提到荷兰,人们普遍对它的联想多少都离不开这些:郁金香、梵古和红灯区。更深入一些,还有Shell、Philip和Unilever。事实上,荷兰这传统上极度重商的国家,更是证券交易市场的初始地。

如今荷兰议员向可兰经开炮,马来西亚前首相马哈迪为此呼吁抵制荷兰货,没有什么比这更奏效。这不荷兰商家正在探讨对那位极右议员采取可行的法律行动,自家人先大义灭亲。

荷兰人在过去都是少有的异数。他们从西向东来到大清的国土上,参见皇帝,毫不犹豫的跪了下去,这在当时吓死了多少西方人。但是对他们来说,仅仅一跪就能促成许多笔可观的交易,值得很。他们在自己的土地上,可以不介意国家的政权由他人经手,只要自己能如愿地行商便可。当然,他们后来后悔了。追溯回这一脉的历史踪迹,不难明白何以荷兰商家会这么紧张现在的局势更恫言要状告那极右议员。

有些人们总是过于疏忽历史,因此不难犯下愚蠢的错误。丹麦之前不就是因为漫画的问题而搞到焦头烂额?现在梵蒂冈宣布,全世界穆斯林的人数已经超越了天主教徒的人数。无论未来的情况将如何发展,接受一个宗教比去否定一个宗教来得明智得多。

nucifera:我对Léon Scott多少很感到好奇,他既非发明家也不是科研人员,但是,却误打误撞地把声音给“记录”了下来。事实上,这些被“记录”的声音在他手里并没有被再次“播放”的意思,他只是把它视作速记的延伸。

只是,拿来看的声音“记录”对我们来说没什么意义。还是爱迪生的发明比较有意义。

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By JODY ROSEN
Published: March 27, 2008

For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words “Mary had a little lamb” on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison’s invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.

The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

“This is a historic find, the earliest known recording of sound,” said Samuel Brylawski, the former head of the recorded-sound division of the Library of Congress, who is not affiliated with the research group but who was familiar with its findings. The audio excavation could give a new primacy to the phonautograph, once considered a curio, and its inventor, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and tinkerer who went to his grave convinced that credit for his breakthroughs had been improperly bestowed on Edison.

Scott’s device had a barrel-shaped horn attached to a stylus, which etched sound waves onto sheets of paper blackened by smoke from an oil lamp. The recordings were not intended for listening; the idea of audio playback had not been conceived. Rather, Scott sought to create a paper record of human speech that could later be deciphered.

But the Lawrence Berkeley scientists used optical imaging and a “virtual stylus” on high-resolution scans of the phonautogram, deploying modern technology to extract sound from patterns inscribed on the soot-blackened paper almost a century and a half ago. The scientists belong to an informal collaborative called First Sounds that also includes audio historians and sound engineers.

David Giovannoni, an American audio historian who led the research effort, will present the findings and play the recording in public on Friday at the annual conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Scott’s 1860 phonautogram was made 17 years before Edison received a patent for the phonograph and 28 years before an Edison associate captured a snippet of a Handel oratorio on a wax cylinder, a recording that until now was widely regarded by experts as the oldest that could be played back.

Mr. Giovannoni’s presentation on Friday will showcase additional Scott phonautograms discovered in Paris, including recordings made in 1853 and 1854. Those first experiments included attempts to capture the sounds of a human voice and a guitar, but Scott’s machine was at that time imperfectly calibrated.

“We got the early phonautograms to squawk, that’s about it,” Mr. Giovannoni said.

But the April 1860 phonautogram is more than a squawk. On a digital copy of the recording provided to The New York Times, the anonymous vocalist, probably female, can be heard against a hissing, crackling background din. The voice, muffled but audible, sings, “Au clair de la lune, Pierrot répondit” in a lilting 11-note melody — a ghostly tune, drifting out of the sonic murk.

The hunt for this audio holy grail was begun in the fall by Mr. Giovannoni and three associates: Patrick Feaster, an expert in the history of the phonograph who teaches at Indiana University, and Richard Martin and Meagan Hennessey, owners of Archeophone Records, a label specializing in early sound recordings. They had collaborated on the Archeophone album “Actionable Offenses,” a collection of obscene 19th-century records that received two Grammy nominations. When Mr. Giovannoni raised the possibility of compiling an anthology of the world’s oldest recorded sounds, Mr. Feaster suggested they go digging for Scott’s phonautograms.

Historians have long been aware of Scott’s work. But the American researchers believe they are the first to make a concerted search for Scott’s phonautograms or attempt to play them back.

In December Mr. Giovannoni and a research assistant traveled to a patent office in Paris, the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle. There he found recordings from 1857 and 1859 that were included by Scott in his phonautograph patent application. Mr. Giovannoni said that he worked with the archive staff there to make high-resolution, preservation-grade digital scans of these recordings.

A trail of clues, including a cryptic reference in Scott’s writings to phonautogram deposits made at “the Academy,” led the researchers to another Paris institution, the French Academy of Sciences, where several more of Scott’s recordings were stored. Mr. Giovannoni said that his eureka moment came when he laid eyes on the April 1860 phonautogram, an immaculately preserved sheet of rag paper 9 inches by 25 inches.

“It was pristine,” Mr. Giovannoni said. “The sound waves were remarkably clear and clean.”

His scans were sent to the Lawrence Berkeley lab, where they were converted into sound by the scientists Carl Haber and Earl Cornell. They used a technology developed several years ago in collaboration with the Library of Congress, in which high-resolution “maps” of grooved records are played on a computer using a digital stylus. The 1860 phonautogram was separated into 16 tracks, which Mr. Giovannoni, Mr. Feaster and Mr. Martin meticulously stitched back together, making adjustments for variations in the speed of Scott’s hand-cranked recording.

Listeners are now left to ponder the oddity of hearing a recording made before the idea of audio playback was even imagined.

“There is a yawning epistemic gap between us and Léon Scott, because he thought that the way one gets to the truth of sound is by looking at it,” said Jonathan Sterne, a professor at McGill University in Montreal and the author of “The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction.”

Scott is in many ways an unlikely hero of recorded sound. Born in Paris in 1817, he was a man of letters, not a scientist, who worked in the printing trade and as a librarian. He published a book on the history of shorthand, and evidently viewed sound recording as an extension of stenography. In a self-published memoir in 1878, he railed against Edison for “appropriating” his methods and misconstruing the purpose of recording technology. The goal, Scott argued, was not sound reproduction, but “writing speech, which is what the word phonograph means.”

In fact, Edison arrived at his advances on his own. There is no evidence that Edison drew on knowledge of Scott’s work to create his phonograph, and he retains the distinction of being the first to reproduce sound.

“Edison is not diminished whatsoever by this discovery,” Mr. Giovannoni said.

Paul Israel, director of the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., praised the discovery as a “tremendous achievement,” but called Edison’s phonograph a more significant technological feat.

“What made Edison different from Scott was that he was trying to reproduce sound and he succeeded,” Mr. Israel said.

But history is finally catching up with Scott.

Mr. Sterne, the McGill professor, said: “We are in a period that is more similar to the 1860s than the 1880s. With computers, there is an unprecedented visualization of sound.”

The acclaim Scott sought may turn out to have been assured by the very sonic reproduction he disdained. And it took a group of American researchers to rescue Scott’s work from the musty vaults of his home city. In his memoir, Scott scorned his American rival Edison and made brazen appeals to French nationalism. “What are the rights of the discoverer versus the improver?” he wrote less than a year before his death in 1879. “Come, Parisians, don’t let them take our prize.”

By DIANA B. HENRIQUES
Published: March 28, 2008

Economists note there should not be two prices for one thing at the same place and time. Could a drugstore sell two identical tubes of toothpaste, and charge 50 cents more for one of them? Of course not.

But, in effect, exactly that has been happening, repeatedly and mysteriously, in trading that sets prices for corn, soybeans and wheat — three of America’s biggest crops and, lately, popular targets for investors pouring into the volatile commodities market. Economists who have been studying this phenomenon say they are at a loss to explain it.

Whatever the reason, the price for a bushel of grain set in the derivatives markets has been substantially higher than the simultaneous price in the cash market.

When that happens, no one can be exactly sure which is the accurate price in these crucial commodity markets, an uncertainty that can influence food prices and production decisions around the world.

These disparities also raise the question of whether American farmers, who rely almost exclusively on the cash market, are being shortchanged by cash prices that are lower than they should be.

“We do not have a clear understanding of what is driving these episodic instances,” said Prof. Scott H. Irwin, one of three agricultural economists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who have done extensive research on these price distortions.

Professor Irwin and his colleagues, Prof. Philip T. Garcia and Prof. Darrel L. Good, first sounded the alarm about these price distortions in late 2006 in a study financed by the Chicago Board of Trade. Their findings drew little attention then, Professor Irwin said, but lately “people have begun to get very seriously interested in why this is happening — because it is a fundamental problem in markets that have generally worked well in the past.”

Market regulators say they have ruled out deliberate market manipulation. But they, too, are baffled. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates the exchanges where these grain derivatives trade, has scheduled a forum on April 22 where market participants will discuss these anomalies and other pressure points arising in the agricultural markets.

The mechanics of the commodity markets are more complex than selling toothpaste, however. The anomalies are occurring between the price of a bushel of grain in the cash market and the price of that same bushel of grain, as determined by the expiration price of a futures contract traded in Chicago.

A futures contract is an agreement to deliver a specific amount of a commodity — 5,000 bushels of wheat, say — on a certain date in the future. Such contracts are important hedging tools for farmers, grain elevators, commodity processors and anyone with a stake in future grain prices. A futures contract that calls for delivery of wheat in July may trade for more or less for each bushel than today’s cash market price. But as each day goes by, its price should move a bit closer to that day’s cash price. And on expiration day, when the bushels of wheat covered by that futures contract are due for delivery, their price should very nearly match the price in the cash market, allowing for a little market friction or major delivery disruptions like Hurricane Katrina.

But on dozens of occasions since early 2006, the futures contracts for corn, wheat and soybeans have expired at a price that was much higher than that day’s cash price for those grains.

For example, soybean futures contracts expired in July at a price of $9.13 a bushel, which was 80 cents higher than the cash price that day, Professor Irwin said. In August, the futures expired at $8.62, or 68 cents above the cash price, and in September, the expiration price was $9.43, or 78 cents above the cash price.

Corn has been similarly eccentric. A corn futures contract expired last September at $3.36, which was a remarkable 55 cents above the cash price, but the contract that expired in March 2007 was roughly even with the cash price.

“As far as I know, nothing like this has ever happened in the corn market,” said Professor Irwin.

Wheat futures had been especially prone to this phenomenon, going back several years. Indeed, the 2007 study by Professor Irwin and his colleagues concluded that wheat price distortions reflected a “failure to accomplish one of the fundamental tasks of a futures market.”

And while the situation improved sharply for wheat futures in Chicago late last year, it deteriorated for futures traded in Kansas City. And it has gotten worse for corn and soybeans, Professor Irwin said. Many people have a theory about why this is happening, but none of them seem to cover all the available facts.

Mary Haffenberg, a spokeswoman for the CME Group, which owns the Chicago Board of Trade, where these contracts trade, said the anomalies might be a temporary result of “a lot of shocks to the system,” including sharp increases in worldwide food demand, uncertainty about supplies and surging commodity investments.

Veteran traders and many farmers blame the new arrivals in the commodities markets: hedge funds, pension funds and index funds. These investors and speculators, they complain, are distorting futures prices by pouring in so much money without regard to market fundamentals.

“The market sends a sell signal, but they don’t sell,” said Kendell W. Keith, president of the National Grain and Feed Association. “So the markets are not behaving the way they otherwise would — and the pricing formula for the industry is a lot fuzzier and a lot less efficient than we’ve ever seen.”

Representatives of the new financial speculators dispute that. Their money has vastly increased the liquidity in the futures markets, they say, and better liquidity improves markets, making them less volatile for everyone.

And, as Professor Irwin noted, if new money pouring into the market has been causing these distortions, they probably would be occurring more consistently than they are.

Some experienced commodity analysts think the flaw may be in the design of the contracts, said Richard J. Feltes, senior vice president and director of commodity research for MF Global, the world’s largest commodity futures brokerage firm. If futures were settled based on a cash index, it would eliminate these odd disparities, Mr. Feltes said.

Ms. Haffenberg at the CME Group said cash settlement had “not been ruled out,” but it raised the question of finding the appropriate cash index. Other modest contract changes are awaiting approval of the futures trading commission, she said.

“We are continuing to have industry meetings to discuss what we need to do,” she said. “But we want to be careful, before we undertake any changes, that above all, we don’t do any harm.”

Moreover, defenders of the exchange’s current contract design note that these widely used agreements have gone largely unchanged for some time — and yet, have only begun to display this odd and inconsistent behavior in the last few years.

Some economists are exploring whether some unperceived bottlenecks in the delivery system explain what is going on. But traders say that such bottlenecks would eventually become known in the market and prices would adjust. Professor Irwin, whose research is continuing, said there might not be a single explanation for the price distortions.

Markets may simply be responding to the uneven impact of new financial technology, which allows more money to flow in and out, and to investors’ growing but fluctuating appetite for hard assets.

“Those factors may be combining to create this highly volatile environment for discovering prices,” he said. “But for now, that is pure conjecture on my part.”

What is not happening in these markets is equally mysterious. Normally, price disparities like these are quickly exploited by arbitrage traders who buy goods in the cheap market and sell them in the expensive one. Their buying and selling quickly brings the prices back into balance — but that is not happening here.

“These are highly competitive markets with very experienced traders,” he said. “Yet they are leaving these profits alone? It just doesn’t make sense.”

nucifera: 在这篇访谈中,沙里尔清楚地说明马来西亚在通货膨胀还有物价控制的整体情况。nucifera很高兴,这位部长自身非常清楚问题的究竟症结,并希望他在未来能提出有效的政策来解决这些问题,尽管,好些政策可能不受广大民众的欢迎。

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Malaysia New Straits Times, By Sheridan Mahavera
2008/03/24

Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad has taken over what is arguably one of the toughest and most criticised ministries, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, because every decision affects every Malaysian. Thus, at the top of Shahrir’s agenda is how to deal with inflation and the escalating prices of essential goods. In his trademark blunt manner, Shahrir tells SHERIDAN MAHAVERA how the government has to review price controls and subsidies in an honest way, even doing away with policies which may be popular but are unrealistic.

Q: Are there any tasks that you are looking at as the new minister?

A: The task of the ministry is to foster good, ethical business practices in retail and wholesale. We have moved away from import substitution so we also have to look at agricultural products, which come under another ministry.

There are other things, like building materials, which fall under the International Trade and Industry Ministry. There is also palm-based cooking oil, which falls under the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry.

The idea is to protect the interests of consumers. It means a lot of co-ordination and a freer flow of information from the ministry to consumers so they can make informed choices.
Q: Do you have ideas to make things better?

A: We are not constrained by practices of the past. We have been told that we should use any way to improve things. For example, we have price controls on rice, on the standard and premium varieties.

I have checked and these varieties are not even in the market. We are controlling something that is not even in the market. We have to sit down with the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry to work this out.

Q: The impression that the public has is that the prices of food are out of control.

A: If we say that there are things that we can control that we can’t, then (in the end) it goes out of control. So, we have to look again at the supply of goods.

We have been told that Bernas keeps a rice stockpile, but where is the stockpile?

We have been told there is a national price monitoring commission, but who are its members?

If the market says there is no demand for premium and standard rice, then why are we controlling it? It’s something that does not make the government look good.

Another example is steel bars. The price has been set at between RM600 and RM700, below the (international) market price.

But contractors can’t buy them at these prices. So what they do is inflate the price with other costs. It becomes a joke and the government gets laughed at.

The whole price control mechanism is a joke. If you have price controls just for PR purposes, it does not make the government look good, especially when you have price controls but can’t control the price.

Q: So you’re going to review the price control mechanism. What approach are you taking?

A: Is it viable in a market situation where the economy is open and where consumer tastes have changed?

Q: But what about essential items like chicken, where there is a ceiling price during festivals?

A: What is important is to look at the supply. You can control the price of whole chicken, but traders overcome it by selling cut chicken. It is a supply issue, that it has to be available.

And if the price goes up during festive periods because demand is higher, I think consumers can accept that.

There is no point in setting prices which are unrealistic. The situation becomes untenable, you do not achieve anything but bad publicity for the government.

We have to be narrower in targeting products. We have to be clear about what should be monitored so that the supply is available.

You cannot set prices and when consumers go to the market, the item is not there. You force producers to close down and then there is no supply.

The government must be fair when it talks about price controls. If you cannot control prices, then you have to say so. At the very least, ensure that there is supply.

Q: What you are saying can be construed as controversial because people will say: “Shahrir came in and everything went up.”

A: Things were going up before I was appointed. The issue is we have to be realistic.

If the increasing price of feedstock is driving up the price of chicken, then we have to ask: “Can we reduce the price of that component in the supply chain?”

We cannot go to retailers and penalise them for something they are not responsible for. So we have to have a more comprehensive view of things.

You have to have a more reasonable list of essential food items. The impression I get is that everything seems to go on the list.

Then there is the question of subsidies. Do you give them to the consumer or to the producer?

Now we are subsidising the producer so that he comes out with the item at a determined price.

What happens if you give it (the subsidy) to the poor consumer and allow him to buy what he wants? Say you give a poor guy RM600 to feed his family of three. He can decide what he wants to do with it.

Q: There is a view among some economists that we should not subsidise farmers and producers, but give it to consumers. But what happens when RM600 is not enough to buy essential items?

A: We have to know what the market price is first. I don’t think we know this. We give producers a subsidy now in the hope that we can influence the final price of the item.

During festivals, we have different lists of 14 controlled prices, one for Hari Raya, one for Chinese New Year. It gets complicated.

Q: The price of essential items was a major issue in the recent election. It is and will continue to be an issue.

A: It’s a quality-of-life issue in how people can maintain a certain standard of living with a certain income. So again, do we give the subsidy to the consumer or the producer?

The current practice is to give it to the producers because their numbers are small and it is easier to deal with them.

But then you have the logistical component of the supply chain. It becomes complicated. Toll, petrol and distribution costs. So there are a lot of people involved in bringing the product to the market.

The other way is to give the subsidy to consumers.

Take rice. We provide subsidies to the farmers, but there are the millers, the wholesalers and the retailers who need to maintain their profit margins.

So is it better to identify the consumers who need the subsidy and give it to them?

Ultimately, it is the consumer who has to suffer a reduction in the quality of life. This is essentially what managing inflation is.

Q: But the concern now is that even essential items like milk, cooking oil, sugar and flour are not affordable any more.

A: I am thinking of innovative ways to put essential items on the market.

Take baby milk, for example. You have all sorts of varieties and brands with advertising, but there should be a certain standard of baby milk without the advertising.

There must be items which cut out the price of advertising. We have to think of ways to put these things (no-brand items) on the market.

But there are items which are seen as essential, but could be considered as luxuries. Like Milo. Some people say that it is a luxury. But you also have people who say that after 50 years of independence: “I want my Milo as it is an essential item.”

Q: So you are for that mean-standard in essential items like baby milk?

A: We have to maintain the quality and take away the cost of advertising. The consumer must be educated that the no-brand item is of an acceptable standard.

Since our labelling these days is good, we can get people to pay more attention to the ingredients, instead of just being brand conscious. We have to think of ways to get that standard item into the market.

Q: You are advocating being honest about prices, yet Barisan Nasional took this approach in the election, explaining that rising food prices were a worldwide trend. The opposition criticised you for it and you were punished by the electorate.

A: I had this email from someone who said we could cancel all the projects in opposition-held states and use the money from the projects to fund subsidies for essential items. (laughs). I’m not saying we do it, but it is a suggestion. We will seek views from all stakeholders, consumer associations, traders, hypermarkets and producers.

Q: But it is difficult to balance views and interests of groups whose goals can be conflicting.

A: If you have informed consumers, they will know how to make the right decisions to get the quality that they pay for.

They must not be too brand conscious. You cannot get the government involved in retailing. But to get people to sell, the retailers must have a reasonable margin. Consumers will object to profiteering, but they will understand that retailers must have a margin.

The ministry cannot be giving unreasonable promises. We cannot guarantee something for RM5 when we know that it costs RM7 to produce. You are giving false hopes to consumers.

I will take time to learn how other countries control the increase in food prices.

The most important thing is not to have a shortage, which happens when you have unreasonable prices.

Q: Like in the case of cooking oil, where producers were selling at a loss in Malaysia and decided to concentrate on the overseas market. There was a shortage in Malaysia yet there was a factory selling the item in another country.

A: It was a joke, wasn’t it? Obviously, we were making the wrong decision.

Q: You’re known as a critic of the government from the ruling party. How does it feel to go to a ministry that is one of the most criticised and have the tables turned on you?

A: We will respond to critics. Knowledgeable criticism is always acceptable. I’ll give you an example. A member of the opposition said the petrol price here was not really subsidised. He was using prices in Britain.

Information must be made available to consumers. In Singapore, all the petrol companies have websites that show the cost breakdown for a litre of petrol for that day, such as how tax is factored in, the discount and the duties.

The consumer gets a total picture of how much petrol costs, which includes pure product price, distribution costs and profit margins.

But consumers here say there is no efficient public transport system here, unlike in Singapore.

Prices go up and yet Malaysian wages don’t. So these are all issues the government has to settle. Then there are tolls. That is the result of the privatisation policy we started.

If you want private companies to build roads, you must let them make private profits. So we have to look at issues of the past that were detrimental to Malaysians. We have to be brave enough to change them.

The plan was that this year, we should have 200 NGV (natural gas vehicle) stations all over the country so that motorists could switch to NGV, which is supposed to be cheaper.

Well, this is March 2008. So I am going to ask my ministry: “Is Petronas deliberately not doing this? Are they saying that NGV is not our core business. What happened to the NGV plan?”

nucifera: 这是在早报网刊登的小段总结:

“ 人们原本以为,互联网将带来媒体的开放和民主化,提供不同的声音、讯息、观点和角度,但实际结果是,媒体内容反而收缩。

  调查发现,美国读者虽然经常上网,但信誉良好的报章如《纽约时报》和《华盛顿邮报》始终是美国读者的最主要新闻来源。

  然而,随着各大报章因广告和报份减少被迫裁员,它们往往只好集中资源处理几则值得上封面的大新闻。

  该组织主管罗森斯蒂尔说:“尽管我们已经进入资讯革命时代,但我们的新闻内容不见得比以前广阔。”

  他指出,虽然目前的新闻从业员比以往多,媒体也较多元化,但他们报道的新闻内容却大同小异。

  研究发现,各大报章、电视台、电台和网站去年报道的新闻,有超过四分之一与伊拉克战争及2008年的美国总统选举有关,其他国际新闻占不到6%的篇幅。国内新闻如教育、福利和宗教等课题各占不到1%的篇幅。

  罗森斯蒂尔说,现在新闻不再是一种产品,更像是一项不断更新的服务。例如,纽约州长施皮策花大钱嫖妓的新闻经《纽约时报》报道后,快速成为当天各大媒体的头条新闻。“在某种意义上,午间报章在网上又获得了重生。””

这报告的名字是“The State of the News Media 2008, An Annual Report on American Journalism”,全文有180,000个字,非常详细。nucifera在这里仅摘录Chapter “Overview” 里的“Intro”和”major trend”。这两篇对我们来说已相当足够。

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By Project for Excellence in Journalism

Intro

The state of the American news media in 2008 is more troubled than a year ago.

And the problems, increasingly, appear to be different than many experts have predicted.

Critics have tended to see technology democratizing the media and traditional journalism in decline. Audiences, they say, are fragmenting across new information sources, breaking the grip of media elites. Some people even advocate the notion of “The Long Tail,” the idea that, with the Web’s infinite potential for depth, millions of niche markets could be bigger than the old mass market dominated by large companies and producers.1

The reality, increasingly, appears more complex. Looking closely, a clear case for democratization is harder to make. Even with so many new sources, more people now consume what old media newsrooms produce, particularly from print, than before. Online, for instance, the top 10 news Web sites, drawing mostly from old brands, are more of an oligarchy, commanding a larger share of audience, than in the legacy media. The verdict on citizen media for now suggests limitations. And research shows blogs and public affairs Web sites attract a smaller audience than expected and are produced by people with even more elite backgrounds than journalists.2

Certainly consumers have different expectations of the press and want a changed product.

But more and more it appears the biggest problem facing traditional media has less to do with where people get information than how to pay for it — the emerging reality that advertising isn’t migrating online with the consumer. The crisis in journalism, in other words, may not strictly be loss of audience. It may, more fundamentally, be the decoupling of news and advertising.

This more nuanced recognition is also putting into clearer relief what news people see as their basic challenge: somehow they must reinvent their profession and their business model at the same time they are cutting back on their reporting and resources. “It’s like changing the oil in your car while you’re driving down the freeway,” said Howard Weaver, the chief news executive of the McClatchy Company.

In broad terms, the fundamental trends transforming how people acquire news continued in the last year. More effort keeps shifting toward processing information and away from original reporting. Fewer people are being asked to do more, and the era of reporters operating in multimedia has finally arrived. In newspapers, and to lesser extent in network television, an expanding list of buyouts and layoffs in 2007 was expected to grow further in 2008 — in some cases even at online organizations.

The pressure points vary by news sector. In print, the problem is vanishing advertising, particularly classified. Were it not for that one sector, newspapers’ problems would be comparatively modest. In television, where problems with audience are more acute, the industry is being sustained by the fact that still nothing compares to the persuasiveness of television advertising. Online, the problem is that the revenue model is in search, not conventional advertising — and journalism sites are now already lagging behind other Internet sectors financially.

Despite all this, those who remain in the newsroom, particularly in print, evince a stubborn optimism — a sense of mission to prove what they consider a calling still has resonance and in time will find financial footing. Certainly there is skepticism on Wall Street, from the public, in some cases from owners. Yet experimentation is proving liberating, even if some experiments make news people queasy. News organizations, or at least some, have become places of risk and innovation and feel growing connection with audiences, something we could not have said a few years ago.

Major Trends

In this, the fifth edition of our annual report tracing the revolution of news, several trends bear particular notice heading into 2008.

* News is shifting from being a product — today’s newspaper, Web site or newscast — to becoming a service — how can you help me, even empower me? There is no single or finished news product anymore. As news consumption becomes continual, more new effort is put into producing incremental updates, as brief as 40-character e-mails sent from reporters directly to consumers without editing. (The afternoon newspaper is also being reborn online.) Service also broadens the definition of what journalists must supply. Story telling and agenda setting — still important — are now insufficient. Journalism also must help citizens find what they are looking for, react to it, sort it, shape news coverage, and — probably most important and least developed — give them tools to make sense of and use the information for themselves. News people are uncertain how the core values of accuracy and verification will hold up. Some of the experiments, even the experimenters think, are questionable. And people are being stretched thinner, posing hard questions about how to manage time and where to concentrate. But the hope is that service, more than storytelling, could prove a key to unlocking new economics.

* A news organization and a news Web site are no longer final destinations. Now they must move toward also being stops along the way, gateways to other places, and a means to drill deeper, all ideas that connect to service rather than product. “The walled garden is over,” the editor of one of the most popular news sites in the country told us. A site restricted to its own content takes on the character of a cul de sac street with yellow “No Outlet” sign, reducing its value to the user. “Search has become the predominant … paradigm,” an influential market research report circulating throughout the industry reads. That means every page of a Web site — even one containing a single story — is its own front page. And each piece of content competes on its own with all other information on that topic linked to by blogs, “digged” by user news sites, sent in e-mails, or appearing in searches. As much as half of every Web page, designers advise, should be devoted to helping people find what they want on the rest of the site or the Web. That change is already occurring. A year ago, our study of news Web sites found that only three of 24 major Web sites from traditional news organizations offered links to outside content. Eleven of those sites now offer them. Some of this may simply be automated, which may be a service of limited value.

* The prospects for user-created content, once thought possibly central to the next era of journalism, for now appear more limited, even among “citizen” sites and blogs. News people report the most promising parts of citizen input currently are new ideas, sources, comments and to some extent pictures and video. But citizens posting news content has proven less valuable, with too little that is new or verifiable. (It may thrive at smaller outlets with fewer resources.) And the skepticism is not restricted to the traditional mainstream media or “MSM.” The array of citizen-produced news and blog sites is reaching a meaningful level. But a study of citizen media contained in this report finds most of these sites do not let outsiders do more than comment on the site’s own material, the same as most traditional news sites. Few allow the posting of news, information, community events or even letters to the editors. And blog sites are even more restricted. In short, rather than rejecting the “gatekeeper” role of traditional journalism, for now citizen journalists and bloggers appear for now to be recreating it in other places.

* Increasingly, the newsroom is perceived as the more innovative and experimental part of the news industry. This appears truer in newspapers and Web sites than elsewhere. But still it represents a significant shift in the conversation. A decade ago, the newsroom was often regarded as the root of journalism’s disconnection from the public and its sagging reputation. “I think we may need to just blow up the culture of the newsroom,” one of the country’s more respected editors told a private gathering of industry leaders in 1997. Now the business side has begun to be identified as the problem area, the place where people are having the most difficulty changing. “My middle management in advertising and distribution is where I see the deer-in-the-headlights look,” one publisher recently told us. “Advertising doesn’t know how to start to cope,” said a major industry trade association leader. A survey of journalists from different media (being released with this year’s report) reinforces this sense. Majorities think such things as journalists writing blogs, the ranking of stories on their Web sites, citizens posting comments or ranking stories, even citizen news sites, are making journalism better — a perspective hard to imagine even a few years ago. These new technologies are seen as less a threat to values or a demand on time than a way to reconnect with audiences. News people also are less anxious about credibility, the focus of concern a few years ago. Their worries now are about money.

* The agenda of the American news media continues to narrow, not broaden. A firm grip on this is difficult but the trends seem inescapable. A comprehensive audit of coverage shows that in 2007, two overriding stories — the war in Iraq and the 2008 presidential campaign — filled more than a quarter of the newshole and seemed to consume much of the media’s energy and resources. And what wasn’t covered was in many ways as notable as what was. Other than Iraq — and to a lesser degree Pakistan and Iran — there was minimal coverage of events overseas, some of which directly involved U.S. interests, blood and treasure. At the same time, consider the list of the domestic issues that each filled less than a single percent of the newshole: education, race, religion, transportation, the legal system, housing, drug trafficking, gun control, welfare, Social Security, aging, labor, abortion and more. A related trait is a tendency to move on from stories quickly. On breaking news events — the Virginia Tech massacre or the Minneapolis bridge collapse were among the biggest — the media flooded the zone but then quickly dropped underlying story lines about school safety and infrastructure. And newer media seem to have an even narrower peripheral vision than older media. Cable news, talk radio (and also blogs) tend to seize on top stories (often polarizing ones) and amplify them. The Internet offers the promise of aggregating ever more sources, but its value still depends on what those originating sources are providing. Even as the media world has fragmented into more outlets and options, reporting resources have shrunk.

* Madison Avenue, rather than pushing change, appears to be having trouble keeping up with it. Like legacy media, advertising agencies have their own history, mores and cultures that keep them from adapting to new technology and new consumer behavior. The people who run these agencies know the old-media methods and have old-media contacts. New media offer the promise of more detailed knowledge of consumer behavior, but the metrics are still evolving and empirical data have not yet delivered a clear path. Advertising executives, in other words, do not have answers any more than the news professionals. In the short run, this may be helping traditional media hold onto share of advertising revenue. For now, the future seems to point to more confusion and fragmentation before new models emerge. But the losses could begin to accelerate when answers come. The question of whether, and how, advertising and news will remain partners is unresolved.

These trends add to those we have discussed in earlier years of this report. In the inaugural State of the News Media report in 2004, we outlined the broad contours of the revolution in news. Journalism is not disappearing, we concluded, but it is changing. Consumers trust and rely on journalists less, and expect more of them, because they have alternative sources of information. In subsequent years we have tracked the splintering of journalism into new norms, including the rise of a new commercially driven Journalism of Affirmation, the shift at many traditional news outlets toward becoming niche products, the emergence of what we call the new Answer Culture in news, and growing doubts about the ultimate potential of advertising online. We have also outlined ways in which newsrooms of the future probably need to change.

NYTtimes: Serbia’s Choice

三月 12, 2008

nucifera: 马来西亚人民在三月八日用了自己手上的一票决定了自己的未来,台湾也即将迎接他们的总统大选。nucifera深切希望,塞尔维亚的人民也能理智地运用自己手上的一票,把自己的国家,和别人的国家推离战争堆中,成全了自己的未来也去成全科索沃的未来。

巴尔干半岛本来就是多事之地,或许,是时候他们应该真的把这种纷争给结束。

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Editorial
Published: March 12, 2008

Kosovo made a historic choice for independence last month. Serbia will soon have a chance to make its own historic choice — either for a better future as part of the European Union or for isolation, stagnation and decline.

It is no surprise that Kosovo’s declaration has led to the breakdown of Serbia’s coalition government and a call for new elections. Kosovo has been a symbol of Serbian nationalism since the 14th century. Every significant political party in Serbia vowed to prevent Kosovo’s independence, though they proved powerless to stop it.

Those parties now have different ideas about how to proceed. The Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic offers the most sensible policy. It favors moving quickly to qualify Serbia for membership in the European Union. That is an economic necessity. It also makes strategic and diplomatic sense. Serbia weakened its hand by allying with Russia against the European Union and refusing to negotiate in good faith over Kosovo independence.

Serbia’s voters endorsed Mr. Tadic’s approach in January when they re-elected him president. His margin was narrow, and the anger that followed Kosovo’s declaration may have strengthened ultranationalists who favor freezing relations with the European Union, so long as it supports Kosovo independence.

A clear victory for Mr. Tadic’s party would be best for Serbia, Europe and the United States. Washington and Brussels can help, not through a smothering embrace of Mr. Tadic, but through concrete steps to reassure and protect Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority.

Before declaring independence, Kosovo’s predominantly ethnic Albanian government accepted a Western-backed plan for supervision of its new institutions. The NATO contingent that will remain in Kosovo and the European Union police and justice supervisory teams that have begun arriving need to ensure that Kosovo’s Serbs are shielded against violence and discrimination and that their food and energy supplies are secure.

The Bush administration, which has unequaled influence with the new Kosovo government, must insist that it continually demonstrate its desire for reconciliation with the Serb minority and with Belgrade.

Yugoslavia’s murderous implosion began almost two decades ago with Slobodan Milosevic’s manipulation of Serbian nationalist passions over Kosovo. How fitting if that era could end this spring with a resounding vote for pragmatism and progress by Serbia’s people.