The internet: a bittersweet ‘Taste’ for some…

These days it seems like there isn’t one organization that is not online, large or small. This is especially true in the world of journalism. And not just on the web, they are present in all forms of social media devices – take the New York Times iPod app, for instance. But it is not just large publications going online; small outlets are finding that they need to include web elements as well. Tastemakers magazine, a small student music publication at Northeastern University, is a great example of this phenomenon.

Tastemakers began in the fall of 2006, and currently has a circulation of about 3,000 readers on average. It has a pretty steady production rate: a few issues every year give or take, and features reviews of local music shows and CD releases, artist interviews, feature articles, and the like. But, being a student publication, its audience does not stretch beyond the Northeastern community by much, if at all.

In November 2008, the publication’s leaders finally decided to make the move and play in cyberspace.

Katie Price, editor-in-chief of Tastemakers magazine and third year journalism and music industry student at NU, pioneered the creation of the website, along with other members of the team, such as Jackson Connor, a third year journalism student at Northeastern and feature editor of the publication.

Now one might wonder what took Tastemakers so long to make the jump, but a number of technical issues arose when the idea to set up online first came about.

“It was really poorly maintained back then, and we didn’t have content going up every day like we wanted,” said Connor. “Katie and I really pressed for a new website; last semester we said we need a deadline for when there’s going to be an actual live website.”

The Tastemakers website

And that’s exactly what happened. Over this last semester the website has gone from being “just a solid blog”, according to Price, to now featuring, in addition to all the latest magazine content, feature articles, CD and show reviews, links to multiple music blogs and more, all using the Word Press platform. Tastemakers also makes good use of applications like Twitter and Facebook as well: they offer a feature called “Tasty Tweets”, which highlights the most interesting and popular feeds on the groups page at the time, and they also now have a Facebook Fan page as well, where they used to simply have a Group page.

In addition to all this material, the group plans to soon produce podcasts on the site using SoundCloud, offer advertising space to local businesses, and also include a forum and comments section. The website will also be group’s primary focus for the summer months, when the print staff writers are usually at home or participating in the co-op program and not on campus.

So would you say that Tastemakers needed a website? While first time staff writers like Michelle Buchman believe that the publication could survive on its own in just print form, higher ups like Price and Connor believe it was a key move in progressing the publication and the group as a whole. In fact, Price believes that they were getting to the point where they couldn’t be considered a legitimate publication without a website.

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“We get now about nine 900 a week (on the Facebook Fan page), which is kind of crazy,” says Price, “and our website per month gets about three thousand views, which is how many magazines we can print. So what we are getting in a month (on the site) is what we are getting in a full issue cycle.”

Tastemakers’ marketing director, Diandra Apoyan, also claims that it was a necessary shift as well, and says that it has done wonders for her marketing endeavors, helping to spread the Tastemakers name and increasing readership of the physical publication on campus.

“It was definitely the best move we could make. If you’re not on a website you’re just not in the loop,” she said in an interview. “It was no question that we had to be on Twitter, be on Facebook, and that we needed a legitimate website.”

Price says that having the website has allowed her to reach out to more music executives and PR agencies interested in being involved with the evolving publication, in addition to attracting more writers to work with the magazine. Connor says it has been easier to get the publicists of bands to respond to interview requests after he sends links to the site to prove their legitimacy. Even writers like Buchman get a perk: she now feels more comfortable applying for jobs knowing that she can direct potential employers to the website to showcase her work.

The advertising that Price brought up is a big deal as well. Tish Grier, a Social Media Strategist and Freelance Writer at Tish Grier & Associates, said in a phone interview that one of the greatest resources available to online publications is the ability to do target advertising. This means that instead of having random advertisements appear next to articles (a guitar ad is placed next to an ad about guitars, for example).

“Tools will eventually become available to help outlets, even small ones, scale advertising to content,” says Tish. She says that up until now, savvy organizations have manually facilitated target advertising on their sites, but soon the ability to automatically and systematically place target advertising on publications’ websites will become such commonplace that all groups, small or large, will be taking advantage of this method.

While the physical publication is always the priority, the website is high on Tastemakers' to do list

But is everyone necessarily happy about this trend? While it is a great benefit for groups and helps to compete with larger publications, some, such as Connor, wish that they could go back to the good old days of straight print.

“Just in general I think the way that journalism is moving to be mainly based online is a bad thing,” Connor says. “I’m not a huge fan of it; it’s more bad than good for the business. But at the same time we’re not this veteran publication: we don’t get to make the rules, and we can’t really be relevant without a website.”

But as much as they admit that they need a website, it is clear that the print publication will always be their main focus, and that for them, having a website will never replace the feeling of holding and leafing through the glossy pages.

But experts like Grier maintain that there is no turning back, even for outlets like Tastemakers.

“It’s about keeping up with where readers want to access their information,” she says. “Where and when.”

Categories: Local Stuff, music

The Plastic Beach

Gorillaz fans rejoice! The cartoon quartet, created by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jessica Hewett, has released a new album titled Plastic Beach, and I felt like a proud parent to see that one of its tracks, “Some Kind of Nature”, is a top single on Rolling Stone this week.

I gave Plastic Beach a listen and loved it. To me it seems like one of the most well put together albums that the group has ever produced. And while it may lack the powerful singles that everyone loves like “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good, Inc.“, the sheer flow and great construction of the album is satisfying. Plus they feature lots of celebrity appearances, such as Snoop Dogg and Mos Def.

Check out my review of the album for a little more detail. There’s also a great music video for the track Stylo that I personally liked a lot that I included below.

Categories: music

What’s the big IDEA?

Dan Gregory, a teacher in the School of Technological Entrepreneurship at Northeastern University, recently made a presentation to our Reinventing the News Class about IDEA, and the role of journalism in the entrepreneurial community.

IDEA is an NU endeavor that calls to students with dreams and ideas for  entrepreneurial endeavors and gives them the various resources that they need to turn them into reality, all conveniently located on or around campus.

But Dan did not come just to plug his group, he came to make a request: he wants more journalism students like ourselves to get involved in the entrepreneurial world. Why? There are a few reasons for this, and the key word is talent, which Dan believes is the driving force of all entrepreneurial endeavors.

One of these reasons is the skill set that journalists bring to the table. This includes writing skills, investigative skills, the ability to communicate clearly, the ability to meet deadlines, etc. These are all invaluable skills when it comes to the entrepreneurship scene: he says that there is a great need for those who can not only put these ideas in motion, but can communicate these ideas with the world.

But the other skill set is less obvious: it is the ability to keep and utilize what Dan calls “disruptive technology.” This includes gadgets like iPods and smartphones that have gotten in the way of human interaction, programs like Napster which have hurt the music industry, etc. Dan states, however, that journalists are great resources for making the use of this technology, and are always finding ways to use it in the best way possible to communicate quickly, efficiently and conclusively.

There are numerous ways that this has played out in real life situations. One of these is right here on campus with two NU students: Laura Moran and Meghan Linebarger. These two journalism students have taken IDEA by storm and have effectively revolutionized the communications aspect of IDEA, simply using the skill sets they have as journalists.

Another example is a company that Gregory is starting up himself called Knick-Knack, a group that aggregates the stories of people in the 50 plus range about companies, their families, past experiences, whatever they want to talk about. They then plan on compiling books for these consumers so they can have proper documentation of their memories! Clearly this is an area where journalism can be put to use, utilizing skill sets in communication and storytelling.

The brave new world can be both an exciting and, at the same time, scary place. New “disruptive technologies” are being created every day, and combined with changes in our working environments, it can seem like a lot to take in. But Gregory is certain that if we all combine the talents that we have, us journalists with pen (or BlackBerry) in hand included, we will be able to take on the future full force.

Categories: Local Stuff, People

On the Internet, someone knows you’re a dog…

The Internet is a wonderful forum, a great place to go if you want to get something off of you’re chest. And one of the most common things to see on the internet, especially on news sites, is people posting their (very) opinionated thoughts on stories, thoughts so opinionated that the poster will sometimes choose to protect their identity. But the fact of the matter is that no one is ever completely anonymous on the internet, whether you are exposed by your name, e-mail, even your IP address. Knowing this, most of us are wary of what we post and say in public forums.

But to what extent should people be allowed to post anonymously? Is it the case that everyone should be required to post their real name? Writers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer would definitely say yes, in light of their recent struggle with Judge Saffold.

I am of the belief that if you have something legitimate and of worth to say, there should be no reason that you should need to post anonymously (besides, it is often the case that when you do something anonymously, you are usually doing something “wrong”).

But the fact of the matter is that some people take their anonymity very seriously and work very hard to maintain it. Should these people be shunned from the Internet community? I say no. I think there should simply be a forum for these anonymous people to congregate and share their thoughts, a place where it is understood that everything here is 100% anonymous, with a disclaimer for readers to ‘take it as you will’.

If newspapers are going to have a problem with what anonymous posters are going to say about a subject, then take away the option. Don’t back people like Saffold into a corner when she believed that she was safe. Whether she was wrong in her postings is besides the point; the fact of the matter is that she was misled to believe that her identity was guaranteed to be anonymous, and in any other case I’m sure she would have kept her mouth shut, so to speak.

I believe that the Saffold case is simply a step in the evolution of online posting. It should be realized that certain people need to be able to post in certain environments depending on the nature of their comments. Let all those that wish to post intelligent and well spoken comments with their names post freely, a privilege acquired by divulging your name. But for those who wish to remain anonymous, which many people have a legitimate reason to do so, allow them a space where they can be guaranteed to be shielded behind a silicon screen.

Categories: Uncategorized

NewsTrust: putting the news in the people’s hands

NewsTrust is a tool which our Reinventing the News class had the privilege of being introduced to on Monday by Mike Labonte, a member of NewsTrust’s creating team.

NewsTrust is a site that allows readers of the news to review news articles of their choice. While users are encouraged to sign up with the service they are also given the option of posting anonymously. The rating is based on a series of questions concerned with the facticity, fairness, sourcing and how well written the article is, also asking readers if they recommend the article and how much they trust its source. Users also have the option of posting comments and opinions on the article, as well as being able to choose between short reviews and more in-depth reviews that simply ask more questions.

The reviews are then compiled and aggregated to make an overall review based on every users comments. You are also allowed to look at users individual reviews to break it down person by person. The result is a great aggregation of news articles that can direct you towards the best of the best of news articles.

NewsTrust is a great concept. I love the fact that the public is taking the initiative to think about the news they are reading, rather than just taking it for what it is. It is about time that people took responsibility for the news that they read.

But while NewsTrust is a great concept, there are still technical issues to be worked out. When I first signed up for NewsTrust, I took advantage of their option to link to your Facebook account. I felt that this was a very convenient option considering I didn’t have to fill out any forms or anything like that: it was basically instant.

However, this convenience proved to be disastrous. For one reason or another, the NewsTrust page, when linked with my Facebook, would continually refresh the page to the point that it rendered the site unusable. It was so bad to the point that I could not even log out of my account linked to Facebook, it would continually reload and I could not move forward. I even created a new account on another computer, but when I would try to log into my new account, it would automatically sign me back into the Facebook linked account, making my reviews in the other account inaccessible and making the use of the site a real pain. And don’t even dare have Facebook open in this case: again, it will automatically link to your Facebook account if it is open. Not to mention, my virus scan alerted me to a security threat from the site when I ws trying to fix the Facebook account issue.

Again, NewsTrust is a great site and a great concept, and I understand the use of Facebook links to for convenience. But honestly, if something doesn’t work (and I know that they are aware of the issue), stop offering the option until you’ve fixed it.

There are three stories that I posted and reviewed. You can find the rest of my reviews here. Also be sure to check out our class’ wiki.

Categories: Uncategorized

Video of Back Bay Fens Fire

Firefighters put the finishing touches on extinguishing the Back Bay blaze

Northeastern Public Safety Officers reflect on the day's notorious blaze while overlooking the Fens

I finally have my video footage of the Back Bay Fens fire uploaded onto YouTube, take a look and send me your comments!

Categories: Uncategorized

Finding “the smoking gun”

Last week, I made a presentation to my Reinventing the News class about the website, a website that, in their own words, “brings you exclusive documents–cool, confidential, quirky–that can’t be found elsewhere on the Web”. Using the Freedom of Information act to the extreme, brings readers a daily collection of unusual and interesting legal occurrences, be it arrests, court cases, investigations by the FBI, etc. It also features a copious collection of mug shots that include not only famous figures like actors and crime bosses, but also shots that are just downright hilarious.

The Smoking Gun features crime logs and mug shots that are interesting, creative and sometimes downright hilarious

The Smoking Gun, originally a private site, was acquired by CourtTV (now known as TruTV) a few years ago. It is featured in a TV show on TruTV  called “The Smoking Gun presents: World’s Dumbest Criminals”, a series that features, of course, downright dumb criminals, something that is often found featured on the site.

The Smoking Gun is mainly for the entertainment of the reader. However, it is not always fun and games: they have been a major part of some renowned stories. For instance, the site was the first to run an intensive feature story exposing James Frey, the author phony who wrote A Million Little Pieces and appeared on Oprah as one of her recommended authors. Writers for The Smoking Gun exposed the fact that Frey fabricated accounts in his memoirs about his drug related arrests when they could not find accounts of his arrest or mug shots in police files, something that they are pros at.

I commented in class that the one thing I thought that The Smoking Gun was missing was involvement in the web. One is often hard pressed to find articles that link to outside sites, such as news sites or other resources when referencing news articles. Often times if one clicks a link on a page, it will simply bring you to another section of the site.

I also noticed that there is not a great amount of reader involvement in the site, either. There are weekly contests that the site holds every so often that typically plays “mugshot games”. An example of this is a contest they held that challenged readers to match the blood alcohol content of arrestees with their respective mugshots. However, there is no comments section or a section for reader submitted content: what appears on the site is totally the product of its administrators.

However, this aside, The Smoking Gun is a great way to see how ridiculous (and sometimes scary) the legal world can become. Be sure to check out their weekly mugshot roundup: it is sure to both shock and amuse.

Categories: Uncategorized