Immersed in the oil sands

Fort McMoney screen shot

Fort McMoney screen shot

By Rachelle Stein-Wotten

“Fort McMurray, city of excess,” says the voice-over in the trailer for Fort McMoney. The documentary video game, produced by the National Film Board and the Montreal-based game developer TOXA, allows users to take control of the boomtown, and determine the virtual fate of the oilsands.

Combining real footage and interviews with Fort Mac residents, including the mayor, a waitress, an activist, the homeless, and an oil industry lobbyist, players collect clues, vote on referendums, participate in opinion polls, and interact with other players.

NFB producer Dominique Willieme told CBC radio the game is intended to give an overview of what daily life is like in Fort McMurray and to “give people a key to the city” and all the complicated baggage the oil sands are saddled with.

The game is immersive, verging on addictive. I spent close to three hours collecting “influence points,” completing missions, and listening to the stories of Fort McMurray residents. I very quickly got a clear sense of what life is like in a city that, as Mayor Melissa Blake says, is like a “growing teenager getting ready to take on our adult responsibilities.” In other words, the boomtown, which has grown from a population of 35,000 in 1996 to 120,000 today, has got a lot of issues, and Fort McMoney wants you to think about them.

In an age when many people have the attention spans of gnats, this kind of absorbing experience may just be what the ADHD doctor ordered. It’s difficult for traditional mono media — magazine articles, radio interviews, even a straight up documentary — to provide the full picture or even hold one’s attention these days. Fort McMoney, however, envelops the user, effectively blocking out any external distractions — you can’t play while watching a video on Funny or Die and tweeting at the same time (well maybe some can). It takes a 21st-century approach, but without further eroding our ability to focus or think critically.

Given the control one has while playing the game — the decisions you make predict the future of Fort McMurray and affect other players in the game — Fort McMoney could very well help more Canadians connect with the issues around resource extraction. Fort McMurray and the oilsands are in a remote area, a five-hour drive from Edmonton. As outsiders, we hear about the job demand, the ungodly work schedules, the rampant drug and alcohol abuse; some of us probably know people who have headed to Fort Mac for work, many of them returning with a spiffy new truck purchased in sales tax-free Alberta. But most of us don’t feel any relationship to the region. It’s so vast (literally: leasable land spans an area nearly the size of Florida) and complicated and beyond human scale it’s difficult to relate to. It’s similar to climate change: The issue is so monumental and overwhelming that a lot of people glaze over when it’s mentioned.

But just because a lot of Canadians can barely imagine the oil sands, much less care about them, doesn’t mean they’re not affected by what goes on there. Fort McMoney makes what goes on there, and the consequences of it, very real.

If you’re looking for hard facts, this isn’t where you’ll find them. From my perusal, the game doesn’t, for example, offer any scientific evidence about oil sands production. This is more about experiencing what it’s like to actually live next to the world’s largest industrial project and all the good and bad that comes with it. It’s well-worth however many hours you find yourself putting into it.

Another game cycle is already underway; in fact, a new level was released on Sunday.

McLuhan saw this coming

McLuhan

McLuhanBy Dave Brindle

Lost in all of the hum online about Egypt and the CRTC was that 2011 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Marshall McLuhan.

He was right.

When I tweeted that, my friend Rod Mickleburgh of The Globe and Mail shot back:

@davebrindleshow mcluhan was certainly right when he gave my mother an A on her eng lit masters essay for him, on ulysses…

@davebrindleshow she also had northrop frye as a prof that year…my mom was amazing….she went back for her MA at 46….

See that? That’s how participatory journalism works. A great story in six lines and a click. That’s the sort of thing McLuhan saw coming.

It’s ironic that we’re celebrating 100 years of McLuhan even as Canada has been engaged in an electronic revolt. Two, actually. One stirred up the net — on Facebook and Twitter — so much that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sensing the will of a young demographic that might rally against him in an imminent election, acquiesced to opposition over the CRTC’s decision on user-based billing.

The second, less noisy, is in response to that same CRTC’s decision to loosen the reins on “false news.” A revision to current legislation would allow for pretty much anything to be broadcast that doesn’t “endanger the lives, health or safety of the public” — this supposedly in reaction to concerns that the current, more restrictive wording wouldn’t survive a challenge under the Charter of Rights.

But as The Globe‘s TV critic John Doyle writes:

“While there is an argument to be made that language of CRTC regulations on ‘news’ and ‘truth’ must conform to the law of the land, there is no authentic need to open up this can of worms.

” . . . What does it all mean? Say hello to the likely rantings and ravings of the upcoming SUN TV News channel . . . . What it means is not that the government has seen the future — the success of a right-wing TV news channel is an unknown — but it has posited the kind of future it would like to see in TV news and punditry.”

Which in turn means that the worms are already out of the can. If the government, through the CRTC, can legislate truth and news on TV, the precedent exists to impose the same on the internet.

That should concern us. The internet is messy. And god knows the perception exists that it needs tidying up. As Langara College journalism instructor Ross Howard is quoted saying in the brand-spanking new thedependent.ca:

“Online is just another form of presenting the same info quicker, more accessibly and with greater feedback and diversity of sources . . . . Unfortunately, the Web by itself provides no answer or relief from this ignorance driven by corporate imperatives and near-drowning in the info-tsunami we’re facing, because blogs and Facebook and Twitter etc. provide extraordinary diversity and interactivity but absolutely no reliability.”

I’d challenge that bit about reliability. Ask the people of Egypt which was more reliable: the regime or the internet? The network is reliable in that it never loses its voice, fluidity, fairness, free expression of ideas and opinions, and sense of justice — the very essence of democracy. And if an open democracy isn’t reliable, what on earth is?

It’s true, however, that the same engine that can organize through disorganization can also be retooled and used to quickly reorganize into factions and agendas. That’s what’s happened in the UBB debate, which has become too complicated and fractured to remain of interest to anyone other than special interest groups and the telecorps. The inherent strength of the internet’s global democracy is also its weakness. The network doesn’t have leadership nor does it follow a plan. That makes it more vibrant than the geezer media, but also a lot more anarchic.

McLuhan warned us this wasn’t going to be easy. As I said: He was right.

Adapted from an essay that originally appeared on davebrindle.blogspot.com

Stelmach resignation leaves old-school media in the dust

stelmach-in-herald

stelmach-in-heraldBy Brian Brennan

Can the mainstream print media successfully reinvent itself to become as relevant to news consumers in the digital age as it used to be back in the days when readers looked to their morning newspapers for authoritative coverage of the previous day’s events?

The question arises in the wake of Tuesday’s surprise announcement by Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach that he is stepping down as leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative party and will not seek re-election when his current term expires.

The news first broke on CBC Radio at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, half an hour before Stelmach was due to hold a news conference announcing his resignation. At about the same time, a “breaking news alert” flashed across the Calgary Herald home page and across the web pages of other newspapers in the Postmedia network. The Herald‘s chief political columnist, Don Braid, offered a short teaser saying there was a “fuller” story to be told and that he would “lay it all out” in his column the following day.

However, with all due respect to Braid, a respected and well-connected print journalist who has been writing about Alberta politics for more than 25 years, what he served up today tasted a lot like yesterday’s leftovers. Other mainstream news organizations such as the CBC and The Globe and Mail, and political bloggers like Dave Climenhaga, had already provided the main ingredients: Stelmach was coping with a palace revolt over budgetary concerns and unfulfilled promises similar to what one of his predecessors, Social Credit Premier William Aberhart, had to deal with back in 1937. However, instead of facing down his cabinet opponents as Aberhart had done, Stelmach chose to quit.

Dave Hedley, a web producer at calgaryherald.com, wrote in a recent column about the challenges the Herald faces as it transitions from a traditional print news operation to a digital, multi-platform operation. Using the recent death of a newborn tiger at the Calgary Zoo as an example, Hedley tracked the progress of the unfolding story from the moment he first learned about the tiger’s death to the time the published newspaper account appeared on Herald newsstands. First came the “breaking news alert” on the Herald website, ending with the now-standard “more to come.” Then came a more complete story for the Herald website with photos and backstory links. It was followed by an update for the Herald‘s iPad edition after a news briefing at the zoo. By the time the most complete and most up-to-date version of the tiger story appeared in the newspaper the following day, Hedley had updated the website a couple of more times and added video content, while Herald columnist Val Fortney had written a companion piece about the emotional turmoil felt by zoo staffers after the mother tiger abandoned her sick cub.

The Herald‘s director of online content, David Blackwell, explained to Hedley that the Herald newsroom now has to “catch up with the audience” as it reorients itself around a multi-platform identity: “It’s not just a matter of skills, but also learning how to relate in a very different manner than many staffers were accustomed to back in the day when the local paper was the only real authoritative voice about what was happening in this city.”

The Herald‘s blanket 12-page newspaper coverage of the Stelmach resignation included, along with Braid’s exposing-the-entrails column, the predictably traditional mix of editorial commentary, quoted reaction from the Alberta business community and from political rivals, word-on-the-street blather, and some solemn analysis of the Stelmach “legacy.” Most of this wall-to-wall coverage was about looking back. The only looking-forward story was the inevitable speculative piece about potential successors. If “catching up with the audience” was the object of this exercise, the Herald trailed badly.

Climenhaga, Alberta’s best-read independent political blogger, was as usual ahead of the pack. Let others in the media occupy their time trying to winkle out the gory details of the Stelmach resignation, Climenhaga said in his Wednesday posting. The more important question to be answered now is where his resignation leaves the upstart Wildrose Alliance, which has been offering itself as an attractive right-wing alternative to the ruling Tories while rising steadily in the polls.

Could there be a lesson here for the Herald and its traditional mainstream print comrades? With such online powerhouses as The Daily Beast and Huffington Post now providing the daily news and commentary fix for a growing number of journalism junkies, and independent bloggers like Climenhaga showing that it doesn’t take a big newsroom budget to produce timely and informed journalistic commentary, the landscape is rapidly changing. Can the old newspapers change focus, leave some of their hidebound ways behind, and reposition themselves to connect more immediately and more engagingly with readers who quickly have their fill of what happened yesterday? So far, there is little sign of this happening.

Sorry, Rupert, I already have Twitter

times_uk1

By Frank Moher

The Times shut down its old website on Tuesday and started directing all traffic to two new ones: thetimes.co.uk and thesundaytimes.co.uk. These are the ones that they propose, at sometime in the indeterminate future, to start charging for.

I was interested to see how Rupert Murdoch, wily media titan that he is, intended to get people to pay for something they’re used to getting for free, and will still be able to get for free from most of his competitors. I imagined lots of rich media, streaming video, real-time interaction with visitors, maybe the kind of collaborative citizen/professional journalism, using Google Wave, that recently won the Seattle Times a Pulitzer. Imagine my surprise, then, when I signed up for the sneak preview a few weeks ago and found this:

new_times_uk1

A newspaper. Okay, so I wasn’t that surprised. As I’ve already written, the whole notion of charging for newspapers online represents a massive failure of imagination. This just confirmed that the NewsCorp cartel had run out of ideas.

And possibly reporters, too. I happened to be logged-in the night that the Israeli navy was chasing the Rachel Corrie on its voyage towards Gaza. The whole world was watching, to see if there’d be a repeat of the bloody incident of a few days before. Down in the corner, The Times was reporting this:

 
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But as it turned out, it would actually be a good half hour before soldiers boarded the boat. Significantly, Twitter was busy at the same time with the same “news,” but already new reports were beginning to emerge there: the Israelis hadn’t “seized” the boat, but were merely tailing it. So I waited, and sure enough, about 10 minutes later:

 
new_times_uk1_highlight2

The implication seemed unavoidable: The Times was getting its news from Twitter, right along with the rest of us. And for this it wants to charge us?

Sorry, Rupert. I already have Twitter. But good luck with that paywall idea anyway.

Citizen Kos

markos-moulitsas

By Frank Moher

You might suppose that as the editor of an online magazine, I’m glad to see the collapse of the old-school, dead-tree print guys. You might suppose wrong. I say that partly because I still write for what we used to quaintly refer to as “the papers” (ask an anthropologist near you), markos-moulitsas_no_cap_croppedbut also because, when I look around at their would-be online successors, I don’t see a worthy among them. It’s not just that they don’t have the money to pick up where print journalism will soon leave off, but because they haven’t the ethical testicles to do it either.

A case in point is dailykos.com, as presided over by publisher Markos Moulitsas. For a guy who claims to be a Democrat, Moulitsas acts an awful lot like the boy-emperor of a walled kingdom. Odd behaviour for the author of a book about the power of web-driven populism.

Moulitsas’ tyrannical instincts manifest themselves most plainly, and shamelessly, in his ban on discussion of 9/11 on his site. Correction: you can discuss 9/11, but only so long as it’s within the parameters set out by Mr. Big:

“DailyKos accepts that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by agents of Al-Qaeda. It is forbidden to write diaries that:

1. refer to claims that American, British, Israeli, or any government assisted in the attacks

2. refer to claims that the airplanes that crashed into the WTC and Pentagon were not the cause of the damage to those buildings or their subsequent collapse.

Authoring or recommending these diaries may result in banning from Daily Kos.”

I like that “forbidden.” Dr. Evil, pinky raised: “Don’t you know that disagreeing with me is . . . forrrrbiddddennnnnn!!!?”

Readers of this section of backofthebook.ca will know that I’m sympathetic to 9/11 scepticism, but mostly what I’m sympathetic to is scepticism in journalism. The notion that the publisher of a major website would forbid discussion of a topic, any topic, is anathema to me. Not that this sort of thing hasn’t gone on for eons, but at least traditional print publishers could claim they only had so many column-inches available and so couldn’t accommodate every point-of-view. Moulitsas has no such excuse, which makes his behaviour all the more retrograde. (Let’s also mention his sidekick, Timothy Lange, who, as “Director of Community” — pretty fancy name for a censor — often takes care of the banning.)

Moulitsas may have learned this behaviour in the U.S. military, in which he enlisted immediately after high school. As he wrote when he first delivered his edict: “I can’t imagine what fucking world these people live in, but it sure ain’t the Reality Based Community.” (“Reality Based Community” is his handle for the site, and only about 10 times more overweening than The New York Times‘ “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”) Translated into army-ese, this would be: “SOLDIER! THAT SOUND LIKE SOME KINDA COMMUNIST FAGGOT BULLSHIT TA ME!” And his decrees haven’t been limited to 9/11. “[Hillary Clinton] doesn’t deserve ‘fairness’ on this site,” he advised his audience in March, 2008. He had various internecine Democratic party reasons for saying so, but mostly his beef was that she couldn’t win the presidential nomination. Of this are Kossian principles made.

Moulitsas’ defenders say it’s his website, so he can do what he wants with it. Sure. And William Randolph Hearst was able to use his papers to plump for war, but that didn’t make it good civic practise. There have always been sleazoid publishers who’ll pursue an agenda not just via convincing argument but also by suppressing dissent, but why Kos wants to join their ranks is beyond me. Maybe he needs to re-read his own book.

Or perhaps what he should do is institute a ban on all conspiracy theories. Here’s one now, uncovered just the other day on Daily Kos: “Something is not quite right here: The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a fundraiser for Francine Busby, who previously ran for the deeply-Republican Fiftieth District and came close to winning in the 2006 special election and subsequent regular election, was raided by sheriffs after an unnamed neighbor made a noise complaint . . . . Here’s the twist: The fundraiser was hosted by a lesbian couple, and shortly before the sheriffs came a particular neighbor had shouted anti-gay slurs at the assembled crowd . . . . So San Diego cops usually respond to a noise complaint with eight patrol cars and a helicopter? Really?”

Sounds like the author might be on to something. His name? Markos Moulitsas.

“Something is not quite right here.” Said like a true Truther.

Newspapers: no going back

By Frank Moher

We are beginning to see the outlines of the newspaper industry’s survival strategy, and it’s going to be this: since what we’ve been doing doesn’t work anymore, let’s go backwards and try something else that didn’t work. Namely, charging for online content.

The signs are everywhere. When John Stackhouse succeeded Edward Greenspon as Editor of The Globe and Mail last week, he advised readers that change is coming: “We think our journalism has a strong value for our users and we think that audience wants to pay for it directly or indirectly . . .” The idea of customers wanting to pay for anything strikes me as a bit rosy, but good luck to them. Rupert Murdoch, a more hard-bitten businessman, told his own Fox Business Network much the same thing, but allowed as how the online product will have to raise its game. “A [newspaper] website will be vastly improved, much more in them.”

The Globe, to its credit, has already begun to muscle-up its site. I don’t refer to the general redesign unveiled recently, which is par for the course, but to its new Toronto hub, with its tight integration of text, video, and cams (for traffic coverage), along with supplementary material from hyper-local online mag Torontoist. Presumably this is a template for what will happen with The Globe‘s other regional sections, which so far remain conspicuously old school.

Still, it will take a lot more than just some Web 2.0 bells-and-whistles to get people to pay — including, probably, live streaming and social media options that will make online newspapers better than TV, better than facebook, and a lot better than they are now.

Some say the move to charge for online content is an attempt to get people to start buying hardcopy newspapers again — you know, the ones you used to get from a box or have delivered to your home. (Remember them?) If so, this is precisely backwards. Nothing could be more reactionary, or downright dumb, than trying to drive readers back to a model that requires publishers to pay rocketing newsprint and distribution costs, relies on a collapsing and possibly discredited advertising model, and is lousy for the environment to boot. (The environment: remember that?) If anything, the big newspapers should adopt the model of many community papers and start giving a much slimmed-down version away for free (delivered to homes, please, to cut down on the litter problem), strictly as a loss-leader intended to drive readers to their (hopefully) much better websites.

Once again, Murdoch, damn him, sees where things are headed more clearly than most. “Instead of an analog paper printed on paper you may get it on a panel which would be mobile, which will receive the whole newspaper over the air, [and] be updated every hour or two,” he told FBN. He might also have mentioned reading it on your TV and in your car. And you thought people talking on their cellphone while driving is bad.

Murdoch also understands how long the shift will take. “I think it’s two or three years away before [these devices] get introduced in a big way and then it will probably take 10 years or 15 years for the public to swing over.” Meanwhile, there’s no point in retreating to the past. Newspapers need to move a lot more quickly than they’re used to moving, put off this charging for online content idea until their online content is a lot better, and dig in for the long haul.

@H1N1

By Frank Moher

By guest blogger Dave Carpenter

Word of the swine flu’s global reach travels so quickly across the web, it’s enough to leave the pandemic-aspiring virus itself a little green with envy. Yet our shiny, digital message machine becomes a double-edge sword when enlisted as weaponry against the outbreak.

To wit, the Twit.

Exhibit A: The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is using Twitter to post the latest official news on the swine flu, and to direct people to helpful information. This is ideal — the CDC leverages the hottest online social media site to calmly dispense up-to-date, informed advice on a legitimate world health threat to a rapidly growing base of followers.

Exhibit B (via Daniel Sung at TechdigestTV): Family man Steve Lange, super-keen to take his new Twitter account for a spin, perhaps didn’t pause to consider just what effect his contribution to the swine flu digital meme might have on the more panicky among us:

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Like the virus itself, word of the swine flu’s spread comes at us in myriad mutated forms, leaving one (if that one happens to be an octogenarian) wistful for the one-way, mono-source interaction of radio days and FDR’s Fireside Chats. The pandemic has spread everywhere online, from news sites, to social media destinations, to games, to (inevitably) an iPhone app.. The latter allows you, from the comfort of your mobile wizzy woo, to track the malady’s New York carriers and their whereabouts while driving your vehicle off the interstate guardrail:

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But it’s so easy to snark, rather than to provide, you know, actual help. After all, addiction to the mobile device I poke fun at led to one of our nation’s leading disease MDs lending an early, critical hand in helping Mexico diagnose the outbreak, in between shifts of his rec league hockey game (of course, eh?).

Beyond the CDC’s Twitter feed, there exist a number of legitimately informative, even brilliant tools to keep you abreast of the outbreak. Healthmap, with support and data provided by Google, the World Health Organization, and ProMED to name a few, combines a visual display of the latest incidents of swine flu across the globe with breaking news feeds for each point on the map — think Google Earth meets Google News. Healthmap also has an adjoining Twitter feed. The fearful can also fritter around with Google Trends, which tries to predict where the swine flu might strike next, based on related user searches. In Canada, stick with the staid Public Health Agency of Canada website for the most reliable advice and news from the home front; as soon as the Harper government posts the words “Remain calm,” then you know it’s time to flee for the bomb shelter. Remember to always know where your towel is.

Personally, I require but one online source to tell me everything I need to know about the swine flu. You’ll likely want to check it out yourself at http://doihavepigflu.com/

The CRTC’s meddling ways

By Frank Moher

I like a good government intervention as much as the next failed banker, but the current CRTC meddling with the internet should send chills down the spine of anyone who uses the instrument — like, say, you.

The commissioners are looking into the question of whether or not internet service providers should have to pay into a fund for the creation of Canadian content. This, of course, would be an excellent idea if we were living in the 1970s and the internet were the music or TV industry. But as it’s not, and we’re not, the whole idea is about as wrong-headed as can be.

The chief difference between then and now is the radically lowered price of admission. Canadian musicians and producers once needed a leg-up from the government not only because the costs of creating an album — certainly of creating a TV show or movie — were daunting, but because getting the product to an audience was nearly impossible. All that has changed. Musicians now record on a notebook computer in their living room, and reach their fans directly via Myspace, YouTube, and iTunes. And homemade video distribution is only slightly behind. I’m not talking about teenagers recording themselves on webcams in their parents’ basements; I’m talking about fully-fledged webisodics like The Guild and, from Canada, Sviszgaar.

Certainly the cost of producing conventional TV remains high, and will continue to need government support. Mind you, with CanWest Global rapidly imploding, and CTV projecting a $100 million loss in 2009, no amount of funding for Canadian programming will be enough to save the old school way of doing things. That’s why the networks and various artists’ organizations are in front of the CRTC pleading for help. Help us to survive, they say, and in a way we understand.

But rather than delaying the inevitable, the best thing may be to let the old guard die now. It is manifestly not to impose played-out solutions on a new industry that has proven anarchy can work.

The greatest danger in the CRTC’s dilatory interest in the internet is that once it has executed what it regards as good works — say, that $100 million content fund — it will move on to regulating what we can or cannot do or see while surfing. Sound unlikely? Keep in mind that this is the organization that for years kept HBO out of Canada; what’s to prevent it from similarly advantaging Canadian websites by, say, creating a tiered web in which all other content was harder and slower to reach? Or deciding that certain sites contravened Canada’s hate laws and blocking access to them altogether? There’d always be technological work-arounds, but the point is we don’t want them fiddling in the first place. The web is doing fine just as it is. It doesn’t need the government’s help — and neither do its Canadian artists.

A Frank appreciation

By Frank Moher

Your feckless Media blogger has been off cheating with his other mistress — theatre, of all things — which is why this section has been quiet as a dying newsroom lately. While I was away, Canada lost one of its few genuine sources of shit-disturbance, Frank magazine. Its folding was duly reported but went curiously unremarked upon, as if the pundits it had routinely skewered knew that, if they got started, there’d be no end to their grave-dancing.

To my knowledge, I only made Frank once, when something I’d written in The National Post appeared in its “Drivel” section. I was elated. It was not commonplace for a writer outside the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal axis to merit its scorn. (Despite some game efforts, Frank was generally as Upper Canadian as the publications and broadcasters it covered.) I felt I had passed some career milestone. And the fact that I couldn’t see anything wrong with what I’d written suggested to me they might be on to something.

Others, of course, were less delighted, when their extramarital canoodlings or unceremonious dumpings from various media or political aeries were revealed. But Frank was exactly what this snobby contry, with its left-over notions of aristocracy and deluded notions of meritocracy, needed. I understand it was based on the British magazine Punch, but having never seen its progenitor, it all seemed quite new and brilliant to me.

Frank relied on a network of “contributors” (read: tattlers) who provided fodder, often from inside various newsrooms and editorial offices. If one was oneself on the inside of an organization, it wasn’t particularly hard to figure out who the moles were; you simply came up with a mental list of likely suspects, and then waited to see what happened when they left or were fired. If items on that publication dried up, you knew you had your double agent. It was fun.

In recent months, I had come to appreciate it for additional reasons. Whenever anyone searched on the net for “Frank” and “magazine,” it tended to bring traffic to backofthebook, since my name is Frank and this is a magazine. Thanks, fellas. I also appreciated its entrepreneurial spirit. I was a subscriber to eFrank.ca, the electronic wing of the magazine, but earlier this year had decided I would let my subscription lapse — it was pricey, and I rarely had time to visit (though always found it rewarding when I did). I accomplished this, I thought, by simply not sending in my new credit card information. When renewal time came up, they sent me a “Hey, your credit card info is no longer up-to-date” message. When I ignored that, they apparently went through various possible new expiry dates until they found the right one. Despite my best efforts, I found myself still a subscriber after all. Some might consider that, oh, I don’t know, let’s use the word “shady.” I thought it was pretty clever.

And possibly also desperate. Seven months later, Frank publisher Michael Bate announced its closing. (An unrelated Atlantic-only edition continues.) It was a great run, Mr. Bate; thanks for the laughs.

Now who is going to keep the “braünnosers” and “fartcatchers” and “moist but garrulous” windbags in check?

Tweeting Gustav

By Frank Moher

I followed Hurricane Gustav not on CNN, not on the newspaper websites (and certainly not on the newspapers themselves), but via Twitter. What, you may ask, is Twitter? Twitter is a service that allows you to post messages to the web of up to 140 characters. Initially the idea was to tell the world, or at least anyone who was bothering to follow you, what you were up to at that moment — kind of like Facebook status updates writ large. But given the general insipidness of the idea that anyone would really care what you were up to at that moment, “tweets” (as posts to Twitter are called) quickly evolved to incorporate political comment, social observation, recommended links, and . . . a lotta messages about what people were up to at that moment.

At any rate, Twitter came into its own over the last few days, as various New Orleanians who’d chosen not to evacuate their city used it to report, not on what they were doing, but what was being done to them. Their dispatches had the same sort of punch that Edward R. Murrow’s reports from bombed-out London must once have had, and without the attendant propaganda.

In fact, it was the lack of melodrama and hype that distinguished Twitter’s citizen-reporting from that of the cable news networks. By early Monday morning, I was able to go to bed reasonably assured that Gustav was no Katrina. The messages from Twitterers started portentously enough: “The wind outside is ROARING outside my house now. VERY loud,” wrote emmaleigh3 at about the time the hurricane reached land. Tweeted kareng: “Power out wind picking up my friend who I am staying with just paid his flood onsurance [sic] over the phone.”

But about the same time, Caderoux was reporting “News on surge? — predictions look better compared to Katrina/Rita.” And just an hour after her friend paid up his flood insurance, kareng was sending more reassuring signals: “sun is coming up listening to Garland and drinking coffee.”

It’s true these people were themselves getting much of their information, beyond their five senses, from TV (though mostly from local TV; CNN and MSNBC were roundly derided by NOLA Twitterers as simply inept). And we shouldn’t forget that a lot of lives have been heavily disrupted in areas west and north of New Orleans. But it was instructive to note that, by Monday afternoon, CNN was still bannering its reports with haymaking slogans like “Gustav: Death, Danger, Destruction.” We expect this sort of nonsense from Fox News. Apparently we should also now expect it from CNN.

You’ll have to get yourself a Twitter account — free — to follow the next big story, whatever it may be. More to the point, if you find yourself in the midst of the next big story, get yourself a Twitter acount. Given the currently degraded state of TV news reporting, at least in the States, the rest of us are going to have to pick up the slack.

A footnote: I believe I have made journalistic history with this blog post. Back in the ’40s, Time magazine coined the backwards locution “Says So-and-so,” as in “Says Smith: ‘I don’t like them damn Democrats,'” or “Says Dewey: ‘Truman is toast.'” It is an item of journalese my students still find peculiar, with good reason. Nevertheless, I have in this post used the phrase “Tweeted kareng,” thus bringing Henry Luce’s insults to the language into the 21st-century.

You’re welcome.