Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why local newspapers are in trouble

The chairs of the Chambers of Commerce of two nearby counties are appearing on TV ads around here. They are stressing the importance for me to buy local, because buying local keeps local jobs here. The two counties represented a very wide region. Presumably, the businessman from the county further away from me would want me to buy products from his county, even if it didn't meet my other concerns in the marketplace, such as price, value, quality, sustainable manufacturing processes, labor issues, etc. If he's going to appeal to my self-interest, it doesn't work, because I don't want to get a job which requires a one-hour commute to the far corner of that other county. The appeal doesn't resonate with me at all.

I think the same problem happens with local or regional news outlets, whether it be radio or print. Yes, it's probably pretty hard for these outlets to compete with international news organizations in providing detailed coverage of international events. Thus, they concentrate on "local news." The problem as I see it is that they, like the Chambers of Commerce described above, really want me to care deeply about folks within a 90 mile region of my home, but practically draw a line in the sand at that border. They stress the importance of international news by telling me how it affects people within 90 miles of my home.

Case in point. I remember during American involvement in the Bosnia War, it seemed as though there were more coverage of local residents returning as soldiers from the war than the causes and effects of the war itself. It's like, "You should care about Bosnia, because someone 90 miles away from you had to go fight in it." (Frankly speaking, if the guy lived on the other side of the river from me, what makes him so special? I cared about that war because humans had to fight and because humans suffered in it, not because of its effects on inhabitants of some artificial boundary drawn at the subscriber base of the paper.)

A baseball player had a drug scandal. The front page of my local paper had headlines: local fans react! The lifestyle section had a long article about how someone born 90 miles from my house had worked with some of the music business' hottest stars! My public radio station's news reporting seemed to follow the same ambulance chasing-- it's important because it affected someone in our region.

To a similar degree, the same thing happened with NBC's coverage of women's Olympic volleyball matches. NBC showed us every single instance of the American ladies' touching their hair, but we barely saw the faces of the international women they played against.

I tried to express the problem in graphical form below. I'm guessing the average Joe has more concern for his family than for the huddled masses of faraway countries, with concern dropping off steadily as the persons become more distant. I myself probably have a twisted sense of interest, in that my geographical patriotism stops at the borders of my school district, but I have a great concern for the poor of the planet. The local and regional news outlets, however, have a degree of coverage that doesn't match either of our interest curves. That is why I believe they are financially in trouble. I've not noticed when my local paper subscription expired, I've lost interest in supporting the news programs of local public radio.

Don't get me wrong. I deeply care about what happens to the country, I want it to prosper. But my interest-curve is that I want the country to do right and be well because of the effect it has on my family and the huddled masses of the planet, NOT exclusively because of the effect it has on folks 90 miles away from me. I think the long term economic and security interest of my nation, my family, and those 90 miles away from me lies in the overall degree of misery on the planet. Stated another way, I find that a lifeboat philosophy to be not only immoral but ultimately self-defeating in terms of seeking self-interest.

Regardless of your political views about "the market", ultimately businesses have to meet the demands of the market, or die. I propose that there is a disconnect between the coverage focus of local media and the actual interests of consumers. I wonder if the coverage model they've adopted has to do with following the wrong-headed advice of "focus groups" rather than common sense.

Here's my proposal for their success. The local media outlets may continue to send out reporters only within their traditional 90-mile radius. But they have to change the approach to their coverage completely. Instead of reporting on how local residents have been affected by or played a hand in international events, they need to show how local events have an international impact. Imagine if you were to take an American history professor from China, a French labor activist, and an African manufacturer, and sent them to rural upstate New York. Tell them that they have to fill up an hour (or a few pages ) of copy on things that happened in that little town on that day that would be of interest to the world. That is a paper I'd surely miss if my subscription were to run out.

Think globally, report locally, is my proposal for newspaper success.

ADDENDUM (04/02):
The reporting in my local paper underscored this problem all the more poignantly recently. There was a special election for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in New York's 20th congressional district. The district is an unusually long and twisted one-- you should click on that link to see the map. Anyway, the district apparently covers one county in the readership of my local paper, and many other counties. The paper had an in-depth story comparing the voting results in this election versus the 2008 one. They showed us how, on a town by town basis, the results were different. The only problem was that they ignored all the counties of the 20th district but their own! They seemed to think we were only interested in our own county! If you really wanted to understand the voting demographics as it would have an effect on the representation in congress, I think you'd want to know how all the towns in the district voted. But, no, the local paper's interest stopped at its circulation boundaries. I cannot imagine how many people would have an interest-cliff that would coincide with the paper: either they don't care about towns other than their own, or they might care about a region larger than the congressional district. That is why local papers are dying.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ongeluk met raceauto / Crashing racing car

Ongeluk met raceauto / Crashing racing car
Originally uploaded by Nationaal Archief.

This is a pretty wild scene-- a car crash from 1936. The photo was part of the Nationaal Archief of the Netherlands.

The driver apparently was hospitalized only with severe bruises, fortunately.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Copper prices

I'm always fascinated by web gadgets that give information you might not otherwise have. Just recently I was asked whether steel or copper were more expensive. Too bad I didn't have this blog article already written:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sita Sings the Blues

Here's a wicked cool animation, that I first heard about through the Creative Commons website. It talks a lot about some of the cultural heroes of Indian history and/or mythology, and has quite an endearing soundtrack to go along with it. It's called "Sita Sings the Blues".

I'm offering it up firstly because it is Creative Commons licensed. But also because it reminds me that you can be a great video artist if you are simply creative and share your soul with the world. I have participated in several animation contests around the world. While the work I was submitting was surely sub-standard, I also felt there was a kind of bullying to adopt a certain style. In one case, only exhaustively photorealistic 3D was to be tolerated. In another, there was a pressure to have character animation with so much flowing arc movement that the winning entries often seemed to have a nervous twitch.

Here in this case, it looks like it's just vector art, and often the characters just sway from side to side. But it's great FUN! No exhaustive photorealism, no twitchy body arcs. I hope it's a smashing web phenomenon.

Jetties Beach, c. 1890s

Jetties Beach, c. 1890s
Originally uploaded by nha.library.

This is a photograph recently released by the Nantucket Historical Association to one of the Flickr Commons. This reminds me of one of those famous French paintings of people on the lawn.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

LC-MS President on Abortion

The Rev. Jerry Kieschnick, President of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, issued a statement on abortion. Rev. Kieschnick's letter has some appropriate sadness that this year's pro-life march occurs with an Administration that is more pro-choice than the one prior. He also writes:

We must continue to work and pray in support of life, not only embryonic life, but life at all stages.
I say: Amen, Amen! How's he going to flesh this out? He continues:
In that regard, I have received communications from LCMS members who encourage our church body to broaden its traditional concern with protecting life at its beginning and earthly end. The encouragement is to provide a more comprehensive support for life from conception to the grave.

We in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod have long spoken out against abortion and euthanasia. We must continue to do so. I also believe it is time for our congregations, members, and leaders to speak strongly and vociferously regarding other matters that could be included under the umbrella of “pro-life” issues as well.

For example, LCMS congregations and leaders ought to encourage prevention of unintended pregnancies and provide support—physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual—for those who are dealing with a pregnancy out of wedlock in a way that demonstrates as much love and concern for the one who is carrying a child as for the unborn child itself.

For years, the LCMS has encouraged adoption, especially through our recognized social-service organizations. Some 33 years ago, my dear wife, Terry, and I worked with one such organization in adopting our son, who at that time was two years of age.

Okay, he means that working and praying for life in all its stages means being against ethuanasia, and encouraging charitable acts towards single mothers, and encouraging adoption.

I hold the LC-MS to have a correct view on abortion as a crime against life. Abortion also happens to be a Republican issue. The problem is that even when conservative Christians think of looking at upholding the sanctity of all life, they can only think of other Republican issues to support. Instead of cradle to grave it is cradle AND grave-- abortion and ethuanasia. A lot of other anti-abortion speakers, such as Rick Warren, have expanded the concern for the whole person to include environmental concern, human rights, and economic justice. It is the tradition of the church historic no less.

The fact that the church, that conservative Christians, sat on their hands while so many outrages against the dignity of the human being were going on in the last eight years-- starting with torture-- is why there is a pro-choice President in the White House.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Control over the camera in povray

I've finally mastered the camera object in povray. The code below shows how one may have complete control over what is on the screen, regardless of the camera angle or image pixel ratio. The attached animation shows how I was able to keep a red box in front of the camera across a wide range of camera angles. This camera is currently "stuck" at the origin looking towards Z, but one could easily apply a transform to the camera and to any other objects you wanted in the scene.

#declare camang=45; // this is the variable you change

#declare iwih=image_width/image_height;

#declare azee=0.5*iwih/tan(camang/2*pi/180);

camera {

direction z*azee

up y

right x*image_width/image_height



translate z*azee*1.0

pigment{Red+Green/4} finish{ambient .1}}

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Why not to suscribe to the Washington Post

“It may well be that Will is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject — so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don’t make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn’t be allowed to make the contrary point. Debate him.”
This is the response of Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt to complaints about factual errors in a column that George Will. Will wrote:
"According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979."
The problem is that this is just plain false. The Center wrote a rebuttal:

“We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined.”

And that points to where the Post's position is untenable. It shows and ignorance and confusion about the difference between scientific uncertainty and journalistic integrity. Yes, scientists will always be debating things: without debate there is no science.

But any layperson can easily evaluate whether an argument for this or that political action is based on a sound or a faulty reading of the science. You can act as a journalist. If a pundit says that a scientific journal is saying "Y", you have the ability to go to that journal and read the article and see if the journal said "X" or it said "Y". If it said "X" when the pundit said "Y", there's no existential debate or scientific controversy: the pundit lied.

If the Washington Post is going to posit willful misrepresentation as "drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject", then that's a reason not to subscribe. It's a reason not to weep over the death of print media, either.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Photograph a sewer grating, go to jail in UK.

No, wait, he actually didn't take photographs of the sewer grating. He was just taking pictures in public around one.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Why not to buy a Kindle

Lawrence Lessig's blog featured a fascinating screen grab from his Kindle.

There's a book published in 1865 whose copyright expired long ago. Kindle won't let you copy, print, lend, give, or read aloud. Many have complained that you can no longer do the latter; I'm incensed you cannot do the first three.

I'm saving my money for now.

I've pasted a URL to it below, not sure my manner of doing so constitutes bandwidth stealing.