The cartoon’s evolution

Standard

20121227-063559.jpg

“It’s a Ziggy!”

One of the best parts of the sitcom Seinfeld is how ably it’s jokes have held up over time. Think of episode 169, “The Cartoon.” Regardless of how many people actually understand all of The New Yorker‘s cartoons, everyone still questions a strip or two in his or her lifetime.

Regardless of one’s ability to understand social critique as humor, the Internet has given us a range of opportunities to express and understand humor. A new story from The Economist looks into the history and development of cartoons, from print media until today. A particularly revealing point in the article directs readers’ attention to the cartoon’s boom during the era of sensationalist journalism:

But it was the combination of the rotary printing press, mass literacy and capitalism which really created the space for comic art to flourish. In Britain Punch coined the term “cartoon” in 1843 to describe its satirical sketches, which soon spread to other newspapers. In the United States, the modern comic strip emerged as a by-product of the New York newspaper wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in the late 19th century. In 1895 Pulitzer’s Sunday World published a cartoon of a bald child with jug ears and buck teeth dressed in a simple yellow shirt: the Yellow Kid. The cartoon gave the name to the new mass media that followed: “yellow journalism”.

Newspapers filled with sensationalist reporting sold millions. They even started wars. But in an era before television and film, it was the cartoons—filled with images of the city and stories of working-class living—which sold the newspapers. With most papers reporting much the same news, cartoons were an easy way for proprietors to differentiate their product. After the success of the Yellow Kid, both Pulitzer and Hearst introduced extensive comic supplements in their Sunday papers. Like the papers that printed them, comics rose and died quickly: the Yellow Kid lasted barely three years. But as the newspaper industry overall grew, so too did the funnies pages. By the mid-1920s one cartoonist, Bud Fisher, was paid $250,000 a year for “Mutt and Jeff”. By 1933, of 2,300 daily American papers, only two, the New York Times and the Boston Transcript, published no cartoons.

The article also describes the fun insertion of the “nerd” into popular cartoon-ery, which is fairly comical in and of itself. Read the full article here.

Advertisements

Facebook thinks it knows me: My review of the Year in Review feature

Standard

bw-minnigan-wedding-2012-315Facebook has changed much about it’s public face in the past year.

It’s mid-December and, in addition to an increased marketing push toward it’s “Gift” feature, the social network has also rolled out a Timeline-enabled Year in Review goodie. Year in Review reports, to you, your own personal top 20 list from 2012 in the best way it knows how – by deciding what posts, likes, friendships, etc., became the most social, sharable or had the widest potential audience.

As with most new features, I was immediately skeptical as to its effectiveness in accurately representing my most significant moments of the year. Social media are largely new in the realm of technological advancements and their ability to paint reliable pictures of the humans behind the avatars is still evolving.

So, according to Facebook, during the past year I

  • wanted to go ice skating (but still haven’t),
  • changed my cover photo,
  • reported on what a Facebook Year in Review list might have looked like if Timeline was around in 2005,
  • had an awesome time jumping in the air and dancing while lying on the floor in Nashville,
  • changed my cover photo again,
  • watched the Olympics,
  • moved to Chicago,
  • won a 10k, and
  • had an over-due Facetime conversation with two of my closest friends.

Sure, there aren’t 20 different events listed here. This is because my friend’s Nashville wedding took up four slots and my move to and affinity for Chicago took two, as did the Pumpkin Festival 10k in Morton, Illinois.

Upon completing a post-hoc analysis, and after calling a close friend who was part of my top 20, I realized that Facebook got it almost exactly right. This simple recognition — that my preconceived notions of what counts as relationship online are becoming more incorrect by the day — required from me an intense investigation of the true meaning of sharing and engaging with content online. What causes me to share a photo, status update, or piece of content? Looking back, I remember posting links I believed those people who actually still get my updates would find interesting, hence the story about ice skating in Chicago.

I don’t use Facebook that often. This is probably why the majority of my “year in review” was posted by other people. It’s also why it took me several months to realize I could sync my Facebook contacts with those already in my iPhone. This, I think, was a momentous occasion. It happened on a night that was mostly more memorable than many of the events listed here. But, according to Facebook, that event probably never happened. And that’s find with me.

Facebook’s Year in Review reminded me of the things I’d done and been a part of this year. Sure they were memorable, but putting numbers to them doesn’t quite square with reality. The value of this feature isn’t so much in giving users a top 20 list they can share with others – most of us could probably craft our own lists anyway – but in reminding us that our year’s were full of other people and that great experiences don’t always have to revolve around us.

Happy New Year.

Leslie Knope on NPR and other local media

Standard

One of the things I love most about NBC’s Parks and Recreation is its spoofs of local news media. If you’ve seen the show, there’s not much else I can say to expound on the antics of Perd Hapley, Joan Callamezzo and Derry Murbles. For listeners of NPR, Derry Murbles’s character, the local NPR host, is absolutely priceless.

So, here are a few clips of some of my favorite spoofs.

Lance Armstrong and the risk of making brands from people

Standard
Lance Armstrong at the 2005 Tour de France.

Lance Armstrong at the 2005 Tour de France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

S+G CEO David Srere said it correctly when interviewed for Ad Week’s coverage of the on-going Lance Armstrong doping scandal: “In this age of transparency, in an age where authenticity is actually making a comeback, arrogance is not a characteristic of a great brand.”

Regardless of what users say about social media, its existence has made available a variety of information about people and brands while also raising the expectations of consumers and stakeholders have about the kind of information being made available. And, when non-traditional gatekeepers become informal curators of information, the probability that harmful information will be leaked becomes rather high.

For more than a decade, Armstrong and all of those involved in the so-termed “doping ring” engaged in professional gatekeeping. And, this was done so well that support for Armstrong, his foundation and American cycling skyrocketed during the first part of the 2000s to levels that were previously unseen. The Lance Armstrong Foundation (aka Livestrong), of course, was not founded until 1997, after Armstrong survived cancer. And, during this time, millions found hope in the achievements of the LAF’s founder, whether it be as a survivor, athlete, parent or otherwise.

Now that all of the tangible evidence of Armstrong’s achievements – sponsors, his chair position with the foundation, cycling victories and prize money – are evaporating, will a bad taste be left in the mouth of all those who relied on such evidence for motivation? Unfortunately, this may likely be the case for many money-paying, sporting Americans. Though Trek, for example, did nothing wrong, the company certain grew by leaps and bounds during the years Armstrong was leading the cycling world.

Other sponsors had no choice but to cut ties with the defunct champion, but they should also have been aware of the risks involved in signing Armstrong up front. The human athlete is probably the most risky investment a company can make. Not only is the turnover high, but sports stars are already plagued by the reputations of their more “ethically challenged” counterparts (think Michael Vick or Plaxico Burress in the NFL). The higher the risk, however, the greater the reward.

Armstrong, though, is wholly separate from Vick or Burress. Aside from his sporting prowess, Armstrong sought to do good in the world. But, consumers do not react well to the dichotomy of good actions being done by morally incompetent people. It just doesn’t square with how reality should be. Armstrong should be punished and left alone, we think. There is now no good that can be done by him. His work is tainted.

It will take a long time for those who have felt the burn of this doping scandal to recover, and many will never return. The same is also true for brands, many of whose reputations were built on the backbone of Armstrong’s achievements. But, if doing good for society is the truly the mission of a brand, a person or someone like Armstrong who exists as both, the good intentions of leading cancer patients through their lives will prevail, and we would hope, be utterly indifferent to achievements gained in sport. Wise brand managers would do well to recognize that Armstrong’s achievements, even if they were untainted, would fade away like those of every other athlete, but the legacy he sought to leave with respect to cancer survival will live on.

And, we would hope that, unlike the way in which Michael Vick’s scandal and subsequent return to the league and, don’t forget, to helping those he once hurt, the mass media will do a better job of covering Armstrong’s future efforts to do good and dwell on his past actions.

Why the Red & Black student walkout actually worked

Standard

I remember my first walkout. Well, I suppose it was more like my first experience with a walkout. And it wasn’t really a walkout, but more of a rumor of a walkout that never went through.

Did I mention this was middle school?

The details are fleeting, but I think it had something to do with 4/20. You know, the day when everyone with access to marijuana goes out and smokes it? Well, we didn’t exactly have access to weed and if my seventh-grade observation skills were worth their salt, I’d venture to say that our knowledge of the stuff probably came from the TV show South Park or something on MTV (note: since I never watched either that show or that channel, this is and likely was pure conjecture).

I remember hearing that the serious students had planted their backpacks in the stairwells as to make an easy grab on the way out. I remember wondering where all these backpacks were when I walked by one stairwell during the day’s final passing period.  I remember thinking how dumb these student were to stash their backpacks in stairwell. Didn’t they  know they’d get stepped on? Ridiculous.

You can see my trajectory. This was a failed walkout, that is, had it actually taken place, it would have survived as nothing more than a pithy middle school memory that landed a few kids in ISS.

The decision of top student staffers at the Red and Black student-run newspaper (University of Georgia) to walkout was a much more mature decision than anything I experienced in earlier life (I have to credit Jimmy Cornfoot for alerting me to this rich little nugget of media news). According to follow-up stories about the walkout, the student staffers’ actions made a profound statement that caused board members to essentially meet all of their demands with little to no reprecussions for the paper or the students. So why did it work?

The walkout was legitimate

According to a story reposted by The Huffington Post on August 21, the newspaper “has operated independently from the university since 1980.” Editorial staff, including photographers, designers and reporters, has traditionally been comprised of students, who use the experience for professional growth and, like most J-schools, as coursework. However, the paper is overseen by a board of directors, which consists of “more than 10” non-student staffers, that according to Slate and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Here’s where everything begins to get murky. The Athens Banner-Herald reported that, among many changes scheduled to take place this fall, non-students were appointed by the board to positions such as editorial director, marketing and product managers, multimedia director, business manager and a creative director.

Students claimed such appointments effectively removed editorial control of the paper from their hands, leading to the mass walkout. And here, it’s fairly simple to justify walking out. The standard – that a paper for students be produced and edited by students – was overturned. The students in charge left. And this forced the “new management” to recognize the central importance of a student staff.

Good timing

There was probably no better time for the student walkout than early August. The fall semester was about to begin, traditionally the starting point for campus newspapers as well. The first issue greets incoming students happily with summer news and fall semester forecasting. The pulse of the campus is captured in those first pages, opinion pieces and editorial cartoons. Readers get their first feel for how the paper will function in the weeks and month to come and a decidedly student vision is applied to national events.

The fact that this has been an politically charged summer makes that first issue much more relevant. The tone with UGA students may begin interpreting November’s election is implanted early in the semester.

With the walkout, student staffers effectively pointed their paper to the gallows and the board was forced to face the reality that there might not be a paper come fall. And that is a sobering fact. The students recognized that, regardless of employment implementations, they still held control over the paper’s fundamental future. By acting at such a crucial time, students reminded the board that it lacked the very power it sought to set forth.

Post-protest tactics

The walkout happened rather quickly, making the students’ actions appear to be instinctually motivated. It’s no secret that college students are often swayed by external influences that seem attractive one moment and old the next. The Red and Black staffers, however, executed a post-walkout plan that sealed the success in a matter of days. According to several reports, the student staffers set up a Twitter account (@redanddead815) only to have their efforts suspended for unknown reasons, took to Facebook, and constructed RedandDead.com, as well as reached out to alumni for additional support.

The walkout, then, takes shape as a sober-minded activity meant to prove a point while forcing a strategic response from the controlling board. It was reported that board member Ed Stamper resigned following his drafting of the memo that sparked the students’ protest.

Conclusions

The students win. And, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of the campus. Around this time last year, the Red and Black became a once-per-week print publication with the majority of editorial efforts focused on the web. While innovative, this response is in line with how many print-based media outlets have responded to digital changes and student preferences. Could there be a better time to be a student journalist? Not only must you exercise the journalistic principles learned during coursework, but you must think strategically, flexing mental muscles many students do not even begin to consider until several years after graduation. These students were in a position where their actions would influence the life of the paper for years to come. By walking out successfully, they appear to have defended the paper’s principles and will likely attract future student staffers willing to do the same.

Tablets and tech innovation

Standard

It’s no surprise: Google may be jumping into the tablet arena. To many, this would seem a late entrance into a realm already saturated with devices, or perhaps one device. According to an NPR Morning Edition report on the subject, Apple sells nearly 15 million iPad devices every three months. Additionally, and this may be even more important than sales, the price charged to Apple to develop its device is somewhat cheap. Finally, while difficult to quantify, brand loyalty to Apple among its customers seems to ensure that those individuals lining up outside retail stores on major product release dates will continue to make the trek in the future.

Apple Inc.  New Headquarters

Apple Inc. New Headquarters (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

Again, one wonders – is Google’s attempt to tap into some of Apple’s market simply a way to raise its stock prices and take some of the glimmering light of the tech giant? Is the Google tablet doomed to fail?

The answer, I think, comes in the telling line toward the end of NPR’s report. It’s a line many in the book publishing industry have been reciting for years as they struggle through the malaise of what it means to publish and distribute e-books – and make a profit from them.

“Now, building one Google-branded tablet may not change that, but it may be the company’s best shot at creating a device that hits it big.”

One could ruminate on Google’s various devices and services and discuss what represents “hitting it big,” but one fact remains despite past successes or failures: as technology evolves, traditional media companies are often forced to jump into the deep end in the hope that what they do will stick in an ever-evolving market of brand innovation and diffusion as well as stagnation and death.

However, this assumption – that companies must be moving forward with the changing times in order to survive, even if they don’t fully understand what that means – doesn’t necessarily means that companies must fully abandon traditional models of doing business. If book publishers, for example, as abandoned print-centric workflows at onset of this supposed e-revoution, the market would have seem more publishing fatalities than it already has.

Businesses must toe the line between a full-on innovation-based model and one that shuns innovation completely. Employees know their business better than big tech companies, and book publishers shouldn’t feel Apple or Google (or Amazon) bearing down on them as if their way were the only way forward.

If the innovation and diffusion theory of adoption has taught us anything, it’s that many innovations simply won’t make it past the initial adoption stage. With the tech market still existing in a sort of jungle, it’s up to the companies affected by big-tech’s decisions to pave novel trails through the thicket and recommend the most navigable course for their constituents.

A legitimate beef with Google?

Standard

Last week, Jeffrey Katz (CEO of Nextag) wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal called “Google’s Monopoly and Internet Freedom” in which he argues that Google “has shifted from a true search site into a commerce site – a commerce site whose search algorithm favors products and services from Google and those from companies able to spend the most on advertising.” In the European Union, the search company has been given a July 2 deadline to clear up issues that have led to anti-trust allegations.

Google, according to Mr. Katz, has used its market position to become a “brand killer.”

Philosophically, I am persuaded that the internet should be as free as possible. However, I also believe that, if the technology exists, the internet should also be able to aid my searches through the use of cookies and detected trends. If I most often search for news items, I would expect, after several such searches, that my search engine should be able to detect, with relatively good probability, that my next few searches would likely be for news.

Google has, in the majority of search cases, enabled me to find what I am looking for quickly and easily. Most of the time, my result is on the first page of search. Why so efficient? I believe it has much more to do with the searcher than the engine. As a user, if I know what I’m looking for, I’m going to find it independently of the search engine in question. This is also because I know how searching works.

But, many web users are not like this. Not everyone has a definitive purpose when visiting a search engine. People do, as Mr. Katz says, search for “biking shorts” or “ovens.” And, when doing so, searchers are often directed toward sites that engage in e-commerce.  But, Katz does not have a problem with e-commerce. He has a problem with Google’s appeared subjectivity when it comes to e-commerce. Google plays favorites, Katz says, and it does so based on how much companies pay for online space.

To combat the unfairness created in the search market by the giant, Katz offers three suggestions, none of which is truly able reinvent the way the web operates. In truth, Google cannot be blamed for its market share. Google captured the internet moment and rendered services users wanted. Similar to other media companies, Google began to sell advertisements and it used its engine to drive users to its other products – maps, place, shopping, etc. Of course, if you’ve watched television for any period of time,  you know that networks do the same thing. They advertise their own shows, not those of other networks, and they do this in a targeted fashion, advertising sports during sports, drama during drama, comedy during comedy.

So, for those like Mr. Katz who seek to keep the web free, perhaps the correct strategy is not to fight the giants, but empower the individual user. Groups with knowledge of the inner-workings of search algorithms should deliver education on how to recognize and ignore search bias when it occurs. While an opinion article in a major newspaper can encourage some public response, anyone who has studied human communication or models of persuasion knows that it’s very difficult to push readers toward action. All-told, the opinion piece probably won’t encourage anything but a few other blog posts like this one.

Does Mr. Katz have a legitimate beef with Google?

Since beginning this post, Google has responded in its own right. Here is a short summary of the response, via CNET:

Our algorithms rank results based only on what the most relevant answers are for users — which might be a direct answer or a competitor’s Web site. Our ads and commercial experiences are clearly labeled and distinct from the unpaid results, and we recently announced new improvements to labeling of shopping results. This is in contrast to most comparison shopping sites, which receive payment from merchants but often don’t clearly label search results as being influenced by payment.

More than anything, this debate seems to reveal a deeper internal feud that has been represented by Facebook over the past few years: privacy. We’re Americans. This means that we deserve the best technology available. How else do you explain the tendency of consumers to camp out in order to be one of the first owners of an iPad? This also means that, once we have our technologies safely at home and somewhat customized to adhere to our every wish, we expect the technologies, such as search algorithms produced by Google, to back off and quit collecting data. And why wouldn’t we? Privacy should be had without a hitch.

Unfortunately, the only way to achieve this is to leave America for a remote, less technologically enabled wilderness.