The New York Times notices when the Michigan Daily scoops the Ann Arbor News

The story is Local News, Off College Presses, from April 13, 2014.

The constant changes have muddled The Ann Arbor News’s identity and, according to some residents, eroded its standing as the go-to source of news in the community. That sense was reinforced by the football article, on which The Ann Arbor News played catch-up after student reporters broke the story.

Poynter noted in 2011 that the University of Michigan had placed a member of its PR staff on the editorial board. This drew criticism from former Ann Arbor News reporter Jim Carty at the time.

David Lampe spent a good six months fighting The Ann Arbor News at every single point of our academics and athletics investigation. He is a well-paid professional spinner for the biggest organization you cover. The idea you would put him on your editorial board would be nothing less than mind-boggling if it weren’t for everything we’ve seen over the past year-plus. Pretty much epic fail on every front at this point, Tony.

You need to have a certain degree of editorial freedom to go after the biggest employer in town; the Michigan Daily clearly has it.


The Chicago Sun-Times gives up on newspaper comments, for now

The Chicago Sun-Times has given up on publishing reader comments on its stories, at least for now.

Starting this weekend, the Chicago Sun-Times and the other titles in the Sun-Times Media group will temporarily cease to run comments with our articles.

Why? If you’ve read newspaper comments, you’ll know why already: they are awful.

The world of Internet commenting offers a marvelous opportunity for discussion and the exchange of ideas. But as anyone who has ever ventured into a comment thread can attest, these forums too often turn into a morass of negativity, racism, hate speech and general trollish behaviors that detract from the content.

It takes time, effort, energy, and love to engage with readers enough to make the stream of their comments to be anywhere near as worthwhile to read as the professionally produced stories that sit at the top of the page. Too often the news organization treats comments as an afterthought, or if they do think about it they are woefully unprepared to handle the burden.

It hasn’t always been the case, of course. Once upon a time (he says, shaking his cane) the letter to the editor was carefully edited, double checked for identity, and only run with some consideration. For the most part, newspapers have given up on their opportunity to corral the best of public discussion into their own pages, leaving it instead for the idiots on parade.

More about the Sun-Times decision:

Fark says

As frank as FARK comments can be, the worst seen here excel far beyond the idiocy seen on newspapers. At least Farkers have brains

Poynter reviews other news organizations that gave up on comments, including Popular Science.

Chicagoist gives sage advice: “A sage piece of Internet advice is often a simple one: don’t read the comments.”

Chicago Magazine understands the cost of turning reader contributions into something useful.

Turning readers’ invective into smart dialogue is not a new challenge—but now, it’s a bigger problem than ever. Solving it takes a lot of manpower, and some well-designed software.

Rage against changes in the telescreen

Facebook is changing; in this particualr case it’s a reorganization of the messaging functions into their own app. From Techcrunch, the predictable cries of frustration from people who are used to what they have.

Still, a unilateral forced migration is the exact kind of change Facebook users hate, and this will only breed more paranoia that their social network could change without their consent. Taking a slower “We’re switching everyone eventually, so you might as well do it now” approach might have gone over better than “Your familiar chat interface will be destroyed in two weeks whether you like it or not”.

We don’t like it when our telescreen is changed.

The telescreen is from George Orwell’s 1984. An excerpt

Behind Winston’s back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig iron and the overfulfillment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plate commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. but at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

The burden of diligence

Every day, read the email. Answer, as best you can, yesterday’s email. The yesterbox technique helps out, though it’s not perfect.

Follow interesting people on Twitter, but not too many interesting people. Manage the tricky relationship of “friending” people on Facebook, knowing full well once you have befriended someone it’s a huge social transgression to unfriend them, even if you don’t care for their particular brand of cat videos or politics. Post something clever enough frequently enough.

Attend to the matter of staying in touch with people who are a long ways away, hoping that they will come to town during travel season. I have been using Contactually to help me sort through making sure that people don’t completely drop off the map. Every day I could reanimate a half dozen old relationships; I’m lucky to do that once a week.

Somewhere all in here, post to this blog. I think I’ve reached the era of peak blogging. This site has steady state traffic that’s not overwhelming, and if I want to get comments on something it’s easier to post to Facebook. I keep posting out of a sense of diligence, because I’ve been doing it for a long time, and because there are some things that you need to be diligent about even if there is no obvious reason why.

How are you going to keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen 5D?

I spent some quality time playing the dreadfully addictive game “2048”. (No, I won’t link to it.) After beating it a few times, I went looking for higher dimensional versions and found a 2048 3D, 4D, and 5D version. And, after playing and beating 2048 5D I am no longer satisfied with most of the user interfaces that I see.

5 dimensional thinking on a 2x2x2x2x2 board is really not all that hard, once you bend your mind to it. You use the arrow keys to navigate in small steps, AWSD to navigate in larger steps, and QE for the largest steps. Of course the steps aren’t really larger when you consider the full dimensions of the space, but based on how the cells are laid down on a flat screen that’s a reasonable approximation.

After successfully navigating a 5D space, the traditional presentation of a list as a scrolling 1-dimensional space, or even a web browser’s narrow navigational confines, seems impossibly small. I can page up and down in a browser, but what would it mean to page left and right? Or to page in and out, or hither and yon? (Pick some more navigational opposites.) Tabs help a little bit for the left-right navigation, and windows perhaps are the in-out method, but what of hither and yon?

Here’s a small proposal. The browser could keep track not just of the history of which pages you have seen in the past, but also the order that you’ve seen them in. Over time, that flow history turns into a graph of expected page transitions. Your browser could respond to some command that was “show me the next page I’m likely to go to”, and that would be inferred by the history mechanism. The “next” button would always be active.

I suppose this is related to my routine preference for guided randomness in my work. I would rather not try to work my way down a list where I decide explicitly what to do next. Rather, the computer uses some algorithm to select a next thing (a roll of the dice, or some weighted choice) and that’s the next thing to do. With the right sorts of dimensional logic, there could be a couple of different things that would be reasonably “next” and they would be surprising but plausible next things to work through.

What’s kind of sad is that the hyperspace of my idealistic youth – where the network was big, and you used spatial metaphors to zoom down information pathways of your own choosing – has been replaced by the UIs of Facebook, Twitter, or even email where the “read the top, refresh, read the top again” is what you’re guided down. There’s no more chasing down endless hyperlinks – everything you might want is predigested and put in front of you, and if you don’t like it you can just hit refresh like some slot-machine player and hope for better.

So I want some space to work in, not just lists, and not just read from the top. Let me decorate rooms with ideas, and traverse some kind of non-linear structure to get from one idea to the next. Vannevar Bush’s “memex” had trails that led through it, and it didn’t pretend that you could instantly go from one idea to the next without passing through something else. When I think I want to carve out some space for thinking, and have it be something other than the infinite scrolling list.

File under Great Weird Ideas. Previously in Great Weird Ideas, a musing on top of page. A non-linear structure for organizing thought is Jerry’s Brain. Previous musings on a graph-structured rolodex. A 2004 lunch with Peter Morville, described in terms of a memory palace. Network Access to Multimedia Information, RFC 1614, describes the chaotic immediately pre-World Wide Web days of 1994.

U of Michigan to announce “historic event” at Michigan Stadium

The working assumption is that this is the long-rumored summer soccer game between Manchester United and Real Madrid in August. From Crain’s Detroit:

Global soccer powerhouses Manchester United — wearing its new Chevrolet-sponsored jerseys — and Real Madrid will square off at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor at 4 p.m. Aug. 2, two sources with direct knowledge of the situation told Crain’s this week.
The University of Michigan has scheduled a press conference for noon Friday to announce the game.

UPDATE: Confirmed.