Archive for December, 2008

Mon 15 Dec 2008 3:35 pm   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

The right way to design a local news web site

The more I visit the radical new WNBC home page, the more I like it. You can get a quick, visual read on the news without any clicking or scrolling. Efficiency, usability and speed are in, “stickiness” and interactivity are afterthoughts. (I’m busy! Thanks for not wasting my time!) The design is simple, there’s no banner ad junking up the home page, and the site gives the user the smart option to sort stories based on editorial importance or time stamp. I bet the site’s simplicity also makes it easy and fast (and cheap) for the editorial staff to update it.

(Some other NBC stations, including those in LA, DC and Chicago, are using the same design.)

Unfortunately, this is still local television we’re dealing with, so they’re thin on quality content. (Hello tone-deaf filler story: “Ten Reasons the George Bush Shoe Attack Was Completely Awesome.”) Local newspapers, which are producing high-quality stories in search of a good delivery platform, could take a clue from NBC.

Sun 14 Dec 2008 10:05 am   //   Posted in: New York is different, Transit

Glory days?

There’s an interesting story in today’s Times about public transit ridership: New York City Grew, but Traffic Didn’t. Even though New York City’s population and work force grew in the ’90s and 2000s, public transit here was so good that it was able to absorb all the additional commuters, and road traffic did not get worse. I am a living example of this phenomenon: Moved to New York 2002, went car-free in 2004 when I realized I could get by just fine without it.

This Times story includes the first reference I’ve seen to the “boom years from 2003 through 2007.” In a few years, will we be telling sentimental stories about how what great times those years were? Depressing.

Fri 12 Dec 2008 8:51 am   //   Posted in: Misc

A question for the weekend

At your job, is it better to be very good at one thing, or good enough at lots of things?

Thu 11 Dec 2008 12:20 pm   //   Posted in: Media, Stray data

Chuck E. Cheese fighting enters the conversation

Newspapers and news magazines used to devote a lot of space to social trend stories, about those quirky shifts in how ordinary people go about their lives, spend money, care for their children, get in and out of trouble, etc. The best of these stories come out of nowhere and suddenly become part of the popular conversation. (Malcolm Gladwell’s business book “The Tipping Point,” based on his reporting in The New Yorker, is a famous example of this kind of journalism.)

These days, trend stories are more likely to come from academic studies, government reports or press releases, reducing journalists to the role of summarizers. In many news outlets, the focus on breaking news and cheap analysis (hey, it worked for cable TV!) has pushed thoughtful trend stories off to the margins. It’s also possible that there are fewer mass behavioral trends, since the country is more diverse and fragmented than ever before. Whatever the case, these stories are hard to find, so journalists often have to cast a lot of lines and spend a lot of time to get a good one. Who has the time and money to do that anymore?

But when somebody nails it, they really nail it. If you haven’t read it already, check out this Wall Street Journal story: Calling All Cars: Trouble at Chuck E. Cheese’s, Again.

Thu 11 Dec 2008 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Hard times

Give give give

Please pardon this unusually preachy blog post. I promise this won’t become a habit.

This holiday season, many nonprofit organizations are preparing for financial shortfalls. Corporate giving is down and it’s a bad year for investments. At the same time, demand is high for charities that help disadvantaged people or otherwise provide comfort in hard times. Donating your coats and food and toys is helpful, but the way we solve most problems in our world is with money. If you can afford it, give a little more this year. You probably know of some worthy organizations that could use the help. Here are a few I’m familiar with:

  • Church World Service. A no-nonsense aid group that works to fight poverty and hunger.
  • The Doe Fund. A New York organization that helps homeless people achieve self-sufficiency.
  • The Lance Armstrong Foundation. A source of hope for people affected by cancer.
  • If you have one, consider giving to your house of worship, or to one you attended as a child or as a student.
  • Think about a moment over the past year when you were moved by a work of art or performance. Consider supporting one of the many arts organizations that enrich our lives.

Wed 10 Dec 2008 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Technology

When it pays to make mistakes

So I recently switched my phone service to AT&T Wireless. I signed up online, to take advantage of a sweet company discount and to avoid having to talk to any cell phone salespeople.

I was also pleased that AT&T waived the activation fee:

Not! When my first billing statement arrive this week, it included a line item labeled “Activation Fee” and a charge of $36. Obviously a mistake. I called customer service and a polite customer service agent credited $36 to my account, effective immediately. As far as my self-interest is concerned, AT&T delivered on its promise and I have no reason to complain.

However, I bet this happens to every single person who signs up for AT&T Wireless using the corporate discount site I used. And I bet most of the customers in my situation just pay the $36.

Does this matter? Last year, AT&T Wireless signed up 9 million new customers. Suppose, for the sake of argument, 10% of them paid a $36 fee they weren’t supposed to pay. Under that scenario, fixing this bug in the billing system would cost AT&T $32 million a year.

Do you think they’re unaware of this?

Tue 9 Dec 2008 12:52 pm   //   Posted in: Mobile update

Happy Holidays

Stopping by Rock Center on my way to a meeting.

Mon 8 Dec 2008 5:37 am   //   Posted in: Movies

Hey, wha’ happened?

A few years ago, Christopher Guest released a mocumentary about folk music called “A Mighty Wind.” The movie got a few chuckles and then was quickly forgotten by everybody. Hey, wha’ happened?

(That’s actor Fred Willard, whom you might recognize as the only live-action character in Wall-E. Link to clip.)

Fri 5 Dec 2008 8:39 am   //   Posted in: Photos


Severna Park, Maryland, the day after Thanksgiving.

Thu 4 Dec 2008 8:45 am   //   Posted in: Hard times

Car trouble

Last night I watched “Roger & Me,” Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary about the sorry condition of Flint, Michigan, after General Motors abandoned the city. One of the movie’s messages is that a corporation has no concern for individuals – only for making money for the corporation’s owners.

This is true. The one thing a corporation is good for is generating wealth for its shareholders, ideally more this year than last. The General Motors of “Roger & Me” is a ruthless profit machine.

Seems quaint now, doesn’t it? The General Motors of today, in addition to being a soulless corporation with cavalier concern for the factory towns it built, also now fails at the task of making money. What about this enterprise is worth saving?