Category Archives: The Media Landscape

Taking Alabama News Online

Today, many of Alabama’s largest print newspapers are shutting down their presses and not printing a Monday or even a Tuesday paper.  The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and the Mobile Press-Register aren’t being delivered to anyone’s homes this morning because their parent company, Alabama Media Group have made the collective decision for them to prioritize online distribution as opposed to putting yesterday’s news on dead trees.  They are now only printing three times a week and are instead putting their day to day reporting on the AL.com mothership that encompasses all three papers.

In theory, I think this is a fantastic idea.  Print media simply can not keep up with the real time nature that online journalism provides.  Reporting the news as it happens has much more value than delivering it in the morning the next day without any interactivity.  But I’m not so sure that Alabama Media Group is playing it right.  I think the paper in my current town, The Huntsville Times, is home to fantastic reporting and genuinely great and friendly people.  But I fear that the “from the top” decisions that have been made for them could devalue what they’ve spent a long time building.

Here are some of the problems I see with the transition:

Hyperlocal: I talked about this early on in the year, and I still hold the claims that I made in that post.  To summarize if you don’t want to go through that, hyperlocalization is the concept of journalism at a microscopically local level.  It drills news down to a neighborhood basis that reports what is directly relevant to someone in their specific area. Now that our Alabama newspapers have focused their attention online, it should be much easier for them to do this.  On the first day of the transition, I was disappointed to see that AL.com has no feature that intuitively allows this from their home page.  You can select a town like Birmingham or Huntsville, but this does little to really make that reporting uniquely and directly relevant.

What I would like to have seen is something that lets me get only the local news from my small neighboring towns like Harvest or Monrovia. The customization allowed for by an online platform should make this easier, but it hasn’t happened yet.  Here’s hoping this is in the cards for the future.

Interactivity: First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.  AL.com is home to some of the most racist, vile, disgusting, and offensive comments available anywhere online.  Shifting focus online means that the people behind these comments have more of a spotlight.  There’s no way to spin it, this is a terrible thing.  I’ve noticed that moderation has become better, but anytime there is a controversial topic in the news, the rats come crawling.

Aside from that, interactivity has to be implemented better.  Now that reporters are more than just a name in the dateline, I would really like to see them become more active in comments and in social media.  They also have to stop thinking of journalism as a “we speak, you listen” affair.  By nature of being online, it’s now an ongoing conversation.  Journalists have to think of themselves as much more than writers, they have to be media personalities that audiences can identify as authoritative in their beats.  There are some Huntsville Times and AL.com writers who have done this well, but it doesn’t appear to be a standard of any sort.

Education: This morning, I was surprised to find that some sort of paper was delivered to my house.  But it wasn’t a paper, it was a large guide instructing people how to use the digital functionality provided by Alabama Media Group.  The first problem is that you have to explain it.  Yes, it’s true that not printing a paper and going online is a huge change and it takes a while to get people to warm up to that.  But you shouldn’t have to put a large guide in their hands that shows them what to do and how to do it once you’ve made that switch.  It should be intuitive and feel like second nature, not like you have to go through a seminar to know what’s available or how to use it.

Apps: All Alabama Media Group papers have recently released apps for Android and iPhone, but unfortunately they aren’t good.  Below is the App Store rating for the main app as of the morning of the big switch on October 1st:

That’s not going to cut it.  Many reviews complain that the app continually crashes and has severe user interface problems.  Apps are currently the economy of mass digital communication, and it doesn’t appear that Alabama Media Group is ready to play there yet.  Sure, you can give it a great PR spin and say things like “we’re learning” or “we know there’s work to do,” but the app has been available and regularly reworked for almost a year now.  You can’t learn for that long and expect to survive in an area in which other news providers have great platforms already out there.

Additionally, if you look at the front page of AL.com, there’s no way to even know that an app is available at first glance.  There are some small links in the footer, but no App Store or Android buttons advertising their availability.  This is typically common now, so I’m unsure why this wasn’t a high priority on day one.

Neglect of Rural Alabama: Perhaps I’m a little biased because I’m from Small Town Alabama, but this is still the most egregious offense to me.  Much of Alabama still does not have reliable broadband access.  And also, owning a tablet or smartphone is not an economic option for many of the people still in Rural Alabama.  These aren’t just elderly and retired citizens, but also those that are socio-economically disadvantaged.  If you haven’t ever been more than a half hour drive from the bubble of a metro area in Alabama, do it and you’ll quickly see what I’m talking about.

The online shift takes many of these people out of the equation.  They don’t have reliable access, many not even have a device to access anything with, and likely relied on a daily printed paper as one of the few sources of information to the outside world.  Perhaps this isn’t a viable market for those within Alabama Media Group anymore, and they decided to cut their losses.  If so, it opens up a market for localized papers that hopefully can fill the hyperlocal void that hasn’t yet been filled.

In summary, I do think that the individual papers within Alabama Media Group are doing a fantastic job.  In my media market in North Alabama, I think we’re spoiled with the hard working and well connected people at The Huntsville Times.  The new challenges I partially listed are at their feet, but weren’t laid out by them.  Instead, it’s Alabama Media Group who are creating challenges for themselves.  I do really applaud them for making a bold and forward thinking move, however I don’t think they’ve gotten off on the right foot.

Alabama is home to the best storytellers in the world.  Regardless of the platform, this will always be true.  I’m really excited that our newspapers are now doing it in an area that allows for much more, and I hope  Alabama Media Group strengthens and tightens their focus in order to take advantage of it.


Credit Where It’s Due

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among a lot of local and national media outlets lately, and it isn’t one that’s improving over time. It’s taken Old Media a while to adapt to the New over the past ten or fifteen years, but they sometimes need a little help moving along.  I hope I can help in doing that by pointing out something that has been extremely irritating to me lately.

That Old Media that I mentioned has evolved lately by becoming increasingly aware of New Media outlets such as YouTube or Facebook.  I’ve seen many local news stations look outside of their own traditional means for news and information from their fans or followers.  Which is an adept thing to do on their part in that they’ve realized they can’t be everywhere, but their followers actually are.  For example, perhaps there is a wreck snarling a major traffic artery.  A viewer might have caught a picture or video that they posted to Twitter, which the local news station passes along so that drivers in the area are aware of exactly where the slowdown might be happening.

This is great for both sides, but here’s the problem that I’ve continually noticed: Attribution.  National media has caught up with this for the most part, but the local tragically has not.  If a photo is used in print or on air, far too often it’s attributed only to “Facebook” or “YouTube.”  Sure, that content came from those sources.  But Facebook or YouTube are only acting as intermediaries here.  In this context, those sites delivered little more than the delivery method.  The viewer that took the time to take the photo and submit it was doing the brunt of the work.

Attribution is a problem here not only because the media isn’t taking or care to properly cite sources, but because it’s effectively taking away ownership of the content.  There have been debates over the past few years about who really owns content posted to social media sites.  The Terms of Service of each site buries ambiguous language under dense legalese, which makes it unclear whether or not you actually retain ownership over your own created work.  Once ignorant media picks up on user created content and lazily attributes it as “Courtesy of YouTube,”  they create problematic case example.

There’s also one more issue that I’ve noticed.  Now that local news stations have ventured into Facebook, they seem to be under the impression that anything posted by their fans or friends are under free reign of use.  Images and video posted by other users are not necessarily approved by their originators for extreme public exhibition such as what’s seen on the local 5PM news.  The images and video that you’re using are quite possibly from individuals who are very careful and concise about who their friends are and what privacy controls they are using.  By signing Facebook’s Terms of Service, they are not entering into any agreement with you.  Don’t betray their trust by improperly passing on what they may not intend for you to.  Simply contact them and ask.  Granted, many news outlets have gotten better about this.  Hopefully out of respect, but more likely out of liability reasons.

So any media outlets taking a look at this post… I beg of you.. please properly cite, attribute, and contact.  This is something that you should have learned on day one of any high school class teaching this topic.  Once you do this correctly, you’re doing a service to your viewers and are no longer making yourselves look insolent.


Outsourcing The Local News

Two things I really like to follow is media and local gossip, so naturally I’m pretty interested in the inside baseball talk when it comes to local news.  In particular, the local TV North Alabama news really interest me in that it seems to be the way that most locals get their news and information.  Traditional print and online media seem to have a presence in certain demographics, but aren’t as widespread and deep rooted in the area as the evening network affiliate newscasts.

One bit of trivia that has always interested me and disgusted me at the same time is what WZDX, the local Fox affiliate does with their news.  They don’t exactly try to promote this fact, but their 9:00pm evening newscast isn’t even produced within the state of Alabama.  It’s instead produced in a studio in Iowa.  Aside from two local reporters, everything you see on their news is done hundreds of miles away from the area it reports on.  Essentially rendering their news lifeless and devoid of any contextual relevance.

I always used that fact as the butt of a joke when it came to WZDX, but lately I’m wondering if the news really is “local” to begin with.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll note that I have a number of friends who work both in front of and behind the camera at WHNT, our local CBS affiliate.  Even after cleansing myself of any bias, I do generally think they do the best job of covering the area in a manner that understands it best.  However, that being the case, I’m a bit disappointed in a few moves they’ve made lately.

First, they hired two new sports anchors in the wake of parting ways with the guy who previously had this watch.  A call that many of WHNT’s viewership didn’t agree with.  Out of respect for all involved, I won’t get into names or specifics.  But it was my understanding that the management of the station and the previous sports anchor had a number of disagreements and mutually decided to end their relationship.  Which happens in any line of work, and is totally understandable.

However, the new sports anchors hired weren’t from anywhere near our market. While it’s true that many jobs require relocation, this is a separate story altogether.  Given the insane obsession with college football of nearly everyone in the state of Alabama, it’s simply impossible for someone devoid of that context to even remotely understand that obsession.  Without exaggeration or hyperbole, it is absolutely true that the rivalry between Alabama and Auburn is one that splits families and defines virtually every resident of the state of Alabama.  In fact, it’s more than just a rivalry, and it’s going to take well more than just a few months for someone previously regulated to Las Vegas to truly understand that.

Hiring outside of your market isn’t always going to be that big of a deal.  But for a viewer to develop a relationship and a trust with a purveyor of media, it’s going to take a sense of familiarity.  WHNT has Jerry Hayes, who is sort of North Alabama’s own Ron Burgundy.  Except keep the epic mustache and take away the on-air inappropriateness.  Mr. Hayes is kind of a legend in how he’s genuine on the air and apparently will report on North Alabama until the End of Days.  His trust and familiarity has been earned over two decades, something that won’t happen for WHNT’s new sports anchors in just a few months prior to the Iron Bowl.

In short, I don’t expect their experiment to last too long.


Witnessing The Birth of a Viral Video

I’ll try to keep this short, but you should first do yourself a favor and watch this video if you haven’t already.

I’ve followed this pretty closely the past two days.  The story itself isn’t that interesting, but it’s obviously the reaction of the brother in the video that’s hilarious and has caused this video to go viral.  I first saw this story published by a friend on Facebook on Wednesday night shortly after it aired on the (trashy) local news and knew immediately that it had all the right ingredients to get insanely popular.  I’d noticed already that it had been spread a little over Twitter and Facebook, but it hadn’t really yet gotten the kind of traction it needed to go widespread.  I did my part to spread it around that night and reminded myself to check into it the next day.

Thursday morning, I took another look at the video to see how many views it had gotten so far.  Only 311.  But I’d noticed that it had over 400 comments, indicating that YouTube hadn’t yet tallied the numbers correctly.  In the meantime, it seemed as if every other update on my Facebook feed was about this.  Which helped, but it was mainly from people in the North Alabama area in which the story had originated.  It hadn’t yet gone mainstream.  AL.com published the story to the front page of their site, which helped a ton.  However, I was told by one of their writers that the Huntsville Times wasn’t comfortable with the story and asked them to remove it.  But by the time it was gone, it was too late.

Thursday afternoon, the video count finally refreshed and showed around 4,000 views.  Not a bad count for a day’s worth, but the comments were really starting to pile in.  It had over a dozen comments within five minutes, which goes to tell you that the YouTube view count still wasn’t able to keep up.  Also around this time, a Google search of the guy’s name showed that a ton of blogs started to pick up the video, even on small corners of VH1 and Comedy Central.  Now that it had gotten outside of the North Alabama social sphere, it was really catching on.

Fast Forward to this morning, and see where the video stands now..

It’s now the top video of the day on YouTube, both on the “popular” and “most viewed” tabs.  This happened within 24 hours, and without the help of the typical viral kingmakers such as Digg or Reddit.  I had submitted the video to Digg, but it didn’t really catch on there for whatever reason.  If it ever does, stand back.  Also, it’s more than possible that more mainstream mediums that cover this beat such as Tosh.0 might pick this up.  Then it gets nuts.

I’ve really become interested in web marketing over the past year or two, which is why this fascinates me so much.  There was a lot to take away from this in terms of what makes a viral video and how it becomes popular.  The thing I learned the most from it is that a video isn’t necessarily popular as long as it is only passed around on Twitter and Facebook.  There’s a big boundary in terms of getting it seen on a more traditional and mainstream level before that can happen.

Plus, having a hell of a character sprouting hilarious lines right into the camera doesn’t hurt either.  HOMEBOY.


Mass Effect 2: When Marketing Is Too Much

A sequel to one of my favorite games of the last decade is out today.  A few months ago, I’d have expected myself to be right over to Target or Best Buy right after work with debit card in hand ready to buy it.  But that’s not happening today, and probably won’t be happening anytime soon.  It’s not because I don’t expect the game to be good, it looks fantastic.  It’s just that the darn thing has just been absolutely over-saturated in advertising.  The marketing is so much and so intrusive, I’m no longer interested.

Getting the public awareness up about your product is one thing, I have no issue whatsoever with banner ads, thirty second TV spots, and other types of unintrusive and expected advertisement.  But when the product is constantly being shoved in my face, I honestly tire of it and already feel sick of it before I even purchase it.  But there’s another issue that’s involved with this type of over-saturation that I really don’t care for.  Sometimes the advertisement is so much, I question the integrity of the places that they’re advertised.  For example, below are two screenshots taken today from Gamespot and IGN, two of the most visited sites on the web when it comes to video game reviews.



They’ve both been plastered with the main characters of the game, but each of these sites are also featuring the review of the game as their top slide.  How unbiased can these reviews really be when they’re getting paid buckets of cash from EA and Bioware in order to promote the same game they are reviewing?  If you follow video games much, you might remember a big fuss a few years ago when Jeff Gerstmann, a writer for Gamespot, gave a game a poor review.  The game was coincidentally being promoted in the same way as you see above.  People with more expensive suits than he disliked this discrepancy and he found himself out of a job.  So this type of sleaziness is not unprecedented.

If it’s not a tacky Mass Effect 2 online ad that’s annoying me, it’s a TV ad every other minute on a channel that might possibly skew to EA’s demographic.  Or it’s a “sponsored segment” on The Totally Rad Show, my favorite online entertainment show.  But the point I want to make directly to EA and other purveyors of similar products is this.  The abundance of advertisement of this game has made me sick of a game that I’ve not even played yet.  I feel like I’ve already spent too much time in the world of Mass Effect, and I don’t really know if I can trust reviews of the game at this point.  I’ll eventually get the game, but I’ll buy it used from Amazon far after all the media hype is over with.


This Post Courtesy of WordPress

Local media often gets ridiculed for a number of different reasons, but I’ve noticed one thing becoming more prevalent lately that really ticks me off.  Given that sites like YouTube and Facebook have encouraged sharing photos and video in the past few years, it’s a given that local media looks up names on all of those types of sites when doing any number of different types of reports.  Perhaps they just want to get a photo of someone or want to show some type of video as their “video of the day”.

That’s fine.  I understand the privacy concerns, but if some reporter at a local TV news station can find your material, it’s because you chose to make it public.  That’s an entirely separate issue, however.  What irritates me about these instances is the incorrect and lazily attributed citation that they give this material.  I guarantee you that nine times out of ten, you will see a video or photo shown in this manner attributed specifically to YouTube or Facebook.  Joe Q. Public isn’t going to think too much of this, but there are a number of things wrong with this:

  • They’re suggesting that they’ve contacted YouTube or Facebook directly requesting permission, which you know they haven’t.
  • They’re failing to correctly credit the originator of the material, instead crediting the platform and not the user of it.
  • Even though the material is public, the incorrect attribution suggests that they’ve not contacted the originator or family of the originator directly requesting permission to air it.
  • It’s lazy half-assed journalism.

Perhaps the thing that scares me the most about this tactic is that it further distances content originators away from their material.  If it weren’t for original content that these people are creating, sites like YouTube, Facebook, Digg, etc, would have nothing.  These types of sites are already benefitting greatly from what we freely give them already, shame on the lazy media for further giving credit to where it’s not due.


Trailer Trash Costs Less at Wal-Mart

Like many things associated with Wal-mart, their TV commercials are really annoying. When they started their new campaign around two years ago, there were a lot of people offended by Wal-mart’s assertion that “Christmas costs less” there. This inferred that Christmas actually had some sort of price tag that could be discounted. Granted, these are the same people who likely complained that “The Holidays” were being used in place of Christmas. Of course, you can’t please everybody.

I’m watching something on TV the other night and saw an ad that they are running now for Halloween. Of course, it implies that Halloween costs less there. But something else has always struck me as odd in these commercials, and it wasn’t until this one that I really caught on to what it was. In that commercial, you see someone holding a big Halloween party that has tons of decorations, a buffet of food and candy, and costumes for everybody. Something is wrong with this picture, and most viewers of it probably won’t catch it.

Who is going to spend that much on Halloween, buying that much useless crap? Granted, there are a lot of people who have spent that much and will continue to do so. But really, only because this ad communicates to them that it’s okay for them to keep doing it. What’s really underhanded about the ad is that it implies that you already planned on spending that much on useless Halloween items. Of course, you’ll save money if you buy it at Wal-mart. But you’ll save even more money once you realize you don’t need to buy that stuff. The ad focuses on the discounts you’ll get at Wal-mart, but perhaps the real message of the ad is the one that it doesn’t really spell out clearly. It infers that you already planned on buying a large quantity of candy, decorations and costumes. Since you just remembered that you need to buy that much junk, you might as well do it at Wal-mart since they said it’s cheaper.

I used to be a Wal-mart apologist. Sure, they produced everything in sweatshops. Sure, they run local shops out of business. Sure, they do everything they can to prevent unions and keep wages down. But they continue to offer a cheap and efficient way of buying everything you need in one place. At some point you realize that the personal benefits aren’t worth it. And there of course is the point where you realize what exactly Wal-mart is doing to middle America. But perhaps the condescending and creepily effectual sort of assertions that they make in their ads is what did it in for me.