TWIT Drops Anchor

Tom Merritt, caring tech journalist.

The Tech Journalism landscape is covered with partisans and homers. It isn’t very often when one comes about with the trusted demeanor of one of the stallworths of the golden age of broadcast journalism. Too often would-be news presenters take shortcuts in their reporting and confuse strong personalities with good journalism. It’s like everyone wants to be Rush Limbaugh. When I first found tech news podcasts the best one was C/NET’s Buzz Out Loud. It was a great mix of the latest stories and good banter. Tom Merritt, Molly Wood and a wide variety of co-hosts explored the stories. As is always the case with new media, Tom left C/NET to join Leo Laporte and began the Tech News Today daily podcast. For me Buzz Out Loud lost a lot of its journalistic integrity and became too much about the personalities because there was no one left to reign in Molly’s rants. I fear that Leo’s decision to drop Tom is a case of history repeating itself.

Who knows what if anything is happening behind the scenes, but requiring the news director to be local (as in the Bay Area) seems to be more than an unfortunate decision. My experience with working remotely is that it is really is a huge pain in the ass and does require a lot of extra effort to support the remote member of the team. I would think having Tom on the team would be worth it. We’ll see who picks Tom up and how that changes to tech news scene.

TNT Host, Tom Merritt

Former TNT Host, Tom Merritt

The decision to replace Tom with Mike Elgan greatly worries me because he’s willing to air his opinion, one hopes in the interest of promoting interesting dialog (the recent “Apple Blacklist” for example), but it comes off as too much punditry and not enough real objective news reporting. It’s an interesting problem that new media and news-info-tainment has these days. We want to identify with those we follow online and have a much closer “relationship” with them than the sterile facade of traditional news/journalism. But too often when adding some “personality” to their stories, they include too much of themselves in the story and fill in the gaps with their own experiences too much. I appreciated how Tom ran the TNT news show because he knew when to reveal his personal take, how to work with and get the best from others on the team and where to stop when it was becoming too much conjecture and not journalism. We’ll see if Elgan can pull it off without putting too much of his experience into the “news” show. I’m willing to be surprised but am fearful that TWiT dropped the wrong anchor.


Mistakes Were Made: On Camera [video fridays]


As the painfully extended “Mistakes Were Made” week concludes I’d like to recognize those men and women who often have put themselves in harms way to bring us the news and chief among them, those who have “flubbed” their lines and shown their human side. Enjoy.

Second collection of bloopers…

This last one is a collection of TV show bloopers…


News Reporter Fail Compilation 2011 || YDL Uploaded by YourDailyLaughz on Nov 19, 2011

The Funniest News Bloopers on YouTube Uploaded by barbaricon94 on Mar 10, 2009

All-time BEST TV Bloopers and Outtakes! Uploaded by AlanSmithee20 on Oct 28, 2010

Mistakes Were Made: Journalism Still Faltering Making “Digital” Work


The dream that the iPad and assorted Android tablets were going to save the magazine and newspaper business is dead, according to stories published last week by the Verge and Gigaom. Both publications pointed to an article by Jason Pontin posted in MIT’s Technology Review that cited all of the horrors and unfulfilled expectations that was TR’s failed attempt to move to an iPad tablet version of their publication. I’ve written many times about my own frustrations as a potential news consumer trying to find publications worthy of my coin that either replicated or went beyond the dead-tree versions. The numerous missteps chronicled in Pontin’s article lead me to believe that the decline in journalism is going to continue while smaller start-ups from the blogs, like the Verge, are going to fill the vacated media-niche.

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In the News: Newspapers/Magazines on the iPad, Part 2

Man Reading Newspaper at Beach - Microsoft Office Clipart

Newspapers on iPad examples by Joe Bustillos

So when we last left our hero, I was looking for the best way to consume my daily news via my iPad… I had discovered that the Amazon kindle edition of the Los Angeles Times was much improved from earlier versions. My guess is that earlier versions, because of limitations of the kindle itself, were black and white images only and attempted to mimic the look of the print edition in a single column fashion, which led to some navigation difficulties. I really don’t know because by the time I decided to subscribe to the LA Times they had switched to an Onswipe-like layout with side-scrolling and section navigation on the left. See A) Los Angeles Times – Amazon Kindle edition on the right.

Imagine my surprise when I checked out the free LA Times iPad app and it looked pretty like the Amazon Kindle version that I was paying $9.99 each for. In fact, the free version was a little more advanced in it’s usage of screen real-estate, giving the reader a bit more information and options on each single screen. See B) Los Angeles Times – iPad App Edition (free) to the right.

The free version had the better screen usage because the section menu was drop-down, so it was out of the way when not needed. See C) Los Angeles Times – iPad Edition – Sections Menu to the right. And the free version was not lite on content by any stretch of the imagination. Granted, the last time I saw the paper version of the daily I was shocked at how small the newspaper was. It was hardly a shadow of it’s former self. So my guess is that the free iPad version has all of the same content as the paper version.

Finally, one thing that was very frustrating with the Kindle version of the Los Angeles Times was that if I found an article that I wanted to share or clip there was no way to do that in the Kindle version. I couldn’t select the article to copy it or even select any text that I might want to share. Now that might have been a limitation of the iOS interface but it really made the Kindle version feel like it was just for reading and not for sharing or research. The free version had social-networking built-in. Yeah. I cancelled my Kindle-edition. See D) Los Angeles Times iPad Edition Social Networking Menu to the right.

As I continued to explore the free Los Angeles Times iPad app I couldn’t find anyway to “subscribe” or become a subscriber in the traditional sense. I’m guessing that the free iPad version is being supported by the few ads along the bottom of some of the screens. As much as I love getting the whole LA Times for free, I’m concerned about the sustainability of the free model. That said, I’m not happy at the confusing subscription model being promoted by the New York Times that favors paper-subscribers over iPad/online subscribers when there’s so much less waste in the iPad/online model. Note that when you look at the iPad version of the New York Times all of the sections are locked for non-subscribers – see E) New York Times – iPad Edition – PAID Sections.

So, do I enjoy a free-copy of the LA Times every morning on my iPad with my Wheaties? Not so much. It’s tough to settle into the sit-and-read-the-paper-with-breakfast model that I’ve aspired to. Also, I’ve gotten used to skimming dozens of news sources at a time via my iPad RSS reader of choice, NewsRack. There are dozens of more visual newsreaders that mimic the slider model, but my purpose is to skim and select what to read and if I have to wade through tons of images it’ll slow down the process. I guess I’ve chosen a method of going through dozens and dozens of news sources instead of trusting a couple, or as in my dad’s case, one source.

Actually, now that I think about it, part of my problem is that I’m used to skimming and get a lot of my research links via my Twitter-stream. I tend to skim my Twitter resources before skimming my RSS articles. So, there’s a definite disconnect from the traditional news/magazine publication cycle and how I consume my information. As beautiful as some of these news apps are (like the ABC News and BBC apps) I don’t want to go to dozens of iPad apps or virtual magazines. It’s the web2 model: I don’t want to have to go to the apps, I want the news to seamlessly come to me. Man, this is much more difficult than I expected. This is going to require more thought… to be continued…

image: Man Reading Newspaper at Beach – Microsoft Office Clipart,|mt:2| retrieved 1/14/2012.
image: Newspapers on iPad examples by Joe Bustillos, retrieved 1/14/2012.

In The News: Newspapers/Magazines on the iPad, Part 1

Newspaper forest green by NS Newsflash/Jon S

I have memories of my father spending every morning of his life reading the LA Times, weekdays and weekends. He was up at the crack of dawn and gone before we invaded the kitchen most mornings, but the evidence of his presence was there in the refolded sections of the newspaper. In later years I tried to emulate the morning newspaper practice but my mornings never seemed to be either that consistent or that “leisurely” in having time to read the paper, so the papers just piled up mostly unread until the guilt of the waste would prompt me to cancel my subscription.

These past fifteen years or so, keeping up with tech trends has been my business, and back in the beginning the newspaper would have been of no use (except for the computer store ads in the Saturday Sports section). Local user groups (NOCCC was strong back then) were the first sources of news and computer magazines like Byte and PC World were essential links to information. Eventually TV shows like C/NET TV and the Computer Chronicles and eventually ZD-TV/TechTV filled in the gap as user groups began to fade and virtual communities began to grow through the Internet. TV shows were then replaced by audio and the video podcasts mostly done by full-time podcasters. But I still hadn’t found a consistent “news gathering” process.

When I got my first iPad I was hoping that I would find a much more Eco-friendly way to consume daily news and tech news. I was really looking forward to reading newspapers and magazines on my iPad. One of the first publications to make it’s debut, The Daily, was buggy and I wasn’t really impressed with the quality of the writing style, so I never subscribed beyond the one-month free trial. At the time there were newspaper apps but they were geared for the small iPhone screen and were hardly better than a crippled webpage. This was not the experience I was looking for. In fact the best magazine/newspaper translation to iPad that I’ve found has been the Zinio version of National Geographic. Zinio is an app or wrapper that previously appeared as a Mac and Windows desktop app, but in it’s iPad incarnation not only does it preserve the feel and layout of the magazine but it all offers photo galleries and videos not possible in the paper version of the magazine. The only draw-back is that I have to remember to launch the Zinio app to get to my magazine library, but everything else is pretty seamless. Now that Apple has it’s own “newsstand” version I wonder what the difference might be. Also NG has it’s own stand-alone version. As far as look and feel and multimedia options Zinio works.

Newspaper-wise, in the beginning there was nothing, except for the iPhone versions. Being from the West Coast I was hoping to get the LA Times, but the Times was a Flash-only subscription that wouldn’t work on my iPad. Amazon had a kindle version of several newspapers, but reviews were critical of the offering, mostly related to poor editing and poor image support. But then some time late in the summer I discovered that Amazon had improved their newspaper subscription service and signed up for the Los Angeles Times via Kindle. Ten bucks a month for the daily paper with all of the sections from the original in a semi-blog/onswipe kind of layout. Not too bad. Well, except for when I happened to find almost the exact same version available apparently directly from the LA Times (via an LA Times app), FOR FREE! Doh! To be continued…


Why Does C/NET Hate Apple?


I don’t remember what cable channel it was on, but I was so happy to find a future-tech-oriented TV show one day many, many years ago and soon came to appreciate and look for the giant red C/NET logo. That was before Tech-TV, which has come and gone, and before podcasting. These days, I continue to listen to C/NET’s flagship podcast, Buzz Out Loud, not because I’m looking for tech-journalism but because I’m want to know what the haters are thinking about when Apple is in the news.

brian tong and molly wood - image by CNET

Anchored by two very smart and funny tech-observers, Molly Wood and Brian Tong, the once daily podcast seems to have fallen victim to the talk-show radio syndrome where news stories have become launching points for venom and hyperbole. Back when Tom Merritt was part of the crew the balance between news reporting, analysis and rants was well managed, entertaining and worth listening to/watching. The revolving third seat, since Merritt’s departure, has been manned by good people, but all seem to be either too quick to go into rant mode or no one can be found who is strong enough a personality to maintain the news/analysis/rant balance. I’m sure that there are probably constructive reasons for the change, but the reduction of the podcast from daily to weekly isn’t a good sign. And for me, with the rant-a-thon, I can hardly make it through even the weekly sessions.

Case in point, news item: Apple’s Siri voice-service is under scrutiny over it’s apparent aversion to giving info when asked for assistance looking for birth-control. Siri doesn’t seem to have any problem giving assistance when asked for where one can score pot or how to dispose of a body. The latter example, obviously meant to be humorous while the former… well, have you read the Steve Jobs biography? Molly Wood goes into rant mode about Apple’s obvious nanny-mode control issues. Apple had previously responded that it wasn’t a political statement and that, after all, the service is still in Beta. One of Wood’s co-hosts offered that it could have also been a CYA thing, with Apple not wanting to be sued in the future when someone under-age uses Siri to get info and then gets an abortion. Wood wouldn’t have it and called Apple “Beta” explanation bull[shit], and continued the rant. I shut off the podcast and deleted the episode.

What it comes down to is that there’s no one there to pull back on the rants and maintain even the illusion of journalistic balance. It was a little understandable when they were under the pressure of doing a daily tech-news show that they would riff on the headlines and not spend too much time to dig deeper into the stories. And given the ongoing nature of most of the stories and the incomplete record of the events, one does need the analysis. Problem was and is, especially when dealing with anything Apple or Steve Jobs, Wood and Brian Tong always assumed the worst, most controlling, evil motives. To their credit they’ve earned their skepticism over Apple’s motives. Wood has seen how Apple marketing has been savage in their pandering and mistreatment of the press and Tong worked for Apple in the early years of the Apple Stores (which I guess qualifies one for … wounds). Alas, having been poorly treated by individuals or organizations… well, if one is going to be a journalist one needs to rise above it. Where’s the objectivity when one automatically goes for the “evil” reason. I’m not saying that one shouldn’t be skeptical and just buy the marketing fluff, but there is a middle ground that C/NET and Buzz Out Loud seem to have lost a long time ago.