April Fools’ Digitally Disrupted?

Nowadays it’s almost impossible to tell what is an April Fools’ joke and what is a real product.  Here are two examples, both rolled out today.   The Wall Street Journal assures us that Amazon Dash is not a hoax, but the first (creepy) step in the Internet of Things.

Even worse is the Selfie Shoe.  Yup, you heard that right.

I don’t often agree with E Online, but in this case I really am praying it’s not a real thing.

Reading for Thursday is in the post below.  Don’t forget to have discussed your final project with me before April 1st. And I forgot to name Blog Of The Week last week:  Mallory Anderson’s audio interview with Shannon Murphy.

Addendum  Andrew Sullivan comes out and says it:  Blogging almost killed him.  Thanks to Elizabeth McLaughlin for noticing this article.

Pulitzer Centre Guests


vietnam_002 PROJECTPAGE

Above are two images from projects by two Michigan alums, Jens Erik Gould and David Rochkind for the Pulitzer Centre.   They will talk to our class on Tuesday about these projects – respectively on TB funding in Vietnam and HIV in Honduras.  You may also want to look at Jens’ Bravery Tapes on the Huffington Post, which combines journalism, music and film.

For Thursday, reading as follows:

And you should have spoken to me, or emailed me, with your plans for a final project by April 1st.  I was gratified to see a piece in the New York Times today on the Players’ Tribune, three months after COMM 439 student Zack Karmin did his final project on it.  Finally, just for your reading, a piece by Scott Simon about tweeting his mother’s death.   The last line: “Social media has become the first line of our utterly human response.”


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Congratulations to Hub Humphrey for his photo story, which our class guest, Marcin Szczepanski, picked as blog of the week!   For more on Marcin’s recent work, here’s his blog from Ethiopia.

In journalism innovation news:  Buzzfeed is going into podcasts, the White House is getting a new Chief Digital Officer and Meerkat’s already under fire.  If you want to see what the fuss is about, try following @WOLVTV which will be Meerkatting an election special on Wednesday (props to Anisha Nandi for making that happen.)

Thanks to Jen Calfas for pointing out this Ted talk on how journalism gives voice to the voiceless.  And don’t forget – profiles are due in Thursday morning.  Readings for Thursday were posted last week.

The Next Big Thing is Here


Dan Pfeiffer/Backchannel

Dan Pfeiffer/Backchannel

The buzz is all about Meerkat, which we knew about, thanks to Amanda Dimare‘s vigilance.

The man who crafted Obama’s image, Dan Pfeiffer, is quoted as saying:

If 2004 was about Meetup, 2008 was about Facebook, and 2012 was about Twitter, 2016 is going to be about Meerkat (or something just like it).

That was from a piece called How Meerkat is Change the 2016 Election for Every Campaign Reporter and Voter.  Even the WSJ is on trend, with a piece detailing the early adopters in politics.

Just a reminder that Bob Nickelsberg will be speaking in Mason Hall 3356 at 4pm on Monday about his long and fascinating career photographing conflicts around the world.  Please come along.  Maybe I’ll livestream it on Meerkat.

Could Wearable Computers be as Harmful As Cigarettes?

Tim Robinson/New York Times

Tim Robinson/New York Times

That’s the provocative question posed by Nick Bilton in yesterday’s New York Times.  So provocative that later in the day, the headline was changed to the more sober ‘The Health Concerns in Wearable Tech’.  Bilton writes:

We have long suspected that cellphones, which give off low levels of radiation, could lead to brain tumors, cancer, disturbed blood rhythms and other health problems if held too close to the body for extended periods.  Yet here we are in 2015, with companies like Apple and Samsung encouraging us to buy gadgets that we should attach to our bodies all day long.  While there is no definitive research on the health effects of wearable computers (the Apple Watch isn’t even on store shelves yet), we can hypothesize a bit from existing research on cellphone radiation.

So what was his conclusion?  As follows:

After researching this column, talking to experts and poring over dozens of scientific papers, I have realized the dangers of cellphones when used for extended periods, and as a result I have stopped holding my phone next to my head and instead use a headset.

That being said, when it comes to wearable computers, I’ll still buy the Apple Watch, but I won’t let it go anywhere near my head. And I definitely won’t let any children I know play with it for extended periods of time.

But Wired’s Nick Stockton has called this ‘An Attack on Science’,  arguing that any risk is still hypothetical rather than proven.  Popular Science also called the essay ‘naive’, ‘inaccurate and alarmist’.   Its advice?  Everybody just calm down.

To help you calm down, here are the blogposts of the week: Shelby Francis for writing about a true innovation and David Borghard for analysis.  And a good bonus read for sports fans here:  What the New York Times Learned from Pulling its Knicks Beat Writer this Season (Poynter).  If you’re too lazy to read it, one answer is that crowdsourcing basketball stories works.


1) The End of Big (Media): when News Organizations move from Brands to Platforms for Talent (Nieman)

2) World’s Best Blogger (Harvard Magazine) 

3) A Note to My Readers (Andrew Sullivan)

4) The Blog is Dead, Long Live the Blog (Two takes at Nieman and Guardian)

ASSIGNMENT:   Profile one person who is prominent in your field or covering your field – possibly a citizen journalist, but could be anyone – with extra credit if you actually interview them.   Feel free to experiment with format, so you could write a traditional blogpost, or use an email interview, twitter, storyful, an audio interview or a video interview. (For March 26)

News You Can Wear

Technological innovation is coming to news delivery… .and soon.   It’s only five weeks until the Apple Watch launches. And other innovations are changing the way news is delivered.  Like robots.  Here’s one vision of the future:

One day you might even have your own personal robot journalist, filing daily stories just for you on your fitness tracking data and your personal finances.

“We sort of flip the traditional content creation model on its head,” [Automated Insights CEO Robbie Allen] says. “Instead of one story with a million page view, we’ll have a million stories with one page view each.”

According to one man, Andrew Keen, The Internet Is Not The Answer.  That’s the name of his new book, and he gave a thought-provoking interview on NPR on Monday.  He sees the internet not so much as a disruptor than as a destroyer:

The more we use the contemporary digital network, the less economic value it is bringing to us. Rather than promoting economic fairness, it is a central reason for the growing gulf between rich and poor and the hollowing out of the middle class. Rather than making us wealthier, the distributed capitalism of the new networked economy is making most of us poorer. Rather than generating more jobs, this digital disruption is a principal cause of our structural unemployment crisis. Rather than creating more competition, it has created immensely powerful new monopolists like Google and Amazon.

Its cultural ramifications are equally chilling. Rather than creating transparency and openness, the Internet is creating a panopticon of information-gathering and surveillance services in which we, the users of big data networks like Facebook, have been packaged as their all-too-transparent product. Rather than creating more democracy, it is empowering the rule of the mob. Rather than encouraging tolerance, it has unleashed such a distasteful war on women that many no longer feel welcome on the network. Rather than fostering a renaissance, it has created a selfie-centered culture of voyeurism and narcissism. Rather than establishing more diversity, it is massively enriching a tiny group of young white men in black limousines. Rather than making us happy, it’s compounding our rage.

No, the Internet is not the answer. Not yet, anyway.

Also in the news this week, Obama on Vice this time.   And the White House is having an Instameet.

Reading for Thursday:

1)  The Next Stage in the Battle for Attention is Our Wrists (Nieman)

2) The Future of News on Apple Watch is in Yahoo’s Hands (Buzzfeed)

3) How Vice’s Tim Pool used Google Glass to Cover the Riots in Turkey (The Guardian)

4) Why Google Glass Broke (NYT)

ASSIGNMENT 1): Write a blogpost on the innovative use of one type of technology that is transforming your beat.   It could be a new device for recording or broadcast (gopro, drones, optimus prime), or it could be a new type of wearable technology (smartclothes, fitbit etc). (for Mar 19)

2) Photo story for March 19th.

The Viral President


If you ever had any doubt about the influence of online outlets on the news cycle, President Obama’s recent choice of interviews should put that to rest.  Here’s an interesting interview with the outgoing Senior Advisor in charge of White House Communications Dan Pfeiffer which lays out the strategy, which saw Obama talking to Buzzfeed, Vox and previously, Between Two Ferns:

After the midterm elections, the President instructed us to double down our efforts, to try to get more innovative and more aggressive. His view was you have this big battle when you think about how you’re going to communicate in the digital space, because authenticity is the coin of the realm in the digital space. But in politics, discipline is the coin of the realm. Sometimes there can be tension there. So we decided to take on additional risk. Buzzfeed is a perfect example of this. We knew that the Buzzfeed video would do very well with the Buzzfeed audience and with social media, but it would cause a lot of criticism from some pundits and media critics.

Here’s the video Obama made for Buzzfeed.

Indeed, the Washington Post hated it.  Here’s a recent Wapo listicle: Which image of Obama mugging for Buzzfeed’s camera diminishes the presidency most, ranked.  Really.

Reading for Tuesday

Reading: News in Your Pocket: Mobile-first journalism at WSJ (Sarah Marshall)

Tips on Mobile Journalism (Ariel)

Could the Surge in Mobile Destroy what’ s Best About the Internet? (E Wasserman)

Ferguson’s Citizen Journalists Revealed the Value of Undeniable Video (Guardian)

ASSIGNMENT: Write a blogpost on the innovative use of one type of technology that is transforming your beat.   This could be a new device for recording or broadcast (gopro, drones, optimus prime etc), or it could be a new type of wearable technology (smartclothes, fitbit etc) or some other innovation.  (for Mar 19 Thursday at 9am)

Photo projects are due in on May 19 Thursday as well.