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Speaker Post: Firuzeh Shokooh Valle

Last week my class had a chance to speak with Firuzeh Shokooh Valle, the Spanish language editor for Global Voices, an open source citizen-journalism website meant to offer on the ground coverage in every corner of the world.

Although I believe citizen journalism is by no means a replacement for a professionally trained newsroom, I certainly feel there is a place for the citizen journalist in the brave new world of online journalism.

While we were talking about Global Voices, I cruised around the Libya page and was surprised to find the posts and videos offered answers about the men and women behind the ongoing revolution that the mainstream media based in Tripoli had failed to answer for weeks.

While I would not expect the average Libyan blogger to have the most up to date press releases from NATO or the White House, I was pleased to see that many residents have begun to upload long videos of themselves tooling around various liberated cities, offering myself and others a chance to see the revolution from the ground level, rather than through satalite images and maps provided by most conventional media outlets.

To be honest though, the more I searched Global Voices and listened to Valle, the more I started to realize that while professional journalists and their citizen counterparts share a similar mission of informing their viewers about breaking news, there is no reason why the two cannot coexist. As I see it, the professionals will always have the most accurate body counts, maps and summaries of the day’s events, but Global Voices bloggers serve as more of a social barometer for a given area.

I asked Valle how she can treat figures provided by potentially misinformed (or biased) bloggers as fact to which she replied “When I am editing from outside of the country, I am always reading lots of different accounts at the same time. It gives you a sense of what is happening, it may be difficult to say ‘this is 100 percent what is happening,’ but you can write ‘this is a sense of what is happening, what people are feeling and thinking.’”

With that approach in mind, I have something of a newfound respect for the citizen journalist, not as an unpaid reporter of fact, but rather as a collective expression of feeling. Given how national emotions have played such a large role in the past months’ revolutions, I think the information found on Global Voices cannot be ignored.

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First Impressions: Crysis 2

I picked up Crysis 2 over the weekend for Xbox 360 on a ($60) whim based on Developer Crytek’s strong track record at open-ended first person shooters. Despite a few nagging shortcomingsI’ve been pretty happy with the title.

Crysis 2 puts you in the boots of your standard silent grunt protaganist and quickly drops you in a nanosuit, basically a fancy suit of armor that lets you sprint, take giant leaps, absorb tons of lead or render you invisible (while emitting a cool Predator-esque sound effect) and sets you loose in New York City to stop an alien invasion. I think.

The controls are tight and the wide variety of special abilities, weapons and equiptment can all be swapped on the fly, so you can go from long range machine-gunning to stealthy close quarters fighting as soon as you decide to jump into the fray. Unfortunately this slick action is hindered by a decidedly boilerplate story. Bad humans want your suit, which has plot-convenient anti-alien plague applications, while a revolving door of good guys pop onto the radio to yell where you should go next.

Sadly those screams will be the only real way to figure out what you should do next unless you own an HDTV. Like many EA-produced titles you are expected to own a high resolution screen and text is rendered nearly impossible to read on a standard format TV. I often found myself standing up and walking up to my television in order to figure out what a particular waypoint was meant to indicate.

Despite the drawbacks, Crysis 2 encourages players to experiment with different tactics and really consider their strategy before beginning a fight, often rewaring crafty players with easier solutions to tough firefights.

I would estimate I’m about halfway through the campaign and will follow up with part two of my review once I’ve hunted down the evil squid creature is behind this nefarious-if-not-hapazard plot.

 Oh, I forgot to mention, the aliens are bipedal cephalopods.

Guest Speaker: Jeff Howe

Last week we had a chance to speak with a former Wired Magazine writer and current NU professor Jeff Howe. Howe discussed some of the finer points of crowdsourcing, an emerging practice of using your internet audience to augment your own efforts in journalism, business or art.

Howe discusse the three major functions of crowdsourcing in journalism, as a means to find stories, validate findings and theories or perform research that would otherwise be too time consuming for the smaller team found in a physical newsroom.

The conversation turned towards former U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales’s scandal and resignation in 2007, a story built largely by the crowdsourcing efforts of talkingpointsmemo.com blogger Joshua Micah Marshall.

While I do like the idea of tackling bigger stories with the aid of interested readers contributing to the sometimes messy business of tracking down sources, getting on-the-ground confirmation of facts and actually digesting the piles of data a good story may create, I can’t help but think of one important drawback: the loss of surprise.

During my brief time as a reporter, I’ve found that showing your hand while composing a hard-hitting article can give subjects a clear picture of what questions you are asking, how you are asking them and what you have found. While this may not be a major disadvantage when writing about the larger, slower moving elements of the federal government, a reporter covering municipal issues who likely has a spot near the top of City Hall’s RSS feed could see the rug pulled out from under them as they try to gather information.

Conversely, having a group of readers actively working on a case may signal to a public official that as Howe said, “sunshine is the best disinfectant,” but for that kind of influence to sink in you will need a story harder hitting than an overspent streetlight budget .

I guess a compromise solution on the local level would be to reach a smaller group of interested readers and work under some sort of confidentiality agreement, but at that point you are really blurring the line between reader and writer in a way that seems less than ideally transparent and could cause your core readers to start demanding a cut of your paycheck.

I have no doubt the power of the online masses will play a role in some of the biggest stories we will read in the coming years, watching the grapgic design and stock photo industries adapt new business models is encouraging, but as a local reporter I really have to wonder how the crowd will fit into my byline.

Duke Nukem Forever delayed…again.

Old school FPS gamers and chauvinists alike received some painful news today.

Duke Nukem Forever, the 13-year-old vaporware champion of the industry, will be delayed another six weeks.

Gearbox Software’s president and DNF executive producer Randy Pitchford announced the retro shooter/strip club simulator will now be released internationally June 10, not May 6 as originally planned.

Delays like this are hard to avoid with any big budget title, but Duke’s legacy of burning out before hitting store shelves means the is drawing plenty of attention.

Hardcore fans of the series are probably not taking the news well, but given the delay I’ve asked myself just how many hardcore Duke Nukem fans actually exist.

I’ve written before about the retro shooter renaissance, but while new IPs like Bulletstorm and Painkiller focus on the run-and-gun strategy and frenetic pacing, Gearbox seems to have bought whole hog into what looks to be an increasingly dated approach to humor and consumer tastes.

Recently at PAX East I caught a glimpse of the DNF booth, where onlookers could sit for a picture in a throne with a school girl booth babe posing along side them.

I was not entirely  surprised to see that despite all the online posturing, next to no one was willing to publicly participate in what amounted to an awkward trip to Hooters . Combine that with the recent unveiling of the butt-slapping “capture the babe” mode and you are looking at a game a lot of consumers may not be willing to stomach.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that DNF may be aiming for the same pubescent male market they mined in the early 90’s, an age before the ERSB. Problem is the 13 year Duke Nukem hiatus means the gamers at the right age to be entertained by the game have none of the nostalgia their older, slightly more tasteful counterparts may hold.

Ultimately game sales are going to decide where we as a community stand on Duke’s brand of humor in 2011. At least, if there aren’t any more delays.

Montecristo Mexican Grill

Ah, the burrito. A stalwart companion through good times and bad, a mobile meal that can take the place of two or three entrees depending on how much your budget has shrunk your stomach. But with so many franchises throughout the city, finding the best burrito is no small task.

Located at the foot of Mission Hill, Montecristo Mexican Grill offers the low to no-income student set a solid, no-frills alternative to the heavy-handed offerings of Qdoba and the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none Boloco menu.

At $6.50, a Montecristo burrito offers fresh guacamole (the owner refuses to charge $2 for avocados), crema (not sour cream), a touch of hot sauce and a choice of chicken or steak (both boasting strong grilled flavors,) slow-roasted and very flavorful pork or a large serving of greasy chorizo in a package just slightly smaller than the portion you can expect at Qdoba.

The overall effect is a lighter, cheaper burrito than most chains that pleasantly wards off starvation. Combine that with a Mexican Coca-Cola or Jarritos ($1.75) and you have a fast meal that can get you through the day or line your stomach before your next house party.

For diners looking for something more substantial, Montecristo offers an excellent enchilada plate ($8) that boasts the same quality as the burrito, but adds another half a pound of organic matter into the mix. Topped with some of the Tapotia hot sauce found at every table and mixed into a homogenous slurry, this burrito alternative make for a very filling meal.

For a quick snack, ala carte eaters can try empanadas ($.99), crispy fried pastries filled with meat and beans, tamales ($2) served in an authentic corn husk wrapper or single-filling tacos ($2) that help show off the quality of the meats (and sell for half price every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.)

The restaurant is geared towards take-out, but there is plenty of space available to dine in and catch a soccer game, professional wrestling or a Spanish soap opera. Burritos are quickly made to order, but expect to hang around for a few minutes while the kitchen handles more complicated dishes.

Overall there’s little to detract from the Montecristo experience: it’s clean the counter staff is fast and generous with the portions. Most customers will be content to grab a burrito and run, the menu also offers a few pricier Salvadorian items for more adventurous diners.

Location: 748 Huntington Ave Boston, MA

Hours: 9am-12am

Phone: 617.232.2228

Website: montecristomexicangrill.com

Credit cards accepted, wheelchair access, scenic view of Bringham Circle

Final Project Proposal

In the past five years I have spent studying to become a journalist, I have learned how to crank out obituaries, nail difficult interviews and create some semblance of order in my notes so that I can hit a deadline without a major cardiac episode.

Northeastern University has prepared me for most challenges I expect to face as a working reporter except for two: how to handle the constant pulls of my own biases and (more importantly) how I can make it as a paid reporter in a world where content is becoming less and less of a commodity.

It is those final two questions I hope to address in my final project by interviewing Lynn, Massachusetts-based media critic Bob “Moviebob” Chipman. Chipman has a number of online commentary series catering to movie and video game fans on the Escapist Network, as well as a personal blog which combine for an astounding number of hits every month.

Considering my concerns as I enter the working world, I hope to interview Chipman and learn how he has been able to make the internet work for him. As far as I can tell, he is exclusively a web presence but has been able to make a living by delving into the topics he feels strongest about and works to maintain his own point of view without giving in to “fanboyism,” the geek culture equivalent of bias.

Since much of his subject matter is for better or worse aimed at a younger audience but his online rants tend to aim for an older crowd, I want to learn how he balances these two audiences without dumbing down his material and more importantly how he handles his interactions with his rather volatile community online viewers.

In addition, I would like to learn how he became affiliated with the Escapist Network, what his role is in the long-term strategy of the website and get a first hand account of how to create such a strong online presence that keeps clicks coming in week after week.

PAX East: Twitter Coverage and Retrospective

I spent most of yesterday checking out PAX East here in Boston, Twittering all the way.

You can check out my 140-character musings on my Twitter account, I should have some pictures of the event online in the coming days and I’ll follow up on a few leads I stumbled over throughout the course of the week.

As it stands, I was pretty impressed with what I saw yesterday. Despite it being the third and final day of PAX East, the place was packed with eager gamers, media and some very exciting new info on upcoming games. Below are a few of my first impressions:

-I finally spent some hands-on time with Epic’s Gears of War 3 multiplayer. I expected a few graphical glitches and slow-downs given they have a while until the official release, but the basic mechanics behind the game still feel a little too floaty. The larger team sizes and new respawn modes mean you spend less time watching your teammates get cut down, but combat still seems to favor bumrushing over any actual tactics

I was also pretty impressed with the indie game presence on the show floor, it seems like many small companies are banking on XBLA and PSN to dodge disc-printing costs and make an end run on a lot of the industry’s biggest players.

Of these, Primal Revenge seems like a cult-classic in the making. Where else can humans and dinosaurs replace cat and mouse for online deathmatches? The game seems to borrow heavily from the original Alien Vs. Predator multiplayer (an extremely good thing if you ask any old school PC gamer.)

I was surprised to see that the Playstation Move was largely a no-show at PAX. Despite being integrated into some recent high-profile releases like Killzone 3, the half-Wii, half-Kinect gizmo was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Kinect proved the most popular non-controller format for tech demos and seemed to be holding up well to the varying degrees of physical coordination amongst show goers.

Expect more pictures and predictions in the coming days.