Editorial Board Transparency (And Tech Incompetence)

[Two Updates Below]
In prep’ing for digital journalism workshops for our UW undergrads, I discovered that the Seattle PI has opened up at least some editorial board meetings to the public via “podcasts.” (I challenge you to try to find the podcast archive/description via the masthead links, however.)

Seattle PI Masthead Links

The NY Times Caucus blog reported Saturday that a Friday afternoon Indianapolis Star editorial board meeting with presidential candidate Barack Obama was “live streamed in real time.” (The blog link to the webcast is now broken — poor planning on the Indianapolis Star’s part and a lead-in to the “tech incompetence” portion of this post. See updates: no some editorial transparency in the archived clips.)

I question the merits of a live video stream: mid-afternoon on a Friday while most folks are at work? I like the PI’s simplicity — an mp3 of the session, with give-and-take. Video might be nice — doubtful, as there is no “motion”, simply talking heads. And the mp3 is easy to download and listen to when disconnected from the website.

After a LOT of hassle (see below, blockquote), I found two Obama videos on IndyStar.com: opening remarks and a closing statement. The titles suggest that editorial board questions that happened in-between are not part of the tape-delay record. In fact, the presentation (search results) doesn’t look like an editorial discussion but like something you’d see on Obama’s website.

screenshot - click for larger image I click on the first link and wait. And wait. Finally I get a “player loading” status message. And wait some more. (10-15 minutes – no, I’m not kidding and I’m not on dial-up.) Suddenly, I hear horrible (a poor stream) audio of a woman’s voice. I return to that tab and discover I’m on a page — gannett.a.mms.mavenapps.net — identified in the title as “Immersive Player.” WTH? There are so many things wrong that I hardly know where to begin.

First, the search link from IndyStar.com does not work, ie, it doesn’t take us to the video in question. And there is no easy way, looking at the interface, to find it. (Folks, search is a LAST RESORT as Jared Spool is fond of saying. If people are forced to search, they leave. I left.)

Second, the link in the URL bar reflects incredibly STUPID IT on the part of the newspaper industry (IndyStar.com is a Gannett property):

http://gannett.a.mms.mavenapps.net/mms/rt/1/site/
gannett-indianapolis-532-pub01-live/current/launch.html?playerId=
immersiveplayer&maven_playlistId=ceaa4036a6088c1ab6b89b27
f27db151f86d1395&maven_referrer=mrss&maven_referralPlaylistId=
ceaa4036a6088c1ab6b89b27f27db151f86d1395&
maven_referralObject=23029676,

These people have not heard of SEO URLs or human-readable URLs, obviously.

Here’s the original link, in all its glory — it’s no better:

http://search.indystar.com/sp?eId=221&gcId=
83295401&rNum=2&url=http%3A%2F%2Fgannett.a.mms.mavenapps.net
%2Fmms%2Frt%2F1%2Fsite%2Fgannett-indianapolis-532-pub01-live
%2Fcurrent%2Flaunch.html%3FplayerId%3Dimmersiveplayer%26amp
%3Bmaven_playlistId%3Dceaa4036a6088c1ab6b89b27f27db151f86d1395
%26amp%3Bmaven_referrer%3Dmrss%26amp%3Bmaven_referralPlaylistId
%3Dceaa4036a6088c1ab6b89b27f27db151f86d1395%26amp
%3Bmaven_referralObject%3D723029676&siteIdType=2

Third, there is no easy way to make any video “viral” like there is with YouTube (easily embed in blogs, email). There’s no way to highlight and copy the title or anything else on the page.

Fourth, there is no branding in the web page TITLE tag (which simply reads “immersive player” — so it doesn’t even brand whatever company it is that created it). We don’t know if we are in “Indianopolis” or somewhere else in Gannett-land.

At this point, I’m dumbfounded.

I spent about 20 minutes trying to find a copy of the Obama editorial meeting referenced in the NYT blog post. Fruitless. Waste of time.

No wonder newspapers are losing the battle of digital convergence. Why didn’t they simply post the videos on YouTube? Or Google Video? Or Blip.tv? Or Brightcove, if they felt like thay simply had to use a paid hosted service?

No, they’re using a proprietary application developed in SHOCKWAVE. Why? WHY?

Finally, the video app from maveapps.net (whomever they are, that URL doesn’t work – reader reports it’s http://www.maven.net/) doesn’t work for Linux folks. As I’ve said before, I don’t have a problem with media forcing customers to use proprietary technology to view entertainment — but I have a big problem when they exclude citizens from viewing news content.

Do commercial media have any understanding today of the “public” component of their mission? It certainly doesn’t look that way to me.

Maybe they should simply roll-over now.

What do you think?

The following is the “email” that I tried to send to IndyStar.com when I got my first 404 error:
http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080425/NEWS0502/80425056

The NYT gave this link to Friday’s stream with Barack Obama. After the streaming session, it would have been courteous (and prudent) to forward the above link to an archive of the editorial board meeting (one assumes it was recorded for delayed listening).

<hit submit>

Well, this is not the only thing broken on the website. The Help Center “We’re sorry” submit button [http://www.indystar.com/Article_not_found] is broken also.

Error – http://www.indystar.com/apps/xsendmail.dll
Initiating new verification scheme
Key verification is enabled – initiating
Validation key found – starting decode
Validation key life time set to 15 minutes
Invalid verification key provided!
Key verification FAILED
Verification FAILED

Update:
I found the two Obama clips (opening, closing). As I suspected from the search blurbs, these are two short edited snippets (meaning there is no good reason not to have them on YouTube).

There are no questions from the editorial board; this is simply a platform statement by Obama. I am very VERY disappointed in the IndyStar. I wanted to hear what the editorial board thought was important. So much for transparency for anyone not home on Friday afternoon (or not in a workplace that would tolerate a little web browsing).

More feedback for Gannett and whomever built the “Immersive Player” :
(1) Don’t auto-start.
(2) When I click the “pause”button… STOP. Don’t make me click it twice.
(3) Don’t auto-jump to the next clip in when one ends.
(4) Make the links in the “contents” box *real* links; I had to execute a link in order to capture the URL for this post.

Update 2:
A reader (someone from the paper?) points us to the story with the edited editorial board interview: Obama talks up his street cred.

Note that these videos do not appear to be on the “video” portion of the site but are embedded in the story, which might be a 2008 Election Blog.

 

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