Saturday, 26 January 2008

Ratzinger blames mass media

Joseph Ratzinger (1927), alias head of the Catholic Church, alias Pope Benedict XVI, blames the mass media.

Warning: if you want to do propaganda pro-Pope or against the Pope, this is NOT the right place to comment. Here i'm only interested about his view of media.


Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Media: At the Crossroads between Self-Promotion and Service.
Searching for the Truth in order to Share it with Others.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. The theme of this year’s World Communications Day – “The Media: At the Crossroads between Self-Promotion and Service. Searching for the Truth in order to Share it with Others” – sheds light on the important role of the media in the life of individuals and society. Truly, there is no area of human experience, especially given the vast phenomenon of globalization, in which the media have not become an integral part of interpersonal relations and of social, economic, political and religious development. As I said in my Message for this year’s World Day of Peace (1 January 2008): “The social communications media, in particular, because of their educational potential, have a special responsibility for promoting respect for the family, making clear its expectations and rights, and presenting all its beauty” (No. 5).

2. In view of their meteoric technological evolution, the media have acquired extraordinary potential, while raising new and hitherto unimaginable questions and problems. There is no denying the contribution they can make to the diffusion of news, to knowledge of facts and to the dissemination of information: they have played a decisive part, for example, in the spread of literacy and in socialization, as well as the development of democracy and dialogue among peoples. Without their contribution it would truly be difficult to foster and strengthen understanding between nations, to breathe life into peace dialogues around the globe, to guarantee the primary good of access to information, while at the same time ensuring the free circulation of ideas, especially those promoting the ideals of solidarity and social justice. Indeed, the media, taken overall, are not only vehicles for spreading ideas: they can and should also be instruments at the service of a world of greater justice and solidarity. Unfortunately, though, they risk being transformed into systems aimed at subjecting humanity to agendas dictated by the dominant interests of the day. This is what happens when communication is used for ideological purposes or for the aggressive advertising of consumer products. While claiming to represent reality, it can tend to legitimize or impose distorted models of personal, family or social life. Moreover, in order to attract listeners and increase the size of audiences, it does not hesitate at times to have recourse to vulgarity and violence, and to overstep the mark. The media can also present and support models of development which serve to increase rather than reduce the technological divide between rich and poor countries.

3. Humanity today is at a crossroads. One could properly apply to the media what I wrote in the Encyclical Spe Salvi concerning the ambiguity of progress, which offers new possibilities for good, but at the same time opens up appalling possibilities for evil that formerly did not exist (cf. No. 22). We must ask, therefore, whether it is wise to allow the instruments of social communication to be exploited for indiscriminate “self-promotion” or to end up in the hands of those who use them to manipulate consciences. Should it not be a priority to ensure that they remain at the service of the person and of the common good, and that they foster “man’s ethical formation … man’s inner growth” (ibid.)? Their extraordinary impact on the lives of individuals and on society is widely acknowledged, yet today it is necessary to stress the radical shift, one might even say the complete change of role, that they are currently undergoing. Today, communication seems increasingly to claim not simply to represent reality, but to determine it, owing to the power and the force of suggestion that it possesses. It is clear, for example, that in certain situations the media are used not for the proper purpose of disseminating information, but to “create” events. This dangerous change in function has been noted with concern by many Church leaders. Precisely because we are dealing with realities that have a profound effect on all those dimensions of human life (moral, intellectual, religious, relational, affective, cultural) in which the good of the person is at stake, we must stress that not everything that is technically possible is also ethically permissible. Hence, the impact of the communications media on modern life raises unavoidable questions, which require choices and solutions that can no longer be deferred.

4. The role that the means of social communication have acquired in society must now be considered an integral part of the “anthropological” question that is emerging as the key challenge of the third millennium. Just as we see happening in areas such as human life, marriage and the family, and in the great contemporary issues of peace, justice and protection of creation, so too in the sector of social communications there are essential dimensions of the human person and the truth concerning the human person coming into play. When communication loses its ethical underpinning and eludes society’s control, it ends up no longer taking into account the centrality and inviolable dignity of the human person. As a result it risks exercising a negative influence on people’s consciences and choices and definitively conditioning their freedom and their very lives. For this reason it is essential that social communications should assiduously defend the person and fully respect human dignity. Many people now think there is a need, in this sphere, for “info-ethics”, just as we have bioethics in the field of medicine and in scientific research linked to life.

5. The media must avoid becoming spokesmen for economic materialism and ethical relativism, true scourges of our time. Instead, they can and must contribute to making known the truth about humanity, and defending it against those who tend to deny or destroy it. One might even say that seeking and presenting the truth about humanity constitutes the highest vocation of social communication. Utilizing for this purpose the many refined and engaging techniques that the media have at their disposal is an exciting task, entrusted in the first place to managers and operators in the sector. Yet it is a task which to some degree concerns us all, because we are all consumers and operators of social communications in this era of globalization. The new media – telecommunications and internet in particular – are changing the very face of communication; perhaps this is a valuable opportunity to reshape it, to make more visible, as my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II said, the essential and indispensable elements of the truth about the human person (cf. Apostolic Letter The Rapid Development, 10).

6. Man thirsts for truth, he seeks truth; this fact is illustrated by the attention and the success achieved by so many publications, programmes or quality fiction in which the truth, beauty and greatness of the person, including the religious dimension of the person, are acknowledged and favourably presented. Jesus said: “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). The truth which makes us free is Christ, because only he can respond fully to the thirst for life and love that is present in the human heart. Those who have encountered him and have enthusiastically welcomed his message experience the irrepressible desire to share and communicate this truth. As Saint John writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life … we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete” (1 Jn 1:1-3).

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to raise up courageous communicators and authentic witnesses to the truth, faithful to Christ’s mandate and enthusiastic for the message of the faith, communicators who will “interpret modern cultural needs, committing themselves to approaching the communications age not as a time of alienation and confusion, but as a valuable time for the quest for the truth and for developing communion between persons and peoples” (John Paul II, Address to the Conference for those working in Communications and Culture, 9 November 2002).

With these wishes, I cordially impart my Blessing to all.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2008, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales.


Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Do mass media help terrorists?

Raphael Cohen-Almagor is an israeli professor (he's the founder and director of the Center for Democratic Studies at the University of Haifa) and he wrote a paper called "Media Coverage of Acts of Terrorism: Troubling Episodes and Suggested Guidelines"; the paper was published in vol 30-3 (2005) of Canadian Journal of Communication.

In the paper you can read a long list of unprofessional and unethical mistakes made by journalists during coverage of acts of terrorism.
Journalists should never forget that when they report some news, they do not give information only to the public, they do give information to the public and to the terrorists.
Sometimes it seems that the rule of the scoop is more important than the rule of saving human lives. And the consequence can be a matter of life or death.

At the end of the paper, the author wrote some guidelines for journalists:

- The media need to be accountable for the consequences of their coverage
- The media should not jeopardize human life
- The media are advised to co-operate with the government when human lives are at stake in order to bring a peaceful end to the terrorist episode. This is not to suggest that the police or other security organizations should have a veto power over reporting. What is suggested is co-operation and mutual respect and understanding between the government agencies and the media
- The media should not glorify acts of terror as they glorified the SLA during the Hearst kidnapping
- The media should refrain from sensational and panicky headlines, from inflammatory catchwords, and from needless repletion of photos from bloody scenes
- Terrorism should be explicitly condemned for its brutality and violent, indiscriminate nature, as the Israeli media on the whole condemn terror
- The media must not pay or be paid for covering terrorist incidents
- The media are advised not to take upon themselves to mediate between the terrorists and the government. Special qualifications are required before one assumes such a responsibility upon oneself. Journalists are there to cover the event, not to become part of it
- The media are expected to refrain from making dangerous speculations about the terrorists' plans, government response, hostages' messages, and other matters. Speculations might hinder crisis management
- Media professionals should have background information about the terrorists they are required to cover. They should do research prior to their coverage. We should learn from the Hanafi incident, which luckily did not end with the murder of a hostage just because one reporter was ill-informed and did not do his homework as he should have
- The media should not broadcast live terrorist incidents that include hostage taking. This is in order not to jeopardize human life and not to impede a government's attempts to rescue the hijacked. This is not to say that the media should not cover such incidents. Rather, there should be a delay of a few minutes during which an experienced editor inspects the coverage and authorizes what should be on air and what should not, as was the case when hostages were released from the Iranian embassy in London in 1980
- The media are advised not to interview terrorists while the terrorist incident is still in motion. Lines of communications between the authorities and the terrorists should be left open. The media should not impede the negotiations process, as they did in the Hanafi takeover in Washington
- The media should not co-operate with terrorists who stage events. The BBC's decision not to broadcast the spectacle in Carrickmore was right
- The media are required to show sensitivity to the victims and to their loved ones. This critical guideline should be observed during terrorist incidents and, no less importantly, also after their conclusion
- The media are expected not to report details that might harm victims' families
- The area in which the terrorist incident takes place should not be open for anybody who testifies that he or she is a journalist. Only senior and experienced reporters should be allowed in. Junior and inexperienced reporters should undergo a learning process during which they fathom the complexities involved. Adequate training is a necessary precondition

Media Coverage of Acts of Terrorism: Troubling Episodes and Suggested Guidelines 2005
(20 pages + 8 pages of notes and references)

Troubling episodes
Endangering life
Hindering governmenti activities
Glorifying terrorists
Sensational coverage
Irresponsible terminology
Co-operation with terrorists and payment for interviews
Irresponsible mediation
Dangerous speculations
Lack of homework and live interviews during crisis
Live coverage
Staging events

Thursday, 17 January 2008

English language in South Asia

Radha Chakravarty is an indian writer and is currently Reader, Department of English, Gargi College, University of Delhi.
Her latest book is Feminism and contemporary women writers - Rethinking subjectivity, published by Routledge India on 31 December 2007. The book attempts to deal with the problem of literary subjectivity in theory and practice. The works of six contemporary women writers — Doris Lessing, Anita Desai, Mahasweta Devi, Buchi Emecheta, Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison — are discussed as potential ways of testing and expanding the theoretical debate.

On 4th January 2008, the weekend magazine of Daily Star (english newspaper in Bangladesh) printed an interview with her.
This is a short excerpt, here you can read the full interview

How do you see English in South Asia, a place where the language has once been forced upon its people?

English may today be counted as one of the South Asian languages. It was indeed extraneous to our culture once, and introduced for political reasons, but today it has been appropriated and adapted to our contemporary needs in ways that have given it a new character and I think a new lease of life.

The relationship between English and other South Asian languages was not a one-way street. It was transactional, and remains so to this date. The influence of English language and literature challenged but also gave a great impetus to the modernization of our indigenous languages. In turn, these languages also enriched English with a vocabulary and range of expression that continues to grow, as recent versions of the OED acknowledge. Today the best writing in English comes from regions where English is not the people's mothertongue. And we have reshaped the language in creative ways. To borrow the title of a well-known book, “The Empire Writes back,” as it were!

So English has now acquired these extraordinary regional flavours, but it also remains an international language, and in some important ways, our link with the non-South Asian world. In a multilingual society such as India where I belong, English, and translation into English, also provides an important common platform for people of diverse languages to know and understand each other better.

The politics of language are of course linked to larger issues and it may be argued that the privileging of English perpetuates the colonial mindset. The solution I believe is not to do away with English, but to treat it on par with other languages in our region, as one more facet of our multilingualism. That calls for a change of attitude for which many South Asians don't seem ready yet.

Whether English is perceived as an asset or a stumbling block depends on how we make it instrumental to our specific regional needs. If it is merely a matter of aping “the West” and losing our cultural independence, which is what upholders of “pure” identity seem to fear, the language and the culture it is taken to purvey may indeed continue to enslave us. But if it empowers us to be effective citizens of the world without surrendering our distinctiveness as South Asians, English is a language to be embraced without embarrassment.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

How many inventors for radio?

When i was a child, i was sure about a couple of things: i was italian and another italian (Guglielmo Marconi) invented the radio. It was cool to know that i was born in the same nation of the inventor of a magical instrument like the radio. Now i'm not a child anymore and things seem a bit more complicated than they used to be.

I was reading an italian blog of a friend, Radiopassioni, and i found out that in Spain they released a book called "Radio in Spain 1896-1977". The author of the book is the professor Angel Faus Belau (professor of "Cultura y ComunicaciĆ³n Audiovisual" at University of Navarra) and his point of view is that the inventor of radio was the spanish (spanish professor and spanish inventor: what a coincidence!) Julio Cervera Baviera (1854-1929).

In a bit of confusion, i'm trying to fix few things:
1) Gugliemo Marconi (1874-1937) wasn't entirely italian: he was born in Bologna (Italy) and his parents were Giuseppe Marconi (italian) and Annie Jameson (scottish-irish).
2) We still don't know who invented radio, we know that several people were doing experiments of radio signals during 1890-1910 but we can't say who made the most important achievement.
According to history of radio of wikipedia, "several people are claimed to have "invented the radio". The most commonly accepted claims are:
- Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937)
- Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)
- Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937)
Should we add Julio Cervera Baviera ? And what about Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) ? And Reginald Fessenden (1866-1932) ? Anybody else??

If somebody has time, it would be interesting to see how the same invention was (and still is) credited to different people in different countries. Same invention, but different inventors and different celebrations.

Marconi's prediction about tv

In the magazine printed by CRIT (research and innovation of technology of Rai; Rai is italian state-owned tv and radio) of April 2001 you can see an excerpt from the italian magazine Radiorario of 1926.
"Gugliemo Marconi told the Vossische Zeitung [a german newspaper] that the problem of television will be fixed by two years and then any war will be impossible. An invisible enemy won't exist anylonger: the enemy, with the help of television, wil be seen at any long distance. Therefore it won't be difficult anymore to predict and to defend any enemy's strike. It will be the end of submarines, the end of wars."

As far as we know today, Marconi (assuming it's true that he said that) was right: since the invention of television, we haven't had any war in the world.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Fox News and 2000 US election

The day after the 2000 US presidential election nobody knew who would become the next president of the United States. The world had to wait until 12th December, when the Supreme Court (9 persons NOT elected by the people) decided about Florida's 25 electoral votes.

Stefano Della Vigna (assistant professor of economics at Berkeley) and Ethan Kaplan (Stockholm University) wrote a paper called "The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting" that talks about the impact of Fox News on the 2000 election.

Probably George Walker Bush should have thanked the Supreme Court and Rupert Murdoch's Fox News.


Does media bias affect voting? We address this question by looking at the entry of Fox News in cable markets and its impact on voting. Between October 1996 and November 2000, the conservative Fox News Channel was introduced in the cable programming of 20 percent of US towns. Fox News availability in 2000 appears to be largely idiosyncratic. Using a data set of voting data for 9,256 towns, we investigate if Republicans gained vote share in towns where Fox News entered the cable market by the year 2000. We find a significant effect of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000. Republicans gain 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points in the towns which broadcast Fox News. The results are robust to town-level controls, district and county fixed effects, and alternative specifications. We also find a significant effect of Fox News on Senate vote share and on voter turnout. Our estimates imply that Fox News convinced 3 to 8 percent of its viewers to vote Republican. We interpret the results in light of a simple model of voter learning about media bias and about politician quality. The Fox News effect could be a temporary learning effect for rational voters, or a permanent effect for voters subject to non-rational persuasion.

The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting (37 page pdf file)

1 Introduction page 1
2 Fox News History and Data page 3
3 Empirical results page 7
4 Interpretations page 15
5 Conclusion page 20
References and tables

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The only flaw of Nicole Kidman

Please, Nicole Kidman, i know you've got contract from Nintendo for Brain Training, but check things before you say: "I've quickly found that training my brain is a great way to keep my mind feeling young"

Sense About Science is an independent charitable trust. They respond to the misrepresentation of science and scientific evidence on issues that matter to society, from scares about plastic bottles, fluoride and the MMR vaccine to controversies about genetic modification, stem cell research and radiation.

In January 2007 in a special leaflet called Sense About… Science for Celebrities, (get it here, it's a 2 page leaflet; they realeased a 2 page leaflet and they got national and international coverage! If you criticize celebrities, you get good coverage, don't you?) scientists told celebrities: “Before making scientific claims check your facts - all it takes is a phone call”. It showed how easily some mistakes could have been avoided and gave a phone number for celebrities to call so that Sense About Science could connect them with scientists, scientific societies and charities.
After one year the same organization has just realeased a new report about celebrities and science during 2007, here you can download the 7 page file.

Professor Peter McNaughton (pharmacologist, Cambridge University) gives a perfect statement: "Celebrities occupy a powerful position - they have access to the media in a way that scientific experts generally do not. I am delighted that they appear to have been getting their facts straighter over the last year. Long may it continue"

The file is interesting but there is a disappointing part. In the section "Earth science" they repeated one sentence of Matt Helders (drummer for the Arctic Monkeys; is he a celebrity??) and one sentence of Heather Mills; after that the reader expects a perfect answer from scientists but i only got "scientists couldn't respond in fewer than three sentences, so we have been unable to address this one." Excuse me?
Using (and changing, obviously) the words of Professor McNaughton: "Scientists occupy a powerful position - they have access to the laboratories, to the public and private funds and to all kind of studies in a way that common people generally do not. [i'm adding] Therefore, if you don't have space to criticize some sentences, why repeat them? Let's assume those sentences are untrue: why repeat untrue sentences without any criticism?"

Monday, 7 January 2008

Surveillance societies in 2007

Ten days ago the organization
Privacy International released a very interesting report called "Leading surveillance societies in the EU and the World 2007", they said "the World" but actually the new 2007 global rankings cover only 47 countries.

Privacy International (PI) is a human rights group formed in 1990 as a watchdog on surveillance and privacy invasions by governments and corporations. PI is based in London, England, and has an office in Washington, D.C. We have campaigned across the world to protect people against intrusion by governments and corporations that seek to erode this fragile right.

Summary of key findings

At the end of the article they tell us key aspects for every single country, for instance we have:

United Kingdom

- World leading surveillance schemes

- Lack of accountability and data breach disclosure law

- Commissioner has few powers

- Interception of communications is authorised by politician, evidence not used in court, and oversight is by commissioner who reports only once a year upon reviewing a subset of applications

- Hundreds of thousands of requests from government agencies to telecommunications providers for traffic data

- Data retention scheme took a significant step forward with the quiet changes based on EU law

- Plans are emerging regarding surveillance of communications networks for the protection of copyrighted content

- Despite data breaches, 'joined-up government' initiatives continue

- Identity scheme still planned to be the most invasive in the world, highly centralised and biometrics-driven; plan to issue all foreigners with cards in 2008 are continuing

- E-borders plans include increased data collection on travellers

United States of America

- No right to privacy in constitution, though search and seizure protections exist in 4th Amendment; case law on government searches has considered new technology

- No comprehensive privacy law, many sectoral laws; though tort of privacy

- FTC continues to give inadequate attention to privacy issues, though issued self-regulating privacy guidelines on advertising in 2007

- State-level data breach legislation has proven to be useful in identifying faults in security

- REAL-ID and biometric identification programs continue to spread without adequate oversight, research, and funding structures

- Extensive data-sharing programs across federal government and with private sector

- Spreading use of CCTV

- Congress approved presidential program of spying on foreign communications over U.S. networks, e.g. Gmail, Hotmail, etc.; and now considering immunity for telephone companies, while government claims secrecy, thus barring any legal action

- No data retention law as yet, but equally no data protection law

- World leading in border surveillance, mandating trans-border data flows

- Weak protections of financial and medical privacy; plans spread for 'rings of steel' around cities to monitor movements of individuals

- Democratic safeguards tend to be strong but new Congress and political dynamics show that immigration and terrorism continue to leave politicians scared and without principle

- Lack of action on data breach legislation on the federal level while REAL-ID is still compelled upon states has shown that states can make informed decisions

- Recent news regarding FBI biometric database raises particular concerns as this could lead to the largest database of biometrics around the world that is not protected by strong privacy law


- Constitution protects right to privacy in the home (article 14) and communications (article 15)

- Comprehensive privacy law

- Data privacy authority has extensive powers, including auditing databanks of intelligence activities

- Data privacy authority has stopped two initiatives for expanding use of fingerprinting; and has regulated use of CCTV; and has run public education campaigns on television

- Judicial authorisation for interception, and granted for 15 days at a time; if transcripts are not used they must be destroyed; and exceptions apply for religious ministers, lawyers, and doctors, though there are more lenient procedures for anti-mafia cases

- 2007 a judge ruled that planting bugging devices in a car was not an offence because the law only applies to the home

- A number of abuses in communications surveillance: in 2005 Italian police placed a backdoor into an ISP's server, and monitored all transactions of 30,000 subscribers; telecom italy collected thousands of file on stars and influential people

- Data retention period were for four years, though internet traffic data is now set for 12 months, through a graduated scheme where investigations involve serious crimes are allowed to get telephone data after 2 years, or internet data after 6 months

- Biometric plans for travel authorisation have been reviewed and changed by authority

- Council of ministers approve law requiring every blogger to register with the state; though law is in early stages

The bill requiring bloggers to register was kind of stopped, it'll never be law that way.
Yes, Constitution protects privacy but as i wrote 2 weeks ago, in the reality there's no protection, newspapers and tv news can even realease private phone calls!

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Radio, content and Orson Welles

Every time in mass media i see an "history of radio" is like:
- digital modulations (dab, drm, hd radio)
- Internet, satellite and podcast

It's fine, but that is only an history of technology of radio.
The technology is important and interesting but in my opinion an history of radio should be:
- history of technology of radio
- history of radio content
How many times did you see an history of radio content?
I have to admit the wikipedia is a nice exception, they wrote:
"The pre-history and early history of radio is the history of technology that produced instruments that use radio waves. Later in the timeline of radio, the history is dominated by programming and contents, which is closer to general history." General history? Sure?

Do you know any interesting "history of radio content" (with analysis, hopefully) on the net?
I understand that an history of the technology is much simpler than an history of radio content (basically all the world has been using few modulations but every country has a different history and evolution of radio content) but most people don't care about the technology, they do care about the content; the best digital modulation would be absolutely useless if the content is rubbish.

At the end of this post i want to point out a milestone of radio broadcasting:
in this site you can hear the audio of all the radio drama of Mercury Theatre, including the legendary "The war of the worlds" directed by Orson Welles (1915-1985).
The war of the worlds is an episode of the American radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air, which was performed as a Halloween special on October 30, 1938 and aired over the CBS radio network. Directed by Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells' classic novel "The war of the worlds" (1898). It's interesting to read the full article of wikipedia.

We don't know the reaction of H.G Wells (1866-1946) but we know that the day after, the New York Times frontpage was: "Radio listeners in panic, taking war drama as fact".

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Enron: huge failure for the press

The bankruptcy of Enron (Enron filed for bankruptcy on December 2, 2001) was a huge failure for the press. How is possible that journalists couldn't see what was happening?
An interesting article (The New Yorker,

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Deconstructing terms: online community

There are terms that can mean everything and nothing at the same time; they are meaningless but, repetead over and over again by mass media, they look like they have a meaning.
I was seeing a blog called Web Strategy (obviously a blog about marketing of the web) and the author of the blog was thinking about a definiton of "online community".
In one post he wrote:

I’m both passionate about communities (having created the community advocate group in Facebook, as well as held the community manager role at HDS) and am now doing research on this topic. I’m on a quest to find an accurate, reliable, and timeless definition of the term “online community”.

I vetted this definition with my Twitter network, received nearly 50 responses this morning. I’ve boiled down a definition to the following:

An online community is: Where a group of people with similar goals or interests connect and exchange information using web tools.
I couldn't resist sending my comment:

"I think that “online community” or “virtual community” are nonsense.
In the past a community was a group of people who shared the same land and the same values.
Now it’s cool to use the word “community” but, for example, i like radio (i’m in Europe) and other 2 persons (1 in the US and 1 in Japan) like radio and we talk about it on the net; we don’t know anything else about ourselves. Are we part of the same community? Sorry, we aren’t.
I would say “online network” without any strong ties instead of community.
When i hear “online communities” i think about “imagined communities” of Benedict Anderson."

I do understand that marketing people (like the who blogs there) want to use meaningless expression such as "online community" or "virtual community": they want to make more money.
Imagine 2 persons who want to sell a site:
- one sells a site with 1000 users
- one sells a site with an online community of 1000 persons
which one sounds cooler?
Websites tell us: "register here and join our community!" How can i join a community when i've never seen any member and i have no idea of their values of this so-called community???
Do they want to use those expressions? Fine, but their choice isn't going to change the reality: either a community is real or it's not a community.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Waiting for Arbitron

Interesting article from NYT: something is wrong about portable people meter (PPM) of Arbitron (US radio audience research company); after a test in October in New York, Arbitron will delay the broader introduction of PPM by nine months.
Why did NYT write that now?
The original news from Arbitron came on November 26 2007.

"Arbitron inc. announced today that it will delay that commercialization of its Portable People Meter (PPM) radio ratings service in nine markets. New York, Nassau-Suffolk and Middlesex-Somerset-Union will be delayed by nine months; Los Angeles, Riverside and Chicago by six months; and San Francisco, San Jose and Dallas by three months."

Radio's challenge: counting the young

By Brian Stelter
Published: December 31, 2007

As radio moves away from an outdated system of audience measurement, it is facing the same problem that confronts other media: figuring out how many young people are listening or watching is maddeningly difficult.

A long-awaited electronic measurement tool, the “portable people meter,” has produced sudden swings in ratings in tests, raising red flags for radio executives. After a test in October in New York, the radio measurement company Arbitron delayed the broader introduction of people meters by nine months.

Arbitron officials say that tallying the number of young listeners — in particular the 18- to 34-year-old demographic group prized by advertisers — has been a perpetual concern. The stakes are high for media companies and advertisers, and for the measurement companies themselves; last month, Arbitron warned its stockholders that earnings would be adversely affected by the people meter delay.

Ceril Shagrin, an executive vice president for corporate research at Univision Communications, a major Spanish-language broadcaster, found that the ratings for Radio La Kalle 105.9 FM in New York fell sharply when the people meters were tested in October. She expressed concerns about the reliability of the Arbitron sample.

“The Hispanic universe is younger, and our audience is therefore made up of more young people. When the sample doesn’t reflect them, then our radio ratings aren’t correct,” Ms. Shagrin said.

Lower ratings can translate into less advertising revenue. The television ratings company Nielsen Media Research has experienced the same sampling challenges.

“I think any survey research operation, no matter what they’re doing, would say that young households are more difficult to recruit,” said Paul Donato, chief research officer for Nielsen.

Mr. Donato said young demographics were well represented by Nielsen’s samples, and Arbitron said its data was improving. November data from the people meter, released on Dec. 7, showed some gains among younger people and minority groups.

Still, Arbitron has work to do; on an average day in New York last month, 575 participants aged 18 to 34 provided data, far short of the company’s goal of 919.

Owen Charlebois, president for technology, research and development, said young people were less likely to participate automatically in a research study.

“We have to work harder to explain why it’s important for them to take part,” he said. “In some ways, there are parallels with voting rates in the U.S.”

Because it costs more for Arbitron to deploy electronic measurements, the sample size becomes smaller, but each member of the sample contributes more data, making the recruitment process that much more important.

“You really have to get people who you know are going to participate,” said Brad Adgate, director for research at the media-buying agency Horizon Media.

Researchers often try to persuade hard-to-reach age groups to participate by paying them more. While Arbitron does not release specific information on incentives, it said it offers 18- to 24-year-olds two to three times as much as the average respondent. The company will increase the age for incentives to 34 in 2008.

Even once recruited, the younger people pose challenges for sampling studies.

“On an average day, half of 18- to 34-year-olds don’t provide usable data,” Ms. Shagrin said. Young people may leave the people meter, which is roughly the size of a cellphone, at home because carrying it is inconvenient in certain situations, as when on a date or while playing sports.

Like other research companies, Arbitron weights the sample to achieve equal representation for each demographic group.

“Those few people who do decide to participate count more than those in other age groups,” potentially skewing the results further, Mr. Adgate said.

Bob Patchen, chief research officer for Arbitron, said young people have less routine in their lives, making them more likely to forget or lose the meter. The company sometimes visits young respondents to encourage participation. It also plans to release “meter skins” that will allow participants to customize their meters, in much the way some young people change the colors and textures of their cellphones.

The larger issues raised by people meters involve the fragmentation of media and the preference of advertisers to reach narrow swaths of consumers. On television, as in radio, programs that appeal to 18- to 34-year-old viewers can become cash machines because advertisers will pay a premium to reach young people. But as media companies use Arbitron and Nielsen to carve ever-thinner slices of demographic data, concerns about the reliability of that data increase.

“Sometimes the ratings, particularly in cable, are really being generated by just a couple of people in the sample,” said Alan Wurtzel, president for research and media development at NBC.

But over time, the data tends to become increasingly reliable, researchers say. Arbitron will spend the next nine months trying to make its customers just as confident.

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