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Why I Love Al Jazeera

al-jazeera-wide

Has anyone watched the English-language version of Al Jazeera lately? The Qatar-based Arab TV channel’s eclectic internationalism—a feast of vivid, pathbreaking coverage from all continents—is a rebuke to the dire predictions about the end of foreign news as we know it. Indeed, if Al Jazeera were more widely available in the United States—on nationwide cable, for example, instead of only on the Web and several satellite stations and local cable channels—it would eat steadily into the viewership of The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. Al Jazeera—not Lehrer—is what the internationally minded elite class really yearns for: a visually stunning, deeply reported description of developments in dozens upon dozens of countries simultaneously.

Over just a few days in late May, when I actively monitored Al Jazeera (although I watched it almost every evening during a month in Sri Lanka), I was treated to penetrating portraits of Eritrean and Ethiopian involvement in the Somali war, of the struggle of Niger River rebels against the Nigerian government in the oil-rich south of the country, of the floods in Bangladesh, of problems with the South African economy, of the danger that desertification poses to Bedouin life in northern Sudan, of the environmental devastation around the Aral Sea, of Sikh violence in India after an attack on a temple in Austria, of foreign Islamic fighters in the southern Philippines, of microfinancing programs in Kenya, of rigged elections in South Ossetia, of human-rights demonstrations in Guatemala, and of much more. Al Jazeera covered the election campaigns in Lebanon and Iran in more detail than anyone else, as well as the Somali war and the Pakistani army offensive in the Swat Valley. There was, too, an unbiased one-hour documentary about the Gemayel family of Christian politicians and warlords in Lebanon, and a half-hour-long investigation of the displacement of the poor from India’s new economic zones.

Al Jazeera is also endearing because it exudes hustle. It constantly gets scoops. It has had gritty, hands-on coverage across the greater Middle East, from Gaza to Beirut to Iraq, that other channels haven’t matched. Its camera crew, for example, was the first to beam pictures from Mingora, the main town of Swat, enabling Al Jazeera to confirm that the Pakistani military had, in fact, prevailed there over the Taliban.

And Al Jazeera also excels at opening your mind. I have spent the past two years reporting from the Indian Ocean region, dealing predominantly with Muslims and indigenous nongovernmental organizations; watching Al Jazeera is the vicarious equivalent of engaging in the kinds of conversations I have been having. One of the multitude of problems I have with Fox News is that even its most analytically brilliant commentators, such as Charles Krauthammer, seem to be scoring points and talking to their own ideological kind rather than engaging in dialogue with others. Watching Fox, you have to wonder whether many of its commentators have ever had a conversation with a real live Muslim abroad.

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Google developing a micropayment platform and pitching newspapers: “‘Open’ need not mean free”

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‘no evil’ play by overgrown toddlers?!

Google is developing a micropayment platform that will be “available to both Google and non-Google properties within the next year,” according to a document the company submitted to the Newspaper Association of America. The system, an extension of Google Checkout, would be a new and unexpected option for the news industry as it considers how to charge for content online.

The revelation comes in an eight-page response to the NAA’s request for paid-content proposals, which it extended to several major technology companies and startups. It’s surprising, given the newspaper industry’s tenuous relationship with Google, that the company was involved at all.

In the document, which you can download here, Google outlines its “vision of a premium content ecosystem” that includes subscriptions across multiple news sites, syndication on third-party sites, accessibility to search, and various payment options, including small fees for access to individual pieces of content (known as micropayments). ()

I skipped to the end of the document curious to check the business model –Wow! any traslators of Evil-english to English around?

Business Model
Software and support services are typically provided at no charge. Google will be happy to host content and supply the bandwidth necessary to serve content. There may be a charge for additional professional services, depending on the extent of the support necessary and thevolume of views anticipated. Current models on revenue sharing for the selling of content typically involve a percentage of each sale to Google in order to cover maintenance, bandwidth, processing charges, and profit margin. The Android Marketplace is the most prominent example of this model. The revenue split is comparable to Apple’s models on iTunes and AppStore and consonant with experiments being currently conducted on YouTube.

CBS Embeds a Video Playing Ad in a Print Magazine

I wonder if someone somewhere’s thought of how to dispose of those things.

cbsvideo

In the latest example of finding media innovation where you’d least expect it, CBS is embedding a video player in a print ad in Entertainment Weekly that will serve up a buffet of its fall TV lineup.

The CBS foray into a print-digital alliance plays full-motion video at a crisp resolution. The ad, dubbed by CBS and partner Pepsi Max “the first-ever VIP (video-in-print) promotion,” works like one of those audio greeting cards. Opening the page activates the player, which is a quarter-inch–thick screen seen through a cutaway between two pages concealing the larger circuit board underneath.

The audio quality is equally good (extremely poor video shot by this reporter notwithstanding), but beware: There are no volume controls, and in a quiet environment, it’s quite loud. This is surely a intentional design feature, aimed at getting the attention of people nearby.

Read the story in WIRED

I wond

The Real News From Pakistan

Ten years ago Pakistan had one television channel. Today it has over 100. Together they have begun to open up a country long shrouded by political, moral and religious censorship—taking on the government, breaking social taboos and, most recently, pushing a new national consensus against the Taliban. One channel in particular, Geo TV, has won a reputation for controversy more akin to America’s Fox News than CNN or Sky News. Some Pakistanis see it and its competitors as a force for progress; others as a creator of anarchy and disorder. Certainly, the channels now wield huge political influence in a country where half the population is illiterate. But their effect is now felt beyond Pakistan’s borders too—revealing an underappreciated face of globalisation, in which access to television news means that immigrant communities, and in particular Britain’s 0.7m Pakistanis, often follow events in their country of origin more closely than those of the country where they actually live.

I went to Islamabad this April to learn about what many Pakistanis call their “media revolution.” The previous month, during a spate of anti-government protests, Geo TV had again demonstrated its influence by using its popular news programmes to support a “long-march” by opposition groups on the capital Islamabad, and even hosting a celebratory rock concert on the city’s streets when the government caved in to demands to reinstate the country’s most prominent judge.

I had chosen a tense time to visit. On my first day a man loyal to the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud walked into an army camp two blocks from where I was staying and blew himself up, killing eight soldiers. That same day news channels first aired a grainy video of a Taliban punishment beating in the Swat valley on the northwest frontier. A girl had been accused of infidelity and in the clip she was pinned face down by two men in a dusty village square while a third beat her with a stick. It topped the news for days, causing controversy for its brutality and for exposing the reality behind a “peace deal” to hand Swat over to the Taliban.

The video marked the start of an important new phase in Pakistan’s internal battles, with the army launching a bloody offensive to retake Swat in May, and a further push against the Taliban’s mountainous strongholds during July. Pakistanis have often felt sympathy for the Taliban, seeing their struggle as an understandable reaction to America’s military presence. This view began to change as militants launched more frequent bombings in major cities. But media coverage of Taliban brutality—beheadings, murders and most gruesomely the exhumation of a corpse to be hung in a public square—swayed opinion further. At the beginning of June one story in particular captured the country’s attention: a young army captain, killed on his birthday in a battle with Taliban fighters in Swat. The night before he had written to his father, worrying that he might die, but asking his family to be proud of him and his country. Pictures of his distraught mother ran for days, further pushing anti-Taliban opinion with far-reaching implications in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. And behind this shift lies a new power in Pakistan’s normally rigid hierarchy, which now rivals the ability of politicians, generals, spies and mullahs to shape events: the media itself.

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Geo TV is hard to place on the political spectrum and it has many exotic allies. There is, for example, a popular political rock band in Pakistan called Laal (meaning red in Urdu) which has been given plenty of airtime by the channel. The band’s lead guitarist, Taimur Rahman, is a young Marxist-Leninist academic who is finishing a PhD in London. I met him recently at a greasy spoon café close to his academic home at London’s SOAS. He wore a peaked Che Guevara-style cap with a red hammer and sickle badge over his dark, floppy fringe. In conversation, he enthused about music and politics, cracking more jokes than one might expect from a central committee member of his country’s Communist Workers and Peasants party. Rahman told me how Laal’s singer Shahram Azhar (also finishing a PhD at Oxford) was once his student in Pakistan, where both worked as community organisers. The band was a hobby, he said, although the rallies they organised also helped to build a repertoire of songs. Rahman says audiences were especially enthusiastic when they first began borrowing words from a previous generation of leftist Urdu poets, notably Habib Jalib. Both eventually moved to Britain to study, becoming involved in British protests against Musharraf. The band helped to organise protests outside Downing Street, and celebrated when the dictator finally resigned in November 2008. This might well have been the limit of their political involvement were it not for a chance meeting with Pakistani film director, Taimur Khan. At a party in London he heard the band play a song based on Habib Jalib’s poem Main Nay Kaha (“I said”). Originally a swipe at postwar Pakistani authoritarianism, its lyrics resonated with many Pakistanis’ despair at their country’s intractable divisions. Khan says he “knew immediately it was a hit. The lyrics were so timely, they represented the state of the country so simply in one song.”

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Habib Jalib – Mainay Uss Say Yeh Kaha – Laal

Tracking the life and death of news

“The movement of news to the Internet makes it possible to quantify something that was otherwise very hard to measure — the temporal dynamics of the news,” said Kleinberg. “We want to understand the full news ecosystem, and online news is now an accurate enough reflection of the full ecosystem to make this possible. This is one [very early] step toward creating tools that would help people understand the news, where it’s coming from and how it’s arising from the confluence of many sources.”

The researchers also say their work suggests an answer to a longstanding question: Is the “news cycle” just a way to describe our perception of what’s going on in the media, or is it a real phenomenon that can be measured? They opt for the latter, and offer a mathematical explanation of how it works.

The research was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining Conference June 28-July 1 in Paris.

The ideal, Kleinberg said, would be to track “memes,” or ideas, through cyberspace, but deciding what an article is about is still a major challenge for computing. The researchers sidestepped that obstacle by tracking quotations that appear in news stories, since quotes remain fairly consistent even though the overall story may be presented in very different ways by different writers.

Even quotes may change slightly or “mutate” as they pass from one article to another, so the researchers developed an algorithm that could identify and group similar but slightly different phrases. In simple terms, the computer identified short phrases that were part of longer phrases, using those connections to create “phrase clusters.” Then they tracked the volume of posts in each phrase cluster over time. In the August and September data they found threads rising and falling on a more or less weekly basis, with major peaks corresponding to the Democratic and Republican conventions, the “lipstick on a pig” discussion, rising concern over the financial crisis and discussions of a bailout plan.

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(via Yorgos)

Printed blog publication fails; world dies of shock

Karp started working on The Printed Blog in January of this year, taking free articles (with permission, of course) from bloggers and printing them on actual paper. The idea was that he could try and sell ads to local businesses in Chicago and San Francisco, newspaper style. According to the New York Times, Karp tried to keep costs down by putting his commercial printers inside the homes of delivery workers, who could then print out the papers and distribute them without needing to run down to some central plant.

Predictably, things went exactly as Karp’s detractors had warned. Karp was never able to make enough money on advertising to cover the costs of running the business—running up his own personal credit card debt and dwindling his savings in the process—and was unable to get commitments from investors.

In his letter to readers, Karp said that The Printed Blog saw 16 issues before closing down. In a telltale sign that online media is destined to stay online, he also noted that 80,000 print copies were distributed, while another 100,000 copies were downloaded from the Internet.

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printed-blog

BBC expenses are hard to swallow

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The publication of BBC senior executives’ expenses are a stark illustration of the contradiction at the heart of the organisation. It is a public body, paid for by a direct tax, which behaves, in aspects of its business, like a commercial organisation. And not the kind of commercial organisation which, like Microsoft once was, sends all its executives steerage wherever they travel.

Nobody working in the television industry will see these expenses as anything other than the price of doing business. And a relatively modest one at that. To those of us in newspapers and web companies they seem reasonably generous but not wildly out of line; to those struggling in commercial radio, they almost certainly seem profligate.

But to a licence fee payer on £400 a week, the thought of the director general hiring a private plane back to the UK in order to address a public furore over another set of expenses – in this case, creative director Alan Yentob – is very hard to swallow. As is the £500 half cost of a handbag lost by Jana Bennett the director of vision, while on company business.

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Photo: BBC News

The Economist ne connaît pas la crise

Le groupe de presse britannique The Economist Group, qui publie l’hedbomadaire du même nom, a fait état lundi d’un bond de ses bénéfices sur son exercice 2008/2009 achevé fin mars, évoluant à contre-courant d’un secteur durement éprouvé par la crise économique.

Le groupe a vu son bénéfice opérationnel progresser de 26% à 55,7 millions de livres (66 millions d’euros), pour un chiffre d’affaires en hausse de 17% à 312,8 millions. Le bénéfice net a quant à lui bondi de 18% à 37,9 millions de livres.

L’hebdomadaire The Economist, naviral-amiral de l’entreprise, a vu sa diffusion grimper. Elle a augmenté de 6,4% à 1,39 million d’exemplaires au niveau mondial, sur la période de juillet à décembre 2008.

Cette performance a été réalisée essentiellement sur le marché américain, où le magazine, qui y avait autrefois une diffusion assez confidentielle, s’est fait depuis quelques années une place au soleil.

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Twitter 1, CNN 0

…the much-ballyhooed Twitter swiftly degraded into pointlessness. By deluging threads like Iranelection with cries of support for the protesters, Americans and Britons rendered the site almost useless as a source of information—something that Iran’s government had tried and failed to do. Even at its best the site gave a partial, one-sided view of events. Both Twitter and YouTube are hobbled as sources of news by their clumsy search engines.

Much more impressive were the desk-bound bloggers. Nico Pitney of the Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic and Robert Mackey of the New York Times waded into a morass of information and pulled out the most useful bits. Their websites turned into a mish-mash of tweets, psephological studies, videos and links to newspaper and television reports. It was not pretty, and some of it turned out to be inaccurate. But it was by far the most comprehensive coverage available in English. The winner of the Iranian protests was neither old media nor new media, but a hybrid of the two.

With a pinch of salt

A former terrorist celebrating his newfound identity as a French student

A former terrorist celebrating his newfound identity as Danny the Green

I find it a very interesting phenomenon, that Haaretz.com could boast yesterday of a minimum of four front page stories on Iran! From my humble, unscientific and distant perspective of Israeli society, and of the rather sizeable Haa’retz reading chunk of the Israeli populace, I feel I can tell so much: The protests have re-humanized Iranians to the eyes of many Israelis, and many Israeli news observers are somewhat elated by their own mind shift in this process. More interesting still is how temporary and flighty this new perception of Iran is.

The true giveaway is the rather eery editorial by Zvi Bar’el (“Which Iran would Israel bomb?”). Statements such as that “Suddenly there is an Iranian people” presumably do not express the author’s own surprise, but instead constitute an ironical enumeration of the surprises many Israelis feel with regard to the events.

Even so, this is an intriguing insight into an Israeli view of Iran. The notion that there are neither one nor two “but rather a number of Irans” is of course elementary to anyone with a vague knowledge of Iranian society and culture, yet perhaps not so in Israel. The notion that Khameini and Ahmedinejad are a monolithic projection of Iranian public opinion is ludicrous, a notion too ridiculous even to refute in a serious paper, yet we are told that “it was not the son of God who spoke on Friday, but a politician who needs to preserve his system of rule as well as his own legitimacy.” A closer observation of the Iranian elite and great parts of the middle class, may more than just surprise Israelis. To that one might add that Iran is a country whose student population is considerably more diverse in its ideological make-up than is Israel’s (it has been so for a while – this phenomenon certainly doesn’t date back to last week).

I must confess that I am heartened by the following:

“most interesting and important is that the commentary on what is taking place in Iran is not being brought to the public by senior intelligence officers, but via images transmitted by television.”

Indeed, the riots may not have toppled anyone in Iran yet, but they have revolutionized Israeli information channels, ushering the country into journalistic normalcy (If I may, where the bloody hell does every other public get its commentary on Iran from? From the back of the label of a Mickey Mouse doll that self-destructs on a park bench?).

Now, the bombing question. Admittedly, it is far harder to bomb someone once we have acknowledged they have a human face, even if we do so to “save them from tyranny”. Once we see their face, we will also have to imagine what it looks like, singed and bleeding under a heap of rubble. But what if we haven’t seen their face? That is precisely why I felt queasy about this part:

“For goodness’ sake, who is left to bomb? Until one week ago, the path was well-lit.”

I am not quite sure what it’s supposed to mean… But I think I can distinguish one rather ill-omened implication, which I will now explore.

Let’s just assume that the “path” is “well-lit” once again (the ease with which the prospect of a tremendously barbaric operation is dismissed using such a singable term has to be one of the hallmarks of militarized cultures); let’s assume for a moment that the protests suddenly stop, that Ahmedinejad stays where he is, that the Israeli public loses interest in Iranians, and that (God forbid!) the university of Tel Aviv publishes a new poll PROVING that most Iranians are three-nippled, terrorist, anti-semites hungry for the blood of young Jewish children… Would the path then once again be “well-lit”? Let’s assume for a moment that every Iranian woman were portrayed to Israelis as that Wildersian pastiche of a human being, the domestically abused, ‘clitoridectomy-ed’, vitriol-singed wretch, both victim of and accomplice to the project of her own plight. That is presumably a far less appealing image to the Israeli public than that of the handsome, poetic, Sorosian fantasy of a student ‘democracy worker’ (I find this term rather abhorrent, but that’s just me). Unless they are that, then they are not really “of us” any longer, and do not deserve our sympathy or support. I have some serious reservations about this Walzerian notion of solidarity, the one that proclaims that I am morally obligated to help another if he or she is like me; the notion of solidarity that is exclusively directed at those whose views and habits we share (see Walzer’s ‘Spheres of Justice’, published in 1984).

But Iranians are protesting, and Israelis are identifying with this, and whether or not we like Walzer, the moment is ripe, and a mental ‘gap year’ for Israelis in Tehran probably won’t go wasted, even if that means that they will see in Iranians what they want to see. In Bar’el’s own words, the events are “a mark that should… be seared into the minds of the West in general, and the United States and Israel in particular”. If a flighty infatuation with Iranian students is what it takes, then we might have to settle for this, and it may do more than we think to prevent Israel’s destruction of half of the Middle East. On a final note, I apologize about the excessive use of neologisms.