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September 20, 2007

Filed under: journalism»new_media

We Get Letters

I'm having kind of a hard time with the feedback on the AudioFile article. If I'm having a hard time with it, it's easy to see how more entrenched print journalists must be losing their minds.

Basically, I wrote in one paragraph of the article that higher bit depths offer improvement for bass frequencies. I based this on a Roger Nichols article in Sound on Sound, in which he explains his own experience in going from 16 to 24 bit recording with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Several people have chimed in on the Ars Forums to say hey, good article, but that bit about the bass is just wrong. I haven't fixed the paragraph, though.

It's not that I think they're wrong, and it's not that I necessarily insist that I'm right, because I'm under no illusions that I'm the most knowledgeable person on earth. But as well-spoken as the Ars forums are, and as much as I have read them in the past, they're still anonymous people in an Internet forum. Whereas Roger Nichols is a guy who mixed Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, and Placido Domingo, and also invented a new kind of atomic clock because he didn't like the digital synchronization he was getting before. I'm going to take his word, for now, and err on the side of caution.

But it's hard, getting immediate feedback from people on something you've written, especially if you're not an expert--and most journalists, as far as I'm aware, aren't. When I went in for a job interview recently, the interviewer and I talked for a little while about how blogging has affected editorials, where there's a proud tradition of writers discussing issues that they know nothing about. And nowadays, there's a whole Internet filled with people who are happy to talk about things they know nothing about, so there's a lot of competition for those editorial jobs. Not to mention, a whole Internet that's also full of people who can write e-mail and forum posts about how the editorial was wrong. Sometimes those respondents do know what they're talking about. I can only imagine the panic of some poor economic journalist being pulled under the microscope of Brad DeLong in his ongoing Why Oh Why Can't We Have A Better Press Corps series.

This is just something that journalists and writers are going to have to get used to. Feedback comes fast, online. It comes strong, too, because people are not sheltered from giving you their opinions. And a lot of it's right, but a lot of it's going to be wrong, too. To my mind, you don't just throw that feedback away. It's a valuable thing. It makes you better. And more importantly, you don't respond to it with a hissy fit, the way that some writers have done. It's a goad to either A) know what you're talking about (which is the optimal solution), or at least B) be able to cite someone who knows what they're doing, and give good reasons why you believed them.

In a way, this makes every outlet, even the largest, into a small-town newspaper. I don't know from experience, but I hear you've got to have a thick skin to work a small town beat. People run into you on the street, they're going to tell you what they thought of that story you wrote last week. And they're not going to treat "journalist" like a big-time profession or a position of authority. They know better, and they know you better. Overall, I think that accessibility and lower status is a good thing for journalism, which has gotten a bit big for its britches at times. But it doesn't make the letters much easier to read right now.

September 19, 2007

Filed under: journalism»new_media

Future of Music Conference, Part Two

Last couple of days have been crazy.

The second day of the conference, yesterday, I only saw one of the sessions before I had to run off to another appointment. It was on "disintermediation," the idea that there are now fewer steps between musicians and audiences. One of the ideas that someone mentioned was that of a "musician's middle class," which I love, because it really expresses the current state of music. There's a very tiny population of mega-artists, and then a very large population of bar bands and struggling acts, and very little in between. Several of the panelists, including Tim from Pandora, said that their goal is to build that middle class. More on it when I write it up for Ars.

After the conference ended, I went to the Pandora event to hear Tim speak. I highly recommend it if he comes to your city (turn on their ability to contact you by e-mail, or watch his blog). I doubt there was anything really new for anyone who's read about the service, but Tim's a good speaker and there were some things I didn't know. For example, at peak times (around lunch), Pandora accounts for 1.5% of all global Internet traffic. That's pretty amazing.

And they gave me a shirt, which is nice.

While we're on the topic of sound and music, the first of my AudioFile series is now up at Ars. It's on basics of digital audio, so if you're a little bit sketchy on the whole idea it's a good introduction. It is very basic, but I wanted to write this before getting into more complicated topics like lossless compression and 1-bit sampling. Response has been relatively good so far. The followup article on MP3 encoding has been submitted, and should go up soon.

September 17, 2007

Filed under: journalism»new_media

Future of Music Conference, Part 1

Mental note: music journalists are a scruffy, hipster-looking lot. Despite my feelings about dress shoes, I'm not wearing the Chucks tomorrow. I'd like to stand out from that crowd.

The best exchange of the day, easily, came during an otherwise tedious bandwidth policy/Net Neutrality debate, in which Scott Cleland (, a.k.a. the ISPs) insisted that Net Neutrality has never existed in domains like wireless and cable, so why fight so hard for it?

Ben Scott from Free Press had not been terribly impressive for most of the talk, but he took the mike and said (I quote mostly from memory and my notes):

I'd like to agree completely with Scott on one point, because it's true that net neutrality has never applied to wireless providers. And I'd submit that if you want to see what it looks like when providers are allowed to be gatekeepers, just look down at your handheld device.

The wireless companies can choose what music you listen to. They can choose where you can go to buy that music. They can choose where you go on the Internet. That's what it looks like without Net Neutrality.

To which I can only say, yeah, pretty much. And if anyone thinks, as Cleland sputtered in reply, that the USA offers "lower costs" or better quality than wireless phones in other developed countries, then they pretty much deserve what they're getting.

July 13, 2007

Filed under: journalism»new_media

Machine Readable

For my own future reference:

QR codes are a way to turn text information (including vCards) into a two-dimensional pattern. Anything with a camera and the right software (read: cell phones, PDAs, computers) can decode that information back into text, URL, or metadata form. If it's got a decent screen, it could even encode it for another device. The codes are common in Japan, but several manufacturers (including Microsoft and Nokia) have made moves towards more widespread usage.

I'm interested in this because it blurs the line between print and digital in a very cheap and easy-to-create way, and I see my career headed in that direction. Clearly, print's not going anywhere, but a lot of people right now are looking at scenarios to integrate it with online information in a smart way. Cell phones are becoming smarter, and as they do they're a natural vector for information, but it's almost always a pain to get information into them, whether you're using T9 or a soft keyboard. And why type when you can have it read the URL for you?

So a magazine might be able to link articles from print to online in very little space, so that anyone with a smartphone can explore related materials. Music publications could link to sound samples. And I can put a QR-encoded vCard onto my business card, and then someone can add me to their phone or Outlook contacts just by taking a picture of it.

And these are just what first comes to mind. I need to think about this for a while.

Future - Present - Past