One case against College Publisher

When you control the platform, you also control the content and innovation associated with it.

In the school news industry, College Publisher, now branded as the College Media Network, desperately needs a competitor. Owned by MTV, a subsidiary of Viacom, College Publisher provides a content management system now used by “550 going on 600” student newspapers across the country. It offers under-staffed and under-funded newsrooms an easy way to get their content online at a price that can’t be beat.  

Why is Viacom interested in managing the online platforms for as many college newspapers as possible? To deliver advertising, of course. As a part of the contract for a cheap, if not free, way to get your stories and images online, College Publisher reserves the top placements on your site for their own use. This allows an even bigger media giant (Viacom) to directly make money off a school newspaper’s content, either by selling advertising slots to big corporations like T-Mobile and Bank of America or by running advertisements for their other properties. Student newspapers are especially valuable to Viacom because they largely produce for its key demographic: the college student. Most, too, are held captive to this partnership because there isn’t the motivation, manpower, or vision for more innovative options.

Should any independent student newspaper want in a part of this? No.

College Publisher, unfortunately, is not the innovation aspiring journalists and reporters should depend on in this changing media environment. Claiming RateMyProfessors.com and a CMN Facebook app are “national media outlets” is not creativity. Rather than outsourcing the heavy-lifting to College Publisher, student newspapers need to allocate resources internally to running and developing their own platform. This can seem somewhat paradoxical, adding to your staff when you’re losing more and more revenue, but it is a necessity for survival. The future isn’t all that bleak, we’re just in a time of transition.

At Publishing 2.0, Scott Karp argues that newspapers need to take a hint from General Motors and learn how to innovate. Most newspapers have had roughly the same business model since the 1950’s which they’re now largely attempting to reapply to the internet. It’s not the same medium, though. Advertising and classifieds were king in past years, but the playing field is now open to the most ambitious entrepreneurs. Maybe a model like Spot.us will succeed, maybe it won’t. Without trying new things, there’s no way to find out.

Part of the innovation that has to happen, I would like to add, is how you manage, display, and distribute your content online. For student newspapers, the solution isn’t College Publisher. It’s too restrictive, poorly developed, and proprietary, locking innovative students to a platform that limits creativity. Page load times are atrocious because of far too much Javascript, and if they go out of business, your website goes down. The answer, instead, is open source.

One component of a strategy for student newspapers to move forward is a consortium dedicated to collaboratively building an open source content management system which best fits everyone’s needs. We need a robust, free to use platform that thrives under many of the same values which the open source movement holds dear. The growth of such a community around the publishing software used by student newspapers would be of tremendous value to everyone, especially because most papers aren’t in competing markets. Collaborative innovation is a win-win for these types of organizations, a fact I think few have realized.

As the start for a transition I hope to begin with the Oregon Daily Emerald in the winter, I’m taking steps forward. At this point, my work involves researching mature platforms already in the ecosystem, such as WordPress, Drupal, and Django, contacting people at what I think are progressive school newspapers, and working to identify the crucial features for any online newsroom (like managing media assets and placing advertisements). While I recognize there are already many content management systems on the market, my paradoxical goal is for a platform as easy to use and install as WordPress that also offers advanced management features. Software that any student newspaper can install, but also be able to develop further if they have the resources to do so.

I’m passionate about making this happen. Let’s do it.

Ironically, the College Media Network blog runs WordPress. They obviously aren’t drinking their own Kool-Aid.

Cove Palisades

Every year, with this being the fourth, I try to get away for at least a weekend and join my friends at Cove Palisades State Park.  Spearheaded by the Lofgren family, it’s a grand time of wakeboarding, beach, and sun.  At dinner Saturday night, I finally pulled myself together enough to make a few images (largely at the urging of everyone else).

Unshaven
Colin’s stubble is the new look, kind of like sagging pants.

Collin Sherwood Elwyn is one of those friends I’ve had since at least middle school, if not elementary school.  I think we played both soccer and basketball together at one point, but it’s fuzzy trying to think back that far.

The Kitchen
Colin’s stubble is the new look, kind of like sagging pants.

For dinner that night, we had pizza from the grill, perfected after many years of trial and error.  I can remember back to the good ol’ days when we tried to cook it over the fire and ended up making calzones.  The secret, as it stands, is to coat the dough in olive oil to prevent burning.  Just reminisce of all of the dinners we had, though, before we figured that out.

Pizza
Forrest takes a bite out of some pretty stellar pizza cooked, of course, on a Weber bar-b-que.

I think Forrest would agree with me in that it was quite tasty.

Glimpses of a subcontinent

Two months after the fact, I’ve started processing images from my journey around the Indian subcontinent.

Festivities

No particular rhyme or reason to what I’m putting up at the moment, just whatever catches my eye.

Debate

I think, when I’ve worked through the body of a few thousand images, I’ll compose more of a narrative to weave the story together. Until then, enjoy the visual tour.

Curiosity

Mia and Beckham

In the last few days, this Bachhuber family has received not one, but two new additions: Mia Hamm and David Beckham:

David and Mia

As my sister gets ready to go off to college, my mom thought it would be best to make sure the house stays lively.  We visited the local animal rescue shelter, and Maggie picked out her favorite: Mia.

Madeline, envious of Maggie’s new friend, decided she wanted to get one too: David.

Lively it’s been, too, as these two dynamos never stop.  Personally, I’ve never thought myself much of an animal person, but the two new kittens are growing on me.

David

Somedays you just have to take a break from the work to capture the beautiful things around you.

Ideas for a UO Sustainability Conference in October?

Steve Mital, Sustainability Director for the University of Oregon, recently sent a call for ideas to help guide a Sustainability Conference tentatively planned for the 23rd and 24th of October, 2008.  It is being organized by Sustainability Directors at Portland State University, Oregon State University, and the University of Oregon, and the second day will reportedly be “entirely devoted to students and sustainability.”  My suggestions for the conference, written in full on the Oregon Direct Action blog, revolve around these ideas:

  • Planning this conference digitally and in the public eye so that students can be a part of the entire process
  • Adding an international component to help bridge the local-international sustainability gap
  • Networking with local sustainability non-profits
  • Drafting a set of sustainability guidelines for campus community to voluntarily adopt (i.e. minimizing paper use, using Tupperware instead of styrofoam, etc.)
They are looking for ideas on “workshops, themes, keynote speakers, etc.” until July 3rd.  Let’s make this conference worth attending!

Shooting in the mirror: India

Shooting in the mirror

I left for India young, naive, and partially unprepared for the extraordinary series of events I was about to experience.  My bag wasn’t packed until late the night before I left, and it didn’t hit me that I was spending three months photographing in a completely foreign country until two weeks in to the journey.  By not thinking too much about it, and being entirely focused on what I was trying achieve, I think it was better this way.

Nike has the motto, “Just do it.”  Cliche, yes, but it is one which wholly encompasses every lesson I learned while traveling to capture a story on the cultural, social, and religious constraints to clean water access in India.  Always do what you’re most in fear of.  Feel uncomfortable shooting in the crowds of Magh Mela, the largest annual Hindu gathering on the banks of the Ganges? Just do it.  Uneasy about experiencing poverty in the worst slums of south East Asia?  Just do it.  Worried about the security situation in Kashmir, the disputed territory between India and Pakistan?  Just do it.  The first situation I wimped out on, a hundred thousand people in one stretch of river sounds like a lot of bodies, but it’s been at the back of my mind ever since.

Of course, any advice I make should be taken with a grain of salt.  Pushing boundaries just isn’t for some people.  For all the others, though, keep doing it.

Being a networking madman also has its advantages in putting together a story.  If you see an opportunity to shoot something you hadn’t thought of before, take it.  Don’t hesitate.  It’s difficult to do in an alien environment, especially when you would like everything to be normal, planned out, and calm, but certainly worth the effort.  Furthermore, tying journalism with development also will score you a number of connections, particularly in India.  The people behind the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are generally more than happy to talk to you about the issues they are combating.  The government, not so much.

With all of that being said, there are a number of things I’ll be making happen next time. 

For one, rethinking my adoption of technology.  Oddly enough, the trip journey was partially intended to give me a 90 day hiatus from being digitally connected at all hours of the day.   I made a decision to leave my MP3 player at home, which lasted until two weeks from the end when I broke down and bought a Chinese knockoff, as well as to take time off Twitter, a micro-blogging service.

Next time, I’m twittering the whole trip.

Not only is it a cool way to report interesting things you come across hour by hour, but also a cheap way to keep in contact with friends and family.  The price of telecommunications is dropping quickly; to send an SMS cost Rs. 3.75 (around 10 cents) and receiving messages is free.  These astounding developments allowed me to even publish my experiences as I was in the middle of the Thar Desert, an arid expanse of land on the Pakistani border.

My goal was to go light and cheap.  Pack my backpack with only the things I really need, and then just take half of that.  Next time probably won’t be so light or cheap.  Even though I had to sell two pairs of skis and my kayak to afford this one, I would sell even more to bring a few more items:

An audio recorder.  India is rich with sound.  For the same reasons I brought earplugs, I need a device to archive the myriad of noise happening at all hours of the day.  Every train station has a unique announcement tone unforgetable to any traveler who has spent a lengthy period of time in one, whether waiting for an afternoon city commuter or spending the night curled up on a freezing platform.  Bus rides also offer the cacaphony, let it be a screech of tires as the vehicle races along a narrow, cliffside road or the horn which a driver can commonly lean upon for minutes at a time.  It never ends.  For this story, however, the sound of water is the most valuable component I missed.  Each region has its own footprint, the tap empties in the pot to a different rhythm, the bucket clangs against the dug well to its special beat, and the conversations surrounding these activities are in their own local language.  Sure, photography is rich as a visual medium, but audio definitely helps to complete the circle.

I could also have taken better interviews with a recorder by taping them instead of frantically trying to take notes.

A GPS.  Also known as a global positioning system, such a device has the ability to track where you’ve been and when you were there.  Of course, I can always do this manually by dropping images on the map, as I do with many of my Flickr photos, but automating the process would be a huge timesaver, as well as lowering the barrier to entry.  Geo is the next big thing, and geo-aware news even more so.  Tagging my images geographically would not only provide an interesting way to keep track of them, but also allow any story I create to be geographically interactive.

More memory.  Duh.  Sixteen gigabytes is enough to shoot for just few days tops.  Stretch that over a month, and the photographer is struck with an inability to make images.  I’d like to call it photographer’s block.  When you have to edit on the fly, or at least while driving between locations, it makes you think twice about whether you’d like to shoot 20 or 60 frames on a particular scene.  Furthermore, processing as you go doesn’t give much perspective on the set.  Often when I’m in the States, I’ll go back to my images at a later point only to find I like best a photo I was close to deleting earlier.  Considering I only kept a tenth of what I shot between February and March, I can only hope I didn’t kill too many Pulitzer winners.  This problem of a memory shortage can easily be remedied in these ways: bringing more cards, bringing a laptop, or a combination of both.  Unfortunately, these two solutions require funding.  Students are often short of funding.  My solution: sell more of the junk you don’t really need.  Some call it minimalism; I like to call it keeping to my roots.

Quite possibly the strongest, most poignant lesson I learned was that, to last three months in a country, I need a constructive project to do.  Building upon that, it is also wise to approach a country with multiple story ideas in hand.  With the way my planning worked out, I was done shooting what I had outlined for the water story by the second week of April, leaving me with nearly three weeks free.  I can’t stand the “tourist thing” for more than a few days.  As a result, I came up with a cockeyed notion to photograph people under occupation in Kashmir and Ladakh, with the intent of comparing and contrasting the two regions.  In Kashmir, there are reportedly 1.2 lakh (million) security forces for between 10 and 12 million people.  On nearly every street corner, there are bunkers with intimidating soldiers, intimidating machine guns, and intimidating barbed wire.  Needless to say, it has an effect on the local population.

Research beforehand might’ve helped me refine the second story enough to realise Ladakh is still covered in snowed at the time I wanted to hitchhike there by truck. For all of the regions I missed though because of access, Ladakh, the Kinnaur Valley, Pakistan, Tibet, and Bhutan, there’s always next year, right?

Onward and forward.

Adhoc transportation

Here’s the problem: I, like many people I know, drive too many places all alone in my car.  One person in a three ton metal vehicle that could easily transport five.  To move all of that mass around, with such unused, waste internal space, is an inefficient use of energy.

Money is made by identifying and capitalizing on inefficiency.  Inefficiency in the market, inefficiency in a business, and inefficiency in moving humans to where they want to go.

Here’s one solution: ad-hoc transportation.  Capitalizing on the triple convergence between location-aware devices (iPhone 2 on June 9th, anyone?), social networking (Facebook, Twitter, et al), and an absurd number of nearly empty cars on the road (suburban America), the goal should be to connect people with people who are pointed in the same destination.

We’ll call it Me Drive We for the time being.  It’s the most creative, available domain I could find in 30 seconds of searching.

Say, for instance, I have a ’99 Subaru Outback Legacy, Forest Green, and want to go out to Hood River for the day to photograph a windsurfing competition.  To get directions and a forecasted drive time on the day of the event, I’d most likely use my GPS-enabled device to search up the destination.  After I’ve decided on a route, Me Drive We could give me a wee little pop-up asking if I would like to publish my trip to the public.  Me Drive We would then send me a text message with the names and numbers of people either in my area or along the way who are interested in making a similar trip.  Or it could send my contact information to them, it doesn’t matter how the connection is made so long as it is made and made effortlessly.

It shouldn’t need to be limited to one platform, either.  If I had rock-solid information on what the wind conditions were going to be the week before (and we’re speaking a lot of hypotheticals here), I would be able to use a website to report where I’m going and when.  The value in having at least one mobile tentacle, however, is that I’ve never seen something like this done, and I read a lot of tech news, and you can make it brain-dead simple with one device: the cellphone.

Apple’s new iPhone is highly likely to be released in the next month with these features:

  • 3G high-speed internet
  • An official SDK (Software Development Kit) with first-round applications
  • GPS

It’s always going to know where I am, and I might just want it to also know where I’m going.

Wait, what if I don’t want to drive or ride with complete strangers who might axe me to steal my wallet?

This is where the social networking should poke its head.  Leveraging a social graph already created with Facebook or, heaven forbid, MySpace, I could choose to ride or drive with people I already know who have shared where they want to go too.  The service (ideally) would only reveal my location and travel plans to the circle of friends I’ve already identified.  If someone I didn’t know wanted to get a ride with me, I could again capitalize on the social graph to see if we know anyone in common.  

If I ended up riding with some I didn’t know, Me Drive We could even give me suggestions for ice-breakers, based on data culled from other social networks.  For instance, 90 percent of the music I listen to is scrobbled to Last.fm, and leads to very interesting charts.  This week, my top artist seems to be Gangstagrass, who released a stellar hip-hop/bluegrass album I would highly recommend downloading if you haven’t already.  Me Drive We could take this information, or knowledge of the recent books I’ve enjoyed from Good Reads, and give me and my passenger quality cultural artifacts to discuss. 

The most obvious constraints are usability and critical mass.  By riding on the shoulders of two giants moving through the forest at the moment, Facebook, or Facebonk as I call it affectionately, and Apple’s iPhone, I think Me Drive We could easily overcome them.  Integration with existing devices and sites would super necessary for successful adoption.

You build it for us lonely drivers and I will use it.  It’s time to be more efficient with our energy.

Chai man

These past few weeks have been ones of reflection. Having photographed the regions I initially outlined for my project, I’ve been bumming around, trying to find another story to pick up, reading Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series, and thinking.

Moving some too. After Rajasthan, I continued north to Amritsar, holing up for two days with a fever, visiting the Golden Temple, and then, finally, trucking on to Jammu. I recuperated further and then took an amazing Jeep ride to Srinigar, the capital of Kashmir.

There I tried to launch another story comparing Kashmir and Ladakh, and how occupation in the 21st century by the Indian security forces affects the people’s daily lives. Snow in the pass killed the idea so, after a week based in a houseboat, I journeyed on to McLeod Ganj, location of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Many stories, of course, and many experiences to share. One, from a few days back, had me drop everything to write it in my journal.

***

On the bank of the sacred Dal Lake, there is an chai and omlette stand. Well… not quite on the bank but on a road leading off the main and so close I can justify calling it the banks. I drop down to the basin after hiking some kilometers from McLeod Ganj. Having had no lunch, I spot the modest carton of eggs casually on the small sill and amble over.

“Omlette?,” I ask.
“Yes,” he says, pointing to the eggs and a loaf of cheap white bread.
“Two piece egg, two piece toast. How much?”
“10 rupees.”

Wow, a steal I think, and readily agree to the deal.

As he cooks, I become lost in my thoughts, hastily scribbling down ideas which came to me during my walk. One page filled, I move on to the next. I am in lala land often, daydreaming about this and that, and what I might do in the near future. Impervious to the outside world, and distracted by a vivid desire to create concepts. Many people are, I believe, but I won’t personally draw judgement as to whether it is good or bad. It just is.

Yesterday, I met a man named Klaus at my “Tibetan cooking course.” An astrologer from Denmark, he seemed quite normal with his feet on the ground. For me, he became a person of interest, someone who occupied a number of brain cycles, because he had just finished a ten day mediation course. Conducted in complete silence. No talking, no conversation, just listening to your thoughts for hours on end. If you ask me, it sounds like a gnarly way to discover yourself. I would go insane after day two. And yet, shortly after our exchange about his experience, he pulls out a cell phone to see if he has any messages from family back home. The same addiction I left the States with. I think we only try to escape it, and can never succeed.

The omlette is ready. The chai man brings it out to me, I’m sitting on a simple wood bench, the type which would break if your weight is too much, and I’m struck by how generous of a portion it is. On a simple white plastic plate, the kind from my childhood, the omlette takes up so much space that the two small, square pieces of toast have to be piled on top. I cut the egg into two pieces, divy up my toast, and dig in. The meal is delish.

Watching me from his quilted stoop inside the telephone-sized stall, he asks, “Israeli?”

I’ve been getting more and more of this recently. It might be my stubble of a beard, but I can’t be sure.

“No, United States,” I reply.
The chai man looks at me confused, obviously not understanding.
“Amerika,” I add, emphasizing the “k” which seems to me the trick at the beginning of anyconversation.

“Oh, America.”

A couple of moment later, he asks another question. “Chai?”

It’s been my goal for the last few weeks to cut back to one cup a day. If I drink too much, I only sleep five or six hours each night and wake up at four AM. With my mind racing about where I’m going to go, what I’m going to photograph, and which emails I’m going to send, it’s nearly impossible to get back to sleep. Plus, it’s bad news for whomever has to be the recipient of those emails.

But heck, I’ve fallen in love with this guy’s stand so I think why not. “Yes, one cup,” I say, and see him move his pan off one single burner to make way for the pot.

The man’s business is the quintessential Indian chai/omlette/samosa shack. I can’t put it any better than that, as the beauty of the moment struck me like a lorry. It’s painted bright yellow, similar to an STD point, and the side is emblazoned with “Lay’s Potato Chips.” There is a sill in the front at chest height with forty or so eggs, that loaf of bread with flies buzzing around it, several samosas in a pan, and a small bottle of red-ish, ketchup-y sauce for whatever you’d like to put it on. Sure, the stands come in many shapes and sizes on the sub-continent, with different types of foods, drinks, plates, and cups, but at this moment I notice it in its entirety. To me, the stand is a profound statement of my travels. This is India, and this man sells omlettes and chai for a living.

As he’s heating the chai, I suddenly want to capture the process. I whip my camera out of the bag, spilling another set of notes in the process. As I peer through the viewfinder, though, I see I’ve been inspired at the end of his work. He pours the drink through a strainer to my cup. The chai is ready.

Near the end of my caffeine and sugar elixir, I talk with a man from Delhi. We cover the basics, and then I rattle off the whole list of places I’ve seen this trip. The businessman appears disinterested this development of the conversation, but the chai man speaks up. “Chamba?”

I repeat the question back at him, not understanding its nature.

Then I do realise and ask, “Chamba Valley?”
“Yes,” he replies.
“No, not his trip. From Jammu to McLeod Ganj.”
“Oh…”

I finally understand why he asked. “Are you from Chamba Valley?”

Whatever connection we made when I first arrived at his humble stand is magnified, enhanced. He gives me a “yes” with a broad smile and proceeds to show me a picture, worn and weathered, of him on the bank of Dal Lake. He is standing in front of a sign, and looks quite proud in a blue and red vest.

“Dal Lake,” he points, indicating something in the picture. I obviously don’t understand why he’s mentioning this. Again he says, “Dal Lake. In Hindi.”

I look closer and can see he’s pointing at script on the sign. Ah, that makes sense. It says “Dal Lake” in Hindi.

Putting the photograph down, he rolls up his sleeve to show me something else: a tattoo on his forearm. I glance at the body art and the side of his stand he points to as well. Both say “Krishan Chana.”

Ah, his name. That make sense too. “I’m Daniel,” I forward while holding out my hand.

He has one last tattoo to show me, the holy Om on the back of his hand. I don’t recognize it at first, but then I do. I pull out my Om, the one Kip brought back two years ago, from under my shirt and show it to him. “Shiva,” he says, pointing at my neck.

“Yup.”

And that’s the magic. That’s who he is, or a part, and that’s who I am. Or a part. Our conversation is limited because of language, but we’re both eager to learn about one another. India, although rapidly “modernizing,” is still about people. It affects me, irrovorcably I hope, every day I’m in this country.

Having finished my chai, I pay the six rupees and wander on.

Chai man

How do you define your reality?

This came to me, as many ideas do, at 5 o’clock in the morning:

Google Earth now has Street View. To many, it comes as no surprise; Google has many web properties which will work quite well in unison once they are integrated. With the addition of Street View, though, the company is well on its way to creating a static, visual representation of the physical Earth. Furthermore, as technology progresses, a human’s ability to interact with this digital “environment” will be greatly enhanced. At an intersection in the near future, the boundary between the “analog” and “digital” worlds will be seemless. A person will be able to transition from one to another, with no conscious observation of the technology in between.

To quote my friend Shane out of context, the seeds for this future are already sown. Barring a complete collapse of civilization, it will happen and it will happen soon. Communication is taking the same route too, coincidentally enough.

One big question, however, is this: how do you make the “digital” representation of the “analog” environment dynamic and live? Is it a matter of everyone having embedded video sensors and GPS receivers which broadcast realtime to a connected web? Will the future be in nano clusters, swarms of technology which capture the environment for us? Or will there even be a need or desire move around in an “analog” world if we can manipulate far more in its “digital” counterpart?

Now take one step back. Who else in the blogosphere has already “created” these worlds, this idea? When will I be able to be aware, to be conscious of that knowledge without having to search?

AI is soon.

Book club

Having no iPod this journey, I’ve relied on a number of books to provoke my thoughts and imagination while stuck in various places, a gnarly dust storm most recently. These are a few I would highly recommend:

  • Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, L. Hunter Lovins, and Amory Lovins [Amazon | Google Books] – A testament, and blueprint, for how we should really be living: in harmony with our ecology. Otherwise, as the book points out, the life support systems of our planet, our ship through the desolate space, are going to cease functioning as we need them to. It holds an optimistic view of the future, though, and argues that by recognizing “natural capital” as limited and valuable, we can actually solve most of the issues humanity faces, climate change and social justice for instance, and live better at that. Personally, it has made me wonder why we don’t have hypercars and closed-loop domestic waste systems already. I’ve got a few projects for home in mind when I return, although I’m going to need to buy another copy because Anat has mine in either Pune or Israel.
  • Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource by Marc de Villiers [Amazon | Google Books] – As I’ve discovered and rediscovered this entire trip, water access issues aren’t publicised to the degree they need to be. Or at all really. Being from the Pacific Northwest and all, I’ve always assumed water flows naturally from the tap everywhere and always. That’s not always the case. Although it starts off slow, the book is definitely worth finishing. For instance, one of the many interesting theses is that the conflict between Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan is territorial largely due to water access. All three nations face water scarcity, and control of supply is integral to national security. As with so much development coverage though, India is nearly completely missed.
  • An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire by Arundhati Roy [Amazon | Rediff Books] – In a vein similar to John Perkins’ Confessions of An Economic Hitman, Roy lambasts the United States, IMF, World Bank, Bechtel, and team for being authoritative, oppressive, and imperialist the world o’er. She argues that Empire, by causing social injustice and benefiting few, is weak. Her essays offer interesting perspective into how India fits into the picture.

Manoranjan! (“Enjoy” for those non-Hindi speakers like myself…)