You may have heard of Amy Chau, and her new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. If so, that’s probably due to the excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago. The headline was “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Here’s a quote.

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.

My wife, who is Chinese, drew my attention to the WSJ piece. It upset her. Her views on parenting differ from the views presented in the excerpt. So do my views.

In the car today, I had the radio tuned to NPR (WAMU, to be specific), as I usually do. Amy Chau was on the Diane Rehm show. That spot shows that the book is to a large extent about how Amy Chau rethought her parenting style.

This is a story about media, as well as about parenting. Here are some headlines I could have used for this story/post.

  • WSJ shows only one side of a story.
  • WSJ and NPR show different sides of the same story.
  • Guardian writer lazily mistakes WSJ excerpt for book.

The trouble with the above headlines is that none of them is surprising. I wish that the last one was surprising. But there is an article in today’s Guardian that seems to mistake the WSJ excerpt for the book, and even for the author herself. The Guardian article is open for reader comments, and many of them based on the assumption that it’s fine to insult an author based on a Guardian account of a WSJ article.

Confession time. I haven’t read the book either. I did think unkindly of Amy Chau on the basis of an excerpt in the WSJ, which appeared under a headline almost certainly provided by a WSJ staffer, rather than by the author of the words selected to appear under the headline.

Perhaps, as we move from January 1 to Chinese new year (of the rabbit, not of the tiger, by the way), a resolution to cut back on jumping to conclusions about people might be in order.

If I had to choose just one newspaper, it would be The Guardian. That’s a rather archaic opening sentence in this age of digital plenty, including as it does the terms choose just one and newspaper.

But I remember buying the dead trees version. I particularly remember running in to the newsagents next to Edmonton (north London, UK) train station to get my Guardian before getting on the train to work.

Most of the time I lived in France, I subscribed to The Guardian Weekly, which included articles from Le Monde and the Washington Post as well as from The Guardian itself. The articles from Le Monde were translated into English, those from the Washington Post not so much.

I now live in Washington Post territory. I’ve yet to buy the Washington Post newspaper, and I doubt I ever will. I do have the Washington Post website bookmarked, and visit it often enough to get annoyed at the register/login hurdle.

I visit the Guardian online multiple times most days. I appreciate its openness, as well as its content.

So I am particularly interested in the Guardian’s open platform. I read about it in a couple of recent articles by Mathew Ingram at GigaOM. Lest it seem that Mathew and I are uncritically besotted with openness, I’ll choose this quote from the first of his articles.

The Guardian’s ownership structure — it’s owned by the Scott Trust — likely has something to do with the paper’s interest in an open API, and its willingness to provide its content to others despite the lack of any immediate return, since it can afford to think longer term rather than just focusing solely on quarterly earnings.

In other words, media owned via financial markets and other mechanisms of impatience would find it harder to do what the Guardian is doing. Here’s my favorite quote from Mathew’s second article.

Open APIs and open platforms aren’t all that new. But The Guardian is the first newspaper to offer a fully open API… We thought it was worth looking at why the paper chose to go this route, and what it might suggest for other companies contemplating a similar move… I explore the topic in depth in a new GigaOM Pro report (subscription required).

I love this quote because, even as Mathew writes in glowing terms about the openness of a 190-year-old newspaper company, he tells us that we need to provide a credit card to have full access to his coverage. This from GigaOM, cutting-edge new media property, running on open source software, etc.

See, I haven’t lost my British sense of humour. It’s that same sense of humour that allows me to smile rather than curse when I note that the Guardian’s site is misbehaving as I write this. It reminds me of the paper being formerly and fondly referred to as the Grauniad, because of frequent tpyos.

John Yemma, Editor of The Christian Science Monitor, thinks so.

There is no future in a paywall. No salvation in digital razzle dazzle.

There is, however, a bold future in relevant content.

Universal Adam highlights the CSM’s success with online-centric publishing. Back to John for an explanation of what that means.

A year ago, we ceased publishing the daily, 100-year-old Christian Science Monitor newspaper and launched a weekly magazine to complement our website, on which we doubled down by reorienting our newsroom to be web-first. Our web traffic climbed from 6 million page views last April to 13 million in February. Our print circulation rose from 43,000 to 77,000 in the same period.

No-one is claiming that CSM has solved the problems facing the media. John remarks that the newsroom is still “evolving.” What works for the CSM may not work elsewhere: CSM has the support of the church, whereas other publications have the support of, say, Rupert Murdoch.

But CSM has taken a bold step (as bold as Intel’s when it got out of memory chips to concentrate on processors?), and the limited and early indications we can see are positive. I recommend reading John Yemma’s piece in full.

Coincidence? I think not

February 3, 2010

Two headlines, same story.

I have to say that Christian DiCarlo, posting at his personal blog Philtered, has the more apt headline, and that his coverage following the headline is excellent.

To answer the question in my own headline, I certainly don’t consider it coincidence that Acura is giving us the gift of WSJ during the Toyota gas pedal episode. Toyota may be trying to Tylenol its way out of this one, but Acura is adding to its rival’s headache.

MBAs and BS

December 18, 2009

When I saw a Reddit entry entitled The decline of the MBA will cut off the supply of bullshit at source, and linking to The Economist, I doubted that the Reddit title was a quote from the original article. But the article, by one Lucy Kellaway, includes the following sentence.

In 2010 the decline of the MBA will cut off the supply of bullshit at source.

As a once and (probably) future business school prof, I may be biased. But I do have arguments against multiple aspects of the article.

One argument concerns the employment of MBA graduates, and is linked to the prediction that the MBA will decline next year. While it is true that an MBA may not make a job candidate stand out, the lack of one may do so. What used to be true of a bachelor’s has become true of a master’s, and partularly of an MBA. It’s a box that employers expect to be able to check for many jobs.

A second argument is provoked by the above “bullshit” quote. The quote implies that business schools, and in particular MBAs, are the world’s sole source of bullshit. Kellaway is obviously a journalist blissfully unaware of other sources – such as politicians and journalists.

Twitter Lists: Journalism Becomes a Real-Time Job is the title of a very recent post by Pete Cashmore, Mr Mashable himself. My real-time reaction to it was that real journalism is not a real-time job, since it requires fact-checking – and maybe even thought.

Perhaps I was reacting to the post title, when I should have been reading the post itself. After all, the post title is about one-third of the maximum length of a tweet. The post is pretty much a pointer to Pete’s CNN.com article, in which he discusses “a new breed of editor: the real-time Web curator.”

Curator: that’s a word I see more and more these days. It has scholarly, thoughtful connotations. I’m not sure it fits well with real-time.

The New York Times isn’t just mainstream media on paper these days. It’s also mainstream media online, with a side order of social media. Its site includes a number of blogs, one of which recently included a post entitled 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1).

There’s been a lot of discussion about the post. There are over a thousand comments at NYTimes.com. There’s also lively discussion at reddit, at reddit (which seems over-tolerant of duplicate submissions), and at Waiter Rant (in a post that delivers the promised rant), and, I’m sure at many other sites.

Many of the comments are critical of the list of 50 things (50 more will follow in Part 2) that restaurant staffers should never do. But I’m fairly sure that Bruce Buschel, the author of the post, wrote no such list. I think that he wrote the post itself, including the first sentence: “Herewith is a modest list of dos and don’ts for servers at the seafood restaurant I am building.”

So “100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1)” shouldn’t be considered a blog post title, since it wasn’t written by the blogger. It should be considered a headline, probably written by a copy editor. The headline misrepresents the post in at least three ways.

First, and worst, the headline makes it sound as though the list applies to all restaurants, while the post makes it clear that it is about a particular restaurant. Second, the headline refers to restaurant staffers, while the post is about front of the house staff. Third, the headline refers to things that should never be done, while the post lists dos as well as don’ts.

I’ve emailed BB to check my hypothesis that he didn’t write the headline. If he replies, I’ll update this post. Update: reply received, hypothesis confirmed. I like the sound of his restaurant, by the way. I don’t like the way a misleading headline can be put on a thoughtful piece of writing, even if said piece of writing is controversial – especially if it’s controversial.

Lion in WinterZoo New England is the private, non-profit organization that operates Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and Stone Zoo in Stoneham, Massachusetts. We have a family membership: a good deal, since we probably average a visit a month to the FPZ, which is only about 20 minutes drive from our house.

I’ve intended for a while to do a series on the use of social media by some of the Boston museums and similar. As well as ZNE, this might include MFA, NEAQ, Childrens Museum, etc. Zoos in particular seem to be good candidates for blogging, with posts about animals, events, staff, etc. But I never saw a link to a blog, or other form of social media, from the ZNE web site.

ZNE has been in media old and new of late, following a remark that state funding cuts might mean that end for the zoos and for some of the animals. The Globe article might count as both old and new media, since its online and is followed by reader comments. Universal Adam documented some of the Gorilla marketing backlash from Boston area bloggers.

Then, in today’s snail mail, we received ZNE’s membership newsletter. In the middle of this old media, there’s a little panel: Join us online! It details four new media destinations:

  • The ZNE blog, which is hosted by WordPress. It stated in January of this year. The content is along the lines I’d expect, although I’d like to see more of it. I’d also like to see more systematic use of categories, and use of tags.
  • Twitter.
  • Facebook, where the FPZ and the Stone Zoo have separate accounts.
  • A ZNE Flickr group. I’ve just become the 9th member, and have added some photos, including the lion in winter shot included in this post.

My reactions to ZNE’s social media efforts so far include:

  • Better late than never.
  • Zoo New England doesn’t have name recognition, and is unlikely to develop it. I approve of having a separate Facebook identity for each zoo, since people are far more likely to recognize, search for, and feel affiliated with FPZ (or the Stone Zoo) than with ZNE.
  • That said, I’m not against the idea of a single blog for ZNE. But I’d have a separate category for each zoo, so that someone looking for stuff on FPZ can more easily find it.
  • ZNE’s main web sites should have prominent links to its social media sites.
  • ZNE should get word out to bloggers (and other social media content creators) about its social media activities. Then it will get more links, more prominence in search results, etc. Of course, this post is in part an attempt to help with this effort of getting the link out.

It seems that some Members of (the UK) Parliament have been rather… irregular in their expense claims. In order to investigate the expense claims thoroughly, it is necessary to trawl through hundreds of thousands of documents.

The Guardian decided to crowdsource the trawling, by setting up a web site with copies of expense documents and an interface allowing visitors to classify each document. Michael Andersen at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab presented four crowdsourcing lessons, based on an interview with Simon Willison, who developed the web application.

Two of the lessons are psychological:

  • your workers are unpaid, so make it fun
  • attention is fickle, so launch immediately.

The other two are technical:

  • speed is mandatory, so use a framework
  • participation will come in one big burst, so have servers ready.

Note that the technical reasons follow on from “attention is fickle.” The framework was Django, and the servers were in the cloud, at Amazon’s EC2. Glyn Moody remarked that open source made this crowdsourcing project feasible. I’ll be more explicit (or perhaps more glib) and remark that this is an example of open source serving the cause of open government.

Is this an example of citizen journalism? It’s certainly an example of investigative journalism, with much of the investigation done by citizens.

Sometimes things just connect up. Consider, for example, these three stories from today’s Guardian.

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