Issue # 24 Monday, November 30, 1998

About the Author:

Internet e-zine guru Todd Kuipers

Todd Kuipers is a software designer/Internet consultant, living and breathing, with his wife Susanna, in Calgary, Alberta. He is resident at Merak Projects currently working on Web based implementations of their petroleum softwareand their Web site. He spends his spare time reading, writing, reading and writing about beer, tasting beer, reviewing anything that he comes across and providing pure research skills to paying customers. Current and past things Todd and Internet can be seen at http://propagandist.com/.

One time proprietor of the currently defunct "E-mail-zines list", a listing of e-zines available via e-mail, Todd kept his interest in "low-bandwidth active delivery content" and currently subscribes to (and generally reads) 80+ e-mail publications on a wide variety of topics.


  

Full-column and topic INDEX

Another tech information e-mail newsletter that I've found very useful since I subscribed at the end of last month (at the request of the publisher, see I really do review those e-mail-zines that you submit). At the end, a bit of a media rant.

Review - TidBITS

Quick Rating:
Overall - 5
Content - 5
Writing - 5
Regularity - 5
Extras - 5

E-zine Description: From the site:

TidBITS, a free, weekly, electronic publication that covers news and views relating to the Macintosh and the Internet.

Frequency of Publication: weekly

Subscription Instructions:
Visit:
http://www.tidbits.com/about/list.html

WWW location:
http://www.tidbits.com/

Contact Information:

E-mail: info@tidbits.com

Cost: very very free.

Review

Content - 5
Ok. Each issue is loaded full of new software, software updates, technology, shareware, bugs, workarounds, tips, tricks, opinion and general news - all directed to the Mac user community. Now this might seem trite, but it takes a much bigger organizations like ZDNet to get the same type of information out for the PC/Windows side. I'm really impressed. Each item in the mailer has the proper content required, short (one/two/five paragraphs) where needed and more extensive (essay size) for some of the more complex opinion pieces (excellent overview of some of the issues surrounding the Microsoft trial in a recent issue). Interspersed in the articles are well placed URL links to further information and referenced sites.

Writing Quality/Style - 5
Very well written and edited. You'd never know that the writers and content providers weren't from some large publishing house (hmmmm... maybe they are...). Very conversational and captivating, while still being well designed enough to let you skip through to the details that you need. I like the layout of the issue, very neat, tidy and easy to troll through for a plain text newsletter.

Regularity - 5
Every week. For 456 issues. Holy smokes. This publication is like a dynasty. Very, very rare...

Extras - 5
Putting out 456 issues, enough said. Well, ok, more to be said. An excellent archive letting you search all of the past issues (amazing what changes in 8 years). Great if you missed an issue or need a copy to forward to all your friends.

On top of all the TidBITS content, this crew publishes another very interesting publication: NetBITS - "a free, weekly, electronic publication that provides practical Internet information to individuals who spend significant amounts of time online for personal or professional reasons." - http://www.netbits.net/

And wait! that's not all! You can also get TidBITS in German, Dutch, French, Chinese and Japanese, provided through the efforts of many dozens of other people.

Overall - 5
The description from the site above is pretty good. On the main page though they tend to be a little clearer: "A free email and Web publication that covers the Macintosh Internet community." Kind of strange then that I've used the content in the newsletter within 4 issues while I'm a tried a true Windows NT user. I'm a bit of a cross dresser, I use a windows platform, but half of the software I use was originally designed and developed for the Mac OS: PhotoShop, Illustrator, Director, Flash, Image Ready, and I regularly have to deal with content developers (formerly called artists) who work from the Mac platform. So heck I find this newsletter very useful; and if I find it useful, what about all those Mac users out there? Big thumbs up.

Christina Helmer (my esteemed editor) wrote an interesting seed message in our Sideroad discussions (shown in italics, with my responses interspersed). The message is open for general discussion (subscribe off the Sideroad Internet topic page), but it hit close to home so I figured I'd respond and put my (well edited) comments here).

Todd Kuipers' review of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) got me thinking about a good discussion for this week. Is the media biased? They aren't supposed to be, so why is that happening?

I think that unbiased media was an ideal that fit well with the regimented media concepts of the first half of this century, and didn't really make much sense even then. Take a look at any exhibition of early century newspapers and articles - or visit your library and take a look at some of the older archives. Given the plethora of media outlets in recent (last 30) years and the "need" to gain eyeballs, journalism began to obviously merge with PR as early as the early fifties (much farther back when you consider the governmental/religious control over media during the past 4-5 hundred years). I truly hope that people's expectation of an unbiased media is minimal at best. As an example, my experience in distributing/seeing my employers news releases over the past 10 years has shown:

  1. There are generally two types of media outlets:
    • those that babble your information verbatim while presenting it as a "news article (dangerous) and,
    • those that try to interpret the information and in the process fundamentally screw-up the facts (including obviously stated numbers). Of the 100+ news releases I've been involved with, not one made it to the newspaper properly researched (phone calls, background research etc.) or properly presented (e.g. written as 10 units shipped this _week_ - published as 10 units shipped this _year_).
    Though not to say that the above publications are not well meaning.

  2. News releases are not news. They are published and distributed by organizations (business, government or NGO's) to try to sway the public or specific groups into buying their ideology. You might agree or disagree with the content, but everything is propaganda. (propaganda operatively being - the information disseminated by groups that you don't agree with ;-)
This is not to say that journalists and media outlets are fundamentally bad (though some are). Keep in mind that even the best journalists mostly have only a certain level of resources available to them. Most news in newspapers is derived from newswires and press releases, meaning that sometimes important news information (guerrilla attack in Central America, new technology breakthrough) is carried by a single news agency/source: you are relying entirely on one persons point of view for the dope. Is that person guerilla sympathetic? tomato genetic enhancing antagonistic? technology indifferent? Emotion is in play in everything we do, we can't necessarily expect journalists to turn theirs off completely...

You can pick up any newspaper or turn to the different TV or radio stations newscasts and see where their agenda lies. Is there anything wrong with that? Should they be able to report the news with their own opinions and beliefs?

Not everyone will agree with this, but I tend to feel much safer reading the letters/editorial page of a paper. At the very least people there do not hide behind a poorly constructed veil of objectivity. You can read a letter responding to an article and get a reasonable idea of the person's position and a start on what the article content was about. (If you subscribe to that publication, or visit the library regularly, you can go back and find the article if it piques your interest.) One of the biggest reasons I like to read magazines like the Economist and Foreign Affairs over the domestic news rags like Time and Macleans. First they (the former) provide a non-domestic (from my Canadian point of view) view of what's going on (interesting to know what strangers think of you), second they are all opinion, no bones about it. They may not provide me with an opinion I agree with, but they do make clear another point of view.

Well as I know it is impossible for everyone to be completely objective, but I was told by a very wise old reporter that......you are not the story......and no one cares what you think.....so report the facts. I do believe that this is the way news should be reported. Of course not for every situation but I don't need someone's opinion instilled upon myself while trying to find out what is happening in the world. What do you think?

I generally agree with the above statement, and truly wish I could rely on it more often. I'm not interested in what a reporter feels/is interested in when they "should" be reporting at least a modicum of facts. Given the prevalence of objective "opinion" on TV news programs (coupled with "stock photos" and selected "clips" of video), it is the reason I generally refuse to get my news from TV except on inconsequential issues (e.g. Mr. Jones down the street had a treed cat again, today). Radio (especially NPR, BBC and CBC) tends to be slightly better given the lack of useless/misleading images. Newspapers are slightly better again because, even with opinion, they have the space to provide more information, and also have the letters forum to provide dissenting feedback.

My stance tends to be:

  1. unless you are willing to research to source facts, don't take to heart much that you hear, see or read in the media. Take it in and fit it into your knowledge set but don't build a religion out of it. Skepticism works.
  2. find media outlets/journalists that you can trust - through your own footwork, you've found them to be generally truthful and accurate because of past research. If you find journalists like this promote them.
  3. keep a very open mind, but don't be swayed by every idiot with an agenda. Be willing to debate, but be willing to concede when faced with better information.
  4. if you are interested in staying informed, learn how to research your information quickly and keep these sources close at hand so you can verify those items that, at the very least, affect you and those close to you. (smart researching is a skill that can be learned).
Now you might think that I have time to read all sorts of stuff and that your job, kids, family, cat, plants, hobby keep you from reading as much as you "should". After all the babling above all I mean to say is that don't necessarily settle for the media that you have. Be critical (a much maligned word defined one way as - adj. "containing analystical evaluations") and demand quality information for your efforts.

My 3 cents (Canadian). Thanks!

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Text © Todd Kuipers, 1998, 1999. Part of the original Sideroad.
The new Sideroad is now receiving traffic at www.sideroad.com.