Graduation & New Gig

December 24, 2009

Last week I graduated with my M.M.C. in journalism and mass communication from the Walter Cronkite School at ASU, and on January first I start my first professional writing gig.

I will be writing for ReadWriteWeb, a blog that covers Internet technologies, and will be one of two startup beat reporters.  Actually, we are going to be providing resources for startups as well as reporting on startup news.

Anyway, you can now read my professional stuff there, or by clicking here.

I start officially on January 4th, but until then I will be posting a few things, and already have one up now!

Apple already revolutionized the music industry with the iPod and iTunes, and now they seem poised to change the way we watch TV as well.

Rumor has it that Apple has been shopping around the idea of a $30/month subscription TV service to various television networks.  But instead of offering up the service on the Apple TV (as was previously speculated) Apple is reportedly implanting the service into the massive iTunes ecosystem.
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But Apple could be taking this one step further.

Just recently Apple released a brand new 27” iMac with a massive 2,560 x 1,440 pixel 16:10 screen and 1 TB of storage.  All the iMac needs is a highly anticipated integrated Blu-ray player and the all-in-one behemoth could compete with flat-panel televisions with this proposed TV subscription model.

Some have speculated that Apple could start producing their own TV’s, but this subscription service puts them in the position to gradually mold their iMacs into the TVs of tomorrow.

The New York Times Company’s stock soared today as it was announced that the Old Gray Lady has exceeded third quarter expectations by raking in $80.6 million, a 30% increase from 2008.

The company, which includes other properties like the Boston Globe and About.com, opened a full dollar higher than where it closed yesterday and increased steadily all day to $10.72 a share for a 22.5% growth.

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NYT stock prices climbing Thursday.

In a letter to employees, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger stated that the company is “moving in the right direction” thanks to employee comittment.

Ultimately, it is your extraordinary dedication that is allowing us to achieve the results that we have reported today … and it is this same dedication that will enable us to achieve our long-term goals and aspirations.” – Arthur Sulzberger

But in reality the answer is simpler than putting the proverbial nose to the grindstone as Sulzberger claims.

Earlier this week, the New York Times announced they would be cutting 100 newsroom positions before the end of year.  With increasing subscription costs and re-negotiation of severance pay, these cuts are just the latest in the company’s efforts to lower costs.

It worked.

Sulzberger even concedes this point, saying, “while actual circulation volume has declined, our circulation revenue increased 6.7 percent due to price increases” but qualifies that statement by adding, “clearly, the demand for our quality journalism in print remains substantial.”

But is this really “the right direction” as Sulzberger contends? Is it truly healthy for the New York Times Company to keep its head above water with budget cuts, price increases and layoffs?  Obviously this can’t continue forever, and the company will need to improve upon its floundering advertising revenues to remain in business.

Sulzberger believes things are turning around on the advertising front.

Early in the fourth quarter, print advertising trends have improved modestly compared to the third-quarter, while digital advertising trends are improving more significantly.” – Arthur Sulzberger

We all know the day the New York Times folds is the day pigs fly, hell freezes over and we all eat our hats, but for the company to continue to be a dominant force in the news industry they will have to recover from the advertising lull so they can continue to innovate and push newspapers in a new direction.

About midway through the Spring 2009 semester I decided on a topic to pursue for the coming summer News21 journalism initiative.  The topic was broad: Latinos in the military. I decided to do a little research on the Web to see if there were any discussions already brewing.

Last August, I joined the social networking site Twitter, where millions of people share their thoughts about everything and anything.  I wanted to know if anyone on Twitter was talking about my topic, so I threw a few word combinations at Twitter’s search engine.

Nothing much came up in my first few searches but eventually I got a few results by searching for “citizenship AND military.”  One of the results was particularly interesting.  It said:

“My heart breaks for him that can’t go in the military. He should B able to  serve the 4 yrs and B given the opportunity to get citizenship.”

The message was posted on April 9 by a user named “Yankeelin” and was the third “tweet” in a series about this individual.  Prior messages from the same user said:

“My daughters boyfriend Alberto is from Mexico too. He’s been here since he was 5.”

and

“…and he graduated H.S. as the top ranking ROTC cadet in NC, but his family and him are not legal. So he can’t go in the military!”

I found the story compelling, so I saved the links to the posts and forwarded them in an e-mail to my reporting partner for the summer project. The subject line was: “Maybe we can use Twitter to find stories?”

On May 18th, the first day of the News21 program at Arizona State, I decided to follow up on this story but I wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed.  How does one approach a complete stranger on the Internet?

Yankeelin’s Twitter profile revealed that her name was Linda and lived in North Carolina.  A White Pages search of her name and hometown returned one result with a phone number, but I decided a less forward method of first contact might be more appropriate in this case.

On Twitter, you can send a message to other users by beginning a message with the “@” symbol followed by the person’s username.  One problem with this method is if the user does not log onto the service frequently, he or she could easily overlook this kind of direct message.

The other challenge was that Twitter limits each message you send to 140 characters, 11 of which I would be using up with “@yankeelin” and a space before my message.  So cramming an introduction and an explanation and a request to talk was going to be tough to do in 129 characters.  However, I managed to squeeze in the following message:

“@yankeelin Im a student studying latinos in milit, love to chat about ur daughters bf Alberto (saw ur tweet from april)- chcameron@gmail.com”

By sacrificing some punctuation (”I’m” became “Im”) and with the use of some well known Internet abbreviations (”ur” for “your” and “bf” for “boyfriend”), I was able to get my message across in exactly 140 characters.

A few days went by and I considered calling the phone number that the white pages search had turned up, but to my surprise, just before noon on May 20, I received an e-mail from Linda in response to my tweet:

“Hi I saw your ‘tweet’ to me about my daughter’s boyfriend wanting to go into the military.  You were writing me in reference to a tweet I wrote back in April.  My daughter’s e-mail is attached, and the two of you can communicate about it.  Her name is Jo Beth.”

A few emails to Jo Beth eventually led to some phone calls with Alberto, the JROTC superstar with dreams of joining the military.  He mentioned that his girlfriend had explained how we found him and we shared a laugh over this unorthodox way of reporting.

The more my reporting partner and I chatted with Alberto the more interested we became in his story.  Here is a kid who was the top JROTC cadet in the state and all he wants is to serve his country in the military, but he can’t due to his citizenship status.

We pitched his story to our editor and the decision was made: we HAD to talk to this young man.  So we booked our flights to North Carolina.

Next thing we knew we were sitting in Alberto and Jo Beth’s living room with two cameras, a lighting kit and a notebook full of questions.  We emerged a few hours later having squeezed every last detail out of Alberto and feeling very confident about the story.

As we flew home from the East Coast, it was amazing to think that the opportunity to interview Alberto started with a successful search on Twitter.

Celebrities and others have given Twitter a reputation for obnoxious and pointless messages about what someone ate for breakfast, but in terms of connecting with REAL people with REAL stories, it was the perfect tool.

Some fascinating statistics are hitting the web today as a Morgan Stanley intern has published a report on the media habits of teens.  The intern – a teen himself at 15 years old – surprised many when he found that most kids his age not only avoid traditional media – TV, radio and newspapers – but they even eschew some new media, like Twitter.

I too have seen this trend when I talk to kids in high school (which I do on a somewhat regular basis with a part-time job).  They often are unaware of many “mainstream” news items that would interest a younger audience, such as advances in cool gadget technology and video games.

But when you think about it, who can blame them? A teen’s life is consumed by their friendships and their schoolwork, so how can they find the time to stay on top of the things that matter to them when they are doing a few hours of homework each night?

These teens represent a nearly unreachable demographic of media consumers in terms of getting news.  They don’t read newspapers, they don’t listen to the radio, and they don’t watch TV, and when they do it’s not for news.  And when they go online, they stick to social networks like Facebook and Myspace to keep up with their school friends.

In my generation, kids always wanted their own phone to chat with friends, which gave way to kids wanting their own cell phone.  Now, every house has a computer with internet and along with their cell phones, the teens continue their schoolyard discussions on the Web.

So how does new media find a way to reach teens? If teens can’t grab onto Twitter, what innovation is going to steal their attention away from their everyday lives with their REAL friends?

iphoneThe internet is all a’buzz about the brand-spankin’-new iPhone 3GS announced today by Apple, but AT&T users are upset with how the carrier has prepared for its new device.  The new phone looks the same, but upgrades to the hardware and a soon-to-come iPhone OS have ushered in a boatload of new features, some of which AT&T won’t be able to provide when the phone launches.

Apple boasts the new iPhone’s ability to send multimedia messages through MMS (including pictures and video) and the new tethering feature which allows users to turn their iPhone’s in portable 3G modems for their laptops.

AT&T is still in the process of upgrading its system to allow for a greater flow of data from devices like the new iPhone, and features like MMS and tethering will likely not be available until they finish.  When will they finish? AT&T has arbitrarily said, “later this summer”, but that both features WILL be supported.  Eventually.

And as if that wasn’t enough to boil the blood of its subscribers (like myself), AT&T has set higher purchase points for those who already own an iPhone 3G.  While the new iPhone tops out at $299 for new subscribers, existing users could have to pay as much as $699 to upgrade. This is likely because AT&T offered a discount with a 2-year contract for the iPhone 3G, and allowing those users to upgrade their plans at another discounted price would cost them the difference.

In response to outrage over the charges, AT&T said that “an iPhone 3G customer in most cases can early upgrade at $399 [16GB] or $499 [32GB]“.  Still, $200 extra for a new phone and new contract?  I could understand a $100 boost (equal to the discount attained by purchasing the 3G at a subsidised price), but why $200?

Perhaps AT&T is anticipating the fact that Apple wants to move the iPhone to other carriers (such as Verizon) in the near future.  The extra $200 to switch from 3G to 3GS is more than AT&T’s $175 early termination fee, so at this point, its more economical to switch to Sprint and get the new iPhone-worthy Palm Pre (with a cheaper monthly plan also).

For me, the possibility of Apple developing an iPhone for Verizon in the near future is enough to give me pause on jumping on the new 3GS.  I need the 3GS.  I want the 3GS.  But at this point it may be a bad deal.  I may just have to settle with the new iPhone OS on my 3G, or bite the bullet and pay the extra $200 to get the 3GS, and I know many other 3G users in my position are thinking the same thing.

AT&T also announced plans to allow for pre-ordering of iPhones, and will have a separate line for pre-orders at its stores when the phone launches.  I doubt we will see the insane mad-rush of AT&T and Apple stores we saw last year when the new phone goes on sale.  The fact that it was as crazy as it was last year attests to the fact that Apple is drying up the “going to buy an iPhone” market.  A lot of those who were going to get one have bought one already, and my guess is a lot of 3G owners will not want to pony up $200 extra to get a 3GS.

Two-Thirds Master

May 16, 2009

4401_715649495611_10001279_45016058_3274866_nNot bad! I only managed to neglect writing for just over one month.

That being said, it’s summer time again in the desert, and I just wrapped up the second semester of my three semester masters program.  I worked the majority of this semester in the New Media Innovation Lab, which takes on tasks from various media clients to think-tank ideas and come up with ideas for solutions to their problems.  I had a lot of fun because I basically got paid to be the geek that I am while getting experience and exposure making website mock-ups, flash utilities and other fun things.

This summer is chock-full of great experiences for me.  I am part of the News21 program, which is a nationally funded program that promotes the creating of unique, innovative multimedia journalism.  Arizona State is one of several “incubator” schools, and our groups is focusing on Latino issues in America.

My partner and I are beginning a story this Monday on Latinos in the military, specifically in regard to service as a path to citizenship. Since it is well funded, the program allows for a lot of traveling, so I will be travelling across the nation gathering sources for our story.

In addition to the News21 program, I am also working as a research intern for the popular social media and web technology blog, ReadWriteWeb.  I just began this week and so far it is going great.  I am assisting with some short term and long term research projects, and I hope to expand my role as the summer evolves.  Who knows, it could turn into a full time position later on.

That should do it for now, just a quick update on me and the coming summer.  I will make a point not to neglect the blog all summer long.  I will likely be inserting posts about the progress of News21, the RWW internship and other big news and ideas I have.  Enjoy the summer!

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