Newspapers: more creativity, please

As many people probably know by now, Google came out with another of its Google Labs features on Monday: a Google News timeline view, which gives users the ability to see and scroll through headlines, photos and news excerpts by day/week/month/year. The sources of this data can also be customized to include not just traditional news sources but also Wikipedia, sports scores, blogs, etc. It’s a fascinating way of interpreting the news — not something that is likely going to replace a regular old Google News headline view, but an additional way of looking at things.

One question kept nagging at me as I was looking at this latest Google effort at delivering the news, and that was: Why couldn’t a news organization have done this? Why not a newspaper, or even a collective like Associated Press (which seems to prefer threats to creativity)? Isn’t delivering the news in creative and interesting ways that appeal to readers what we are supposed to be doing? Apparently not. Even the most progressive of newspaper sites still looks very much like a traditional newspaper — not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. But is it too much to ask for a little variety? Why not have some alternative display possibilities available? Who knows, it might even con some people into reading more.

(please read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

Capucine, the tiny French storyteller

I guess I am getting soft in my old age, but as soon as I saw the video of Capucine — a young French girl who tells a magical story filled with monkeys and tigers and Winnie the Pooh and a hippopotamus that is allergic to magic — I fell in love with her, as did hundreds of thousands of other people who saw the Vimeo video. I showed it to my wife and three daughters, who also loved it. So we all eagerly read a story in the National Post this morning about how Capucines’s mother is using her daughter’s Internet fame to raise money for a charity that builds libraries in developing countries. So watch the video, and read the story — and then go buy a T-shirt. I just bought one for each of my daughters, and am seriously thinking about buying one for myself.

Your life — and death — online

There are so many people spending their lives in front of video cameras — not just on sites like YouTube but on thousands of discussion forums and chat rooms across the Internet — that the surprising thing isn’t how many people choose to die in front of their webcams, it’s how few. Liz Gannes at NewTeeVee has the story of a young man who was talking to other members of a chat-room on a bodybuilding forum and said he had taken an overdose of medication, posted a suicide note and then collapsed on his bed. Several concerned viewers called police, who broke down the door and found the young man, and friends later confirmed that he was dead. A tragic end to a young life, all captured on film. It used to be that killing yourself on camera meant doing it on the evening news — when I was in journalism school, I remember a state official in Pennsylvania putting a gun to his head during a press conference and pulling the trigger, and our class debating whether TV shows should have run the film. Now anyone can have a camera, and broadcast their death to as many people as choose to watch.

White House video: what took so long?

So the soon-to-be new U.S. president, Barack Obama, is reportedly going to videotape regular addresses to the American people and upload them to YouTube, as well as to his new Change.gov social-media portal. All I could think of when I saw the headline from the Washington Post is “What the heck took so long?” It’s not like YouTube just appeared yesterday. It’s become a primary video source for millions of people, particularly young people — and heck, even the Queen has a royal channel with videos that people can watch about the British royal family. And she’s not the only Queen on YouTube (I’m not counting Chris Crocker). Queen Rania of Jordan also has a channel, and she uploads inspirational video messages, including the one I’ve embedded here (she’s also extremely beautiful, which I think is a big plus for a queen). It says a lot about George Bush and his presidency that he couldn’t be bothered to even use a free commuications tool.

What can Fred teach us about video?

According to at least one account, the big star of the NewTeeVee Live conference — put on by the gang at GigaOm — wasn’t the CEO of Hulu, or the head of Netflix, or even alterna-star Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing. It was 15-year-old video artist Lucas Cruikshank, otherwise known simply as “Fred.” Lucas was a bored teen somewhere in Nebraska when he decided to parody some of the self-obsessed video bloggers on YouTube and came up with the persona of Fred, a hyperactive pre-teen who speaks in an incredibly annoying, squeaky voice. He is a bona fide YouTube superstar.

While musicians and comedians with years of training and talent are desperately trying to get more views for their videos on YouTube, the phenomenon known as Fred records a video of himself leaning into the camera and making faces while sounding like one of the Chipmunks and gets more than a million views. The video I’ve embedded here has more than 11 million, and that’s after less than four months. His latest video has only been up for a day — a single day — and already has more than 400,000 views, and the one before that (two weeks old) has 2 million. His is the most subscribed channel on YouTube and has more than 125 million views in total. Next up: product placement and celebrity cameos.

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