Our digital echoes

This is tangential, at best, to the normal sort of thing you find on this site. But the story is funny and sad and charming and two or three other kinds of emotions too. What’s more, this once-rare phenomenon is at some point a reality for many of us. Give it a look:

I HAVE NOW BEEN living with one foot in the past, re-reading traces of a journey that ended on April 28, 2014.

The first line of Jon’s obituary read: “Family man, Winnipeg Jets fan and journalist Jonathan Jenkins died after a brutal home invasion—cancer crept in and robbed him of his life in his 50th year.” The line first appeared on Facebook, and then on Twitter. A cascade of messages took over my feeds. Then links to the newspaper obit were shared, with kind words ricocheting around the Internet. Jon’s name began trending on Twitter.

He was everywhere and nowhere.

At first I was uncomfortable with the online grieving. When people clicked “like” on Jon’s obit after it was posted to Facebook, it felt remote and impersonal as if someone was taking something that belonged to the kids and me. But digital death notices and online goodbyes are part of modern love. When I saw the names of people I had never met posting their condolences on a friend’s page, I understood it. When I die, I want my friends to be comforted too.


Monday reads

Agricultural drones may change the way we farm:

For centuries much of farming has been legwork: walking down rows, through patches, going plant-by-plant to check for weeds, bugs, parched soil, any sign of distress. Modern machinery, soil-testing, computers, and ground-based sensors have made crop monitoring and tending more efficient, but still lots goes unnoticed.

Even with a trained eye, there also are inevitably data that can’t be detected at scale, such as nitrogen deficiency or diminished photosynthesis, the chlorophyll-powered process that is crucial for a healthy plant. And if one ailing plant is found, what is the impact on the sometimes hundreds of thousands of plants that surround it? Farmers were long left to guess.

Not for much longer: Agriculture drones may soon be flying across America’s farmland.

I ask an ag journalist and an ag tech person I know about this story. “What unconventional things related to the use of drones are you seeing?”

They aren’t seeing anything unconventional, because the idea of convention is a bit thin at the moment as it relates to drones in agriculture.

You knew this already, if you’ve been reading this site …

Digital Media Consumption Is Booming as Investment Floods In:

Here’s some good news for online publishers: People in the U.S. are consuming more digital media than ever before, and their appetite for it is only growing.

According to data from online measurement firm comScore, the total amount of time spent with digital media in the U.S. increased by a whopping 49% over the past two years, driven largely by the use of non-desktop devices.

Time spent with digital media on smartphones grew 90% between June 2013 and June 2015, comScore said, compared with a 64% increase on tablets.

The evolving nature of things

There’s a sign of the times message in this New York Times column. Hey, Google! Check Out This Column on Headlines:

THE headline was perfect: “China’s Tensions with the Dalai Lama Spill Into the Afterlife.” Engaging, informative and clever, it sat atop a story about reincarnation and the succession plan for the Tibetan Buddhist leader, accompanied by a photo of the golden-robed monk.

Then there was this headline, which also did its job, but made my head spin: “Apple Unveils iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite at Developer Conference.” Cluttered and notably lacking in grace, it was designed to be found by those searching the Internet for specific terms.

If New York Times headlines are supposed to be lyrical — or even just elegantly spare — the Apple one would seem to flunk the test. But these days, the test has changed, and so have many aspects of headline writing at The Times.

And while you’re picturing your brave new world, here are a few forward-looking think pieces to consider:

The Boston Globe’s David Skok on pushing digital change
You Don’t Need A Digital Strategy, You Need A Digitally Transformed Company
How to Get Your Game On in the Newsroom

Reconsidering quality

We’re starting to see this sentiment in more and more think pieces, Defining quality in news has to value the user experience:

You could frame the big challenge for the next few years of digital news this way: How can we create a news user experience that’s as easy and friction-free as Facebook — but as good as the best a dedicated news power user could assemble?


“Quality” isn’t just about how many foreign bureaus you have or how long your big features can run. It’s about every step of the process that moves from a reporter’s idea to a reader’s eyes. Too many news outlets make too many of those steps frustrating — and frustrated readers are all too happy to go back to playing Candy Crush.

That conversation is a good and needed one. It signals a maturation of the medium. And what the author, Joshua Benton, is saying ultimately leads to an effort to create a variety of interfaces for a spectrum of users. Not every story must be print, or video, no. And not every example in this enterprise need to be the TV attempt at multimedia: the broadcast package over the text of the story. There comes a time where we ask consumers to choose what they want, and we shunt them into not only the stories they want and the format they want (and the advertising they’re looking for) but also give them control of those capsules. We build it, they select how they want these stories and where. We get it there. They move back and forth through the media.

They’re doing that already, just not under one shingle. As we try to make that happen, it might be important to keep the ideas of tone and brand as uniform as possible, given the medium or the platform.

This … is big

In a tumultous period of advertising and what it means to newsrooms and media outlets, this is big: Half Of Automotive Advertising To Shift To Digital:

For decades, car and truck ads have swollen newspapers, screamed from radio stations and transformed local car dealers into TV celebrities. If any single ad category were responsible for reshaping the face of local media, it would be automotive, says the 2014-2015 Automotive Advertising Outlook from Borrell.

But no longer, says the report. This year, for the first time, more than half of those dollars will be spent on digital media. The local newspaper’s auto advertising bonanza is long gone. Radio’s has only recently disappeared. Local TV stations may be next on the chopping block, observes the report.

Where the advertising money, so many things will go. Are you thinking about digital publications? Advertising? Journalism? If not, read more at the link and you might see why you should be.

Make way for CBSN

Fairly big news, it will be interesting to see what becomes of this project, CBS News Launches ‘CBSN,’ Live Digital Streaming Network.

CBS Launches Ad-Supported Broadband News Feed In Effort To Vie With Cable-News Outlets:

CBS launched what may be the modern media-industry version of a CNN with a new broadband-distributed news feed that will send live, anchored news programming to Internet-connected TVs and other devices – an attempt by the company to monetize its CBS News unit without the old-world hassle of building a cable-TV network to do so.

They say they are aiming for something in between TV and video on demand. The most telling thing will be its degree of adaptability.