Posts from September 27, 2004

Sprawl is good for you

Sprawl is good for you

: A new “study” argues that suburban sprawl is bad for your health.

What a hock of hooey. It appears to be another of those coincidence-of-statistics “studies” that confirm somebody’s desires for the truth.

They found that people in the suburbs complain of more ailments. Could it be that people in the suburbs are more likely to have health insurance and they can afford to complain of ailments more often? Could it be that people in the suburbs have jobs that are stressful and, in fact, their homes are what make life better for them? Could it be that the jobs and competition in bigger, more crowded, more central locations are frequently more stressful than the jobs in out-of-the-way places? Could it be that people in the suburbs grow old out there and get sick more often than young yuppies? I think it could.

Here’s the Washington Post report on the “study.”

The real problem I have with this is that “sprawl” is such a dirty word. Hey, yesterday’s “sprawl” is today’s “preservation” project. The house you’re living in was sprawl when it’s built but now that you’re in it, it’s not sprawl — but the new one going in next door is.

My town is wasting millions buying land by the Interstate that no one should want to build on — and if they wanted to build, who’d care? — in the name of “open space” and its moral opposite, “sprawl.” It’s a waste of good land and good money and doesn’t really serve the interests against “sprawl” because it only forces people to move farther and farther away from their jobs and communities.

“Sprawl” is a boogyman for the age.

Technorati’s ills

Technorati’s ills

: Dave Sifry explains why Technorati has been down all weekend: a fire in the hosting facility caused one mean game of dominos. I have complete sympathy, having been hosed similarly by the big New York blackout a year ago. And I also see that Dave is going to the obvious next step already: new disaster and back-up plans (we’ve just finished implementing ours). I’m utterly addicted to Technorati and I’ve been shaking and quaking with chills and sweats without it.

: UPDATE: It’s back. The data appears to be a little out-of-date; I’m guessing it came from a back-up. But that should catch up soon.

Credibility gaps everywhere

Credibility gaps everywhere

: The other day, I posted the momentous news from Gallup that trust in big media has declined markedly. Tor the first time in recent history, more people distrust than trust big media. That is big news (which, no, we haven’t seen prominently displayed on the news).

But big media isn’t alone with declining trust.

In the post below, I quoted results of a USC/Annenberg Center for the Digital Future study on Internet v. TV time and when I went to the original study, I found some sobering stats on the public’s trust of the internet — and particularly of sites created by individuals — which, of course, includes blogs.

Now this could just be the general cooties attached to the internet and to personal home pages from the start. But I think it’s more than that.

First, I do fear that the tone of much of what comes from the internet and blogs contributes to this; thus my sermonizing on mud-slinging. I doubt that contributes much to this decline in trust, but I will say that we’d better watch out, or it will.

I also think that there’s a new skepticism rising in the land (and it’s not necessarily a bad thing): Just as we come to distrust big media more, and just as we come to realize that we can go to the source of news ourselves and judge for ourselves, we have to wake up to the notion that making that judgment isn’t easy. We’re not sure whom to believe. Call that mistrust. Or call that cynicism. Or call that healthy skepticism. When every citizen becomes his own reporter, every citizen becomes as skeptical as a reporter should be.

I actually think that the Rathergate case will improve the reputation of internet (and individual) media. If this survey were taken again today, I’d just bet that among those aware of the Rathergate story and of the internet’s and blogs’ role in it, we’d gain a few points. But that’s only a bet.


The USC study says:

Web sites mounted by established media (such as ranked highest in perceived accuracy and reliability; 74.4 of users say that most or all information on established media Web sites is reliable and accurate.

Government Web sites also fared well with users in the current study; 73.5 percent say that most or all of the information on government Web sites is reliable and accurate.

Information pages posted by individuals have the lowest credibility; only 9.5 percent of users say the information on Web sites posted by individuals is reliable and accurate.

Even though large percentages of users say that most or all of the information on Web sites posted by established media and the government is reliable and accurate, it is worth noting that significant numbers of users believe that only half or less of information on these sites is reliable and accurate; 25.7 percent of users say that about half or less of news sites posted by established media are reliable and accurate, while 26.5 percent of users judge that about half or less of government Web sites are reliable and accurate….

Of very experienced users, 83.5 percent say that most or all of the information on news pages posted by established media is reliable and accurate, compared to 49.1 percent of new users who provide the same response.

When asked about government Web sites, 81.4 percent of very experienced users, compared to 50.1 percent of new users, say that most or all of the information on those sites is reliable and accurate.

New users and very experienced users agree about the low credibility of information posted by individuals; only 9.2 percent of very experienced users and 7.5 percent of new users say that most or all of the information on pages posted by individuals is reliable and accurate.

The bottom line: Trust is something you earn every day and can lose anytime. Little media has to work just as hard — no harder — at gaining trust than big media. And you know how hard big media has to work at it.

: UPDATE: Ken Layne doesn’t buy the huge decline in media trust.

TV and me

TV and me

: I came to a shocking realization over the last few days:

I don’t watch broadcast TV anymore.

Now that’s shocking because I love TV. I was the TV critic for TV Guide and People magazines and I created a damned entertainment mag and appeared on TV and watched TV. I kept four VCRs going at once almost every night. I knew what was happening in every corner of prime time. This weekend, when I took my son on the NBC studios tour in New York (our clever avoidance of a visit to the American Girl store with the women of the house), I was the only person in the group who could name every founding cast member of Saturday Night Live. TV was my life. Was.

But here comes the new fall season and, frankly, I couldn’t give a damn. I’m not watching any new series. I’m not following old series. I’m not watching broadcast TV. Three reasons:

1. The internet and the distraction of blogs. I spend a great deal of my day doing just what I’m doing at this second: reading and writing on the internet. I don’t consume media anymore; I live it.

2. Cable is so damned good. There are great shows on cable, especially on HBO, and I watch them with the same devotion I used to give to Cheers or Hill St. Blues and Seinfeld. But The Sopranos and The Wire and Curb Your Enthusiasm are better and more addictive. And even when I’m not watching them, I’m watching niche TV: We love do-it-yourself home improvement shows, for example. As with all other media, one-size-fits all is dead; nice programming — quality niches, special-interest niches, audience niches — are taking over.

3. Broadcast is getting so damned bad. I am not now and never have been and never will be a snob about TV. I look down my nose at people who look down their noses at people who watch TV; I distrust anybody who brags to me that they don’t own a TV or just watch PBS. Bull. But I do have to say that I have not become a regular with The Apprentice or Survivor or American Idol and I do believe that — as with all other trends that threatened to eat TV — these, too shall pass. And then where will the networks be?

All of this is to say that the studies showing a decline in TV viewership tied to an increase in internet usage are right. I’m the damned poster child.

A greater percentage of the Internet households surveyed by the Digital Future Project indicated that they spent less time watching TV in 2003 than previous years. Nearly 38 percent said they spent less time watching television in 2003, compared to 31 percent in 2002, and 33 percent in 2001.

The greatest impact on television viewing was seen among veteran users with 7+ years online, with 45.5 percent saying they watched less since they started using the Internet. In 2001, just 35 percent said the Internet caused them to watch less TV. That swelled to 38 percent in 2002.

Just wait until TV explodes with alternate means of delivery — via the internet — and alternate sources of programming — the citizens. The death of the network age, so often predicted, is upon us.

Issues2004: Energy police

Issues2004: Energy police

: This is an easy one, right?

We want to end our dependency on foreign oil, right?

Then why the hell have we not made one damned inch of progress toward that goal?

My big break as a cup reporter came in ’73-’74, when I worked for Chicago Today (a paper that had no tomorrow) and ended up covering the energy crisis. I lucked into covering gas lines and ended up on the front page day after day because — if you’re old enogh to remember, you will remember — we were caught in a national gasoline panic. There were shortages and lines everywhere. Prices skyrocketed. Price controls hovered. We vowed we would get out from under the thumb of the Arab oil oligarchy.

How soon we forget, huh?

We’re just as dependent upon foreign oil today as we were then. And, no, I’m not going to go blaming SUV drivers (who often buy for the four-wheel-drive, not the extra ton). It’s bigger than that.

It’s a failing of government policy and business innovation and national will at every level.

And now we are paying the price. Oh, boy, are we. So what should we do about it? Well, as I emphasize in all these Issues2004 posts, I am no expert. But I’ll start here:

: Gasoline: We must reduce our driving dependency on gasoline. Hybrid engines are a start, at last. So let’s find every possible way to encourage more gas efficiency. I suggest a self-liquidating, Peter-Paul tax that gives rebates to efficient car buyers paid for by inefficient car buyers. It’s not a tax. It’s a transfer of wealth and energy ethics.

: Nuclear power: I would far rather deal with the devil atom than the devil Arab. I’m as freaked as the next guy at scenes from China Syndrome. But it’s time to get over our nuclear jitters. I now (suddenly) believe that the more we can generate energy with nuclear power, the better. Let’s be smart. Let’s be safe. But let’s not be stupid and let our fears of nukes prevent us from using this using this powerful energy source.

: R&D: We have to cut through all limitations to create a Manhattan Project for energy independence, bringing together academics and corporate scientists — antitrust be damned — to find new ways to reduce our oil addiction. This includes reducing regulation and increasing tax advantages for R&D and even creating the means for scientists to communicate openly. You want to have a 9/11 Commission that actually accomplishes something meaningful for our future and our safety, start the Energy Commission and put former Presidents on it along with CEOs of energy and auto companies and energy utilities.

: Reduce Arabs’ dependence, too: As we cut the Arab world off from dependence on our oil dollars, we must replace it with new economic relationships not with Arab governments but with the Arab people: That is, we must create jobs via commerce and, yes, outsourcing. Otherwise, we’ll only create more desperation and anger. If we do this properly, we transfer prosperity and economic power from corrupt Arab governments to the Arab people.

Your thoughts?