THE TWO DOCTORS

Here’s a very amusing short featuring the current Doctor, David Tennant, and the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, in one of those classic Doctor Who – new Doctor Who cross-overs. It’s a short segment for charity in the U.K. as a teaser before the Christmas special of Doctor Who comes out in a few weeks.

PRINT MEDIA FOR YOUTHS

I’d like to think I’m in the majority of my age group when I say that I love newspapers, magazines, the radio and television news. Ever since high school I’ve been watching CBC News, listening to CBC Radio, reading pretty much any newspaper I can find and I’m still an addict to magazines.

Thing is, I know I’m not normal in this regard (mind you, this is only one facet of many, many reasons why I’m not normal!). Newspaper readership among the under-35 set throughout North America and Europe is declining at an immeasurable rate now. Reading print newspapers is no longer a ritual for even so-called “adults” that are barely making a mark on the world. Journalists are being laid off at newspapers at an alarming rate now, not to mention the slow bleeding of journalists at other old media properties. Meanwhile, the web’s surging in growth but monetizing the web is still extremely difficult. More disturbing is a report from this month’s Adbusters that 27 per cent of people under the age of 30 receive no news at all. I know my own brother, a very smart guy, gets his information from Wikipedia and sometimes Foreign Policy – he rarely goes to conventional news platforms. We both share an appreciation for the BBC World Service, which is nice, and I spend a lot of time on Arts & Letters Daily and Wikipedia myself. But corporate news sites? Forget it. We’re both very informed, intelligent guys with strong pretensions towards geekdom – what does our ambivalence about mainstream, corporate-owned news say about folks who could care less about the news?

My buddy Sammy, another smart guy from Queen’s whom I started Diatribe with six years ago, had a discussion with me over dinner a month ago about the state of the mainstream media in Canada (scroll down to the October 21st entry on Sam’s blog for an excellent summation of our discussion). It doesn’t take too much to notice that most newspapers in Canada haven’t a clue how to handle this very problematic transition into a digital future, simply because nobody knows where the industry is headed. I’ve voiced technological solutions to the crisis, like digital paper that can be updated via nationwide WiMax networks as in the film Minority Report. But that apparatus is years away, given how maddeningly slow cities in Canada and the U.S. are in deploying wireless (read: free wireless) infrastructure across cities and the glacial-like pace people with the financial means to take on new technology (because really, only a few privileged folks under 35 can even afford an ultra-expensive Blu-Ray player right now as an example) adopt new gadgets and gizmos. Even then, there’s no assurances that people will pay for products they can get online today for free. People will always choose free before pay, even if there are incentives to pick up a paid-for product.

This leads into the next question: which mediums can really survive the transition into a completely digital world?

It’s arguable that radio will continue to survive in the short-term, given that people haven’t adopted satellite radio or web-based radio in their cars en masse yet. Plus, people generally like having talk radio around. The fact AM Radio is still going strong in spite of far superior alternatives proves this fact.

Television, same deal. While television news is pretty much turning into a vacuum of infotainment and celebrity crap, there are intelligent alternatives out there, much like on the radio dial.

But here’s where radio, television and print journalism all face similar problems: digital’s inherent characteristics – replication, expansion and fragmentation of both form and content – will hurt radio and television’s bottom lines, but there are ways to sustain a highly fragmented market electronically. Print is another matter. Because print is so stationary and paid-for, unless someone comes up with an amazing new way to deliver the written word, there just won’t be private sector support for printing newspapers or magazines in the future. It just won’t happen.

Now, it’s easy to lay blame at the feet of young people – the Facebook Generation that gets its news from Mini-Feeds and the like. But that’s not really fair, at least not completely. While general interest magazines are on a serious decline, niche magazines are surging in growth and big name, legacy publications like Esquire or The New Yorker can be sustained indefinitely by corporate owners. There’s also a strong cultural cachet for advertisers being associated with those brands. In fact, New Yorker subscriptions have actually gone up in the past several years, which shows that people do, in fact, care about long-form, investigative journalism.

But what of newspapers? The short answer is that newspapers throughout the developed world have completely missed the point of all these print redesigns, community discussion boards and, inexplicably, placing premium content behind paid subscription firewalls (thankfully, The New York Times finally realized the folly of this strategy in September by abandoning TimeSelect). Newspapers don’t get read by young people anymore because they look, act and feel very old. They speak in a language that seems very out of place for 2007. Instead of focusing on building a strategy for youth that works, many newspapers have been content to go along, business as usual, burying their heads in the sand and not acknowledging the very real possibility 2007 was the year the wheels really did start to come off for the business.

Monocle Magazine’s November issue highlights this point clearly. The subtle distinction the magazine makes, quite correctly, is that many newspaper markets throughout the world are thriving and experimenting like mad to reinvent themselves. But not in Canada and the U.S. Maybe it’s time for newspapers to abandon the mantra of “all things to all people” and start with a back-t0-basics approach: ultra-tight, very short news pieces written with the idea of hyper-local coverage in mind, make a paper’s design and look the most important part of the paper and go for a slick, industrial look, abandon the idea of full-time columnists and open up the paper to the digital age’s egocasting phenomenon, put one or two strong, well-written investigative feature pieces in each paper, and above all else, shorten the publication’s length to an unheard of 20 pages and limit advertising to an absolute bare minimum. Make a publication worthy of being picked up as part of an individual’s daily routine – not something so huge, overbearing and frustrating to read that people can’t be bothered. Go upmarket and appeal to a style-conscious, intelligent (i.e. no celebrity gossip!), globally-friendly youth culture that’s tired of the same old crap.

Here’s a great example of what Monocle is talking about: Il Foglio, an Italian broadsheet (yes, a broadsheet!) that is one of Europe’s biggest selling dailies. It’s really worth checking out.

REDACTED

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I saw the new Brian De Palma film Redacted today. All I have to say is you must see it. It could be the single most important film of 2007. It’s a very ballsy, gusty effort by De Palma – a director that has made some incredible films in his day (Scarface, Carrie, The Untouchables to name a few) and, admittedly, some big misfires (Black Dahlia, Femme Fatale) – and re-establish him as one of America’s finest filmmakers. De Palma has tackled the big, dark events of American history before with 1989’s Casualities of War – a so-so effort about the horrors of the Vietnam War. Yet Redacted is easily De Palma’s best work in years.

Based on a very real event that took place in the Iraqi town of Mahmudiyah in spring 2006 involving U.S. soldiers, Redacted is a brutal, unflinching look at the very ugly reality of the U.S.-Iraq war. It’s hard to watch, deeply unsettling and bound to stir up serious controversy in the U.S. Indeed, many conservatives south of the border – including Right-Wing Overlord himself, Bill O’Reilly – have already tagged this film as a potential subject of protests and as cannon fodder for anti-Americanism and violence against U.S. soldiers already in Iraq. But this kind of misses the point, to be honest. As much as Redacted does portray some (keyword: some) as monsters, there’s an alarming resignation to the film’s outlook: the war in Iraq is going nowhere, nobody has any idea why U.S. forces are there anymore, and the rules of engagement in the utter chaos of Iraq when no one is ever sure who is on the “right side” are so vague, so dangerously unclear, that it’s possible for U.S. soldiers to rationalize even rape and murder.

De Palma’s biggest innovation with Redacted is his use of a variety of digital film techniques. He includes first-person digital video shots, surveillance video, nightvision cameras, Web videos from fake YouTube, insurgents and even al-Qaeda web sites, even embedding documentaries by other journalists.

While many people already familiar with the situation with the horrors of Iraq will probably not be as shocked by this film, I was really shocked by the graphic violence and very upsetting sequence of events involving rape and murder in an Iraqi household at the climax of the film. Be warned: this is a very disturbing film.

Oh, and just to give you all a sense of how inflammatory this film will be in the U.S., check out the video by O’Reilly on Fox News. I just don’t know what to say anymore about him. It’s almost useless even trying to get angry at a man like him anymore.

QUARTERLIFE

This week marked the debut of a Web-only television series – Quarterlife, a very web-savvy drama about twentysomethings in the midst of arrested development. It’s probably one of the few shows out there that speaks to younger people in a very realistic, Web-friendly sort of way. For this reason, no major U.S. network picked it up for this year’s fall season (because remember, no one in America ever got rich by catering to intelligence, the conventional wisdom goes!). The episodes are short and snacky but surprisingly engaging for such a short clip.

The interesting part of this show, aside from the techie talk and blogging that’s part and parcel of this show, is the production team: Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick – the same team that produced My So-Called Life (another brilliant TV show that got the premature deep-sixing by a network incapable of dealing with intelligent writing), thirtysomething and the movies Legends Of The Fall, Glory and Blood Diamond.

It’s definitely worth checking out. Might this be the show that really pushes forward Web-based dramas? In lieu of the writers’ strike in the U.S. right now, it’s a welcome relief from very old Daily Show repeats.

WISDOM OF CROWDS?

Normally I take great enjoyment of using Wikipedia for pretty much any topic under the sun. But given the site’s faith in crowds – a system of data management that doesn’t always lend itself to solid, reliable facts – I’m starting to wonder if two alternatives that have emerged are far superior additions to the world of encyclopedias.

Wired has a new article out about the emerging world of competitors to Wikipedia: Citizendium, which has been around for a year or so and only has roughly 10,000 articles, and the new Veropedia, which is being set up as a more trustworthy version of Wikipedia with vetting of articles against a broader number of sources.

It’s always good to have competition of any kind when it comes to information (which might be a good lesson for the MSM) sources. Personally, I think Wikipedia is a fairly solid reference guide, although I’d never use it for any academic paper if I were in school (I can’t imagine anyone using Wikipedia as a primary source for a major research paper, although I’ve heard of people using it for that very purpose).

One of the big challenges coming in the next few decades for academia will be how the culture of collaboration among students, workers and even academics of a newer generation will be incorporated into the Monastic tradition of the Academy. Many academics I’ve known over the years loathe collaborative work when it comes to researching papers; there’s a centuries-old tradition within academia of solitary working habits. How will universities adapt to this new reality is anyone’s guess.