Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"On the Media: The price of free journalism"

Great article from last Saturday's L.A. Times...worth reading for anyone who has their own Blog or writes for a living, or wannabe writers like myself. Make sure you know what your writing is worth!

On the Media: The price of 'free' journalism
Information at no charge abounds on the Internet, but at what cost to quality newsgathering?
May 14, 2011|James Rainey

It's been more than a quarter-century since futurist Stewart Brand said, "Information wants to be free." In about half that time, the founders of Google have accumulated fabulous riches by putting free information a mouse click away. Six years on, Arianna Huffington has shown that free content, assembled by a couple hundred paid journalists and thousands of unpaid bloggers, can pay off in a big way — at least for her.

In recent days, the second part of Brand's aphorism has also been proved. The technology enthusiast, who created the Whole Earth Catalog, also said, "Information wants to be expensive." He predicted that the collision between the high cost of producing good information and the technology that enabled the cheap spread of that information would create "endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property,' the moral rightness of casual distribution."

Did it ever. Even as AOL's looks for 8,000 new bloggers to cover suburbia for free and a photo agency announces it will try to profit from images people freely post via Twitter, strong voices push in the other direction: One of America's top sportswriters, Rick Reilly, urges journalism school grads to insist on being paid. A survey finds some of the most popular Huffington Post bloggers would (surprise!) like compensation. Prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur Bill Davidow urges Google to find a way to get money back in the hands of writers to preserve "reliable news — a national treasure."

Those morsels came floating over the Internet not long after a freelance writer and political gadfly, Jonathan Tasini, served up both a lawsuit and a boycott against Huffington Post, trying to get cash for himself and other writers who have posted on the site. The lawsuit, on behalf of writers who knowingly hopped on the freebie express, seems like a long shot. And the attempt to erect a virtual picket line around HuffPo has been "a little bit of a struggle," Tasini told me.

But the financial disparity continues to cause friction in the world of content creators, the people we once knew as writers, photographers and editors.

"There has to be a concern if free journalistic labor becomes normal and normative in the profession," Harold Meyerson, editor at large of the American Prospect and a columnist for the Washington Post said when I called him. "Eventually that would subvert newsgathering as we know it, and journalism itself."

So what to do?

High-tech investor Davidow, a onetime executive at Intel, is just the latest figure weaned in the Silicon Valley to assess the Information Age's collateral damage. His book "Overconnected" describes the Internet's culpability in everything from invasions of privacy to the recent financial calamity.

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor this week, Davidow argued that the unfettered flow of information means businesses can "externalize costs" (i.e. get someone else to perform the expensive original labor) while making huge profits.

Davidow asked why Google shouldn't also charge for its news aggregation service, then pass some of the revenue on to original content creators. That, he said, would support "high-quality news and investigative reporting that is the key to preserving our democracy."

In another venue, its video-sharing site YouTube, Google has shown a willingness to spread the wealth.

The YouTube Partner Program has 20,000 participants in 21 countries, the company reports. The independent video-makers get more than half of the revenue from ads sold alongside their creations. A company spokeswoman says "hundreds" of partners earn six figures in revenue a year. "Thousands" of video partners make at least $1,000 a month. The company declined to be more specific.

Couldn't that sort of pay-for-traffic system be extended to the top companies and individuals who attract eyeballs to Google and its ads? Maybe Huffington Post could reward its most productive bloggers with a cut of the revenue, as well.

A dollars-for-clicks system has its pitfalls. We know that the biggest payoffs would not always go to the best-reported, most-polished pieces. Not when they have to compete with Charlie Sheen's latest rant or a titillating photo gallery. (Celebrity boob jobs, anyone?)

A system that is more stable, less vulnerable to market fluctuation, would be required to prop up long-term reporting and less frothy subject matter. That system used to be known as a salary. News outlets paid and took on the risk that not every story would pan out, or draw a maximum audience. But the best newspapers and TV networks plowed some of their revenue back into newsgathering, knowing it took more than the quick and dirty to burnish their brands.

Not that up-front money is the end-all for writers. Some benefit by having a big-audience platform like Huffington Post to disseminate their ideas, promote their causes or sell their books. In some instances, the attention can lead to a paying gig.

It's just that those paying jobs are fewer and farther between. Freelance writing fees, for all but the highest- end magazines, have continued to spiral downward.

Academics at UC Santa Barbara said they recently contacted 60 of the most popular contributors at Huffington Post. They got responses from 26 of them, most of whom said they believed they should share in the $315 million AOL paid for the website. Good luck with that.

But the scribes also hope for something more modest — some kind of payment for their submissions. They said they might be willing to join a union to get a cut.

Michael Curtin, a professor of film and media studies who helped collect the information, said "sacrificial labor" has long been an issue in entertainment. Low-paid go-fers prop up many a multimillion-dollar film.

As news consumers become producers, the issue has leaped to journalism.

"In a more interactive media universe, there are wonderful opportunities but also opportunities for exploitation," Curtin said. "It seems like it's time to have the conversation about what we do about that."

Twitter: latimesrainey

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pick a card but not just any card

With the economy on a slow and gradual path to recovery, people are starting to spend money again while banks are starting to lend it again as well. If I had to pick one lesson that the economic crisis has taught me, it would have to be debt management. When times got tough, people from all walks of life opted to forego the use of their favorite credit cards in favor of using the more prudent and disciplined option of debit cards for making day to day purchases. Allowing consumers to have better control of what they bought with the cash mentality of “if you can’t afford it now then you shouldn’t be buying it”.

Now that people are starting to show a little more confidence in the economy, credit card companies are offering a lot more products and programs designed to attract a savvier consumer. With all the funny and witty credit card commercials and advertisements that we are constantly bombarded with, deciding which credit card is best for you can be pretty confusing. The first thing one should think of before applying for a new credit card is- what is your primary objective? Are you looking for a card with a low balance transfer rate, which will allow you to pay off some debt quicker or are you looking for rewards or travel miles? Whatever the case maybe, credit, when used correctly can be a wonderful thing. You can earn miles and points, which can lead to discounted hotel stays and free airline tickets. Credit can even bail you out of emergency car repairs and buy you time in between paychecks. Here are three cards worth looking into:

1. The Chase Slate/ Mastercard with BluePrint (13.24% to 22.24% variable) with no annual fees- Perfect for those who want to make a balance transfer and are serious about paying it off- Chase Slate with BluePrint provides cardholders with very attractive rates (0% for 12 months and depending on your FICO score you can qualify for a fixed rate of under 6% for the duration of the balance transferred). The BluePrint feature lets you choose which purchases to pay off in full each month, enabling you to reduce interest charges and eliminate that balance faster. I actually have this card and use it specifically to pay off the only debt obligation I have left. Ever since Chase took over the now defunct Washington Mutual, the Chase Slate Credit Card has become a very convenient option for those who bank with Chase as well. Offering its customers a one stop shop so to speak, with all inclusive online access allowing you to move funds around from your checking account to your credit card with ease and the luxury of actually speaking to a human about your credit card account at any Chase branch.
Cons: The one downside: a 3% transfer fee with no cap.

2. The Capital One Venture Card- (has a variable 13.9 percent APR. There is also a no-fee version of the card—the Capital One VentureOne Credit Card—which offers similar benefits but pays only 1.25 miles rewards per dollar spent). Their commercials of displaced Vikings tooling around urban streets asking us "what's in your wallet" are pretty funny, but it turns out that their cards are pretty good too. Their claim of “no hassle” rewards seems to live up to its name. This card is ideal for those who have travel as their number one objective. The Venture Card offers double points on certain purchases such as gas and groceries allowing users to quickly rack up the points with everyday purchases garnering 2 points for every dollar spent.
Cons: Capital One ranks among the worst cards when it comes to customer service and has a $59 annual fee after your first year.

3. The American Express Charge Card –which is available in Green, Gold, Platinum and Black each color coming with various degrees of “Pomp and Circumstance” along with annual fees in the same ascending order. An American Express Charge Card is perfect for someone who wants to earn points and miles while keeping a firm grasp on their spending, since you have to pay off your balance in full every month. Each card has an option to enroll in their Membership Rewards Program which offers one point or mile for every dollar spent and occasionally offers double points if you use your card to pay for certain bills like your cell phone bill and other utilities.

I have been an American Express Card member off and on for the better part of my adult life and the fact that I have to pay off my balance in full each and every month is the very reason why I have been such a loyal customer. I use my Amex Green in combination with my debit card and Chase Slate card as my would be formula for disciplined spending with benefits. American Express has unparalleled customer service which can come in handy when planning trips and traveling abroad. Anytime you use an American Express card to purchase plane tickets you automatically get travel insurance for lost or stolen luggage and covers emergency trip cancellation.

A perfect example of such insurance coming to good use occurred when I, along with some of my closest friends took a trip to Costa Rica a few years ago. I used my Amex to rent an all-wheel drive SUV which at the time was a necessity to handle the country’s rough unpaved roads. By the time we returned the vehicle there was around $500 worth of damage on our rented Mitsubishi Montero which Amex paid for.

Cons: Not everyone accepts American Express, annual fees ranging from $90 all the way to several thousand per year depending on which color you opt for.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

You Lucky Dog

There are few industries that have been able to withstand the onslaught of all the economic doom and gloom over the last 3 years than the pet industry. It seems as though, pet owners would rather go without and make their own personal sacrifices to ensure that their beloved furry family members are continued to be spoiled rotten. I, for one happen to be a very willing participant of the demographic that treats their dog better than they do some humans they come across. When times got tight for me a little while back, I would easily opt for generic brands over gourmet items on my grocery list just to make sure that Harley (my German Shepherd pictured above) had plenty of her Science Diet Light and anything else that I thought her little heart desired.

Pet loving consumers have ensured that the pet industry’s sales of $45.4 Billion in 2010 have not been slashed by the dismal economy. According to the American Pet Product Association, there is hardly a scratch to be seen in spending on pets as all 5 categories have increased over 2009 numbers. While high-end specialty stores will see profits decline, there are gains in spending on quality foods, beds, and leashes. Value for money is what the public will be looking for in 2011.

Stores like PetSmart, still #1 in the market, with Petco following at #2 are still the staples when it comes to our pet’s overall needs. As much as children do not go without toys in a recession, neither do our or dogs.

In the same way that groceries have started to carry healthier, organic alternatives for humans to consume -pet stores both big and small have added more expensive organic and natural food brands to their product lines as well. In fact, not too long ago me and a friend of mine walked from my apartment to grab a bite to eat in Studio City and within a one mile radius on Ventura Boulevard we counted half a dozen high end pet stores, selling anything from gourmet dog biscuits & ice cream to deep tissue massages for the four legged.

The $45 Billion are US numbers only; I can hardly fathom a guess as to what the international numbers would be, considering that according to Dogs Decoded (a PBS/Nova documentary) anywhere in the world where there are humans there will most likely be dogs as well. Yet, most shelters will tell you, it costs around $1200 a year at the low end of the scale to keep a dog if you live in an urban area, and that’s only if nothing much goes wrong and you don’t use daycare and other perks. Here’s how we pet people spend all that money:

For 2010, it estimated that $45.4 billion was spent on all pets in the U.S. in these 5 categories:

1. Food……………………………………………………… $17.4 billion
2. Supplies/OTC Medicine…………………………………..$10.2 billion
3. Vet Care……………………………………………………$12.2 billion
4. Live animal purchases…………………………………….$ 2.2 billion
5. Pet Services: grooming & boarding…………………… $3.4 billion

The question of why we love our dogs so much is an interesting one that scholars have been thinking about and studying for years (maybe even centuries). It’s largely a philosophical question that is interpreted or answered differently from one dog lover to the next.

If someone were to ask me that very question, my answer would be far from simple. I rescued my baby girl exactly 3 years ago come May 8th of this year. I have been led to believe that I am at least her 3rd owner and I am absolutely certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will be her last. Anyone who has ever met me has probably met my dog as well. If she’s not physically with me, I seldom go more than 10 minutes without showing off pictures of her on my phone and talking about how much she means to me. In fact looking back at the last 3 years it's hard to tell who rescued who.

I found her during a time when things in my life were starting to unravel; she kept me sane when everything else drove me crazy. She has lived with me at 3 different places and 2 different cars, some of them fancy some not so fancy and she couldn’t care less either way. As I approach an age when friends and family alike are pressuring me to settle down and start a family- I often reply by saying that my life is simple right now and that is how I like it. I come home to something that is unbelievably excited to see me day in and day out and until my time of domestication comes, $1200 a year is a heck of a lot cheaper than diapers and private school.
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