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Final Project – Atlantic Media Network

Posted: April 20, 2011 by seanoneill34 in Uncategorized

This project contradicts my theory that local news is becoming less relevant and important to citizens, especially those in my generation, but I’ll sacrifice this rationale for the sake of this assignment and assume that there will always be a massive public appetite for this information. Also, this, if done properly, can really work if the vision and content is perfect.

My vision is the Atlantic Media Network, a collection of reporters based in bureaus in all the major spots throughout the Atlantic region. Halifax, Sydney, Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton, St. John’s, Charlottetown, et al would have a bureau covering everything there is to be known in each city, region and province.

Because you asked for a synopsis of my city instead of a broad outlook, I’ll focus in on Cape Breton as a whole. Our daily paper, the Cape Breton Post, has few daily stories that are written by Post staff. Most of the stories in the paper are picked up from the Associated Press or Canadian Press wire, including columns from national writers such as Chantal Hebert and Tim Harper. Two full pages are dedicated to obituaries, which shows that a lot of older people still read the paper religiously because that’s the best way to find out which of their friends have died. There is also national and international sections that are dedicated to that niche, but clearly all of those stories are taken from the wires, and if you’re a foreign affairs junkie the Cape Breton Post is not going to be the first destination.

Other than that, it’s slim pickings. But the issues that are most important to Cape Bretoners are the police force; the health care system; the local arts and music scene, which always gets recognized at the ECMA’s; the school board; the QMJHL hockey team; community issues; and all of the local MLA’s and MP’s. I rarely see town hall stuff — perhaps because I’m not looking on those days, I don’t care, or because they don’t have anyone who covers it, which I doubt.

That’s what matters in Cape Breton. The island for the longest time was built on blue collar workers in coal mines and when they shut down in the late 90’s-early 2000’s many people were out of work, and many Cape Bretoner’s who expected to spend their lives working manual labor jobs for the municipality had to scramble for other options and didn’t have any education to fall back on. These people had very little time to care about what went on outside the bubble of this island, and the Post reflected what they wanted to know. Too bad it’s a very insular world.

But what does get covered gets covered well, but the Post’s format is so antiquated. I don’t go to the individual sections the paper has to see who won in the NHL last night, or the latest news on the Japan disaster. There are better sources of information to receive it from, and certainly more faster than a daily newspaper. But Jacques Poitras told a group of us during he and Dan McHardie’s lecture during ARCUP that what news services should be doing, especially in smaller places, is finding a niche and killing it and providing unique information to the public that nobody else can publish.

That would be the vision for the Atlantic Media Network. It would be dedicated to bring the Atlantic provinces all the news that matters to its citizens. Each bureau would have town hall reporters so the public is kept up to date on what is going on in the local communities. This goes back to making sure that our democracy is kept in check and those elected to uphold the principles of our society do so.

The town hall reporters would also be responsible for keeping track of the local MP or MLA, depending on the region. Clearly in a place such as Halifax, which has numerous elected representatives, there would be more reporters on the ground following this news. Each bureau will also have reporters dedicated to keeping track on local community issues, such as health care and the school board. Depending on funding this could be divided amongst numerous reporters or one who takes it all on. The vision for the news team would be no different than that in any normal newsroom, reporters entrenched in the community going after stories.

But how do we fund this project? While I do believe that public broadcasting is a wonderful thing because of transparency and lack of corporate interests which could cause conflicts of interest in reporting, I’m not convinced that the citizens of the Atlantic provinces have the appetite to fund such a new organization. And if there is a demand for it, will it be big enough to generate the revenue capable to produce the work that I envision? I’m skeptical about this so that’s why the AMN will be funded by sponsors and advertisers and, hopefully, be owned by a family or numerous shareholders or companies that can fund the company without any hassle. Could this lead to ethical journalistic problems? Sure, just look at the Irving monopoly. But for my vision of the company, I believe this is the best way to go.

Now how would I pitch this organization? I do so by describing the content that will be available for those who consume the content from AMN. This will be the first media organization in the region — that I’m aware of — that will not be based around a newspaper or a television station. We all know that newspaper consumption is going down as the years go on, but I’m also skeptical about the future of TV news. The anecdotal age of those who watch the six o’clock news I would guess is roughly the same of those who read the newspaper every morning. That generation is going to be wiped out sooner than later so instead of trying to bring those people in, it’s more important to get a foothold of the generation that has grown up in the digital age.

The AMN starts out as a website, but we can’t use it like a typical news website does now. Each section has its own page that breaks down into the typical sections that a newspaper would have. But instead of just the straight text for a typical news story, each journalist is responsible for filing stories in written and video format. The business of reporting is changing to the point that any journalist that is one-dimensional is going to be left in the dust. Journalists who only specialize in print or television I believe will eventually become extinct, and the consumers need to see a commitment to getting the information across in numerous ways. If you don’t have time to read an entire print story, you can watch the minute-and-a-half video report. If you’d rather read, then the print story is there for you. Keeping options open for the costumer is imperative. At the end of each day, on the video section of the website, all videos will be put in a section for each day’s news and will be divided by province then community. The same will go for feature stories — which is my favourite type of journalism. This piece about a former football player who wrongfully spent time in prison is the perfect way to bring in the viewer. Again, if they’d rather read or watch, they have both options. Anybody on the staff is open to pitch story ideas for features and can attack them however they wish. As the site grows, eventually there can be room for designated feature writers/broadcasters and columnists.

Cape Breton, for example, will have town hall reporters for each community that has municipal government, political reporters who cover the MP’s and MLA’s from our region, sports writers for the university and QMJHL teams, arts reporter for the entertainment scene, and a general community reporter for the other issues that pop up.

To go along with the corporate funding, the AMN will begin as a subscription based site. Just like a newspaper or a television station, you have to pay for the content. I believe that your product is only worth what people are willing to pay for it. So we have to begin charging out of the gate so we don’t create an apathetic feeling for our organization, where they always expect news to be free and effortless. The Times of London put up a paywall in May 2010, and are getting subscribers. For a monthly fee of $29.99 — less than a dollar a day — a six month fee of $149.99 — less than 85 cents a day — or a year subscription of $274.99 — 75 cents a day — you can access everything that the site has to offer. All fees can be paid in increments that better serve the consumer’s needs.

What else can you access? Exclusive tablet and mobile app so you can consume the news wherever you are. Our reporters will also be expected to produce podcasts weekly or daily, depending on the beat that they’re on, for more perspective, analysis and opinion. Yes, the production costs can be high for all of this stuff. But we don’t have to pay any of the bills on newspaper machines or a TV studio or the best cameras in the business. And with the Network serving four provinces with a population of almost 2.4 million people, if 10% of the population (which may be a tad high to get at the start) buy yearly subscriptions, that’s over $65 million in revenue. I’m sure after that we can pay the bills and pay the workers properly and continue to serve the community with the information that they need to know. And I think it goes without saying that each reporter must be active on Twitter. They don’t have to stick to tweeting news, they can go outside that box and show some of their own personality. But we wouldn’t use YouTube because that would be giving away our video content for free which we shouldn’t do.

With all of these tools, you should be able to consume all the news you want and need, from your area and beyond at your pace and leisure so you aren’t beholden to time frame of the six o’clock news or reading the paper before going to work. News organizations can’t expect that its audience will construct their lives around the news broadcasts; the organizations have to adapt to their lives. The Atlantic Media Network will do just that.

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Japan

Posted: March 23, 2011 by seanoneill34 in Uncategorized

To start this post off, I want everyone to look at the cover of the new Time magazine. No words necessary there.

Not to beat a dead horse, but what Twitter can do is open up worlds to those who are not in them. Case in point, the numerous twitters who are forwarding on the ground journalists for others to consume. Mark MacKinnon seems to be the one to benefit the most, if new Twitter followers is a reward.

This story is also something that I probably wouldn’t have discovered either. This has nothing to do with the fact that there could be a plant that explodes emitting potentially deadly toxins into the air. It’s just a touching little part that shows that the Japanese have good intentions.

The only disturbing thing I realized is that there are sadly those out there who are thinking this is karma for Pearl Harbor 70 years ago. It disgusts me that these people have platforms, even as innocuous as Facebook to say this crap.

As I tried to point out in the Time magazine cover, and in these Tweets and Facebook status, when something as profound and heartbreaking as this transpires, the human heart will react in many different ways, whether it’s attitudinal or technological.

I also think with Mark MacKinnon that since he’s a journalist on the ground with experience in the Japan, he can provide perspective that perhaps those on 24-hour news channels couldn’t provide as well when they were thrown into Egypt, and then Libya, and then Japan… who knows where next. (Not putting blame on them; it’s the way of the business now.) So his coverage has given me and other readers more knowledge than I felt I got during the continuing Middle East crisis.

Wikileaks

Posted: March 16, 2011 by seanoneill34 in Uncategorized

What the Wikileaks controversy has told me about the information age is that even though we live in a world where any piece of knowledge is accessible, there are still powerful people in this world that are doing horrible things that they want covered up.

Its slogan says it all to me: We open governments. This to me has always been the fundamental function for journalism: the need for the men and women who we intrust our rights and freedoms on to be transparent about what they do with the power we’ve bestowed on them.

I think that Wikileaks follows some guidelines that would be taught in a traditional j-school values such as the need for openness, but clearly has agendas and instead of going through all of the information it gathers (to be fair, which is tediously time consuming) throws it out there without having an editor or a filter.

The Cablegate controversy on the face of it seems like a worthwhile exercise. Getting your hands on classified information that’s worthy of public knowledge is a victory for any reporter. And backroom workings of over 300 embassies worldwide going back as far as the mid 60’s gives depth to the documents.

But when politicians from the left and the right worldwide began to call out the leaking as a threat to worldwide diplomacy, the rhetoric — or hyperbole — started to ratchet up.

While I see the point of the argument — aside from silly statements like G. Gordon Liddy’s hope of adding Julian Assange to the “kill list” — if this were done with more of a journalistic integrity, as opposed to the wild west attitude Wikileaks has, there would be no bluster from politicians affected by this.

In the end I think the point made by The Economist made the most sense.

If secrecy is necessary for national security and effective diplomacy, it is also inevitable that the prerogative of secrecy will be used to hide the misdeeds of the permanent state and its privileged agents.

If the traditional journalist and news organization won’t do this, than rulebreaker will. Let’s just hope the world hasn’t been blown up over this.

Ethics

Posted: March 2, 2011 by seanoneill34 in Uncategorized

When did the world of journalism become more preoccupied with getting the story first instead of getting it right?

Being a media consumer at a higher level for only a few years, I can’t answer this question. But what I do know for the most part is that the general public — who we are out there to service, let us not forget — doesn’t give a damn about who’s breaking the most stories, who’s working the hardest, and who has the most credibility within media circles. What they care about is a few facts that are correct and moving on with their lives. They don’t have time during their busy days to question the validity of the news that they are consuming.

From what the old journalism horses say, the protocol in newsrooms is that no story goes to press without two sources on a story, thus protecting the reputation of the paper and author of the story. With the threat of legal action at all times if something is misrepresented or slandered, then people are out of work and money will be flushed down the toilet.

But what if today’s sources are people on Twitter? Now, I’m not retracting a word I said about Twitter in my last post, but it does illustrate the dangers of the world we live in that I have mentioned.

Take in case the reporting of the death of Pat Burns. He was prematurely put under ground this past September. Once the news hit Twitter that he was going to visit family in Quebec, word spread that he was going to spend his final days, and then it was reported that he past away. The Toronto Sun picked it up and it eventually gained steam. Pat Burns called TSN hockey reporter Bob McKenzie personally and told him that “I’m not dead, far fucking from it.”

Sadly for the terminally ill Burns, he wasn’t far from death, and succumbed to cancer in November and he was finally laid to rest. But the egg on the media’s face will be remembered by media consumers as fondly as the coach was for hockey fans.

If I were running a news organization, a code of conduct is necessary at all times when dealing with Twitter and other forms of social media. The instantaneous nature that makes Twitter so much fun is also so terrifying. So while it is difficult to take a deep breath when a tweet runs across the screen, my reporters will be demanded to take a deep breath when anything pops up on the screen as serious and important as a death. They will not be able to respond to it until they get independent verification themselves that they event has taken place. I’m all for irreverent, quick, funny tweets about any issue under the sun (which wannabe comedians like me have been feasting on with the ongoing debacle that is Charlie Sheen) but when it comes to legitimate news, journalistic hats have to remain on.

As for breaking the news, from what I can tell, the only pressure to be first is within the newsroom. The public doesn’t care, they care about reliability. Only the news junkies — which would be the minority of the population that consumes any time of information — really care about this stuff and frankly if they’re keeping any sort of track of which organizations are breaking the most stories, they need to get a job and life. So in this world where news is changing, the pressure to be reliable and correct must begin to supersede the need to be first. And the only way I think this can change is through honest dialogue within not just journalism groups like our class, but within the major networks and organizations that dictate the information that the public learns. Only when they change their ways will it become more accepted throughout the medium that this is the way to go in this new age.

 

Walking in a Twitter Wonderland

Posted: February 22, 2011 by seanoneill34 in Uncategorized

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I LOVE Twitter.

OK, there are things in this world I love more, but what I do find fascinating about Twitter is that everybody is welcome, and everybody can carve out their own world of information and news that matters to them. The filter of the editor at the newscast or newspaper doesn’t exist on Twitter; we are our own filter, and that’s a liberating feeling. It can also be used by people who are trying to be funny, trying to enlighten, or trying to speak to the nation — even though it is probably through his Twitter secretary or some imaginary position that would have been obsolete during the Lincoln administration.

For example, my brother Colin just got onto Twitter and began to gather more news about what matters to him (which as you can tell if you looked at his description, is comics, video games and movies). He follows people/organizations/bands like DC Comics, Stan Lee, Kevin Smith and Van Halen. Not only can learn about what they’re doing, he can interact with them if he so chooses.

The downside of this is that my brother could be a part of the generation that loses the generalist but grows in the specialist. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Time will tell.

(Quick side tangent: if you haven’t noticed that the Tweets I’ve posted are all fairly recent, it’s because I don’t believe there’s a way to search for older tweets. It looks like the best way to find older ones is to continue to scroll down and down and down and down and down. Fix that, Twitter.)

Since I don’t know if Phil wants us to write about five pieces of knowledge we learned from Twitter, or five things we’ve learned about Twitter, or five things we’ve learned about ourselves because of Twitter, I’m going to do a bit of each. I’ll count that first point as No. 1.

2. One of the bad sides of Twitter is that it is based on speed. As I talked about in my first post for this class, Twitter is there for emotional, and sometimes, irrational commentary about subjects that happen around us. This is dangerous. Eventually somebody will slander someone on Twitter and it will open up a legal can of worms that doesn’t have to be opened.

3. CBC tweeted a story about Moammar Gadhafi because it’s timely, and to educate dictator neophytes like me on him. I would have never learned that he was a Che Guevara admirer, or that two of his sons run the countries’ Olympic and Soccer federations. Moral of the story: if you follow the proper sources, brand new information is a click away.

4. Twitter is trying to keep up-to-date with technology as well, as this Twitter superstar notes. It’s highly admirable that like Facebook, Twitter is not resting on its laurels and trying to continue to grow and expand and get better. Staying stagnant is retrogressing.

5. I learned that if you do care about an issue passionately, you will find people out there just like you. I’m fascinated by concussions and the medical side-effects of repetitive head trauma and all the research being done into it. I tweeted about it last week and used a hash-tag on the word concussion and was re-tweeted by an organization called 2moroDocs that follows medical news. I’ve been able to talk to people about it over the net and ways that it can be prevented, and how to educate the public and protect children.

Would that have happened with a letter to the editor 15 years ago? Not a chance. Which is why we should all embrace this phenomenon.

not for profit

Posted: February 16, 2011 by seanoneill34 in Uncategorized

As a sports geek, I enjoy the politics sometimes more than the actual play game itself. And one of the stories that is important in the context of the NFL is the demand to bring a team to Los Angeles, which is the 2nd biggest market in the country.

Now with funding from Farmer’s Insurance (I APOLOGIZE– I’m still blog writing, link pasting-illetierate. http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/nfl/news/story?id=6078709) to help build the state-of-the-art stadium in downtown LA set in place, the only things that need to be done is the ceremonial shovels in the ground and a team to be relocated. (http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/nfl/news/story?id=5924910)

The stadium is a lock so the owners of teams like the Vikings, Jaguars, Bills or 49ers can use the threat of moving to this sparkling palace in California as collateral against municipal and state governments of  to help build them a stadium along these lines with tax payer money so the owners can maximize revenue, and the community can keep a part of its civic identity if you want to be naive. And since none of the owners of said franchises have the revenue that a 30-year, $700 million naming rights deal brings in, these proposed stadiums will need some public money to be built.

And another of the teams that needs a new stadium to financially compete today is the San Diego Chargers. Its Qualcomm Stadium was originally opened in 1969 and does not posses the modern luxury boxes and corporate amenities that are commonplace around the league today. And if the city wants to host another Super Bowl and enjoy the massive financial windfall that comes from hosting America’s biggest corporate holiday not associated with a fictional character, which it hasn’t done since 2004 and is not in the running for one anytime soon, then a new stadium is a demand.

Which is where the Voice of San Diego comes in. What I didn’t know about the stadium process was that not only has the city failed to find a location where it could fit, but because of this, no blueprint has been created before government officials and lawyers can even begin to go over this type of investment. Now that the LA stadium has been passed, and the city of San Diego seemingly kicking its heels, the connection is easily made. The fact that California is broke and this stadium is all privately funded doesn’t hurt either.

But what is great about the Voice of San Diego’s coverage is that it’s not in any relationships with the NFL, like other media outlets, specifically the biggest one ESPN, (http://articles.sfgate.com/2005-04-19/news/17370143_1_mark-shapiro-espn-espn-radio-espn-com-abc-sports) are partners and profiteers because of pro football. You don’t think that ESPN would rather have the Chargers in Los Angeles (population: 3.8 million according to Wikipedia) than San Diego (1.3 million)? It would enhance the value of its game ratings as well as all other football-related programing. The fact that ESPN is 80% owned by Walt Disney, and is a sister cable station of ABC which is the only major network without the ratings bonzana of football right now, also adds tentacles to how it looks at the story.

But VOSD is apart from all of this. It does its job (http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/clipboard/article_e81373e6-2f0c-11e0-8a02-001cc4c002e0.html) away from multi-conglomerate control and looks at the issue of how a stadium is going to be built. Not if it can enhance a business portfolio.

Egyptian Revolution

Posted: February 9, 2011 by seanoneill34 in Uncategorized

When I went to Montreal for the CUP conference in early January, I went for a walk alone up Ste. Catherine St. on a Saturday afternoon and stumbled upon a massive protest going through the city. The protests had to do with the ousting of a leader in North Africa. But the flags being flown weren’t the tricolor of Egypt, but the Red half moon and star of Tunisia. My Tunisian cab driver on the way to the casino the night before said that president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was “the biggest asshole since Geroge Bush.”

What does this have to do with Egypt? Other than being a sign of Montreal having more than the two languages you’d expect, it shows the best way to stumble into international relations stories is to see the anger first hand.

But since the Egypt protests began long after I left that multi-cultural melting pot, there wasn’t a protest in the streets to stumble into. Before this began I didn’t know a thing about Honsi Mubarak and Egyptian policies because my international interests are exclusively in Italy, France, Spain and Germany. So when I came home late on Jan 26 from class and turned on my tv the last channel that was on was CBC and I immediately saw the chaos in the streets.

I switched to CNN when I saw that Obama was going to speak about the situation. Wolf Blitzer was upping the drama of the protests saying that this was a cultural revolution and that they were trying to take their democracy back and some more blah blah blah’s that did nothing to lower my impression of CNN being a news station for sensationalism.

I don’t recall exactly what I was doing that day but I hadn’t checked Twitter at all on my BlackBerry, and that’s my most used app outside of the Weather Network. So when I first heard the news it dawned on me that it was like it my 23-year old body was transported to 1995, where this information was not accessible in the daily routine of life.

After a while I got disenfranchised with the story and needed to move on. Protesting is not my thing because I’m a pretty easy-going guy and have had little to get upset about. However, I stayed on top of it the best I could. And an excellent tool was one that I never hear people use when news is breaking: Wikipedia.

When I go on the Wikipedia page for The Beatles for example, there’s very little left to be said about the band, and it feels like all the information that can be learned about the Fab Four is there to be consumed. However, the history of these protests in 2011 are happening in front of our eyes as we breathe, so what I kept tabs of was how the page was forming as history as it was playing out. With 331 footnotes and a page as long as the Nile River, this may be the way to go if you want to learn about any historical event with a historical twist.

 

Propublica

Posted: February 2, 2011 by seanoneill34 in #3 Propublica

http://www.propublica.org/article/in-dialysis-life-saving-care-at-great-risk-and-cost

The first thing to say after reading this story was how exhaustive and detailed it was. And the first thing that came to mind was that if any mainstream news agency took on a project of this magnitude, they either have the most generous, accepting editor in the world or this work will never get accomplished the way if has been done by the people at Propublica.

The authors say that the story took a year, with thousands of interviews conducted to get the meat of the story together, as well as going over thousands of tax recites that would make most people lose their vision. The positive that can be taken from this is that there are dedicated professionals that love a great mystery to solve for the public interest. And with all mainstream news agencies being owned by a corporate entity that looks at it just like any other business, the demand to make a product that will produce the all-mighty dollar may not come in the form of work such as this.

This give Propublica the range and time to do as much due diligence as possible to show as many sides as possible. However, it’s unreasonable to believe that a bunch of Propublica clones will pop up out of nowhere with millions of dollars in funding for the work to be done. Especially with the global financial situation the world is in, the chances of other multi-millionaires creating socially-conscious news agencies from scratch are the same as Steven Seagal winning Best Actor at the Oscars anytime soon.

So Propublica for me is a lightning-in-a-bottle organization. Just be thankful that its there to tell the stories of people who need renal dialysis but the standards of care are so poor even though Americans sink billions into health care.

#2 Zen Sean O’Neill

Posted: January 27, 2011 by seanoneill34 in #2 Zen and Web 2.0
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I hate to use a sports analogy, because I swear I’m deeper than this, but for me this one is too easy to ignore.

Last Sunday I watched my favorite team — the Green Bay Packers — play the Chicago Bears with a berth in the Super Bowl on the line. The Bears quarterback is a surly, aloof, and ultra-talented man named Jay Cutler. Cutler was injured in the third quarter and didn’t return to the game.

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