The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be

So we’re a day or so away from heading into a new decade, the second decade of the 21st Century, if you can believe that.  It seems like only yesterday that I went camping in front of a big bonfire on the beach for New Year’s Eve, figuring better safe than sorry about the whole Y2K thing.  Was that really 10 years ago?  If nothing else, that over-hyped moneymaker for software companies should have taught us all that predictions are about as useful as an air conditioner for a polar bear.  But 2012’s coming up and, according to the Mayan calendar, we’re all doomed anyway.  Again.  Of course, my personal wall calendar ends after tomorrow, but I doubt they’ll be making any big-budget movies starring John Cusack about that.

Being the end of the year, especially the end of a decade, routinely brings about reams of predictions for the approaching year.  Very rarely are they ever spot on, but that doesn’t stop anyone and everyone with some spare time and a platform from channeling their inner Nostradamus.  No matter how things go, I’m looking forward to a much better year in 2010 than I had in 2009.  This past year, while being quite possibly the worst year ever for the publishing industry, has taught us a few things.  One of those things is that a large number of very-well-paid, highly educated, management class  individuals don’t learn obvious lessons that conflict with their belief structure until those lessons smack them upside the head.  And sometimes not even then. (more…)

Published in: on December 30, 2009 at 4:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Merry Christmas From Uncle Sam

It’s Christmas Eve, and I still have a lot to do before tomorrow, so I’ll be brief.  How do you all like the giant “screw you” our Senate just gave us this morning?  Helluva Christmas present, isn’t it?  A horrible bill virtually guaranteed to jack up taxes on everyone, cause insurance premiums (and medical costs) to skyrocket, the quality of care to suffer severely, require the people least able to pay to buy insurance out of pocket and, if they’re lucky, the Feds will (somewhat) reimburse them with tax credits down the line, etc., etc.   Perhaps the worst part is the obviously underhanded nature of getting this passed, with votes in the middle of the night or the early morning, and flat out bribes to holdout senators like Ben Nelson of Nebraska who only jumped on board after he blackmailed the Feds into paying 100% of the cost of Medicare Expansion for his state forever!  There’s already a handful of states looking to sue over that one.

I have to say, I was no fan of George W. Bush.   He was, in my mind, one of the handful of worst Presidents in our history, and I was actually optimistic about this new start with Obama.  I didn’t think anything would make me more ashamed of my government, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t manage to pull that off.  It goes to show you, no matter how bad things are, it truly can always get worse.   So here we have a piece of legislation that’s going to cost us all from now to eternity, not even come close to achieving what they claim it does, and voted into being in a shady way when fully 2/3 of the public oppose it for a variety of reasons.  And this is what we call a representative democracy?  “Change You Can Believe In.”  Nice slogan.  Too bad the change he was referring to is going to be all that’s left in our paychecks after this mandate.  At least for those of us who will still have paychecks, anyway.

Have a great Christmas!

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How Can The Film Industry Possibly Survive Rampant Piracy?

We’ve heard the yells for years now, ever since the proliferation of high-speed internet access, that piracy of copyrighted material–be it music, movies or otherwise–in the form of illegal downloading was stealing millions if not billions of dollars away from the copyright holders.  Coming from a background that dealt with the value of someone getting your product for free (both in my publishing career working for free-distribution magazines and in my music collection which leans greatly toward bands that allow the free distribution of their concert recordings) I cannot disagree more.  It’s my belief that all of this downloading that tasks these industries so much actually benefits them.  Part of the reason I think it seems so frustrating to the people in question is that it is so easily trackable today.  It is possible to know how many people, relatively, are downloading a particular piece of material off the internet.  So the bean-counters jump straight to the conclusion that each and every instance of downloading is money lost.  Not true.  In fact, it could very well be that each instance of downloading actually helps drive revenue down the line, particularly if the material in question is good.

I will say this, if the material sucks, downloading will cost you money, but not as much as it seems.  It benefits companies that produce and distribute lousy material to keep its relative lack of quality hidden, thereby tricking people into paying for something they think might be good.  But I have a hard time feeling sorry for companies losing out on scamming people into paying for garbage.  And people will pick up on its lack of quality a bit slower if its exposure is kept down, but it’ll happen none-the-less.  If the material is good, a little free exposure leads to all sorts of things.  With music, it leads to increased CD sales, concert ticket sales, tee shirts, hats and most importantly, referrals to friends which builds a bigger fan base that leads to increased CD sales, concert tickets, etc.  With movies, it works the same.  If the movie is good, you get an upshot in ticket sales, merchandising, DVD sales, rentals and the same benefit of referrals to friends and family.  Cutting out the free distribution cuts down on the fan base to make money from.

Before the internet, both of these industries benefited from people sharing their material for free, but it wasn’t so easily trackable.  There was simply no way to tell how many people recorded your movie on their VCR, or made copies of movies they rented from the video store, or burned copies of CDs and mix tapes for friends, or recorded songs they liked off of the radio.  This kind of behavior with copyrighted material has always been rampant, only before it happened in ways that the industry didn’t or couldn’t see, and all the while they benefited from the increased exposure without even realizing it.  Fighting this kind of sharing material of value harms the industries in question, and it is not piracy, nor is it something new.  The music industry did nearly irreparable damage to itself fighting file sharing instead of seeing the possibilities of building ever-larger fan bases easier than ever before.  The movie industry will do the same kind of damage to itself if they follow in those footsteps.

And here’s a little evidence to support my claims.  Here is a list of the 10 most pirated movies of 2009. These are the 10 movies that were illegally downloaded the most this year.  Now compare that list with this one, the top box office films of the year. Notice any similarities?  There are five movies there that finished in the top 10 movies in domestic box office for the year, including number 1, The Transformers, and number 2, Harry Potter, both of whom are approaching $1 billion in worldwide gross.  In fact, the 10 movies that appear on the most pirated list have grossed nearly $4 billion combined world-wide.  For 10 movies!  The same 10 that have been downloaded more than any others.  Boy, that piracy has really been sucking the life out of the film industry, huh?

Further, there are only 3 movies on the list that have done less than $200 million world-wide;  one is a mediocre Guy Ritchie British mob movie RocknRolla; one is a political thriller with Ben Affleck (sure, State of Play has gotten good reviews, but it’s still a political thriller starring Ben Affleck); and Knowing, a horrible apocalyptic thriller with Nicolas Cage.  So my point stands; downloading helps good movies (or at least movies with positive value) and hurts bad ones.  And how is that a bad thing?

This is progress, folks.  Make better stuff, and you have more possibilities to benefit from it than ever before.  Make junk, and you can get hammered on it quicker and more completely than ever before.   The answer here is to make more good films.  It seems obvious, but in this internet age, people pick up on crap much faster than ever before.  And excuse me if I’m not weeping for an industry’s right to sap money out of people with unredemptive garbage.  If they really want to “stop piracy”, then they should start by calling it what it actually is:  free marketing and word of mouth advertising.  That would be a start.

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 5:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Breaking News: Animals Are Bad For The Environment

Have you heard?  Pets are worse for the environment than driving a gas-sucking SUV. This bit of wisdom is courtesy of the Stockholm Environment Institute.  Why anyone is wasting time and money studying the carbon footprint of Fido is somewhat lost on me, but, hey, without someone to demonize, the environmental movement gets frozen in its tracks.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the environment, and I think we really should go after the heavy polluters, but pets?  At what point do we stop listening to these (theoretically) well-meaning folks?

Much of this criticism of pets stems from the food we use to feed them.  The carbon footprint they refer to comes from the energy used to grow and produce pet food, most notably the meat portions of it.  Now, they may have a point, strictly speaking, but only if you buy into the whole carbon footprint line to begin with.  Otherwise, it’s an absurd and deeply flawed argument.  Unlike inventing the internet, our less-than-esteemed former Vice President Al Gore is actually responsible for raising awareness to the carbon footprint concept, most notably through his scare-tactics, pseudo-documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”  Mr. Gore has reaped the rewards of his efforts, even if the planet hasn’t, through selling carbon credits to other well-meaning suckers…er, environmentally conscious people looking to offset their manufactured guilt, er…impact on our planet.  He’s made bunches of money through this scam…er, awareness-raising exercise that brings new meaning to “going green,” as in greenbacks in his pocket.  But that’s a racket for another day.

Anyway, the carbon footprint craze has led to all sorts of questionable plans and procedures, most notably the threat of legislation designed to reduce all of our footprints.  I’m sure you’ve heard all about the environmental summit in Copenhagen a week or so ago, designed to rein in carbon emissions by anywhere from 50 to 80 %.  There didn’t seem to be much consideration to the fact that this effort would decimate whatever’s left of our economy with massively spiking energy costs, but why quibble about little things like continuing to have a functioning society that is even capable of dealing with carbon emissions when the planet’s at stake, at least according to Mr. Gore and a significant portion of the scientific community.  You know, the same folks who recently were discovered hiding evidence and stifling debate that might contradict their theories on global warming?  I’m not a global warming denialist by any means, I’m absolutely convinced that the planet is, in fact, warming.  I’m also convinced that it’s part of a natural cycle and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it, carbon footprints or otherwise, nor should we.  I happen to believe that we might be just a tad bit arrogant in believing that 150 or so years of burning fossil fuels is totally decimating our planet’s several billion year old ecosystem.  But, hey, I’m not a scientist.  Anyway, not surprisingly, the summit descended into a giant political argument where certain countries tried to use emission control regulations to gain an economic advantage on certain other countries.  Needless to say, they was no legally-binding agreement, only a face-saving “Copenhagen Accord” not worth the paper it’s printed on–or the carbon footprint necessary to make that paper–nor were they even close to one, and that may be the best thing that could happen to us all.  But back to my original point.

Pets are bad for the environment.  Apparently, a medium sized dog is responsible for more pollution than driving 12,000 miles in an extravagant SUV.  Uh-huh.  Right.  And the dog kennel down the street pollutes more than the worst, most vile coal-burning factory on the planet, then.  That’s reasonable.  Absolutely.  Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it’ll probably be easier to tax every dog-owner on the planet for their carbon footprints than it will be to actually rein in real, genuine polluting multi-national corporations, but I’m sure that has nothing to do with any of this.  I think it’s interesting that the reporters who penned this piece actually treated this like these guys didn’t just pull this info out of their nether-areas.  In their defense, I did feed my dog some chili a couple weeks back, and there was most definitely some polluting gaseous emissions for the following day or so, but other than that, I’m not buying this.  Now I’m sure they have all the studies and statistics money can buy to support their claims, but I can quote you chapter and verse on the value (or lack thereof) of scientific studies.  The article is even populated with quotes from people treating this like it is actual fact, and that the polluting quotient of house pets is a genuine concern rather than a trumped up oddity of carbon footprint statistics designed to sell books.  (Yes, there is a book involved.  It’s called “Time to Eat The Dog.”  That title just lends all the credibility in the world doesn’t it?)

One woman says, “Our animals give us so much that I don’t feel like a polluter at all.”  That’s good, because you’re not a polluter.  A representative of a French animal rights group said,  “I should be allowed to say that I walk instead of using my car and that I don’t eat meat, so why shouldn’t I be allowed to have a little cat to alleviate my loneliness?”  Well, as far as I know, you are allowed.  I have yet to see a ban on pets for environmental reasons.  And how about that guilt trip!  This woman, an animal rights worker, felt the need to justify owning a cat like she was dumping raw sewage in the ocean or something.  Of course, the authors of this book claim that pets do far more damage than simply having a large carbon footprint.  According to them, pets also, “decimate wildlife, spread disease and pollute waterways.”  Big news here that dogs and cats use the bathroom outside.  Pretty sure wildlife does that, too.  After all, doesn’t a bear poop in the woods?  Also, here’s some more Earth-shattering information:  cats actually hunt and kill other animals.  Who would have thought?  And, again, doesn’t wildlife survive by hunting and killing other animals?  I mean, I don’t recall seeing any raccoons or owls in the vegetable aisle at the grocery store recently.  And I work in a vet clinic.  I can say, in no uncertain terms, that the vast majority of communicable diseases house pets come in with, they likely contracted from wildlife, not the other way around.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m sure there are environmental impacts from pets, just as everything that walks, crawls and breathes has an environmental impact in some way.  But when you get to the point where we’re actually suggesting that pets are responsible for more pollution than the worst, least fuel efficient vehicles on the road, maybe we need to take a step back and gain some perspective.  That being said, I do think there is one key area that is a potential source of global warming that we haven’t properly examined yet.  I believe we need to take a hard look at all of the hot air coming from environmentalists the world-over and find a way to determine what kind of footprint they’re leaving on all of our backsides.

Published in: on December 22, 2009 at 8:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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Publishing Links For Today: Wishful Thinking and Delusions Abound

So ad revenue for publishers has dropped nearly 30% in 2009, with little sign of a slowdown.  Well, recently, a survey of some 500 newspaper executives revealed their beliefs about what the upcoming year will bring.  They expect, get this, a .2% decline in revenue for this year.  That’s right, there is a decimal point in front of that number.  Significantly less than 1 % drop in an area that’s been free-falling for nearly three years now.  Now I’m all for being optimistic, but come on.  Here’s another point of view on the delusions that these 500 publishing executives seem to reveling in.

Of course, it could be that they genuinely believe that all of the cutbacks, corner cutting and cost savings that have decimated the quality of the industry (not to mention its supply of actual talented individuals needed to lead a rejuvenated charge) is enough to stem the declining tide.  And I have a bridge in Brooklyn for you.  Cheap.

I also came across this piece this morning, detailing another industry effort to help the bottom line:  gouge the people who still want to pay for your products. This effort shows off something I have long been opposed to but is rampant in corporate thinking.  Make decisions based on budget sheets and win!  I have mentioned this a few times with any number of things, but the gist is the same.  Spread sheets, no matter how detailed, do not give an accurate predictor of the cost or savings of cut backs.  In an overly simplistic sense, they do to some people who don’t understand the nuances of the industry or reader or advertiser behavior.  But just saying, “we’ll cut this line here, and that line will still stay the same and we’ll make more money,” is a refuge of small imaginations.  Jacking the price of an ad up $100 from $900 to $1000 doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll actually collect $100 more for each ad.  In many cases, the question is not about making $100 more if we do this, it’s how many current $900 advertisers will we lose doing this.  The spread sheet, unfortunately, doesn’t have a column for that.

The same logic applies to the cover price of publications.  You have a current number of paying readers.  Up the price, and we make that much more from them.  Cut back on coverage, lay off some reporters, outsource some design, and we’ll make even more.  Make the issues smaller, we’ll save on paper and ink, and even more money comes our way.  But in lessening the product and raising the price, you will lose paying readers.  And again, the spread sheet can’t account for readers seeing a lessened product and stop taking out their wallets.  So all these other cuts are made, but the expected increase in revenue never comes.  So what’s next?  Let’s cut some more!  It’s a vicious cycle, and one that can’t be stopped until someone throws out the budget sheet and starts thinking like a reader or advertiser.  The Industry seems to have lost that capacity long ago.  And that, more than anything else, may account for why they believe their products are valuable enough to make a comeback in 2010, weakened as they are.

Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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With Friends Like These…

Here’s more on the coming effort, particularly by magazine publishers, to make use of the soon-to-be useful and affordable for all e-readers (if we’re lucky).  I’ve been on record for being all for this effort as it, to me, makes far more sense for packaging and potentially getting people to pay for material formerly done best in print.  Adobe, the makers of the ever-popular Photoshop, Acrobat and InDesign graphic software that publishers rely on to produce their print products, is currently working on software to design products for these readers, as it appears that the locked down, device-specific controls like the Amazon Kindle’s days are numbered, thankfully.  Freedom, flexibility, and inexpensive are three words that the industry would do well to heed with this effort, lest they fall into the same trap that virtually destroyed the music industry, not just in sales but in reputation.

Which makes this guy’s comments appropriately interesting.   Steve Haber is the president of Sony’s Digital Reader Division, and came up with these gems in trying to explain why it is that his company, despite beating Amazon to the punch with its own digital reader years earlier, has been unable to capitalize like the online retailer has, even with their exorbitant revenue grab from publishers:  On the cost of e-books:  “The $9.99 price point is not a money maker.”  And, more interestingly, beating on the drum that broke the music industry’s back, copy protection software:  “You need an orderly process for selling books and DRM makes that possible.”

Okay, one at a time.  First, the price.  Yes, I think a one-size-fits-every-e-book pricing structure is pretty short-sighted.  But you can’t make money at $10 a copy?  For something that costs you virtually nothing to replicate?  Really?  Apparently, no one’s bothered to mention to this guy that there are bunches and bunches of publishers out there selling physical printed copies of books for less than $10 per copy, and they’re making money just fine.  And those copies actually involve putting out some greenbacks to print.  An e-book is an electronic copy that costs nothing more than the time it takes to duplicate to generate additional copies.  So, to review, with real books, a publisher pays for creating the original and then pays more for each additional copy, and they can make money at $10 or less per copy.  For an e-book, the publisher pays to create the original and then absolutely nothing for each additional copy up to infinity, but they can’t make money at $10?  Let’s remember, these are the same people who are still selling new CDs for up to $16 when its apparent to everyone on the planet that they’re worth nowhere near that.  Could be why sales are down, maybe?

Which brings me to DRM.     Seeing an exec from Sony touting the value of DRM threw me into a little time warp.  Do you all remember this debacle, you know, quite possibly the one event that did more to wreck the recording industry than all of the supposedly illegal downloading in the world?  If you’ve forgotten, back in 2005, Sony spearheaded an effort to covertly place DRM programs on new CD releases that would install software on any Windows machines the CD was placed in without the user’s knowledge.  This software not only affected how the machine played CDs, but it also opened the computer up to malicious attacks from outside entities.  This was so bad that Sony ended up being sued by numerous parties and wound up recalling all of the CDs with that software on it.  Needless to say, when Sony starts talking about DRM being a good thing, be very afraid.  Before this, the music industry actually had some credibility when discussing copy protection, but this scheme unmasked their priorities completely.  There were no longer any illusions that these companies cared at all about their customers’ rights, private property or anything other than keeping a stranglehold on their falling profits.  In the end, in an ironic twist, this DRM software turned out to have been developed using code that violated someone else’s licensing rights.  There may have never been a clearer case of “do as I say, not as I do.”

The publishing industry today is heading toward a situation like the music industry was in 5 or 10 years ago.  We need to be certain not to make the same mistakes they did.  Publisher’s need this guy and Sony’s help like they need a hole in the head.

Published in: on December 16, 2009 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Publishing Link For Today: Still Bullies After All These Years

If you thought the publishing industry’s unwillingness to directly challenge Google’s linking would stop them from chasing down other aggregators (specifically those without the vast financial ability to actually fight a court battle), well, read this. The Newspaper Licensing Agency Limited (NLA), representing publishers in the UK, has created a license scheme of questionable legality that they’ve been trying to ram down everyone’s throat.  Many of the UK news aggregators have given in and signed on, but not NewsNow.  So the NLA has engaged in a time-tested maneuver; they threatened a much smaller and financially incapable company standing in its way with a long, bankrupting law suit.  Not a law suit they would necessarily win (or even have the desire of ever reaching an actual judgment) just one that would force the company in question to exhaust its resources defending.  American Civil Law never did it so well.

And just for context, check out this page on the NLA’s website. I may be violating their perverted view of copyright in providing that link, but, seriously, read that.  Is this organization actually hunting down companies that send out photocopies of press clippings for licensing fees?  Really?  I knew the industry was notoriously cheap.  And , in this financial environment, desperate, but my lord!  How do you even begin to justify this obvious extortionist tactic?  This is a business plan the mob would be proud of.  A protection racket; pay us our monthly “licensing” fee and we won’t file expensive frivolous lawsuits for copyright infringement against you.

In these trying times, it’s somewhat comforting to know that the publishing industry reeling from massive financial setbacks, still takes some time out of their busy schedule to do some old-school bullying.  They’d better enjoy it now, though, because as quickly as their business models are sinking, they won’t have the money to pay all those pricey lawyers to make threats for them much longer.

Publishing Link For Today: The Rise of the Little Guy

Many in the mainstream press have been dismissive, if not down-right mocking, of so-called “citizen journalists.”  They see this trend as little more than a group of wannabes pretending to be professionals.  Well, read this. It’s the story of one of these citizen journalists who wrote his way into becoming a valued source of news and information on the radio industry in Toronto.  Throw in some very optimistic thoughts from a professor of Journalism at the University of British Columbia, and you have a much different picture of the citizen journalism movement than the mainstream press would like anyone to see.

It’s awfully easy for the long-time established press to characterize this threat to its superiority as little more than basement bloggers shooting their mouths off, but, as with their industry-wide blinders toward the value and importance of the internet in its early stages, that is a very risky assumption to make.  To me, the emergence of this alternative, hyper-independent press is far more dangerous to the industry than the struggling economy, advertisers wholesale abandonment or anything Google could happen to imagine.  This is, in its essence, a direct challenge to the role of the press in our society.  And it’s a good one.

Make no mistake, it will be a while before this movement fully takes shape, but we’re no longer talking about random people ranting endlessly on this and that.  We’re talking about legions of out-of-work journalists finding niches and areas of information to make their own, delving into issues with the same or greater professionalism of the established media.  And there are more coming every day.  It used to be that the newspaper was “the” source for information.  Now it’s become “a” source, one among an increasing crowd.  The superiority and dominance with which the established press has thrived all these years is fading faster than the circulation figures or the advertising revenue combined.

As the professor in the above-linked article said, people will judge this new era of evolution based on the value they find there.  The credibility will come from the content, not the brand.  In other words, the name on the cover has no meaning any longer, only the work within its pages (paper or digitized).  That perhaps, may be a battle the established industry is not only incapable of winning, but unable or unwilling to even recognize.

Published in: on December 13, 2009 at 5:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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Coming Soon To A Computer Near You: Content Generated By Algorithms and Written By Machines in India

Ever since Free Trade became something that we’ve engaged in, corporations have been shipping highly paid work to some sweat shop in Central America for pennies on the dollar.  How any politician ever thought allowing Americans companies to do this kind of obviously self-serving and profiteering garbage was a good idea in the first place is lost on me, but here we are.  Now the publishing industry, stinging greatly from massive revenue losses, is about to get on board in a big way. I, personally, can’t wait to see the first American newspaper totally produced by outsourced journalists, editors and graphic designers in India.  I’m sure that will be a delight.  This is extremely telling about the way the industry, at least some of the larger players in it, see and value their content.  They don’t.  Otherwise, how can you explain decision making this completely absurd.  It’s nothing more than a strict money-saving play that doesn’t even consider the value of the content, only its volume.

But it gets worse. Increasingly, media companies relying on advertising for revenue (which is virtually all media companies) are shifting their areas of coverage based not upon human reporters and editors, but based on computer algorithms that profess to tell us what people want to read.  Right now, those algorithms are dictating to real, live writers what their articles should be about in increasingly disturbing ways.  This stems largely from advertisers’ growing reliance on such algorithms to dictate how they place their ad dollars.  Now, I’ve been vocally against relying on targeted online ad efficiency claims, and judging the value of an advertising program based on click rates, etc. It simply ignores one of the great strengths of advertising, the ability to remain in someone’s consciousness far past the immediate point where they see an actual ad.  If I’m reading a magazine today, and I see an ad for a brake shop, it might mean nothing to me because I have no real need for it.  But two weeks from now, when my brakes start squealing, I’ll remember that ad.  And to find that company, I’ll likely do a Google search that takes me right to their website, completely skipping over any quantifiable, direct response from the ad itself.  This is, by far, the most common results from display advertising, and if you’re counting hits and click-throughs, you are totally ignoring this type of behavior.  In other words, the algorithm has no clothes.

And for readers, how does it feel to know that the media companies you rely on for information think so little of your intelligence and diversity that they believe a computer program based on little more than web-surfing habits can and will tell you what you want to read?  Personally, I’m a bit offended by that, and it takes a whole lot to offend me.  Yet, it gets still worse.  Have you ever heard of article writing software? Do an internet search for it.  It’ll turn up literally hundreds of applications promising to generate unique and original content in minutes without typing a single word.  And all of it will be researched, specially phrased for search engine optimization, and complete with titles, guaranteeing you much online traffic.  The one I linked to above actually says, and I quote, “Why spend precious time planning and writing articles everyday when Article Writer Pro can do it for you?”

At the moment, these things are pretty benign, although their use is increasing, but it’s not going to be long before technology advances to the point that these things will be in wide-spread use, even among professional media companies.  Just imagine, the newsroom of tomorrow is an empty office in Bangladesh populated by a bank of computers that crawl the internet using an array of algorithms to determine what we want to read, research and write the actual articles, edit them, post them to your local news website and all-the-while, the corporate overlords sit in their cushy office in New York watching the money roll in.

You think I’m exaggerating?  If the publisher of your local paper is willing to ship reporter and editor work half-way around the world to save a buck, don’t you think that an automated computer system that will generate exactly the kind of simplistic, inoffensive, internet optimized content they desire will gain any popularity amongst them?  Especially considering there’s no salaries, no benefits and no pesky arguments about integrity?  The day is most definitely coming.   Besides, computer chips haven’t figured out how to unionize.  Yet.

A Eulogy For Ira Black’s Nor’easter Magazine

So I stopped on my way home from work the other day to pick up a copy of Nor’easter. I was looking forward to a couple of things. First, I was hoping to see an interesting remembrance of Bob Liddell, my friend who helped found Nor’easter with me and a group of others and just passed away recently. I also wanted to see if they chose to honor him by placing his name in the masthead next to our other forming founding member who had passed away, Donna Kaehn. In addition, I wanted to read Ira Black’s farewell article, as he is leaving the boating biz for greener pastures, most notably the new Cecil County newspaper, The Cecil Guardian. Well, I was more than a little disappointed. Not only was there no remembrance to Bob in the masthead, Donna’s name had been removed for the first time in Nor’easter’s history, encompassing nine years and some 222 issues, counting the one year we did a special New Jersey edition. There was a nicely presented obituary to Bob, but it was little more than a rehash of obits I had seen previously in other publications. I was expecting more out of a magazine he was instrumental in founding than only a brief mention of his time there in what was otherwise a pretty standard obit. Ira’s column was good, though.

It’s interesting to me that these three elements corresponded in one issue, coincidentally, the final issue of 2009. In my mind, it serves as a final farewell to Ira Black’s Nor’easter Magazine (which was the original name of the publication). Those in charge are clearly trying to find an new identity away from what was originally established. I can’t fault them for that; times change and those who don’t change with them are often left behind. But still, the masthead thing bugged me. I just thought it would have been nice to remember those who came before in a more permanent way. Oh well.

But sitting down to read the now- smaller publication (in size, page count and name–the word “Magazine” has apparently been dropped, as well) seeing clearly the lack of Donna’s presence for the first time, the obit to Bob, and Ira’s good-bye feels a lot like closure. There were many ideals we worked under when we founded the magazine, and they have been getting less and less evident over the years as new minds and new ideals took their place. Now, they are hardly recognizable. New people, new ideas, new priorities have taken over. I’m not saying if that’s a good thing or a bad one, just different. The market will ultimately bear out how well the new direction plays. There will still be a Nor’easter, it just bears little resmblence to the one we founded, for better or for worse.

Ira’s final “In The Wind” column was a fitting eulogy, to me. A great thank you to everyone who supported us, and everyone who helped us along the way. A very nice way to say good bye. I no longer feel any real connection to Nor’easter, despite my efforts in its origins and formative years. It must be a little like a parent letting their children out into the world to make their own way. We don’t always agree with their choices, and it can be too easy to rebuke their missteps from the sideline, but ultimately, it’s their life and their decisions to make. This will be my final words on the subject. It was a helluva lot of fun while it lasted. Ira Black’s Nor’easter Magazine, Rest In Peace.

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