Jesus Christ! Local ‘News’ or Over-Cautious Infotainment?

Light posting lately as I take some time away from all things computerized and work on some other projects. But I can’t seem to get this one story out of my head. Thanks to Tony Pierce at LAist for the tip-off.

On Christmas Day 6pm newscast on KNBC Channel 4, NBC’s Los Angeles area affiliate, neither newscasters Ted Chen nor Kelly Mack uttered the word “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” despite referring to “Christmas” 30 times.

This is among the most perverted reactions to the so-called holiday/christmas quasi-conundrum on the airwaves. If nothing else, it’s practically journalistic blasphemy to highlight a particular event without giving it’s historical, traditional, ideological, or fanciful background. Even if one could assume that the majority of Americans know what Christmas celebrates, (personally, I always forget whether it’s the birth, death, or rebirth), local broadcast news is drops the ball by failing to provide brief historical context — even if its “this is the third time in four days that Paris Hilton has gotten a DUI.” We Americans tend to forget very quickly (we re-elected George W. Bush, remember?).

HERE’s the Kicker: On the following day’s (12/26) 11am news, KNBC thoroughly and very appropriately explained Kwanzaa:

African-Americans are beginning the celebration of Kwanza. A parade gets way at noon in LA’s Crenshaw district. The seven-day long Kwanza holiday was founded back in 1966 as a way for African-Americans to reflect back on their ancestry and culture. It involves seven daily principals of unity, self-determination, work, responsibility, knowledge, strength, purpose, creativity, and faith. Participants in today’s Kwanza parade will march down Crenshaw Blvd. from Adams to Vernon.

Predictably, right wing bloggers are slamming the “liberal” media for all of these things and other instances of censorship that clearly violate First Amendment rights. But, seriously, this all makes me think we may be heading towards a bipartisan attack on Atheist fundamentalists.

Click here and listen to On the Media’s segment on reporting Atheism — it’s an eye-opener.

Truthiness: The WØRD (of the Year)!

Stephen Colbert can add another award to his mantle. Merriam-Webster has named “truthiness” 2006’s Word of the Year.

While it should never be forgotten that 2006 was the year that Stephen Colbert tore up the pols and the press at the White House Correspondents Dinner (one of the most-circulated videos of the year and probably in C-SPAN history: watch it here), it was also the year in which Colbert’s famous word-coinage was appropriated by real-news columnists and pundits to describe the Bush administration’s often unbelievable imagination/interpretation of reality.

Colbert is universally credited with coining the word “truthiness” and defining it on The WØRD segment of the inaugural Colbert Report as “truth that comes from the gut, not books.” Click to watch Colbert’s “truthiness” segment.

But already, a Google search culls “about 736,000” instances of “truthiness” on the Internet. As late as February, I recall getting involved in a discussion on Wikipedia regarding whether the word “truthiness” even merited it’s own entry (there are already considerably detailed entries on Colbert, Colbert the character, and his “Report“).

Colbert has become such an extraordinary legend among surfers of the InterTubes that he now has a wiki that is entirely his own — Wikiality: “The Internets Tube Dedicated to Truthiness!”

From the AP:

“We’re at a point where what constitutes truth is a question on a lot of people’s minds, and truth has become up for grabs,” said Merriam-Webster president John Morse. “‘Truthiness’ is a playful way for us to think about a very important issue.”

Other Top 10 finishers included “war,” “insurgent,” “sectarian” and “corruption.” But “truthiness” won 5-to-1, Morse said.

See all of M-W’s Words of the year here.

What a year. In fact, for “truthiness” it’s the second year of being named word of the year by one organization or another.

Here’s M-W’s official definition:

1. truthiness (noun)

1 : “truth that comes from the gut, not books” (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” October 2005)
2 : “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true” (American Dialect Society, January 2006)

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related posts: Stephen Colbert

Tom Brady Sues Yahoo! for Using Image on Fantasy

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read stuff like this. New England Patriot’s QB Tom Brady, yeah, the Michigan alum and 3-time Super Bowl champ, is suing Yahoo! for using an image of him to promote Y! Fantasy Football “without authorization” in both a print ad in Sports Illustrated and in banner ads on the site.

Having worked with Yahoo! (I am currently a part-time, contract content producer), I find it hard to believe they an unlicensed image would have been used for something as high-profile as Fant. Football. Nonetheless, CNET News reports:

The New England Patriots’ three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, Tom Brady, is alleging in a lawsuit that Yahoo used his likeness to promote the portal’s fantasy football league without his permission.

According to a report on the news site The Smoking Gun, Brady filed his suit in U.S. District Court and is asking for unspecified damages.

[…]

Brady asserts that Yahoo’s use of his image “connotes a false endorsement,” according to the news site.

The advertisement in question shows several NFL players with their teams’ helmet insignias removed. Among the players are running back LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers, and New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Calls to Yahoo representatives were not immediately returned on Thursday. With more than 4 million users, the portal’s fantasy football league is one of the largest on the Internet.

NYT Online Props Cash In … New L.A. Homeless Map

“The New York Times Co. said on Tuesday that it expects its Internet-related businesses to generate about $270 million in revenue in 2006” according to Reuters

The figure accounts for all NYTco owned Internet properties, including about.com. Online revenues may grow an additional 30 percent in 2007.

I think a handful of newspapers will see some hefty returns on their online properties next year if they go with the flow. (Also, great article in the Times — “Blogs and Jazz,” lots of links!

LA’s Downtown News, the underrated weekly with the killer map of downtown as well as a new MetroMix-y what’s happenin site teamed up with Cartifact for another great downtown mashup — the L.A. Homeless Map.

BlogBurst now offers topic-based widgets for inclusion on their online newspaper partner sites. I still haven’t seen any action from the service despite being an original content provider.

State of Design ’06 — Online News Sites

Check out Luke Stevens’ post featuring an invaluable collection of screenshots and design stats from newspaper Web sites around the world.

I find the unfortunate placement of ads on some of the U.S. sites to be shameful, at the very least degrading to the integrity of the news content within. For example, I never noticed NYTimes.com‘s mirror image ads on their masthead until seeing the repuslive “Blood Diamond” ads from this distant perspective.

If newspaper’s are hoping I become a print subscriber to escape the onslaught of ads on their home pages, I’ll repeat that there’s no money to be made on my $1 Fri-Sun delivered-to-top-of-hill subscription to the L.A. Times (and before I even take it inside I drop all the inserts in recycling).

If a news Web site’s goal is to have users regularly visit the home page, or even use it as their portal to the Internet, then the advertising is most definitely misplaced. Of course, as far as cost-per-click is concerned, the big money (and the most measurable) ad placement is on the site home page. However, it’s the ads in the actual articles that truly have the most impact, in my opinion (although each days’ paper has a fresh set of unique URLs), especially in this age of RSS and the ubiquitous Google search (leading directly to the article).

I’ve seen many people type the name of a Web site, columnist or publication directly into the Google searchbar as their mode of entry. I believe this is because of the uncluttered and easy-to-use Google homepage. Who wants to try and find a search box at nytimes.com when it’s scrunched between scrolling and animated ads? Personally, I default with Yahoo! News and digress with their full coverage links or news search engine. My other go-to is Google Reader, stocked with the latest from the hundreds of sites and blogs I track (see my opml). New York Times’ home page has a whopping 15 paid, graphic-based ads (not including a handful of self-referential ads) to only 9 legitimate (content-based) images.

As Yahoo’s news site proves, it’s better to be content heavy up front and keep the ads on the inside. Houston Chronicle is another example of this at chron.com. The home page is much shorter (lengthwise) than many of the others drawn upon in Stevens’ post but Yahoo’s cover presents at least twice as many hyperlinks (opportunities for deeper browsing — leading to a platform to better target ads based on content and the fact that the reader has already linked through).

I think the most effective news Web site home pages should be clean, content-heavy, customizeable and hyper-local — if not geographically, at least unique to the users preferences. Readers demand and deserve control of their content — why set your home page for news if the first thing that pops is going to be multimedia ad content?

And, yeah, those Scandinavian news sites (coming in at up to 9400 pixels in length!) are really something else.

Check out these sites / blogs about Online News Web site design: NewsDesigner.com, Editors’ Weblog, Paid Content, Press Time, poynter.