Archive for January, 2010

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Literary Classics Vs. The Graphic Novel

January 31, 2010

While checking out some recent blogs on ArtsBeat, I came across a post for the New York Times Graphic Books Best Seller List. Since taking a class on postmodern literature at UW, which covered the emergence of the Graphic Novel as a new medium for story telling, I’ve been a bit fascinated by the format, so I clicked through to the list, and was more than a little disappointed with what I saw.

The hardcover list was topped by The Book of Genesis: Illustrated. It also featured graphic re-castings of The Wizard of Oz, Pride and Prejudice, and Steven King’s The Stand. Between these were the standard DC and Marvel faire – Batman, Wolverine, etc.

The paperback list was a bit more respectable, and featured graphic novel behemoths like Watchmen, Maus, and Persepolis in the top 10.

Graphic novels are a relatively new way of consuming books. They’re a fascinating mix of the visual and the story, that in some ways exceeds what you can get in a comic book in terms of story line, and what you can get in a novel in terms of representation. Maus is a fine example of a well-done graphic novel, because it tells a story, the narrative of a father’s experience in the holocaust and the effects it had on him later in life, including the effect on the relationship between him and his son, in a way never previously conceived. Each image tells as much of the story as the text does. Visual symbolism, like the representation of Jews as mice and Germans as cats, works as much as literature to contribute to the overall effect of the story. This story could not be told in the form of a novel, because the descriptions of the characters would lack the symbolism incorporated into the art. Using other visual media, like film or animation, to achieve this effect would push the aesthetic to close to the realm of cartoons and make the story seem trivial in comparison to the effect in the graphic novel. When employed correctly, and creatively, a graphic novel can be something completely different – a fusion or art and words that enhances both.

But, I must ponder the purpose of turning the Book of Genesis into a graphic novel. Or The Wizard of Oz, or Pride and Prejudice, for that matter. These are stories that have already succeeded as books. With Genesis, if the goal is to improve interest in religion among a younger audience, there are plenty of illustrated bibles or children’s books that achieve the same goal. I somehow doubt that the 20-somethings that are perusing the comics aisle at their local Barnes and Noble are going to be interested in picking this up. Those that are interested in Christianity will probably be at the point that they will be more interested in reading a bible than a graphic novel. Not to mention, the art is a bit… hoakey… for lack of a better word (and the cost – $25 for the Graphic Novel – I’m sure bibles can be found for much less).

In the case of The Wizard of Oz and Pride and Prejudice – these books have already made the jump to a visual medium, quite successfully, at that. The question arises then – do we need these things? Why are they being produced? Obviously, someone is reading these books – they’ve made it to the New York Times Bestsellers list.

It seems possible that some graphic novels are being made for the sake of making a graphic novel. Jane Austen did a pretty good job when she wrote Pride and Prejudice. It deals with people and inner dialogue, more than anything else, so visual assistants are not really needed (and we have them already anyway, thanks to the several film productions of the story). But, it’s a new medium, and it’s growing in popularity, so why not sell what you can while the getting is good? It ties back into the demand for new media and new things. Graphic novels are “new” so we want new materials in this medium.

I must question the value of these new graphic novels though. If we choose a graphic novel interpretation of a classic rather than reading the actual book, it seems possible we’re robbing ourselves of part of the fun of reading a book. With a novel, you are challenged to create a world in your mind that represents the words you’re reading on the page. With a graphic novel, that world is already created for you by imaginative and talented artists. No creativity needed. I’m sure the same argument was made against comic books when they began to gain popularity, but in an era where so much of our media is visual, where we replace reading articles with watching news clips, listening to a song with watching a music video, it seems almost dangerous to lose a little more ground for the written word. When stories are original and innovative, and take full advantage of the opportunities afforded to them by the medium, I think graphic novels are wonderful. But why reproduce something that’s already been done? We need more original work, rather than the same thing in a different skin.

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OMG IPAD!!!

January 30, 2010

So the new iPad is out. As a lover of all things Mac, I was excited to see what Apple had come up with this time, especially from the various rumors I’ve been hearing about this new contraption. When I hear the word “tablet” being thrown around, I immediately think of the potential for design. I can draw, I can touch – it’ll be awesome. According to some recent reviews on Techcrunch, however, it seems the iPad is really not everything we came to expect of it, which, while sad, is not completely surprising.

We are living in a time where we expect the next big thing to be released every six months. As much as everyone likes to hate on Apple, it has developed a reputation for being on the cutting edge of new technology, and setting the standard for what is new and cool in the gadget world. Apple made the MP3 player awesome, and everyone wanted one. Then they made an MP3 player with video, and everyone wanted one. Then came the iPhone, and, again, everyone wanted one. With each step, they revolutionized the available technology. As a culture in love with new gadgets, new technology, and new stuff in general, we expect every new thing to be some huge breakthrough in technology that we will have to challenge ourselves to learn to use (the iPhone was not exactly the most familiar toy to a generation of phone users that were just adapting to qwerty keyboards instead of number pads). So it’s no surprise that everyone seems to be so dissatisfied with the iPad. It’s nothing truly new, it’s old formats redesigned and put in a different case. Whatever the iPad may be able to do that an iphone can’t, a laptop can. So why is this thing so revolutionary? What’s the big deal? Clearly, the functions of this thing are so simple that the Peewee’s Playhouse gang can out-perform it (really, click the link, it’s a good laugh).

The reviews of the iPad seem to be an example of how today’s tech-thirsty consumers can miss the forest for the trees. Let’s take a step back, and look at the design of this thing. It’s all the functionality of a hand-held smart phone, minus the calling ability, packed into a 10 inch, .5 inch thick, “laptop”. You can type on it like you would a normal laptop, you can actually read web pages in the way they are designed to be viewed, you can read books, you can play and store music, you have an app store full of possibilities for this thing. And if there can be apps, there will be innovations.

This may be my Mac bias showing, but I think what we’re seeing here is a new format of laptop that is also designed to operate like a smart phone. This is the first generation of computers of this sort, so of course, it’s not going to be perfect. Let’s face it, the first laptops sucked. They’re incomparable to anything we have now. So why not consider the potential packed into this tiny new toy. We could make it bigger, and have interactive touch screens, half an inch thick, integrated into TV technology, that also function as computers. We could have smaller laptops that don’t suffer the software limitations placed on the current netbooks. I really do think there are endless possibilities here, they just haven’t been developed yet, and that might partly be our fault.

The public cries for the next big thing in technology. We want something that lets us do everything we want to do, but currently have to use separate devices to accomplish. We want iPods that let us word process and web browse, and laptops that fit in our pockets and take pictures and make phone calls. When a company like Apple lets it slip that they’re working on something kind of cool, we want it, and we want it NOW! When we don’t get it, well, like all good internet users, we tear that company down, call them liars, accuse them of all sorts of nasty business practices, and ultimately, we get a product that might have been much better if we’d chilled out a bit and let the latest technological bun stay in the oven a bit longer. The human imagination will always work faster than human hands, what we think up will always be just slightly beyond what we can make at the time, that’s where innovation is created. But to expect, or, I dare say, demand innovation on a semi-annual basis, simply because we’ve become bored with the last latest craze (although most users have barely scratched the surface on the capabilities of their smart phones) is expecting too much of the tech industry. They were doomed to fail at keeping up with demand at some point. I think the iPad is the unfortunate result of too much demand and not enough time. I guess the bright side is, we didn’t really need it anyway.

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Blogroll!

January 25, 2010

New sites have been added to the blogroll. These will be the blogs I turn to most frequently for news, info, inspiration, ideas – most of the material for this blog, and this post will be an explanation of what these blogs are, and how I’ll use them.

ArtsBeat is the  Culture and Arts blog for the New York Times. The blog covers art, film, theater, books, and music from around the world (mostly the “western” world). This will work as a source for what is new in the arts and the media and what might be connected to other media.

Big Picture is a blog that features exemplary news photographs from major news events and other, smaller stories. The photos are fantastic, and may work as a way to compare photos that show up in online spaces (blogs) to photos that are circulated in the mainstream (TV, newspapers, newspaper’s blogs, etc).

KEXP Blog is the blog for the Seattle community radio station, KEXP. Being from Seattle (temporarily relocated, but a Seattleite at heart) I’m addicted to the station. The blog provides non-genre specific updates in music, and also features a list of links to other music blogs to get additional info from. KEXP is also known for connecting community, arts and music, so their blog, and the site itself, is a good starting point for observing how a media outlet is connecting other forms of media.

News Busters is an anti-liberal media (one might say conservative) blog that features posts that are designed to expose liberal media bias. This site works as one side of an argument, for me, in that it represents how one group can interpret media stories. For the opposing side of the argument, see Think Progress.

Soshable is a blog that covers news in social media. This site will help me keep track of the advances being made in online communication (aka social media) and better understand how social media sites are being used.

TechCrunch covers news in the technology world. Much in the same way that it is important for me to use sites like Soshable to keep track of what’s new it social media, it’s important for me to track advances in technology to keep track of the newest gadgets people will be using to communicate, and what is going on in the technology biz that will effect the production of these new gadgets.

Technorati is a broad spectrum news blog that covers blogging, entertainment, business, sports, politics, etc. I’ll mostly be checking up on their blogging posts, but it will be a good example of news and media as seen through the scope of a mainstream blog, as opposed to the other mainstream media.

Huffington Post covers breaking news and editorials in a blog form. Much like Technorati, I’ll use this blog to compare with the mainstream media (TV, news sites, etc), and will also use it to compare to the Liberal and Conservative news blogs to get an idea of how news and opinion vary based on who is writing and where they’re posting.

The Artblog is a smaller blog that covers art in the Philadelphia and New York areas, occasionally venturing into international art. I’ll use this blog to compare to the New York Times arts and culture blog, to get a sense of the differences in presentation and focus between a mainstream media source, and a smaller, personal blog source.

Think Progress is a liberal news blog. It will work as the counter to the conservative news blog, News Busters. I’m hoping, at some point, that both will cover the same story from opposing points of view. That will be fun to analyze.

TMZ is simply the best source for pop-culture, online, tabloid style “news”. I’ll be turning to this site occasionally to gain a little perspective on the media, gain a better understanding of less “serious” forms of media (breaking news, fine art, classical music, etc) and to track when stories on TMZ turn up on other sites, to get an understanding of how news passes through the hierarchy of the media system.

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Improvements on Direction

January 21, 2010

In thinking about what I want this blog to be about, I’m finding it difficult to narrow my ideas down to one specific area or subject, but then, that is pretty much the story of my life (or at least my academic career). I’m the kid who started out wanting to be a marine biologist, then changed her mind and wanted to study journalism, switched schools and majors and would up in molecular biology/pre-med, then got bored with that and switched to English, then went back to journalism for another go. And somewhere in there I would up teaching fine art as well. I like to think this means I have a well-rounded education and a healthy interest in just about everything. However, others have equated my interest shifts to academic ADD. Either way, it makes it difficult to settle on one specific thing to write about, so I think I’m going to start really big, and hopefully explain how I’ll narrow my big idea down a bit.

I’m going to be looking at, and writing about, the media. (I told you I was going big). My posts may take the form of news reporting, media criticism/interpretation, discussions of media effects, or ideas or inspiration I draw from the media or from analyses of the media. Of course, by the media, I don’t just mean news sources (although they will be included). I’ll be looking at blogs, online mainstream media sites, art, books, and music. All of these things are “media” and I personally think all of them can have “effects” on society as a whole.

This broad interest in media is mostly coming from a series of paintings I saw a while back by Matt Held. Matt turned people’s facebook profile photos into painted portraits, and his paintings got me thinking about the interconnectivity of the media. We’re at a point where social media (a relatively new phenomenon in the media realm) is being integrated into art (possibly the oldest form of media, if you take the term loosely), and all of this got me thinking about media as a whole, the media’s effects on our lives (and vice versa), the media’s effects on other media. It all seems to be interconnected.

So this blog will be a place for snippets of my ideas on the media, as well as snippets fo media examples that I find interesting, inspiring, and worth looking at a little closer to hash out the meaning behind them and the influence they may have. I’m currently in the development process for a series of paintings that look at how media (all the media) influence individuals and society, so I hope that, by posting my ideas and leaving them up for discussion, I can get feedback, get inspired, and make this happen.

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Blogging and Journalism: The Future

January 18, 2010

The future effects of blogging on the mainstream media are unclear. Obviously, the isses presented in my last blog need to be addressed. Individuals need to learn how to present the information they are discussing in their posts in an ethical manner. Likewise, journalisits who want to use material from blogs or other social media-based sites that allow users to present information need to learn to check their sources, and not assume that readers will judge the information cited from blogs differently than any other fact presented in the piece.

Based on statistics, blogs seem to have a secure and growing place in Internet as well as mainstream media. According to a survey done by Technocrati in 2007 on the state of the blogosphere, there were over 70 million blogs world wide, and the upward growth of created blogs suggests that the trend will likely continue.

The role of the mainstream media in blogging is still unclear. News sources are increasingly using blogging on their sites to incorporate reader opinion via the blogs’ comment threads. Sites like nytimes.com use blogs to supplement the information presented in news articles. Seattlepi.com allows its readers to act as “citizen journalists” for the site and actively seeks out bloggers from the Seattle area to create content for the newspaper. The success of these news blogs in comparison to non-mainstream blogs is still uncertain (The Seattle PI’s site is an active experiment in whether blogging can overtake a newspaper completely) but their place within mainstream news websites seems more certain with each passing day due to growing popularity and increasing numbers of readers turning to the internet and news sites, rather than print newspapers, for their daily news.

The relationship between mainstream news sources and blogs is a stressed one. This is, in part, because the rules in the blogosphere are not as clear as the laws that govern the actions of journalists. For example, in 2008, the Associated Press filed lawsuits against bloggers who used material from AP articles, claiming that because the blog sites did not pay for the use of the articles, they did not have the right to reproduce them on their sites. The bloggers claimed the articles should be available for their use according to fair use laws. AP claimed the bloggers use of the articles violated copyright law. And no one was certain who was right.

As I discussed earlier this week, rules need to be established in blogging to control what type of information is presented. The blogosphere, at present, seems to be an area ruled by norms rather than law, which is especially dangerous when anonymity is prevalent, and the penalties that typically accompany the violation of a norm (embarrassment, expulsion from the group, etc.) can not be enforced.  But, it seems there is still a gread deal of future promise for the blogoshpere.

According to the 2009 Technocrati State of the Blogosphere report (which, unlike the 2007 report, studies who bloggers are, rather than how many blogs are available), 35 percent of the bloggers surveyed worked, at some point, for a mainstream media news outlet. 24 percent of those individuals still worked for the mainstream media, and blogged separately, while 3 percent worked as bloggers for a mainstream media source. For blogs, this may mean that journalistic ethics are being carried over into blog-writing. For journalists, this means there is a place for them in the blogosphere, if ever the mainstream media apocalypse that is so popular among non-mainstream bloggers were to occur. Overall, it represents a merging of the mediums, and this, I believe, is what needs to occur for blogging and journalism to be successful in the future.

The two mediums, blogging and (mass media) journalism, can effectively work together if individuals realize that they can serve very different purposes. Blogs are public, and can operate as a space for public discussion to occur (an online public sphere, of sorts). While journalism provides information to the public, newspapers are private, in that their interest is the business of publishing. To make money, the newspaper must provide news to the public that is accurate and presented ethically. This news gives the public something to discuss in the public sphere (aka, for my purposes, blogging). In some cases, blogs attempt to operate like newspapers, which is fine as long as they follow the rules of newspapers and recognize that they have a responsibility, as informers of the public, to provide valid information.

In public blogs, individuals may work to check the private news sources by discussing flaws in reporting or alternative points of view that were not presented. The news sources (blogs or mass media news outlets) in turn work to check the public blogs by providing new information that may change opinion or answer questions about certain events.

I believe that the future of blogging, and of journalism is safe, simply because one medium needs the other. The desire (one might say habit) to discuss the news has existed in the public since the creation of “news”. Blogs merely operate as a online space to do this (whether discussing mainstream news or what may be important news to you). Because they allow users to present their ideas against others, and give bloggers and readers/commenters the potential to have an effect on news media via their posts, blogging may change journalism in that it will force journalists to be more accountable. Eventually (I believe) this will apply to blog-journalists as well, when it is realized that bloggers presenting news are essentially journalists.

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Blogging and Journalism: The Bad

January 15, 2010

In much the same way that blogging is helping journalism, it is also detracting from the profession. Professional journalists who are trying to transition from print to online publication are able to provide new information to their audience faster and in a madder that forces them to be accountable for the information they present when they use blogs. However, journalists that turn to the internet are also forced to compete not with their fellow professionals, but with a new breed of ‘citizen journalists’ who are less versed in the standards expected of good journalists and good news.

The blogs of citizen journalists are putting traditional newspapers out of business. With the newspapers go the journalists, and with the journalists may go journalistic integrity and the set of ethics behind the profession. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a prime example of how blogging and other online media can be the downfall of even the most established newspapers.

The P-I was put up for sale in early 2009 after publishing in the Seattle area for 146 years. The Hearst company decided to sell the paper after it posted a $14 million loss in 2008. When no buyer was found, the paper was shut down, and a campaign to develop seattlepi.com into a competitive news source began. According to an AFP article, of the 150 staffers at the paper, 20 were kept on as editors for the online content, and another 20 were selected to work in the advertising department. A P-I article on the paper’s closure states that the content of the P-I’s website will be created by citizen bloggers and prominent Seattle residents, and will feature links to “other journalistic outlets”.

Over 100 people lost their jobs with the closure of the P-I, and were replaced by citizen journalists who were willing to do similar work for little or no compensation. And what of the news? At seattlepi.com, one can find articles related to the Seattle community, but very little national news outside the realm of entertainment. You can find a forum for moms, profile pages for local animals, and an entire section devoted to prominent photos of LOLcats from the Seattle-based icanhascheezburger.com (that’s right, in addition to being the home of Microsoft, Amazon, and Nintendo, Seattle is home to the LOLcats).

In my personal opinion, I feel that personal blogs have a place on the Internet. They can work to unite families and friends, share stories to acquaintances around the nation or the world, or can operate as a means to share a message or opinion you have to a community of interested users. To conclude that this type of reporting is the same as journalism, and can operate as a replacement for professionally researched and written articles, is pure vanity on the part of the citizen journalist. It’s an assumption that what you have to say is not important to only your network, but to a mass audience.

People have complained for too long that journalists are losing their objectivity, and are inserting their opinions or biases into their writing. As professionals in their field, Journalists receive training on how to avoid this problem. As human beings, it’s not always possible to completely remove ourselves from what we do, especially in writing (which in any form functions as some small expression of the self). However, journalists work a little harder and maintaining objectivity. So a shift toward citizen journalism, which gives an untrained individual a space to write what they like and publish this, via blogs, for the world to see, cannot realistically be considered a better form of journalism. People are objective, biased, and self-interested. In the case of the P-I, anyone can contact the blog department of the site and ask to be a writer for what was once a professional newspaper.

This shift toward blogging and citizen journalism also leads professional journalists to attempt to keep up, and compete, with their non-professional counterparts. It is not uncommon to find breaking news on Twitter rather than your TV lately. This can be beneficial, as I discussed in my previous blog post, when communications are limited and something important is going on, as in Haiti on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, the materials that are drawn from social media sources like Twitter posts are not always reliable, and often don’t represent what the professional media would present.

This issue arose during the Fort Hood shootings, when Tearah Moore began tweeting from inside a Fort Hood hospital while victims of the shooting were being brought in for treatment. Ms. Moore published multiple tweets and pictures to Twitter during the event, which were picked up by the media and used in reports where official information was not available. Moore was criticized for providing inaccurate information and for violating patient privacy by posting a picture of  a victim with (inaccurate) information about his wounds. Moore’s Twitter profile was open at the time she posted this information, and has since been protected, however, her bio statement, “You can try to stop me, but it’s not gonna work!” pretty much sums up the ideology behind her actions. Citizens believe they have the right to publish their ideas, their opinions, and whatever they please online, because they are granted freedom of speech. Words like “libel” and “slander” aren’t considered, because they don’t have the professional training that provides an understanding of the rights of others in relation to their freedoms. This way of thinking breeds news that is sensationalist, rather than informative, and journalists may have to turn to similar tactics to gain attention.

The pictures of the victims of the Haiti earthquake from theparkerreport Twitter account are provided by a professional journalist. They feature graphic images of bodies lying in rubble that are far too detailed, personal, and disturbing to ever make it to TV screens or newspaper pages, yet with a couple of clicks, and right from the New York Times website, a reader can access these. Families that are searching for their loved ones may find photos of their crushed bodies published for the world to see. One’s personal tragedy can be another’s page view. The overall negative effect of blogs on journalism is both a loss of working professionals, and a loss of journalistic ethics for the sake of preserving business. 

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Blogging and Journalism: The Good

January 14, 2010

Blogging is good for journalism, and important to journalism, because it gives journalists a means to present information in a more immediate format. It also connects journalists, both professional and citizen, located around the world and allows them to communicate news to major news sources, and therefore, to mass audiences quickly. The Lede, the news blog for the New York Times, demonstrates the importance of this ability.

This blog began a thread post related to the earthquake in Haiti at 9:29 pm on Tuesday, Jan. 12th. The post was updated regularly with information from Lede authors until 10:00 pm on Wednesday, at which point it notified its followers that coverage would resume Thursday morning, and suggested readers refer to the front page of the New York Times website for updated information until coverage on the blog resumed. The blog thread focused on how to gain information on the earthquake and the disaster relief going on in Haiti from various Internet sources. It cites various Internet sources that are providing information on Haiti, including websites for organizations working on sending aid to the survivors, and twitter feeds from individuals and professional journalists in Haiti reporting on what is going on.

The information presented on this blog post works in several ways ways. It provides readers with information on the story at hand. By copy/pasting excerpts from twitter feeds and websites, the updates make small additions to the overall information available. The post also provides outside sources for the readers to consult by linking the excerpts it uses to the page they’re taken from, giving the readers the ability to learn more about the situation and find contacts in Haiti via twitter to follow or ask questions of. Finally, the blog uses the comment thread as a way for readers to post additional information that may not have been included in any of the updates, or that may help the blog’s writers provide better information for the readers. The blog’s readers have been using the thread, in addition to posting information, as a way to ask questions about what is going on in certain areas of Haiti, and to ask for help in finding relatives or friends that were in the area when the earthquake hit.

So, how is this good for journalism? In the simplest sense, a blog like this enhances the story, and gives a sense of immediacy to the information being presented. In a newspaper format, or even on the website for a newspaper without a blog, the information presented is limited to the space of the article. If a journalist wants to present new information, they have to wait until there is enough material to merit another article. Short news bulletins and announcements provide one solution to this, but often they aren’t enough to tell the full story behind a breaking piece of news. With a blog, a post can have an endless number of updates, and these are all linked under the common theme of the blog, so readers can follow the information as it updates or changes.

Additionally, the blog format allows for the information presented to be discussed or challenged through user posts to the comment threads. In posts to blogs like the Lede post for Haiti, users can add to the discussion and present information, essentially taking on the role of the Journalist and adding to the story. In other situations, the comments can be based more on the opinions of the readers. A post from The Opinionator, another New York Times blog, this one focused (obviously) on opinion pieces, features information on reactions to the Haiti disaster from various popular blogs from around the Internet. In contrast to the comments on the Lede post, the comments here turn to opinions about specific blog articles, blogging in general, issues brought up in the blogs presented, or issues with the post.

Both uses of the comment threads presented in these blogs work to promote accountability from the journalists writing the posts. If they provide bad information, a user may correct them, or point it out to other readers, and the journalist could lose their credibility and detract from the audience’s perceived credibility of the blog. Likewise, if a blogger writes and opinion piece without justifying his claim, or if he/she presents a deviant opinion that seems unacceptable to a large portion of their readership, they will hear about it in the comment threads. It’s even possible for a blogger to have to change their opinion, or concede to the popular demands of their audience, in order to maintain credibility and readership (see techcrunch article  – the author has to concede to his reader’s complaints about his post).

The developing relationship between a writer and his/her audience marks a shift in the way information is presented in the media, from a one-way dissemination of information from the media to the consumer, to a two-way dialogue between author and reader, which will make the old days of corrections buried in the innards of a printed paper a thing of the past, and will force journalists to check their facts and get their story right before a reader has a chance to call them out on their mistakes.