Context is king. Book’s web site has lesson for us

I was looking up author, David Carr, after using a quote from him in my previous post. His is a fascinating story captured in his book, The Night of the Gun.

Since every book today has a companion web site, I nearly skipped it, assuming it was another content dump with blurbs and links. I was wrong!  It’s a trove of context, not content.

  • One of the tabs opens a page laid out in a grid of 60-squares. Click on each square and it takes you deeper into Carr’s story by way of candid interviews, photos, scanned documents etc.
  • Another tab has a timeline, which takes you on an online experience you couldn’t even come close to in the pages of a book.

The publisher, Simon and Schuster, notes that it created a database of content because Carr ended up with a large stack of material, recording his thoughts and interviews using many formats – video, audio, notes etc.

With help from the New York Times‘ digital guy, (a ‘User Interface Specialist!) they built a site as a multi-media backdrop, or more precisely, a back-story, to his memoir.

While it makes for a novel way to market a book, we could learn some important lessons in how to surround any other form of communication with rich, contextual information.

In the end The Night of the Gun is more than a book -a living story that cannot be contained within templates, hard covers or style sheets.

New York Times forcing us through Facebook funnel

Updated: 21 April 2012

I’m Ok with funnels for decanting liquids in the kitchen or garage. Media funnels are another matter entirely.

That’s essentially what The New York Times is trying to do with us readers: entice us down the narrow neck into Facebook territory. No thank you!

We’ll never know what the conversations were at the Times in the past few weeks, but it certainly didn’t involve us.

The folks there probably looked at the evidence of how media is now flowing through networks, how people are jumping platforms and thought it was time to send us to Zuckland. Call it Funnelization-meets monetization.

Were they scared we may be sucked in elsewhere?

I don’t buy the ‘newspapers are dead’ argument any more than I think books are dead. (I love my Kindle, but I don’t plan on not reading real books anytime soon.) I grant that I do get plenty of my news updates via social media, but that has never stopped me from picking up a newspaper, tuning into a radio show or watching a non time-shifted television show now and then. The sheer serendipity of discovery using ‘old media’ could never be replaced.

In short, I get sucked in by great content.

The Times and Facebook relationship is not new. It began in 2010, with a new design of the front page. (Explanation by NYT here.) I liked the idea of enabling readers to be able to follow threaded comments and connect via social channels. It was a tough call, to make trusted commentary a feature that was by invitation only. But hey, reputation is always earned!

Starting this week, however, content on is limited to ten articles a month free. Content will still be available via Facebook.

But that’s not the main problem. The Times requires one to link a Facebook account to the Times story to be authorized to comment.  That tantamount ro appointing Facebook as a sort of gatekeeper. An e-verify system for readers. Why Facebook? Why not LinkedIn, amore professional system? Good question. Andrew Rosenthal, the Times’ editorial page editor explains it thus: It’s coming! For now we’re stuck with Facebook.

Maybe it’s not so bad. After all Facebook is now a major authenticator and on ramp to other online properties. But it’s thumbs down for me. I’m not ready to jump into this funnel yet.

Updated: If you have inadvertently linked your Facebook account to the NYT, here’s where you can find the button to uncheck it.


“Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist” and what passes for news

News is under attack from many sides. There are digital missiles, financial grenades, dwindling readership and viewership, and the there’s the credibility factor.

So a story like this of a fabricated, unverified “source” brings up serious issues. Says The New York Times, peeling back the curtain:

“Trouble is, Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.”

Which is to say, not just old media but new media and hybrid media tend to get taken for a ride very easily.

OK, so this was just a prank –a film maker trying to make a name, no different from say, Lonely Girl trying to make a career. But we have seen this script before haven’t we, and they have had serious consequences. Remember SwiftBoat, and Dan Rather’s “gate“, and Jason Blair, and … the list could go on.

Let’s face it. Trust, has been shifting from authority figures and truth verifiers to (drum roll…) “people like me.” But even we are easily influenced (duped?) by some digital presence from people like us. When we do our due diligence as communicators we tend to assume that:

  • Anyone with a web site is probably above board
  • An organization with a blog is actually quite real, if not transparent. Until it the blog is outed.
  • And anyone who uses Twitter, is transparency personified -until people like “Janet‘ show up

In a recent Harvard study, people trusted Cable news twice as much as Broadcast news. For print, credibility was nearly a quarter of Cable news. None of this is comforting. The Martin Eisenstadt story broke on Cable news first. But the scary part? Even bloggers were linking to the fake Mr. Eisenstadt!

fakenytFun Sidebar: If you think most of the news is made up, take a look at at this edition of the New York Times. From the cover story, you might gues it is a fake New York Times.