Assignment 3 – Part 1 (2 features)

The following two film reviews were written for the ‘movies’ section of Salon.com.

Salon.com is part of the Salon Media Group, and it is an online magazine that covers a range of issues in American politics. It also reviews and produces articles about music, books and film.

“District 9”

Alien spaceship hovering over 'District 9' by Sony Pictures, cc.

Alien spaceship hovering over ‘District 9’ by Sony Pictures

Head to ‘District 9’ to evict the aliens as Blomkamp delivers a remarkable piece of sci-fi cinema.

By Jennifer Sansolis

October 10, 2009| Neill Blomkamp makes his debut in the sci-fi mockumentaryDistrict 9’ (full screen trailer upon clicked entry). Mentored by the award-winning director Peter Jackson from ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Blomkamp constructs an original, heart-pounding sci-fi film that merges with reality. While it’s easy to see that he’s not all that experienced at directing, Blomkamp makes a name for himself with the action and suspense that he builds on throughout the movie.

While most preceding sci-fi movies depict humans in fear of aliens and tease out ideas of what aliens would do to humans, Blomkamp instead invites us to consider what humans would do to aliens. Moreover, in ‘District 9’, humans rescue starving aliens from a spaceship that is hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa, and toss them into an area called ‘District 9’.

In choosing the city of his youth, Blomkamp is able to establish a sense of place, from the accents to the towns to the dusty environment. Additionally, the South African setting hones into a metaphor of the country’s history of apartheid and social problems.

With Nigerian gangs soon operating in the area, ‘District 9’ is quickly transformed into a slum. With nothing to sell but their weapons in exchange for food, the aliens are forced to live in substandard circumstances and feed on cat food, and are derogatorily labelled “prawns” because of their appearance with hard shell areas and thin joints.

Yet, although humans effortlessly buy the alien weaponry, they are unable to use them because their activation requires alien DNA.

Therefore, after 20 years in ‘District 9’, people are getting irritated by the alien presence and want them to leave. As a consequence, the government agency and weapons manufacturer, Multi-National United (or MNU), declare that it’s time to relocate the aliens further away from the city. For this task, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is put in charge, a man who is married to the daughter of MNU’s boss.

While delivering eviction notices to the prawns, Wikus comes into contact with an illegal lab run by an alien named Christopher Johnson and accidentally sprays liquid on himself. Within hours, his DNA begins to change and he becomes the first human-alien hybrid, which makes him a value to anyone who wants to operate alien weapons.

At first, the film seems to focus too heavily on the simulated documentary-style footage, news reports, political commentary and security camera footage. Yet all of the pseudo-footage creates a sense of realism and makes you feel like you’re in the movie alongside Wikus.

The aliens, created completely using Computer Generated Imagery (also known as CGI), are given real substance and appear to have as much character as the human characters in the film. Yet, aside from the little we learn about the alien character Christopher Johnson and his son, it’s a shame that we don’t learn more about the aliens and how smart they are.

Still in training, Blomkamp is not able to capture the other characters aside from Wikus. However, the film wouldn’t have worked without Wikus, who is the only human character who develops in the narrative. This may be why Blomkamp prioritizes Wikus’ storyline over the alien one.

Nonetheless, without a $200 million budget, Blomkamp is able to capture our minds and get our hearts thumping with a budget of about $30 million, indicating his promising skill in filmmaking.

If you’ve seen this movie, we’d like to know what you thought.



“Up”

Mr. Frederickson, Russell and the talking dog Dug hang on for their lives, by Disney and Pixar, cc.

Mr. Frederickson, Russell and the talking dog Dug hang on for their lives, by Disney and Pixar

Let your imagination whisk you ‘Up’ into the sky as a suburban house takes flight with thousands of multi-coloured balloons.

By Jennifer Sansolis

October 12, 2009 | In Disney and Pixar’s “Up” (movie trailer), a sense of realism is brought to the screen with incredible animation and traditional storytelling, adding to Disney and Pixar’s list of successful children’s films including WALL-E, Ratatouille, Cars and The Incredibles.

“Up” begins as the wishful adventure of two neighbourhood children, Carl and Ellie , who want to explore the mystical place of Andes in South America and who are fascinated by a gallant explorer named ‘Charles F. Muntz’ (voiced by Christopher Plummer). As Carl and Ellie grow up, they fall in love and get married with plans of fulfilling their childhood dreams, but everyday life gets in their way and their plan never eventuates.

“Up” evolves into 78-year-old Carl Frederickson’s (voiced by Ed Asner) attempt to live out his late wife’s yearning to go on an adventure. The cranky widower and balloon-seller, Mr. Frederickson, decides that it’s not too late to make his wife’s dreams transpire.

The night before he is supposed to be taken into a retirement home, he fills up thousands of balloons with helium and attaches them to his home as he takes flight for South America.

Little does he know that he has company aboard his flying-home, until he hears a knock on his door in mid-air. It’s the chubby, annoying boy-scout, Russell, who he shooed away a few days earlier. 8-year-old Russell, voiced by Jordon Nagai (interview clip) accidentally tags along, in need of obtaining his final Wilderness Explorer boy-scout badge for, ‘assisting the elderly’.

When the pair arrive in South America, they realise that they need to cross to the other side of the cliff and rest the house where Ellie wanted it. While walking day and night with the house attached to their backs, the two come across talking dogs and an enormous brightly coloured bird named Kevin.

Their journey is not without danger as they bump into someone who wants to capture Kevin. The pair work together to save him and learn about themselves and each other along the way.

“Up” appears to be a children’s film with bright, boisterous colours, but the narrative itself can be appreciated by children and adults alike. The story is both sentimental and funny; it has a genuine family appeal.

The animation, which can be viewed in both 3D and conventional cinema is exceptional. The three dimensional version used in the film is used to convey height and depth to the forest in Andes, South America.

The writers and directors Peter Docter (WALL-E and Monsters, Inc. co-writer) and Bob Peterson (co-writer of Finding Nemo and Ratatouille) deliver a warm-hearted and amusing tale. It’s no wonder that it was chosen as the first animated feature ever to open The Cannes Film Festival.

If you’ve seen this movie, we’d like to know what you thought.


The Power of Twitter

I recently learned something interesting that I thought I’d share. In a bid to reach an anonymous Tweeter who has been impersonating a solicitor, Britain’s High Court has been the first to order an injunction via Twitter.

The Solicitors at Griffin Law sought an injunction against a Twitter account titled Blaneysblarney, claiming that it was impersonating the owner of Griffin Law, Donal Blaney, who is a right-wing blogger.

The anonymous Tweeter will receive a message from the High Court the next time they open their account, asking them to remove their posts and identify themselves to the High Court.

Though even with a ban placed against the anonymous Tweeter, you have to wonder how the High Court will be able to enforce it if the person doesn’t come forward. With the hundreds of online impersonators out there, you have to wonder if such an order can truly impede those impersonators?


Categories: Twitter Tags:

Attaching a Price-tag to Online Content

While researching for the website analysis earlier this semester, I stumbled across a few websites that asked me to pay for their content. I dismissed them and continued on with my search for free content. But it made me question, ‘Is there value in paid online content?’

With the likes of Rupert Murdoch, we may no longer have a choice. In May, he announced that News Corp would start charging for some newspaper titles over the next year. There are still loads of other news outlets, but what if they all follow suit in a bid to generate cash?

Surely, this isn’t what Berners-Lee had in mind when he envisioned the world wide web. He believed that the web would be a place where people would openly and productively share information, not charge for it.

There’s no doubt that newspaper ad sales and circulation have been plummeting with the British Financial Times looking to a click-per-view system of payments, comparable to the iTunes model. The New York Times too, is also looking to a charging system and tiered membership.

Yet, will their plans to change the liberated nature of the Internet eventuate? And if they do, will those who charge for content survive? With filtering systems like Google and the newly launched Bing, it remains easy to find unpaid content. In spite of that, there are still those who are willing to pay for niche publications and specialised information inaccessible elsewhere. The Wall Street Journal and ESPN have successfully created a paying market, but whether it would be as successful for the Herald Sun, for instance, remains to be seen.

According to a poll from Harris Interactive, three out four online news readers would switch to an alternative free source if their favourite news site began charging for access, and a mere 5% would continue to pay for their preferred news source if it started charging for content.

In Australia, however, a study from the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers reveals that people would pay for online news, sports, weather and finance. According to the report, people will pay for content if it saves them money, helps them make money, is specialised content or helps them use other products like software.

Web Analysis – The Online Press

Introduction

With the advent of the Internet, newspapers have had to reassess their roles and adapt to the changing media environment. The aim of this article will be to determine the current state of the online press by analysing the coverage of one story across three newspaper websites; The Age, the Guardian and the International Herald Tribune (The International Edition of the New York Times). It will analyse how well each website uses web writing and publishing techniques, and decide which is the most successful in reaching their target audience. More specifically, three broad categories have been selected to evaluate each website: textual content, interactivity, and design. This study will be will be divided into three main parts, one section per newspaper website and all sections will analyse the coverage of the recent indictment of three internet hackers who stole 130 million credit and debit card numbers. This evaluation was carried out between the 18th and the 20th of August, 2009.

The Age

Textual Content

The headline, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’: ‘soup nazi’ hacker’s motto”, is attention grabbing. Yet, with only one keyword, ‘hacker’, the headline is almost meaningless. Without reading the entire text of the story, where it is explained that ‘soupnazi’ was one of many online nicknames that the mastermind hacker, Albert Gonzalez, used; and “get rich or die trying” is the label Gonzalez gave to his hacking operation, the majority of readers are likely to be unable to identify what the article is about.

The impact that keywords have on newspaper websites like The Age is immense. Nicola Cowen explains that newspaper websites are already fairly low down on the list of online places that people go to look for news (paid content), instead preferring specialist websites like ESPN for sports news and so on.

Additionally the article’s text is not straightforward or coherent. For instance, the first paragraph describes how a former Secret Service informant complained to his associates of having to manually count $20 bills. It is not until the forth paragraph where the author states the news that Gonzalez and two Russian men have been indicted this week for stealing credit cards. This may cause The Age to lose readership since a study by John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen found that users like organized sites that make information easy to find.

Interactivity

Hyperlinks

There are two hyperlinks within the article and neither have link text which explains where the link will lead. For instance, one hyperlink text is simply the word “reported” and it leads to an article about Gonzalez from the New York Daily News. While the link provides readers with a greater context of the story, it would have been beneficial for the link text to describe what to expect from the link so that readers are guided rather than startled. In their book ‘Creative Editing’, Dorothy A. Bowles and Dianne L. Borden similarly argue that “readers don’t want a surprise after waiting for a page to download”.

Multimedia
There is one photograph of the mastermind hacker, Gonzalez, embedded into the text. And there is one short video of a former hacker, Kevin Mitnick, explaining how modern-day hackers work and how Gonzalez was able to steal credit card numbers. The video capitalizes on the Internet’s ability to broadcast like television.

Discussion
The invitation to type comments about the story on Twitter without restrictions should be commended since some online US newspapers have taken a strict, rule-laden approach to social networking sites like Twitter (paid content), as reported by Joe Strupp in Editor and Publisher. However, after following the link to Twitter, it appears that no one has actually made a comment. Thus, though The Age has attempted to become interactive, people have failed to make use of it.

Design

The page is cluttered with external advertisements on the top, bottom and right side of the page and the excessive cross-promotion of other Fairfax Digital websites and articles. This could be detrimental to the sites success because users like clear and scanable pages. Figure 1 shows the crowded rows and columns of cross-promotion that The Age includes at the bottom of the article’s page.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Furthermore, in terms of navigation, I was able to find the link to the story quite easily on the homepage of The Age’s website under the heading ‘Technology’, with a thumbnail photo of Gonzalez.

International Herald Tribune

Textual Content

The headline “3 Indicted in Theft of 130 Million Card Numbers” (free subscriber only content) is straightforward and includes key words like “theft”, “130 million” and “indicted”, immediately encapsulating what the story is about. However, the headline could have also included the keywords “credit card” and “debit card” since those words are repeated multiple times in the body of the article.

The text is written in an inverted pyramid, listing the newest and most important information first and descending into other details as the article progresses. This is effective because the inverted pyramid writing style has been validated as the preferred norm among internet users.

Interactivity

Hyperlinks
There seven hyperlinks within the article’s text, all of which serve to provide context to the article. Six of those seven links are internal and the only external link connects to an article by Wired.com, which provides more detail about Gonzalez and the lifestyle he led. Since most of the links are internal, it appears that the website is avoiding external links.

That said, beneath the article, there are links to ‘related articles’ from both the New York Times and external websites, each under the corresponding headings. This works to give readers the option of viewing a range of opinions about the story. It is also important to note that the website does not cross-promote other websites owned by the New York Times Company under the list of external websites that it provides.

Like The Age and Guardian articles, the International Herald Tribune‘s link texts provide no explanation as to where links will lead. One example of this is the link text “the indictment”, which directs readers to a PDF file of an official court document stating the charges against Gonzalez. There is no indication that the file is in PDF (Portable Document Format).

This link is also interesting because it is an example of the International Herald Tribune‘s attempt to keep people within their site. This is because the court document has been converted into a New York Times file rather than remaining as an external link to the United States District Court file of Gonzalez’s indictment (PDF).

Multimedia

There is one photograph of the Hannaford Brothers supermarket, one of the companies which were infiltrated by the three hackers. This visual is helpful because readers like to see graphical elements accompanying news text.

Design

The page is broken up into two main columns: the left column contains the article, and the right is filled with advertisements and links to the 10 most popular technology articles. Additionally, there is a break embedded within the article’s text with a list of links to related articles. There is also more cross-promotion of other sections of the New York Times with links to those sections, as shown in Figure 2. This is similar to that which appeared in The Age, but to a lesser degree.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Guardian

Textual Content

Unlike The Age, the headline “US hacker charged with stealing 130m credit card IDs” explains exactly what the story is about, and includes the key words ‘hacker’, ‘US’, ‘credit card’ and ‘130m’, which are later repeated in the body of the article.

The kicker provides further detail about who was involved, a “former secret service worker” and “retail companies”. And like the International Herald Tribune, the article uses an inverted pyramid writing style.

The Guardian’s article is easy-to-read and internet jargon is explained. For instance, malware is explained as software that “systematically steals data” and sniffer programmes are described as “programmes that look for financial information”.

Interactivity

Hyperlinks
There is only one link within the article’s text. Again the link text “hacking” is not helpful in telling readers where the link will go, and leads to the “hacking” section of the Guardian’s website. The link functions to cross-promote other Guardian articles about hacking.

Multimedia
There are no photographs, or videos accompanying the text.

However, the Guardian article takes advantage of the Internet as a medium and does not restrict itself to the perception of the traditional form of the print newspaper, by giving readers the ability to adjust the font to larger and smaller sizes.

Design

In comparison to The Age and the International Herald Tribune, the Guardian is the most clutter free, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Additionally, while there is cross-promotion of other Guardian articles and external advertising, the simple design makes the Guardian page easy to navigate. Respectively, a study by Carlos Flavia’n and Raquel Gurrea (paid content) found that people are more likely to visit newspaper websites if they are easy to use.

Conclusion

This analysis has found that like many online newspapers, the three newspaper websites analysed have not taken full advantage of the Internet’s interactive capabilities, or linked extensively to external locations, or written adequate link text. A content analysis of 100 US newspapers by Tanjev Schultz similarly found that media organizations have not yet exploited the Internet’s interactivity effectively and have neglected to provide adequate interactive forums like chat rooms and videoconferencing. Likewise, Steve Paulussen’s study found that interactivity, external hyperlinks and the integration of text, audio and video is yet to be improved in Flemish newspaper websites.

The target audience for all three websites is likely to include readers of the print editions of the websites and people in search of online news. Thus, the goals of the three online newspapers would probably be to make a profit, to publish news in an online format, and to be as user-friendly as possible. This would mean that they would have the goals of creating articles which are concise, skimmable, hyperlinked and interactive.

Hence, overall I think that the International Herald Tribune is most successful in reaching its target audience. The combination of its easy-to-read, inverted pyramid style textual content, fairly organized design, and moderate use of interactive and multimedia content make it more successful than the cluttered design and incoherent text in The Age, and the many hyperlinks weaved into the text and greater use of multimedia make it more successful than the Guardian . A comparison of the three websites on Compete.com illustrates that the New York Times also has the most online traffic compared to The Age and Guardian (Figure 4).

Figure 4

The Safest Browser

August 17, 2009 5 comments

I recently learned that Internet Explorer 8 is the safest browser out there, at the moment.

Two studies by NSS Labs compared the following browsers for browser protection against socially engineered malware and phishing:

  • Apple Safari v4
  • Google Chrome 2
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer v8
  • Mozilla Firefox v3
  • Opera 10 Beta

Here’s a quick look at the results:

Comparison of Protection against Malware
malware results

Comparison of Protection against Phishing
phishing results

As you can see both studies found that Internet Explorer 8 was the safest. This is could be because Internet Explorer now has different technology. It uses SmartScreen® Filter technology. While Firefox, Safari and Chrome all use Google’s SafeBrowsing API.

Strangely, I’m using Firefox to write this blog, and the fact that Internet Explorer is the safest hasn’t changed my mind… I don’t mind, Firefox came in at second in both tests anyway.

Categories: browser, web Tags: ,

The death of the newspaper?

August 14, 2009 1 comment

As a media student, I’ve encountered readings, lectures, books and articles predicting the death of the newspaper. Some have talked about how the internet or other new media will take over the newspapers role. They say it’s only a matter of time.

But are we really approaching the death of the newspaper? And if we are, is there anything that we can do to save it?

Maybe all we need is change. Or a fresh way to look at an old idea.

Take the television, for example. The clunky analog televisions are now beginning to be replaced by the slim and sleek digital ones. Not to mention, all of the supporting improvements which have made the television more useful and appealing, like VHS, VCD, DVD, and now Blu-ray discs.

Or take another example. The internet, for instance, was used by few until the World Wide Web was developed to make it user-friendly.

Many information mediums have undergone repairs to make them more applicable as times change. Perhaps we’ve just been thinking about the whole newspaper situation in a constrained way. Maybe all that the newspaper needs is a transformation.

Taking a clue from the television and Internet, newspapers would need to become more useful and visually appealing.

I think Jacek Utko has found a solution to the design aspect. He’s increased newspaper circulation in various countries across Europe. Take a peek at the clip below and you’ll see that the newspaper may have a future after all. Perhaps, it’s just not the one that some had envisioned.

What do you think? Does the newspaper have a future? Check out my poll, post what you think, and see what others have said.

Categories: newspaper Tags:

Use the web to understand it

August 5, 2009 2 comments

After reading all of the set readings this week, I was most influenced by the article written by Scott Karp on Publishing 2.0 titled ‘The Only Way For Journalists To Understand The Web Is To Use It‘.

Karp is right when he says that the only way to understand the web and web writing is to get involved in web publishing. So while I had to start a blog as part of my assessment, I also decided to get more involved in other forms of web publishing.

While I’ve heard of twitter as a result of many celebrities and politicians using it. Today, I finally signed up to it.

It was different to other social networking sites that I’ve been to. I signed up and within seconds, people I don’t know started following me even though I hadn’t made any tweets.

Also interesting to know is that twitter was recently valued by an independent research firm, NeXt Up Research, at $441M-589M.

I thought this kind of related to what Sarah asked us in class about how youtube makes money and that advertising is unlikely to cover the costs of running the site. So I found it kind of strange that twitter turned down Facebook’s offer to buy it for $500M last October, especially since some suggest that sites like Facebook and MySpace are its biggest competition, and since many people still don’t know what twitter is.