Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

November 10 2010

18:31

Understanding How Political Cartoons Intersect with Newsgames

We are midway through the semester and the newsgames project studio at Georgia Tech is running at full steam. Newsgames: Journalism at Play, a survey of the field of newsgames by project director Ian Bogost, graduate assistant Simon Ferrari, and myself, is out and is available online and in bookstores.

We've spent the semester breaking down popular arcade and Atari games to find relevant structures for game generation, and identifying elements of meaning that we're calling "micro-rhetorics." Each student has also sought out related topics for analysis and critique on our research studio blog, which we update two to three times a week. Recently we've covered Soviet arcade machines, a game about the Chilean miner rescue, and the online migration of political cartoonists.

A few weeks ago, Mike Mikula, editorial cartoonist for the Atlanta Business Chronicle, paid our studio a visit. He shared a number of insights from his profession and fielded our questions about how we should go about interacting with other cartoonists and local newspaper editors.

Life of an Editorial Cartoonist

Every workday begins with Mikula spending hours (sometimes even half the day) doing research. He has a subscription to a number of papers and he reads them all over breakfast. Then he peruses blogs after sending his kids off to school, sifting through everything from The Huffington Post to TMZ. He draws inspiration from whatever catches his eye, following his time-honed instinctual humor and playing off the work of colleagues. The typical turnaround for one of his traditional cartoons is a day.

We were particularly interested in the interactive work Mikula did for CNN. His "poll cartoons" present users with a cue frame that invokes the issue at hand, typically posing a direct question. Users then vote on one of three choices: A liberal choice, a conservative one, and a toss-up drawn from celebrity news or other tabloid sources. Usually, the resulting frame shares many of the formal elements of the cue frame, and users can see how many people voted for each of the choices. Comparing the three result frames conjures many of the pleasures of hypertext fiction, without the accompanying anxiety that the user might have "missed" alternative paths.

Mikula explained that the exercise of making these interactive cartoons allowed him to tackle events from multiple perspectives, something that cartoonists usually aren't able to do. The poll cartoons also allow Mikula to transcend party lines and appeal to both major constituencies, despite his left-leaning views.

We also looked at a few variations on the animated political cartoon, a form being refined by Mikula and other cartoonists such as Ann Telnaes. Telnaes, the second woman to win the Pulitzer for editorial cartooning, makes motion cartoons for the Washington Post. Many of these are minimally animated, but they combine traditional panel techniques with poignant editing to great effect. Mikula said many cartoonists are struggling to adopt new technologies, such as Flash, to expand their digital work. The time required to refine new techniques and produce the additional material is daunting, but the results definitely seem to be catching the eye of some news media sources.

Removing Passion

One of the most intriguing suggestions from Mikula was that we learn to separate our passions from our interests. He explained that there are a number of political issues that he personally feels strongly about, but he avoids making cartoons about them in order to ensure he doesn't come off as a skipping record. This is actually a fairly uncommon practice in the design of newsgames, where personal issues tend to drive creation. Perhaps this passion is necessary for maintaining the persistence and teamwork required to make a game, but the expediting features of the Cartoonist project may be a way to bring interest and passion back to a healthy balance.

It meant a lot to us that Mikula was willing to visit and consult on our project, despite the fact that some cartoonists see it as a potential threat to their business. He was genuinely interested in the hurdles we were facing and finding out where our research might best be directed. By figuring out how humorists like Mikula scope out topics and find angles of attack, we'll be able to refine the user interface for our tool. We're welcoming more local cartoonists and AAEC members to the studio in the coming months in an effort to learn from them and figure out how to help them develop interactive work through our tool.

September 09 2010

15:45

What Apple’s new App Store rules mean for news orgs: Some new clarity, but still plenty of fuzziness

After loads of criticism for unexplained decisions, inscrutable rules, and what appeared to be a desire to protect the public’s morals and the feelings of the powerful, Apple has decided to finally state what the rules are for getting your app accepted into the App Store for iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. (The change comes packaged with another shift of interest to many developers: allowing them to use non-Apple tools to code their applications.)

Developers have had many complaints about what had been a highly opaque process, but from the perspective of journalists, there were two complaints that trumped all. First, Apple seemed leery about criticism of public officials. As we reported, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore had his iPhone app rejected because it made fun of public figures — a task in the first sentence of any editorial cartoonist’s job description. And second, Apple seemed eager to play morality police, rejecting apps from legitimate news outlets that dared to show a nipple or otherwise titillate beyond Apple’s boundaries.

Now, for the first time, we have actual language from Apple on what’s allowed and what’s not. Not always precise language, but language. On the first point of satire and criticism, here’s Apple’s rule:

Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harms way will be rejected

Professional political satirists and humorists are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary

As a practical matter, that exemption lets just about any news organization or working journalist off the hook on charges of being too satirical/cruel/malicious. As we’ve seen a number of editorial-cartoon apps get rejected then approved, I suspect this rule was already in place inside Apple.

But the future-of-journalism pundit inside me can’t help but get riled up whenever someone starts trying to separate political speakers into “professionals” and everyone else. Particularly since that first clause is so broadly defined. So a professional columnist or cartoonist can say nasty things about Obama, but Joe Citizen can’t? Defining who is a “professional” when it comes to opinion-sharing is sketchy enough, but when it includes political speech and the defining is being done by overworked employees of a technology company, it’s odious.

As for the second issue, “objectionable” content:

Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected

Clear, right? Actually, there’s some additional narrative language on the same subject:

We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, “I’ll know it when I see it”. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.

Unsurprisingly, though, different people see different lines. And while mainstream news organizations in the United States are unlikely to be crossing whatever Apple’s line is (cue “This is a family newspaper!”), there are any number of legitimate online publications that could. So Potter Stewart’s quote ends up being another way to dodge specifics. And as with the satire question, the line gets drawn between the respectable pros and the rest in the rabble.

Finally, there’s one more element in the new guidelines that will be of interest to nonprofit news organizations. As our friend Jake Shapiro at PRX has written, Apple’s policy on seeking donations through iPhone apps leaves a lot to be desired from the nonprofit’s point of view — in part because the rules were never clear. Here’s what they are now:

Apps that include the ability to make donations to recognized charitable organizations must be free

The collection of donations must be done via a web site in Safari or an SMS

The first element could impact apps like This American Life’s, which costs $2.99 — although it has asked for donations via push notifications, which may not fall under “the ability to make donations.” But it’s the second line that’s the complaint for nonprofits. Rather than kick a potential donor into a web browser, they’d like to be able to accept a gift directly within the app, using Apple’s one-click payment system. That’s the way in-app purchases (like buying extra features in an app or levels in a game) happens. Apple’s new rules don’t change anything about that policy.

September 02 2010

16:21

The Cartoonist Aims to Bring Newsgames to the Masses

The Cartoonist, our winning entry in the 2010 Knight News Challenge, emerged from two research programs. For the past two years, my research group at the Georgia Institute of Technology has been cataloging and analyzing the burgeoning genre of "newsgames" -- videogames about current and past real-world events. That research produced a book, Newsgames, which will be published next month by MIT Press.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, professor Michael Mateas and his Expressive Intelligence Studio at UC Santa Cruz have been working on the problem of game generation by creating artificial intelligence tools to create a virtually infinite number of games.

The goal of our two-year Knight grant is to create a tool for generating newsgames on the fly, making it viable to create a videogame about a breaking event. This is done by identifying the issue and an angle for editorial or reporting, boiling the story down into its constituent agents and their relationships, and selecting from a range of rhetorical archetypes. Anyone who understands how to use the tool will be able to create a newsgame, remixed from the structures and mechanics of popular arcade games, within five minutes or less. The game will output to Flash and HTML 5 for instant uploading to the web, where it can be paired with reportage, columns, video, infographics, and cartoons covering the same current event.

Early Newsgames

Our project strives to enhance the online viability of local newspapers and to lower the technical barrier required to produce videogames with editorial intent. We see it as as an extension of, rather than a replacement for, the tradition of editorial cartooning. The creator of the earliest newsgames, Gonzalo Frasca, was the first to describe his work as "playable political cartoons." The French-language history and geography textbooks Frasca encountered in high school featured many cartoons drawn by an artist from Le Monde, and they were, according to him, all that made civics education bearable.

By now, anyone studying or working in journalism understands the great loss to news revenue caused by the shift of classifieds to online sources such as Craigslist and eBay. It is our contention that the abandonment of staff cartoonists at many papers -- a tragic and highly visible symptom of overall budget cuts during the recent recession -- represents a similarly vital loss, though of a different kind. For over a century, editorial cartoons drew attention to issues of local importance and generated a sense of regional pride. Their contribution to the wellbeing of local papers has never been easily quantifiable, but it's clear that they've always served a pivotal role in maintaining product loyalty and funneling readers toward the rest of the paper.

Appeal of Puzzles

Games accomplish a similar goal: Studies by the New York Times, the London Times, and a number of local papers showed that a significant percentage of their readerships bought the paper primarily for the puzzles. Although the crossword retains its loyalists, and despite the advent of Sudoku having ushered in a new generation of puzzlers, the rise in popularity of online web game portals represents yet another threat to the growth and retention of news readerships.

The new online news media require a new form of game, one that draws from the accessibility of arcade games and the capability of videogames to present an editorial opinion. Indeed, The Cartoonist has uses far beyond interactive cartoons, and as a result we will be changing the final product's name to reflect its broad potential. More on that as things progress.

Once it is fully developed, our studios will work with local reporters, columnists, and cartoonists in Atlanta and Santa Cruz to introduce them to the authoring system. Later, we'll make the tool and its source code available to everyone, from veteran cartoonists, to indie game developers, to citizen journalists. Until then, we'll be publishing findings, problems, and points of interest twice a month on this blog, along with other articles on our own Newsgames and Expressive Intelligence Studio websites. We look forward to your questions, comments, and continued support.

16:21

The Cartoonist Aims to Bring Newsgames to the Masses

The Cartoonist, our winning entry in the 2010 Knight News Challenge, emerged from two research programs. For the past two years, my research group at the Georgia Institute of Technology has been cataloging and analyzing the burgeoning genre of "newsgames" -- videogames about current and past real-world events. That research produced a book, Newsgames, which will be published next month by MIT Press.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, professor Michael Mateas and his Expressive Intelligence Studio at UC Santa Cruz have been working on the problem of game generation by creating artificial intelligence tools to create a virtually infinite number of games.

The goal of our two-year Knight grant is to create a tool for generating newsgames on the fly, making it viable to create a videogame about a breaking event. This is done by identifying the issue and an angle for editorial or reporting, boiling the story down into its constituent agents and their relationships, and selecting from a range of rhetorical archetypes. Anyone who understands how to use the tool will be able to create a newsgame, remixed from the structures and mechanics of popular arcade games, within five minutes or less. The game will output to Flash and HTML 5 for instant uploading to the web, where it can be paired with reportage, columns, video, infographics, and cartoons covering the same current event.

Early Newsgames

Our project strives to enhance the online viability of local newspapers and to lower the technical barrier required to produce videogames with editorial intent. We see it as as an extension of, rather than a replacement for, the tradition of editorial cartooning. The creator of the earliest newsgames, Gonzalo Frasca, was the first to describe his work as "playable political cartoons." The French-language history and geography textbooks Frasca encountered in high school featured many cartoons drawn by an artist from Le Monde, and they were, according to him, all that made civics education bearable.

By now, anyone studying or working in journalism understands the great loss to news revenue caused by the shift of classifieds to online sources such as Craigslist and eBay. It is our contention that the abandonment of staff cartoonists at many papers -- a tragic and highly visible symptom of overall budget cuts during the recent recession -- represents a similarly vital loss, though of a different kind. For over a century, editorial cartoons drew attention to issues of local importance and generated a sense of regional pride. Their contribution to the wellbeing of local papers has never been easily quantifiable, but it's clear that they've always served a pivotal role in maintaining product loyalty and funneling readers toward the rest of the paper.

Appeal of Puzzles

Games accomplish a similar goal: Studies by the New York Times, the London Times, and a number of local papers showed that a significant percentage of their readerships bought the paper primarily for the puzzles. Although the crossword retains its loyalists, and despite the advent of Sudoku having ushered in a new generation of puzzlers, the rise in popularity of online web game portals represents yet another threat to the growth and retention of news readerships.

The new online news media require a new form of game, one that draws from the accessibility of arcade games and the capability of videogames to present an editorial opinion. Indeed, The Cartoonist has uses far beyond interactive cartoons, and as a result we will be changing the final product's name to reflect its broad potential. More on that as things progress.

Once it is fully developed, our studios will work with local reporters, columnists, and cartoonists in Atlanta and Santa Cruz to introduce them to the authoring system. Later, we'll make the tool and its source code available to everyone, from veteran cartoonists, to indie game developers, to citizen journalists. Until then, we'll be publishing findings, problems, and points of interest twice a month on this blog, along with other articles on our own Newsgames and Expressive Intelligence Studio websites. We look forward to your questions, comments, and continued support.

April 20 2010

19:01

Apple approves Pulitzer winner’s iPhone app; cartoonist now free to mock the powerful on cell phones

Big update on the Mark Fiore story: His editorial cartoon app, NewsToons, is finally available for sale in the iTunes App Store. The app — smartly marketed as “the app Steve Jobs was talking about!” — is available for download here, for 99 cents.

For those who missed our post Thursday, Fiore is this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for editorial cartooning. But he couldn’t get his iPhone app past Apple’s app review process. In December, Apple rejected NewsToons because, as Apple put it, his satire “ridicules public figures,” a violation of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which bars any apps whose content in “Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

After our story, Apple faced a wave of criticism from around the web, and the company invited Fiore to resubmit the app for approval on Friday. Apple CEO Steve Jobs called the initial rejection a “mistake,” but critics still worry about the editorial control Apple has over the content sold in the App Store, on iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads.

April 15 2010

11:00

Mark Fiore can win a Pulitzer Prize, but he can’t get his iPhone cartoon app past Apple’s satire police

This week cartoonist Mark Fiore made Internet and journalism history as the first online-only journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize. Fiore took home the editorial cartooning prize for animations he created for SFGate, the website for the San Francisco Chronicle.

I spoke with Fiore about his big win and plans for his business. Fiore is not on staff at the Chronicle, or anywhere else; since 1999, he’s run a syndication business, selling his Flash animations à la carte to TV, newspaper, and magazine websites for about $300 a piece. (The price varies by size of the outlet.) In a typical month, he might have about eight clients. Before 1999, he ran a similar syndication business for his print cartoons, using a lower-price-per-image, higher-volume model.

When I asked about the next phase of his business, curious if it will include a mobile element, Fiore said he’s definitely hopeful about mobile devices. “I think the iPads and anything iPod to iPhone — to maybe a product not made by Apple — will be good or could be good for distributing this kind of thing,” he said.

But there’s just one problem. In December, Apple rejected his iPhone app, NewsToons, because, as Apple put it, his satire “ridicules public figures,” a violation of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which bars any apps whose content in “Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

Here’s the email Fiore received from Apple on December 21, 2009:

Dear Mr. Fiore,

Thank you for submitting NewsToons to the App Store. We’ve reviewed NewsToons and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains content that ridicules public figures and is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement which states:

“Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.” Examples of such content have been attached for your reference.

If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that NewsToons does not violate the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.

Regards,

iPhone Developer Program

Apple attached screenshots of the offending material, including an image depicting the White House gate crashers interrupting an Obama speech. Two other grabs include images referencing torture, Balloon Boy, and various political issues.

Fiore isn’t the first editorial cartoonist to clash with Apple. Last year, an app called Bobble Rep app, which used political caricatures by Tom Richmond, was initially rejected by Apple. After an online uproar, a few days later Apple changed its position, allowing the app into the store. (Fiore’s rejection landed in his inbox just a month later.) Daryl Cagle, who runs a cartoon syndication site with 900 newspaper subscribers, had a similar battle with Apple last year, waiting around for months before eventually being allowed in. And while Apple eventually ruled in those cartoonists favor, the company went on an app-banning spree in February targeting apps with bikini-level sexual content. (Although a few established news brands like Sports Illustrated were allowed to remain.)

It’s also an example of the alarm bells some critics of the app store system were sounding in the lead-up to the release of the iPad. Brian Chen at Wired warned publishers to consider questions of independence, in light of a controversy over Apple’s vague policy on sexual content. And several German news orgs like Bild and Stern have already seen Apple get into the business of banning certain editorial content from the App Store.

Fiore has not resubmitted his app, saying he’d heard about the experiences of others cartoonists and wasn’t in a position to get into a fight with Apple. Still, he has a hunch Apple will eventually change its mind on him, as it has with other cartoon apps. “They seem so much more innovative and smarter than that,” he told me.

Apple did not respond to my request for comment on its satire policy, or Fiore’s case in particular.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl