Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Thursday, January 19, 2021

We’ve got media coming out of our ears — or, more properly, incessantly going into our ears, and our eyes, and our minds. The average American consumes some nine hours’ worth of television, radio, print, Internet, and phone chatter each day. Direct or not, the various messages burrow their way to our attention.

Eric Deggans takes a look at how a scattering of Floridians divide up their media intake. The thrust of the article suggests that the focus of the infosnacking should be on substantive news, versus nothing but entertainment and marketing filler.

As much as the structure of the content we take in, the choice of format plays a part in how we inform ourselves:

In one of his best known studies, [University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dietram] Scheufele directed a poll of nearly 800 residents near Cornell University while teaching there in October and November 2001, asking respondents how they learned about the 9/11 terrorists attacks and their attitudes toward civil liberties issues.

He said those who mostly got their news from TV absorbed a mostly one-sided, emotional message. This material led them to support expanded police powers (racial profiling of suspected terrorists in airports and other public spaces, for instance) and expanded government power to gather information (monitoring a subject’s library and Internet usage), regardless of their views before the attacks.

Which is the problem I have with television news generally, whether local or else wider in scope: It tends to turn every topic into a soap opera. News productions aim at the heart and the gut rather than the head, because that’s more immediate, and that’s the basis of a synchronous medium. There’s no time for nuance.

That leads to my preferred news medium interface: Print, generally. Followed by the Web — but more or less in an print-like presentation, with editorial filtering.

“Newspapers are the one medium which force you to see the widest possible viewpoint, with (diverse) op-ed articles and balanced stories,” said Scheufele, who added that other studies have found those who read newspapers tend to have more civic involvement - voting, making political contributions and displaying candidate signs in their yards more often, for example.

Scheufele remains disdainful of media sources which too often tell consumers what they want to hear, from Rush Limbaugh’s conservative radio show to the liberal radio network Air America and topic-selected lists of news stories online. “The Internet has perfected the art of tailoring our news (intake) to our own biases and preferences,” the professor said. “I no longer see stories which I don’t like, or which make me think differently.”

A lot of people think that Google News and customizable news feeds accomplish a diversification of news intake. But what Scheufele cites is all too true: That customization is more often used to narrow media perception, not to broaden it. It’s even easier to avoid competing viewpoints if you don’t have to see them — easier than skipping over the op-ed page, or changing the channel.

As an added bonus, Deggans uses his blog to present a graphic of his personal media diet:

We didn’t have room for this graphic, which shows my news media diet displayed like an old-school food pyramid, with newspapers as the roughage at the foundation, public broadcasting as the nutritious vegetables, cable channels as the fruity middle, the Internet as the red meat, with the newscast parody The Daily Show as the sugary cherry on top.

Great to see Deggans using the blog as, I feel, it should be used by reporters: To provide some backstory, and host whatever residual stuff that couldn’t fit into the main print platform.

I’m thinking most could guess what my media diet pyramid would look like — fairly similar to Deggans, without that cherry on top (I’m one of the three or four people who think “The Daily Show” is pretty much a waste of time, probably because Jon Stewart is too ham-handed in his joke delivery). Who wants to chime in, either her or at Deggans’ site, about what their own media munchbag looks like?

FURTHER THOUGHTS: Upon rereading the above, I realized that I neglected to hit a couple of points. So here goes (the wonders of having no “final draft” in blogland):

- With the immersive nature of modern media — i.e., advertising messages on every public space, prominent logos on clothing and other products, near-constant electronic programming delivery — it goes a long way toward explaining consumer reluctance to pay for media. Think about it: When messages are being pushed at you in various formats, and are invariably crafted to be entertaining for better receptivity, why pay for a specific outlet? This has been the situation across the media board of late, from magazines to movies to music. The challenge for content providers is to convince consumers that it’s worth the privilege to invest in a media channel — whether that’s a direct cost, or sitting through advertising, etc. That’s typically where value-added incentives come in.

- Blogs were mentioned by Deggans in his article, but almost peripherally. People who rely solely on blogs for their news are out there, but maybe not in the Tampa Bay area. In fact, I’d guess that, for all the noise they make and hype they cite, blog-exclusive media consumers are a minority in the greater media stew.

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/19/2006 06:36:02 PM
Category: Media | Permalink | Feedback (4)

The latest (and certainly not last) Windows security flaw seems to be blowing up into something even more serious than these things usually are.

Microsoft had to issue a patch for the Windows Metafile (WMF) exploit for the not-ready-for-primetime Vista version of Windows. So now even the beta versions of their OSes are being shipped with systemic flaws…

The kicker, though, is what’s being hypothesized by security researcher Steve Gibson: That the WMF problem was not a flaw, but a deliberately-built backdoor.

Microsoft is vigorously denying it, of course. Even the hint of truth to that would seriously damage the company’s reputation with corporate clients, even if it had little impact with consumers.

The thing is, I had been starting to wonder the same thing. I have even less basis for thinking that than Gibson does — I haven’t looked at any of the code, and wouldn’t even know what to look for if I had. But there was something persistent about this security alert from the start. Not only did Microsoft announce it themselves, but they gave a weeklong heads-up for releasing the patch — both rather unusual approaches from Redmond. On top of that, the fix that was released was almost instantly identified as not being sufficient to take care of the problem completely, but only selectively repair the vulnerability. With each development, it struck me that there was more dancing around the problem than customary, especially given that this ground had been tread many times before.

One question, from a less-technical point of view: Why, exactly, does Microsoft make use of Windows Metafiles in the first place? They’re non-standard file formats, with no use outside of Windows-functional applications. Why not use jpegs, gifs and other compliant formats? Instead, for the sake of proprietary maneuvering, Microsoft foists this potential timebomb on the world.

It should be interesting to see how this shakes out. Bigger implosions have come from smaller gaffes.

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/19/2006 05:41:06 PM
Category: Tech | Permalink | Feedback

If you’re accessing this blog via the syndication feed, you’ll have noticed the recent addition of Yahoo! Publisher Network ads therein. I added them two weeks ago today.

Why did I whore out my RSS feed? I signed up for the Yahoo! Publisher Network beta a couple of months back. Since I was already running Google AdSense, I figured I had already crossed the Rubicon where advertising was concerned. And I wanted to see if YPN could offer at least a good supplement to AdSense, if not an outright alternative.

It turns out that displaying both AdSense and YPN on the same page violates both networks’ terms of service. So in order to run the Yahoo! ads, I’d have to pull down the Google ones; and I didn’t want to do that, since AdSense is performing pretty well. There are ways to rotate the ad displays randomly, but I can’t find a plugin that will synchronize that with two or more units simultaneously, so that both banner and skyscraper show YPN or AdSense ads instead of one of each (if anyone knows of such, please clue me in). So, I basically sat on my YPN invitation until I could figure out what to do.

When YPN rolled out the RSS ads, I decided to implement them, if only to finally get some use out of the account. Setup was pretty simple. As I figured, the ads don’t seem to be very intrusive: There’s only one per post, and it’s placed at the end of the feed content. As unobtrusive as possible (other than not including an ad at all).

Which, actually, is the problem. After two weeks, I’ve yet to get a single clickthru on an RSS ad. I’ve got a fairly healthy amount of traffic coming in via the feeds, so I know they’re being delivered; but no one’s biting. I’m not concerned about making any money; clickthrus will probably pay out pennies, but I’d like to see it in action, nonetheless.

I have to say, the relevance factor can be better. From what I’ve seen by peeking at the formatted feed, via Bloglines, the ads are often only barely relatable to the post content. It’s nowhere near the accuracy that AdSense achieves on the main page. I realize it’s hard to deliver pinpoint relevance when there’s only one adspace, but still. It does make me a bit wary about implementing them on the main page; I suppose I’ll worry about that once I’ve figured out an intelligent way to rotate them in.

I’m also mindful that many people don’t like ads in their blogreading anyway, regardless of how understated. That’s probably pronounced among feed-readers. So the ads are probably barking up the wrong tree. If anyone has any feedback about that, bring it on.

In any case, the YPN feed ads are primarily an experiment. As long as they’re as low-maintenance as they have been, I’m not going to concern myself too much with them.

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/19/2006 03:48:02 PM
Category: Bloggin', Advert./Mktg. | Permalink | Feedback (3)

Are you trying to wean yourself off your coffee addiction, but can’t find a suitable substitute for that morning rush? Sumi Loundon has discovered that the repeated Buddhist bowing ritual brings more clarity of mind than a cup of anything could.

She gets this charge from doing only 108 bows per morn. Upping that ante can lead to even greater enlightenment:

There is something remarkably purifying about 3,000 bows, I will admit. There’s a well-known monk in Korea who will only answer questions after the inquirer has done 3,000 bows. Even Catholic priests and other Christians are required to do it. Not surprisingly, he gets few questions. Yet often that’s not because people give up, but because they find the answer to their question while bowing.

All this sounds great in theory. However, with my back currently aching enough to make just walking a meditation in pain, I think I’ll have to stick to my morning tea, for now.

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/19/2006 11:05:30 AM
Category: Society, Creative | Permalink | Feedback (1)