Sunday, January 06, 2008

The New York Times is Full of Crap! (mostly....)

So, this late Sunday morning, I'm renewing an old Sunday morning ritual: reading the New York Times while watching something on TV (today it was Words and Muisc by Jerry Herman...) In the last century, I'd read the old inky paper version of the Times--now, it's the slick and annoyingly busy digital version that I get on my laptop.

Above the brave new electronic fold, we're not too bad. The ads are part and parcel for online content, so I don't find them too distracting.

At least there are no dancing aliens/zoot suiters/impossibly fit disco women like in those ubiquitious low cost mortgage ads....

It's when I get below the fold that I'm greeted--kinda but not really subtlely--with a dazzling array of multi-media news:

I can get a video of John McCain in New Hampsire (with a link to more "multimedia"), or a slide show of 36 hours in Melborne Australia, or a wedding video of a handsomely white couple, as well as another slide show on party girl Kelly Washington (wow...that's a story I don't want to miss....)

I have to go below the below-the-fold to get to the list of other news stories and sections where I might find news. The online New York Times is really something of a quadruple-fold as it takes four full screens for me to see only a fraction of the dazzling array of content held within the NYT digital version...


Should I be impressed or overwhelemed? Neither? Both? Although I wonder how much this version would weigh, and then cost, if it were in print. I can see at a cursory glance that I'll hardly have enough time to peruse the entire thing--and if I did, I'd get a serious case of dry eye from staring at my laptop screen for hours on end...

Wandering over to the Technology Section, I find that it's very easy to get Pogue'd to death over here. There's Podcasts of David Pogue, and videos of David Pogue (if you're not careful, they will play in sequence, without stopping). Yeah, there are a bunch of articles by a bunch of other probably important tech journalists....

Technology at the NYTimes is full of multimedia Pogue. And I don't know, really, what to make of Pogue, as he seems so much like so many of the over 30 tech guys I know: kind of boyish, slightly immature, making lots of money...

Beyond Pogue (who truly tries to amuse as well as inform) is the
"Technology Headlines from Around the Web" a kinda widget powered by the NYTimes own Bloggrunner aggregator.

Funny, I thought Bill Keller hated blogs.....

Then again, lots of the blogs that are aggregated on Blogrunner are the blogs of other newspapers or magazines, with a few token A-listers thrown in for the heck of it. I guess blogs are OK if they're blogs by the people you believe should be writing blogs--mainly other journalists or folks who are popular enough that you can't ignore them....

Going back to the NYTimes main page, I'm takes by the headline for A User's Manual for Seat 21C by Wayne Curtis, which is by far the best (as well as most hysterical) description of life in the cheap seats of any air carrier you can think of. Yes, these seats are a sardine's nightmare, and Curtis captures this quite welll...

What I don't get, though, is how the NYTimes has created Jet Lagged, the section Curtis' piece appears in, as a blog. Why? What's the point? Yes, the readers get to chime in at the bottom of the entry/opinion article, but there's really no interaction except among themselves.

What the Times has done, essentially, is put their Forums in with their opinion pieces and called it a blog. Unlike the Forums (where I spent a good portion of my social life from '98-01) where your comments would show up in real time, all comments to said "blog" are held for moderation.

Yes, maybe this is a good idea when people don't need to "register" in order to leave a comment. Then again, when there's no interaction on the part of the author of the post, I begin to wonder if the author of the post even cares about what the people are saying in the comments.

Which makes me think: Does anyone really care what's said in the comments on *any* of the NYTimes "blog" posts?

When you post a comment to the average blog, penned by the average, un-MSM affiliated and more than likely independent blogger, you can bet that the comment is being read, and more than likely means something to the blogger.

Still, when I looked at the sidebar to read the profiles of the folks contributing to Jet Lagged, I got that same unease when I first saw the Huffington Post's list of bloggers--these are all people who can publish in any other medium they so choose. What, then, could "blogging" possibly mean to any of them?

In other words, seeing "blogs" on the New York Times, which are merely substitutes for the old-fashioned op-ed pages with filtered comments, doesn't necessarily give me the warm fuzzies about the NYTimes beginning to understand blogging.

Then again, maybe they don't need to. Maybe, for them, a pseudo-blog is a way for them to get free user-generated content, in the form of comments, which then gets monetized via ads that are already in place on the blogs.

Should we, then, be more careful about leaving comments on sites like the NYTimes, IF our comments will become the UGC that they may help them generate more revenue?

Well, I don't know if there's a need to boycott comments on the NYTimes site, esp. if they aren't doing much else than allowing them to stand as is. Comments as on the article/"blog" post about rich American women paying poor Indian women to be surrogate mothers create a deeper understanding of the issues presented and are very valuble, even if the author isn't doing any cross-commenting herself.

Yet to me, the Times is being somewhat insincere, given Keller's position on blogs. His publication is using populist new media tools for its own ends. What, then, is the Times creating? A group of 'good' bloggers because they are learned journalists? Are they teaching old dogs new tricks? (probably not if there's no author responses to the comments...)

Still, it seems that, right now, in a time of massive upheaval in the worlds of journalism and media, the New York Times, like many of its counterparts, is filling its site with as much crap as possible--perhaps to see what resonates with its various and sundry readers. "Throw it on the wall and see what sticks," I guess would be the way of explaining the method to all this content-generating madness.

Sometimes, though, all this content becomes distractions--rabbit holes where readers can tumble down and have trouble escaping: like when I ventured over to the Fashion section's "in Motion" blog and couldn't find my way back no matter how many times I clicked the Back button--"there's no place like Homepage....there's no place like Homepage..." And it was kind of annoying to have to go back to the status bar and type in the homepage url again. Then again, I don't know if that was any worse than a continual loop of David Pogue videos....

If anything, all the new multi-level, multi-folded, multimedia New York Times is an entertainment experience. It's not as much news inasumch as it is a lot of fluff that probably guarantees that you'll stay on the site longer than you might if it were just chock full of stuffy old news. If you stay on the site longer, you might click on an ad or two. Maybe. And generate some income.

Maybe though, I just like my content simple. Give me a well-written article, like What is it about Mormonism? from the magazine section, uncluttered with any slide shows or additional multimedia explaining John Smith or the Mormon Tabernacle, and I'm pretty much satisfied (although they do have a link to some multi-media of Mitt Romney.) I don't need to be entertained at every step of the way, and I'm perfectly capable of searching for more information if I want it. I also don't need a podcast of writer Noah Feldman reading the article to me, as I'm perfectly capable of reading it myself (something the Times has done with other pieces that became "hot"--it's kind of like overkill, actually. I appreciate journalists for their ability to write well, not necessarily to be compelling personalities in multimedia presentations.)

And maybe I don't really like opinion pieces with comments being called "blogs." Perhaps if it's a blogging cms that's being used, well, I've got no choice but to accept that it's a blog in the most mechanical sense of the word. But if there's no interaction, then what's the point?

In that department, newspapers have a very long way to go...

So, yes, the New York Times if full of crap--crap that may mean nothing in the future, crap that may work to dumb-down lots of folks who should be reading rather than watching their news, lots of crap that isn't necessarily helping journalists communicate better with readers (no "creating conversation" here, except among ourselves), and lots of crap that might be totally unsearchable to future generations looking to research information on the '08 Iowa caucuses.

Then again, maybe it needs all this crap to survive...

Let's see if this NYTimes can endear itself and renew my old multitasking Sunday ritual...

4 comments:

Anna Haynes said...

> "when there's no interaction on the part of the author of the post, I begin to wonder if the author of the post even cares about what the people are saying in the comments."

Owner participation varies, depending on the (NY Times blog) proprietor: Dot Earth's Andrew Revkin often responds to comments; John Tierney, not so much.

Tish Grier said...

Not surprised to hear that on Tierney....but overall, I think the folks that participate are going to learn some really valuable stuff. Sometimes, though, as with the article on the women in India, the comments really do create their own special commentary and are very important to the main article, with or without the writer being involved.

Madison Guy said...

Nice post on the NYT's efforts to reinvent itself for the digital age. We still get the print edition, though I'm not sure why, and will probably let the subscription lapse. Not only do I have problems with some of their content, but I'm mostly reading it online.

I bypass almost all the multimedia extras, as well as the blogs (plenty of "real" blogs to read). Increasingly, I bypass the NYT homepage, too, and access their content through Google news searches and click on specific articles. I suspect this is something they worry about.

There will continue to be plenty of flux and experimentation by the big media until we end up with some future successor to the Kindle that really catches on and we all start to access everything on an easy to use, intuitive, searchable and READABLE interface and media begin to organize themselves around its capabilities.

But by then, of course, Google might be the primary news aggregator of choice...

Tish Grier said...

oh, you bet that the NYTimes worries a lot about you searching their stuff thru google...

Most news services are pretty much worried about google becoming the de facto aggregator and reader of everything. but there's still a few bugs in google, too....

and yeah, it's going to take some time before the device technology and the software technology get all synchronized and caught up. it's a pretty amazing landscape right now, but it also makes me yearn for the "simple pleasures"...

wow...if I ever needed proof I am middle aged, I think that's it right there ;-)