Last night I got my cell phone bill. It was about $70 more than I expected — because I’d exceeded my allotted minutes. Ouch.

That’s the trouble with being in the media business, and many other fields: You can’t always control how much time you’ll have to spend on the phone in a given month. Which means you can’t always control the number or timing of the minutes you’ll use. Which is why cell-only folks need other options for making and taking calls that allow you to control costs.

Enter Skype…

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Letters to the Editor Blog: Why didn’t you just say so?…

One of the things I’ve liked about Boulder’s Daily Camera is that on their site they run an unfiltered Letters to the Editor blog. Unlike the letters that get published in the print edition, every letter the Camera receives gets posted to this blog — where (unlike comments left on Camera articles) they can be found via the site’s search engine.

And look how easy they make contributing your letters! All you have to do is send an e-mail to openforum@dailycamera.com.

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Envirovote.us: Keeping important context visible

Earlier today on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits I wrote about Envirovote.us, a new site that aims to show the potential environmental impact of to tonight’s Congressional elections. They show tonight’s winners in context of envl group endorsements, plus previous races for those seats.

They’re updating stats on the site as those races get called. It’s getting interesting. Check it out.

Working with Journalists: What’s in It for Geeks?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, and there are some comments over there. I’m reposting this here because, frankly, this site poses fewer hurdles to commenters, and I’d like to get some diverse discussion happening.

Earlier this week I wrote about the internal and external obstacles journalism schools face when trying to achieve collaboration with other academic departments (such as computer science). That spurred a pretty interesting discussion in the comments.

This discussion got me thinking: Right now, it’s becoming obvious to many journalists that our field sorely needs lots of top-notch, creative technologists. Developers for whom software is a medium, and an art form. Developers with a deep passion for information, credibility, fairness, usefulness, and free speech.

However, my impression is that, so far, it’s not nearly so obvious to most “geeks” (and I use that term with the utmost affection and respect, as do many geeks themselves) how they might benefit from collaborating with journalists, j-schools, and news organizations.

So if journalists need geeks, but right now they don’t need (or even necessarily want) us as much, the question becomes: What’s in this for the geeks? Why might they want to work with us? Where’s their incentive?… Continue reading

Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature

NOTE: This is part 1 of a multipart series. More to come over the next few days. See Part 2.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

If you want to strengthen communities, it helps to ask: What defines a community, really? Is it mostly a matter of “where” (geography)?

Last week I got into an interesting discussion with some folks at the Knight Foundation and elsewhere about whether “local” is the only (or most important) defining characteristic of a community. This was sparked by an event held last week by the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy — an effort to recommend both public and private measures that would help US communities better meet their information needs.

From the time I first heard of this project, I thought it was an excellent idea. It bothers me deeply that many (perhaps most) Americans routinely “tune out” to issues of law, regulation, and government that not only affect them, but also that they can influence — at least to some extent. (I say this fully aware that I often fall into the “democratically tuned out” category on several fronts.)

The problem then becomes, of course, that when citizens don’t participate, their interests are easy to ignore or trample.

Why do so many Americans abdicate their power as citizens in a democracy? It seems to me that many are too quick to “blame the victim,” pointing to widespread apathy, ignorance, or a prevailing sense of helplessness as common democracy cop-outs.

I think there’s a different answer: The way our democracy attempts to engage citizens actively opposes human nature. That is, it just doesn’t mesh well with how human beings function cognitively or emotionally.

Fighting human nature is almost always a losing battle — especially if you want people to participate and cooperate….

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