Bob Stepno's Other Journalism Weblog
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2002-2009 blog page archive

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Monday, July 27, 2009

As indicated in the previous post, for seven years this blog was hosted at, which is being discontinued.  So I am posting an archive of all the site's files, going back to 2002, in this subsection of 

The conversion to the new site is not perfect. For one thing, there was no way to preserve reader comments on the site, including some good conversations. I'm sorry about that.

If you encounter non-functioning links, look for their contents at the corresponding address on this new server. For example, the  page formerly at ""
now should be at

For my more recent blog entries, see

1:11:57 AM    

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Well, I think I've held out longer than most...  seven years in Internet time is pretty long! Since April 2002, this blog has been hosted on the "" server run by Userland Software, the company that makes the blogging package  "Radio Userland." The hosting has been included in the modest ($40) annual licensing fee for the software since 2002. Today I stumbled on the news that practice will end in December.

Too bad. I never did get around to memorizing the number in the address. I think 0106327, means that I was user number 6,327. Or maybe it was number 327? I seriously doubt that there were ever 106,327 of us, but maybe I underestimated the operation.

I had switched to Radio Userland from two no-charge-for-hosting blogs, because Radio gave me an automatic backup copy of the blog on my own computer, as well as the security that comes with knowing you're paying for something instead of trusting some dotcom startup's  free-service business model. The other two blogs were done with Userland's other program, Manila, and with a system called Trellix -- and both of those blog servers have long since gone away. ("Free" services can be like that. But I hope no one at Google/Blogger is listening.)

Here's my first Radio post:

Heh... I see that back then I still treated "Web log" as two words some of the time, even referred to "logs" instead of "blogs." How quaint. That was even though I'd been playing with since the previous December.  

Blogging History
Radio Userland at that point was used by some of the top bloggers, including (of course) Dave Winer, who founded Userland. Others included a self-promoting former MTV dude named Adam Curry, as well as Robert Scoble (who worked for Userland before going to Microsoft), and Linux Journal's Cluetrain guru Doc Searls, and more. Unlike every other "blogging platform" I'd tried, Radio put the software on your local computer -- laptop or desktop -- not just out on a Web server someplace. Along with the security of having my own local copy, I liked to work on blog items offline on a laptop in those pre-wifi days. I'd do some writing at a coffeeshop, then connect the modem at home or plug in an office Ethernet and "publish" the blog contents to the server.

As an alternative to, Userland also offered the option of using your own server, but I never bothered to make the switch, taking an "if it ain't broke, don't 'fix' it" approach even after I set up as my static home page. Now I guess I'll figure out how to move the blog over there, at least for archival purposes. I might even use this transition as an excuse to install my own WordPress server,  a good educational experience for me. We are using WordPress more and more here at Radford University, but I've never started from scratch. I've used three or four "hosted" WordPress accounts, including and -- an experiment and a cobweb, respectively. Always time to learn new things... (For the past year I've been learning about Drupal to do )

In fact, the last time I flirted with the idea of hosting a blog server, it was a year or two before Radio Userland came along: I had licensed a copy of its parent system, Userland Frontier and Userland Manila, intending to host a site at Emerson College's Department of Journalism. But the  technology folks across campus wouldn't let me run a server from our building, blaming the antiquated wiring. My office was once the servants' quarters on the fourth floor of a 90-year-old Beacon Street brownstone. When I moved out, Emerson sold the building. Today that floor is a $4 million condo. I suspect the wiring has been upgraded. As for the server, I had (more than) enough to handle with new courses to teach and a dissertation to finish, so I never pressed the issue.

It dawns on me that if Emerson had given me a chance to build that site, we would have beaten Harvard to the punch by a few years. Userland Manila and blogging came to Harvard when the Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society gave Dave Winer a fellowship in 2003, and he set up the original using Userland Manila. (A while after he left, the school migrated it to WordPress.)

Radio Userland and Dawn of Podcasting
Geeky digression: The name Radio is full of irony. Perhaps Userland called the program that because blogs are, in a way, a form of broadcasting -- but I don't think Userland actually had "audio programs" in mind, even though it turned out that Radio included the essential tools of what became "podcasting," the idea of sending radio-like programs over the Internet. Winer had built in to Userland Radio an  RSS feed generator and an RSS aggregator (receiver)... and he had tweaked the RSS standard to allow "enclosed" media files.

At Harvard Winer started using that kind of "enclosure" feed with fellow Harvard blogger and NPR-veteran Christopher Lydon's recorded interviews. A few weeks later, Userland customer Adam Curry, across the Atlantic, hacked together an Applescript to lift Lydon's interviews out of his Radio folder and dump them into an iTunes folder for transfer to his iPod. A few weeks later, a journalist at The Guardian used the word "podcast" for the first time, describing the Lydon interviews.

(I set up a separate podcasting blog to give it a try myself, got it workign for a demo, but then let my "Podfolk" site become an intermittent music blog instead.)

Anyhow, I'm searching my mailbox for official word that the service is closing. Maybe I missed it? Otherwise, I'm a bit annoyed that I haven't been told directly. Maybe something got lost in the mail? In any case, this morning I just stumbled on this notice at the company's home page:
Radio UserLand service closing
UserLand has decided to close the Radio UserLand and Salon Radio services as of December 31, 2009.
Please read the announcement for details of the closure.

Not the most "User-friendly" change of service procedure I've ever heard of. But the more detailed announcement does explain that I can still use the software to publish to my own server... For now, I'll be using my Blogger account until I figure out what to do with these archives.

See me there at

Suggestions? Comment below.

Footnote: This is odd... my local copy of my June 14 and June 23 posts to this blog have disappeared from my desktop server, and the June 14 link has disappeared from the blog calendar.  I'm posting both of them again today just to see what happens. Pardon the repetition. This was the June 23 item; the one below ran on June 14.


Ukulele madness at NPR (and at my house)

Summertime news: Fiddling while Rome burns may have been a sign of Nero's craziness, but strumming a ukulele is therapy, according to NPR.  I woke up to this piece on the radio yesterday...

Rather than wait for some conspiracy theorist declare a ukuleleftist plot at NPR by tracking down all its relevant stories, I decided to do the latter myself. 

(I was about to add,  "I don't remember whether anyone pointed out that both the ukulele and President Obama hail from Hawaii...", but I did a quick search for "Obama+Ukulele" first. Glad I did!  More conspiracy: Obama got a ukulele last month, ostensibly "a gift for his daughters"... 
But it may not have been his first. Was the uke (ahem) instrumental in his election? I didn't notice at the time, but there were campaign ukulele jam sessions, and even an attempt at a Million Uke March! And more:  244,000 Obama-uke links here.)

That search also found a press release announcing an attempt at a world record for "largest ukulele ensemble" in Chicago this August. Has NPR had that story, or am I scooping them? Anyhow, let's get back to evidence of the NPR ukulele conspiracy:
OK, so those are all mentioned as footnotes on yesterday's story.  But what about these NPR-featured players of the uke, among other instruments?
OK, maybe the ukulele is a legitimate story.

I bought a Romanian-made uke from a Michigan traveling tent-show music store guy at the Mount Airy Fiddler's Convention last year... and he was back with more last week. A quick search for "uke fest" uncovers events in Hawaii, New York, London, Dallas, Tahoe, Portland, Göteborg (Sweden) and Stadsschouwburg of Sint-Niklaas (Belgium).

Search YouTube for "ukulele" and you'll get the impression it ought to be named "uketube," headed by some virtuoso clips from the amazing Jake Shimabukuro. (Top right.) One of his clips has had more than 3 million plays.)  And the magical Julia Nunes (right) -- who has gone from harmonizing with herself via webcam on YouTube to opening for Ben Folds... I see she's at Bonnaroo this weekend. I'm not.

And then there are these ukecentric sites, among many others:

So far, no uke jam sessions in my neighborhood. Maybe we should start one? Inspiration? Try the two videos on this page for a start.

9:28:07 PM    

Sunday, May 31, 2009

For summer catch-up reading: A collection of news and blog pieces on the "future of news" and "newspaper bailout" debates and related issues...

Don't let the title fool you... There's inspiration and a hint of optimism in Barbara Ehrenreich 2009 commencement address at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism: Welcome to a dying industry, journalism grads

Next, from Jane Singer, in an AEJMC discussion of the future of journalism & mass communication: one blue-sky scenario of how the not-too-distant future might look for our graduates. (Updated link & info: Since my original post, Jane's essay has won an AEJMC prize.)

Senate hears a dim forecast for newspapers' future by Andrew Miga, AP, via Google

Save the separation of press and state, by David Carr, NY Times

In Congress, no love lost for newspapers, Dana Milbank column in Washington Post

Laws That Could Save Journalism by Bruce W. Sanford and Bruce D. Brown in The Washington Post

"A Newspaper Bailout" by Adam Ross in the Post back in February, describing President Nicholas Sarkozy's plan to aid the French press.

They Pay for Cable, Music and Extra Bags. How about News? by Richard Perez-Pena and Tim Arango, NYTimes.

Sen. John Kerry's opening remarks as chairman of Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet's hearing on "The Future of Journalism." Also from hearing, Arianna Huffington's testimony.

Video and transcripts from the "Free Press Summit" sponsored by the Knight Foundation.

Duke University's non-profit media conference, including Penelope Muse Abernathy's paper, "A Nonprofit Model for The New York Times?" -- which inspired this follow-up in the New Yorker. And more about the conference at The Nonprofit Road.
"Life after newspapers," by Michael Kinsley.

"The American Press on Suicide Watch," by Frank Rich.

"State of the News Media 2009" C-Span interview with Tom Rosentiel, on annual report of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism

"Do newspapers matter?" from the NYTimes economix blog, citing a Princeton study of the impact of the closing of  The Cincinnati Post.

Meanwhile, see The newspaper crisis discussed at Princeton event, from, a site founded when a bunch of journalists got together at a public library and decided to "create a news site -- unlike any other -- to address the growing journalism void."

"Clinging to a dead business model for dear life" and "The Biggest Threat to Newspapers is Newspapers" by Daily Kos

Scott Rosenberg, "How charging for articles could hobble the future of journalism."

"First, stop the lawyers," by Jeff Jarvis, Buzz Machine.

From the archives:

from "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable" by Clay Shirky

"For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need."

from The Elite Newspaper of the Future by Philip Meyer, last fall in American Journalism Review.

The now-emeritus UNC professor suggests it's o.k. for newspapers to give up on "selling everything to everybody." Instead, he says they should focus on being trusted, responsible sources of evidence-based public affairs news and analysis, aimed at what the sociologists call "opinion leaders" -- what Phil calls "well-educated news junkies."

      "The newspapers that survive will probably do so with some kind of hybrid content: analysis, interpretation and investigative reporting in a print product that appears less than daily, combined with constant updating and reader interaction on the Web."

1:30:20 AM    

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In "Say It Ain't So, Izzy," the New Haven Independent's Paul Bass reviews a recent controversy over investigative journalist I. F. Stone's contacts with the Soviet Union... back when there was one. Apparently, Stone was someone the Soviet KGB talked to often enough in the 1930s to have a code name for him.

Bass's lead: "I.F. Stone, writer of truth to power, hero to generations of independent journalists... and Soviet agent?" The tale starts with a new Yale University Press book, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, particularly a handful of pages about Stone, whose career Paul sums up neatly: 

Few survivors of the great 20th century political wars have remained as revered as Stone. He was a dogged reporter, a culler of public documents, a courageous defier of McCarthyism. He wrote passionate editorials for the once-liberal New York Post. He was a mainstay of the great newspaper experiment of the century, PM.  When McCarthy's crowd drove many liberal writers out of business or underground, Stone refused to buckle. He published his own sheet, I.F. Stone's Weekly. It became a legend that continues to inspire independent journalists, and now bloggers.

Bloggers? In fact, Dan Froomkin at Harvard's Nieman Foundation has called Stone the best blogger ever, even though Stone died a decade before the first blogs were blogged. See Froomkin's review of a different book All Governments Lie! The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone by Myra MacPherson. Also, here's an excerpt from that book: The importance of being Izzy and the death of dissent in journalism.

Marking the 2007 centennial of Stone's birth, Harvard's Nieman Foundation launched an I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence, presenting the first one last October. I don't see anything on the Harvard site about a 2009 award, or responding to the Yale Press book about what Stone did or didn't say to KGB spies 70 years ago. I hope this doesn't turn into some kind of Yale-Harvard game, but if it does get people reading, thinking and talking, that's OK too.

Until I've read more, I'll agree with Eric Alterman's Daily Beast characterization to Stone's activities in the 1930s:

"A man of avowed anti-Fascist sympathies, still-foolishly naïve about Stalin and the Soviet Union, agreed on a couple of occasions to help those whom he believed to be actually fighting fascism, while his own country, still mired in childish isolationism, looked away."

I.F. Stone led a long and productive life as a journalist, never disguised his left-leaning political sympathies, and inspired a generation of reporters to dig into public records, look for facts and contradictions, maintain their independence, and speak their minds. It would have been wonderful if he had also written an "apologia" for whatever dealings he had with the Soviets before World War II, or for not thoroughly denouncing the Soviet system before the mid-fifties, but I think his career is transparent enough. As the site for his (downloadable) collected writings says, "Izzy Stone was a reporter, a radical, an idealist, a scholar and, it is clear, a writer whose insights have more than stood the test of time."  For even more his work, the entire run of I.F. Stone's Weekly is now online  at

4:21:41 PM    

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A picture named nytextra.jpgLinking "off site" was an early feature of blogs that commercial newspapers' sites were slow to adopt, for fear of letting the reader escape to the other distractions of the Web.

We've come a long way... Now The New York Times "Extra" button on its home page gives you an expanded page view with extra links beneath the story summaries -- links to external content, such as Jim Romenesko's Media News blog, or related stories by other newspapers. (See the Washington Times and L.A. Times in the example at the left.)

And now there's TimesWire, a page similar to my old "Atex" in-basket on the newsroom editing system, c. 1980. Instead of "top stories" or story categories, you get the Times most recent stories in chronological order.  This is sure to remind some people of or realtime results on search.twitter like

It's even closer to Dave Winer's "River of News" approach, which builds a similar last-in page using the Times RSS feeds:

Oops... I should have known Dave would get to this faster than I would:

A picture named twire.jpg I can't believe it's been almost three years since I wrote this about news rivers... Unfortunately the first part of my 2006 post refers to a site that no longer exists, but this part is still relevant:
News Nerd Nostalgia: Ah, ATEX. Back when Jimmy Carter was president, anyone with a big computer downstairs and tens of thousands of dollars in wire service subscriptions could read a daily "river of news" on our computer screens. (The people I'm talking about were editors at daily newspapers. I was compiling a daily page two "People" column using wire news, so I got one of the first wave of terminals at The Hartford Courant.)

We could scroll down through all the days stories in reverse-chronological order, even split the screen to compare the AP and UPI wire stories about the same event, then move paragraphs back and forth to create a "combined wires" story. You could choose whether to just browse the headlines, or expand them all to whatever number of lines of the story would give you enough information. It still felt very "Buck Rogers" as late as 1979! When I went back to grad school that year, I was disappointed to find that the university's computer terminals couldn't do anything like ATEX. Most of them didn't even do upper-and-lower-case letters. Times & technology do change.

2:33:53 PM    

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pearls Before Swine

Swine flu strikes the downsized newsroom
Unrelated to the "Pearls Before Swine" comic strip above -- also not to be confused with the wonderful Pearls Before Breakfast, which I use as an example of break-the-rules storytelling in newswriting class. This one is a horror story about the meeting of two pandemics, a fable of uncertain authorship published by the LA Observed Web site last week.
Lessons from St. Pete...
And, finally, the good news... The executive editor of the St. Petersburg Times extracts some lessons from the day his paper won two Pulitzer Prizes...

Editor Neil Brown's short list:
  1. Newspapers can innovate.
  2. Internet versus print? It's a false choice.
  3. Despite cutting costs, we still do meaningful work.
  4. Powerful stories move us and unite us.
Brown doesn't just point to the Pulitzers in that column. In the same "crowded hour" of the award announcement last month, a powerful Florida politician was being indicted by a grand jury, based on another St. Petersburg Times story, while yet another investigative project - - on abuse at a reform school - - was being posted on the paper's site.

The Web also played a big part in those Pulitzers -- one for the paper's election coverage and online database, the other for a simultaneously heart-breaking and heart-warming story about a horribly neglected girl and the adoptive parents who changed her life. That story, a long-form journalistic narrative titled "The Girl in the Window," is probably most read story the Times has produced, Brown said, estimating it has had well over a million readers in print and online.

(I posted more links about the Pulitzer winners last month.)

2:30:09 PM    

Friday, April 3, 2009

In this short TED video, newspaper designer Jacek Utko, says the transformation from circus to performance art by Cirque du Soleil inspired him to search for equally revolutionary design ideas in newspaper publishing.

From the TED intro: "Jacek Utko is an extraordinary Polish newspaper designer whose redesigns for papers in Eastern Europe not only win awards, but increase circulation by up to 100%. Can good design save the newspaper? It just might."

For more examples, try his home page,

photo of news readers R.B. Stepno and grandmother, by R.S. StepnoNewspaper-use habits -- from scanning the headlines over breakfast to the daily crossword and the Sunday comics -- only apply to people who *have* those habits.

People under 30 don't, and their parents probably didn't. (I was knee-deep in newspapers before I was two, as shown on the right.) A note at tries to compare newspapers to that other old medium challenged by digital distribution -- the CD. But  CDs -- or vinyl LPs -- have the "build a collection" theme, which newspapers don't --  except for the "Dewey Beats Truman," "Man on Moon," "Obama Wins!" type of historical front page.

Could newspaper front pages become not only informative, but collectible works of art, like LP jackets were in the 1960s? Seems far-fetched, but maybe Mr. Utko is onto something. A few days after I posted the original version of this item, the Louisville Courier-Journal printed a front page that I might even order in hard-copy for $20, even though it's on the Web: An artist's hand-drawn facsimile of a typeset front page. Take that, Mr. Gutenberg and Mr. Mergenthaler!

Could collectible front pages pay for investigative reporting, watchdog journalism and the whole "Fourth Estate" role of the press? Maybe not, but they might get new readers to open the paper. The next step would be to keep putting something equally valuable inside. For examples, bookmark Extra, Extra!

3:30:13 PM    

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