Thursday, June 10, 2010

The New York Times and the Information Age: Culture Shock?

"What Apple Should Have Told the Times About App-Takedown Letter"
Ryan Singel, Epicenter, Wired (June 10, 2010)

"The New York Times tried this week to get Apple to remove a news reader iPad app from its online store, and Apple seems to have rightly told the Times that it’s being idiotic.

"On the same day that Steve Jobs praised the Pulse app on stage at its developer convention, a Times lawyer sent a letter to Apple, protesting that the app violated all kinds of rules.

"The $4 app allows users to add up to 20 RSS feeds and see small snippets of them on the iPad screen. Then if a user wants to read more, they can click to see as much text as is included in the feed, click to open the site in a browser inside the app or open it in Safari (which closes Pulse since the iPad doesn’t yet support multiple programs running at once)...."

Part of the problem may be that the Pulse app shows Times content. Intellectual property rights exist for a reason - partly to protect the interests of people and organizations that product content.

That's what I'll call a possible real-world concern of The New York Times.

Here's the letter Ryan Singel says Apple should have sent to that venerable New York newspaper. Well, part of it:

"'What?!! Have you been living under a rock for the last five years? If you don’t want people to read your RSS feed, then stop publishing it.

"For years, commercial RSS readers have done exactly what you protest here....'"

There's more - both to Ryan Singel's recommended Times response, and to his evaluation of the Gray Lady ("all the news that's fit to print") and its place in the Information Age.

He's not impressed with the Times. Not favorably, anyway. Here's how he wraps up the article:

"...The Times declined to respond.

"That might be the first smart thing they’ve done this week, short of issuing an apology."

This is an op-ed piece, one that I'm inclined to agree with.

Don't get me wrong: I think that The New York Times has had high name-recognition in American culture for generations. I also like that lovely, old-fashioned font they use in their masthead.

And I think that The New York Times is a sort of hometown newspaper for New York City. One whose staff is going through culture shock1

What's so Special About The New York Times?

The New York Times' position as the leader of American journalism has to do, I think, with the geography of North America's east coast and time zones.

New York City's harbor is a wonderful set of natural features that has made New York City an the surrounding area the best place on America's east coast for ocean-going ships to dock and unload their cargo. That's one of the reasons that New York City, together with its suburbs, has been the largest, most densely-populated urban area on the east coast. Maybe the most important reason.

The United States of America spans the width of the North American continent. Since Earth rotates the way it does, when it's 7:00 a.m. in the Eastern time zone, it's 6:00 a.m. in the Central, 5:00 a.m. in the Mountain, and 4:00 a.m. in the Pacific zones.

Newspaper editors are a dedicated lot, I'm sure: but even they need sleep. And, they've been working with deadlines for a very long time. Dailies have to have their news collected, evaluated, written up, edited, and printed in time for their delivery system. Each day.

That puts a lot of pressure on the editors.

Particularly since "the news" isn't news until some editor sorts out the welter of raw data filed by reporters: and decides what's important enough to put in the paper, and what's so important that it goes on the front page.

It's natural, I think, for editors to look to a major metropolitan newspaper: see what the 'big guys' are printing today, and imitate what they've done. It makes sense, in a way: a big metropolitan newspaper is successful in a big city, so their editors are probably pretty good at picking out what's important and what's not.

The New York Times, and a few other east coast papers, have been those shining beacons, leading American journalism by virtue of being in big cities on the east coast, for generations.

Besides - The New York Times motto is "all the news that's fit to print." They wouldn't print that if it weren't true, would they?

There's a good reason, buried in the paper's history, why the Gray Lady has that motto. And, from their point of view, The New York Times editorial staff does print all the news that's fit to print.

I don't see it that way: but then, I'm not part of New York City's upper crust - and I have no interest in ingratiating myself to them.

As I've said before, The Lemming is "apathetic" in the sense that I don't care about the 'right' things.

My take on The New York Times:More:
1 "Culture shock?" That's "a condition of disorientation affecting someone who is suddenly exposed to an unfamiliar culture or way of life or set of attitudes." (Princeton's WordNet)

I've run into the term in discussions of the difficulties folks who grew up in what's called a "traditional," non-Western culture have when they try to adapt to a place like, say, Los Angeles or Kansas City.

I think another example of culture shock, or something very much like it, is what was happening about four decades back here in America. Quite a bit was happening then:
  • Television had been making an impact on family life
  • Kids who had been raised according to the wisdom of 'experts' were young adults
  • Woodstock had become a cultural landmark
  • Women were learning that they didn't need to freeze their legs during Minnesota winters
I've discussed an incident from that period in another blog.

Four decades back, it was 'decent' people who hadn't thought through the distinctions between what they preferred and basic ethical values who were experiencing culture shock. Times were changing, and they weren't keeping up.

Now, I think it's 'open minded' or 'intelligent' folks who haven't thought through differences between what they want and what is possible in a culture made up of human beings.

And, there's the technology thing. Broadcast television still exists, although it's being supplanted by cable, Web TV, and a bewildering array of new information technologies and services.

Check out Wired, or other tech-oriented websites for what's new this week.

In a way, I can't blame The New York Times staff for not keeping up. They've got what they think is a big, important, newspaper to run. That's a demanding job, and probably leaves them with little free time.

I can see how adjusting to contemporary technology could be difficult for someone who's life has been spent in a world of paper and ink.

2 comments:

Brigid said...

Pretty sure the last word here is supposed to be a plural: "That's one of the - maybe the most important - reason"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Brigid,

Good spotting - after review, I see I need to edit/rewrite that paragraph..

Stretching the phrase out:

That is one of the - maybe the most important - reason.

Then, cutting the interjected portion, and correcting the number:

That is one of the reasons.

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