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March 25 2011

14:00

This Week in Review: The New York Times’ fees and free-riders, and tying community to local data

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Debating the Times’ pricing structure: There was really only one big news story in the media world this week: The New York Times’ paid-content plan, which is live in Canada now and coming to everyone else on Monday. I divided the issue into two sections — the first on general commentary on the plan, and the second specifically about efforts to get around the paywall.

We learned a bit more about the Times’ thinking behind the plan, with a story in the Times about the road from its last paid-content system, TimesSelect, to this one, and an All Things Digital interview with Times digital chief Martin Nisenholtz, in which he said, among other things, that the Times didn’t consider print prices when setting their online price levels. Former Times designer Khoi Vinh also looked at the last couple of years, lamenting the lost opportunity for innovation and the legacy of TimesSelect.

There were a couple pieces written supporting the Times’ proposal: Former CBS digital head Larry Kramer said he’d be more likely to pay for the Times than for the tablet publication The Daily, even though it’s far more expensive. The reason? The Times’ content has consistently proven to be valuable over the years. (Tech blogger John Gruber also said the Times’ content is much more valuable than The Daily’s, but wondered if it was really worth more than five times more money.) Nate Silver of Times blog FiveThirtyEight used some data to argue for the Times’ value.

The Times’ own David Carr offered the most full-throated defense of the pay plan, arguing that most of the objection to it is based on the “theology” of open networks and the free flow of information, rather than the practical concerns involved with running a news organization. Reuters’ Felix Salmon countered that the Times has its own theology — that news orgs should charge for content because they can, and that it will ensure their success. Later, though, Salmon ran a few numbers and posited that the paywall could be a success if everything breaks right.

There were more objections voiced, too: Both Mathew Ingram of GigaOM and former newspaper journalist Janet Coats both called it backward-looking, with Ingram saying it “seems fundamentally reactionary, and displays a disappointing lack of imagination.” TechDirt’s Mike Masnick ripped the idea that people might have felt guilty about getting the Times for free online.

One of the biggest complaints revolved around the Times’ pricing system itself, which French media analyst Frederic Filloux described as “expensive, utterly complicated, disconnected from the reality and designed to be bypassed.” Others, including Ken Doctor, venture capitalist Jean-Louis Gassee, and John Gruber, made similar points about the proposal’s complexity, and Michael DeGusta said the prices are just too high. Poynter’s Damon Kiesow disagreed about the plan structure, arguing that it’s well-designed as an attack on Apple’s mobile paid-content dominance.

Are paywall loopholes a bug or feature?: Of course, any barrier online is also a giant, flashing invitation to get around said barrier, and someplace as influential as the Times was not going to be an exception. Several ways to bypass the Times’ pay system popped up in the last week: There was @FreeNYT, the Twitter account that will aggregate Times content shared on Twitter, and NYTClean, a browser bookmarklet that strips the Times’ paywall coding, allowing you to read the Times just like normal. The Lab’s Josh Benton noted how easy the hack was to come up with (four lines of code!) and speculated that the Times might actually want nerds to game their system, “because they (a) are unlikely to pay, (b) generate ad revenue, and (c) are more likely to share your content than most.”

So how has the Times responded to all this? A bit schizophrenically. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said the people who would find ways around the system would be “mostly high-school kids and people who are out of work.” And the Times asked Twitter to shut down the aggregating Twitter accounts (for a trademark violation) and extended its limit on daily search-engine referrals beyond Google. But the Times is also widening some pathways of its own, making it so you can’t hit the wall directly from a blog link, and offering 200,000 regular readers free online access for the rest of the year through an advertiser.

Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan mocked the Times’ behavior toward wall-jumpers as an effort to have its paid-content cake and eat it too: “This wall is designed, as best I can tell, only to be a barrier to your most loyal — and most stupid — readers.” Slate’s Jack Shafer made a similar argument to Benton’s, pointing out that online free-riders aren’t keeping paying customers from reading the Times (like, say, someone who steals a paper edition, as Sulzberger analogized) and are actually help the paper continue its influence and reach.

Adding community to local data: EveryBlock, a three-year-old site owned by MSNBC.com that specializes in hyperlocal news data, unveiled its first major redesign this week, which includes a shift in focus toward community and location-based conversation, rather than just data. All place pages now allow users to post messages to those nearby, using what founder Adrian Holovaty called the “geo graph,” rather than the “social graph.” Mashable added a few valuable details (notably, the site will bring in revenue from location-based Groupon displays and Google ads).

Holovaty answered a lot of questions about the redesign in a Poynter chat, saying that the site’s mission has changed from making people informed about their area as an end in itself to facilitating communication between neighbors in order to improve their communities. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram applauded the shift in thinking, arguing that the main value in local news sites is in the people they connect, not in the data they collect. At 10,000 Words, Jessica Roy noted that the change was a signal that hyperlocal sites should focus not just on the online realm, but on fostering offline connections as well.

NPR on the defense: Two weeks on, the hidden-camera attack on NPR continues to keep it in the middle of the news conversation. Following last week’s vote by the House to cut off NPR’s limited federal funding, several media folks made cases to keep NPR’s federal funding alive, including the Washington Post’s Len Downie and Robert Kaiser and Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark. NPR host Steve Inskeep argued that NPR’s most important work has nothing to do with any liberal/conservative bias. “Think again of my colleagues in Libya, going forward to bear witness amid exploding shells. Is that liberal or conservative?” he asked.

Elsewhere, James O’Keefe, the producer of the gotcha video, and Bob Garfield of NPR’s On The Media had it out on the air, and DailyFinance gave a picture of NPR’s financial situation. Howard Kurtz of Newsweek and The Daily Beast wrote that some NPR journalists think that NPR management’s passive, reactionary defense of their organization is damaging it almost as much as the attacks themselves.

Reading roundup: Not too busy of a week in the media world outside of Timesmania. A few things to take note of:

— A quick news item: Journalism Online, Steve Brill’s initiative to help media companies charge for their content online, is being snatched up by the Fortune 500 printer RR Donnelley, reportedly for at least $35 million. PaidContent broke the story, and Ken Doctor wrote about the unexpected difficulties the startup encountered.

— At the New York Review of Books, Steve Coll wrote a thoughtful piece on the competing claims regarding technology’s role in social change.

— For the stat nerds: The Lab’s Josh Benton looked at the latest of the continual stream of depressing graphs flowing from the newspaper industry, and Peter Kafka of All Things Digital analyzed the source of traffic for some major sites across the web, comparing the influence of Facebook and Google.

— For the academic nerds: Here at the Lab, USC Ph.D. candidate Nikki Usher talked to media sociology rock star Herbert Gans about targeted and multiperspectival news, and Michigan Ph.D. candidates William Youmans and Katie Brown shared a fascinating study about Al Jazeera and bias perception.

December 16 2010

18:00

Gawker copycats, luxurious print, more robots, and a new blogging golden age: Predictions for 2011

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Below are predictions from Susan Orlean, Joe Grimm, Matt Haughey, Adrian Holovaty, Megan McCarthy, Mark Potts, Jake Shapiro, and Cody Brown.

We also want to hear your predictions: take our Lab reader poll and tell us what you think we’ll be talking about in 2011. We’ll share those results in a couple days.

We’ll be reading more on our phones, our iPads, and our Super Scout Decoder rings by the end of next year.

Several magazines — maybe Time or Newsweek or both — will go monthly and/or digital only. But there will be new magazine startups in print that will be luxurious and expensive and book-like. 2011 will be the year of those two forms making themselves distinct; things on line will become more webby, and print publications will become more “collectible” and classic.

Journalism schools will offer a “web producer” major.

The last typewriter living in the wild will be captured, its DNA sequenced; and then it will be humanely destroyed.

Joe Grimm, Poynter blogger and recruiter, Patch

In 2011, I expect to see some shakeout of traditional and innovative newsrooms. Some of the new ones will have hit the wall that tells them they don’t have the right model to go forward. Legacy newsrooms seem to gaining traction with digital advertising and are feeling some traditional advertisers come back, but they have been substantially weakened and devalued. With the amount of cash that is sitting idle, I expect we will see some acquisitions among traditional media companies. The prize in those deals will be the content parts of the operations, of course. I would not surprised if some traditional newsrooms are absorbed by digital companies looking to build credibly news-oriented footprints fast.

Watch Yahoo! and Facebook in 2011 to see how they try to grow their reputations as news sources.

Mobile and tablets will continue to boom, with some shakeout among devices and a real gold rush to build apps, backed up by original news and news aggregation. Individualized services or services curated by friends will grow.

Whether or not the Gawker suite of sites redesign is successful or not, the rest of the New York media blog world will follow suit and copy the new direction for layout, because big business blogging is basically a cargo cult where everyone does what Gawker is doing since that seems to be successful for them (in the hopes it is successful for them).

This is sort of a half-prediction and half-hope, but I’d love to see the self-publishing pendulum start to shift the other way, from centralized services (like Twitter and AOL before it) back to a beautiful diversity of decentralized/independent tools and services like we had in the “golden age” of blogging. We’ve seen some occasional banter about this over the last few years, but I think people are going to get more serious about it in 2011, and certainly by the end of 2012.

Oh, and Google is totally the new Microsoft. I can see that being a theme of 2011.

The convergence of the media and technology industries will continue. Consumer-facing technology companies will start to encroach onto traditional media territories, and media companies will realize that they need to invest more into technology in order to compete with the tech companies entering their space. There will be more tech/media partnerships like the one between Betaworks and the New York Times, but there will be a struggle to see which side — tech or media — comes out on top. The real winners will be developers, executives, and small sites that straddle both worlds.

Mobile access to the web will become more reliable, especially if the iPhone heads to another carrier (like Verizon) as has been predicted. A spike in smartphones will bring an obvious spike in mobile views. Apps will still be important, but, as mobile OSes multiply, the smarter move might be towards mobile-friendly websites that work across platforms (like http://mediagazer.com/m)

Traditional web advertising will still be a mess, yet there will be substantial resistance to changing the model. There will be too much emphasis put on metrics that no one actually knows how to measure. Pageviews will become more and more meaningless, but people will still chase them, like rainbows, hoping to find that pot of gold.

Oh, and there will be more robot/cyborg/machine involvement in media, and it will be a good thing. Algorithms are not the enemy!

A continuing explosion of blogs covering local communities and local interests, written by passionate community members whose coverage and audience engagement far outstrips what can be managed by corporately backed local interlopers like Patch. Key to these efforts, though, will be the bloggers and local site operators getting serious about tapping their share of the $130 billion local-advertising market. At the same time, the rise in location-aware mobile services will begin ushering in a new generation of targeted local coverage and information in the palm of readers’ hands. Mobile is local, and I suspect we’ll see the first breakthrough, wildly popular local mobile product in the next year or so.

Apple will change its tune on one-click donations to nonprofits and public media.

Public broadcasting will emerge from its existential crisis (Juan Williams fiasco and defunding threats) as a more focused, collaborative, and inclusive “public media” industry, reasserting a central role in sustaining journalism and leading innovation.

The Public Media Platform will launchand catalyze more collaboration and innovation, expanding beyond the borders of public radio and TV.

News orgs will start leveraging Mechanical Turk and other crowd-powered services to help manage overwhelming data needs.

“Private” social media websites like Path are going to boom. Sites that see privacy as a value as opposed to an antiquated social norm are going to go big. I don’t think Path is actually that great, but they are in the right space.

WikiLeaks will leak a government document that outlines strategies to assassinate Julian Assange.

Gawker will buy then break a story that starts a war.

August 04 2010

12:14

Hyperlocal aggregator Everyblock launches new widget

Hyperlocal news and information aggregator Everyblock has launched a new location-based widget targeted at local newspaper websites and blogs.

The widget allows third party sites to embed Everyblock’s news and information feeds for specific areas on their own sites.

Posting on the Everyblock blog, co-founder Daniel X. O’Neil,, said: “Until today, we’ve had no official way to share content with other sites or to partner with news outlets in the cities we cover.”

The site was created by Adrian Holovaty in 2008 as a hyperlocal news resource for neighbourhoods in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. It has since expanded to 16 US cities and was bought by MSNBC in August 2009.Similar Posts:



July 22 2010

19:08

Some other online innovators for some other list

Journalism.co.uk have a list of this year’s “leading innovators in journalism and media”. I have some additions. You may too.

Nick Booth

I brought Nick in to work with me on Help Me Investigate, a project for which he doesn’t get nearly enough credit. It’s his understanding of and connections with local communities that lie behind most of the successful investigations on the site. In addition, Nick helped spread the idea of the social media surgery, where social media savvy citizens help others find their online voice. The idea has spread as far as Australia and Africa.

Matt Buck and Alex Hughes

Matt and Alex have been busily reinventing news cartoons for a digital age with a number of projects, including Drawnalism (event drawing), animated illustrations, and socially networked characters such as Tobias Grubbe.

Pete Cashmore

Mashable.

Tony Hirst

Tony has been blogging about mashups for longer than most at OUseful.info, providing essential help for journalists getting to grips with Yahoo! Pipes, Google spreadsheets, scraping, and – this week – Google App Inventor.

Adrian Holovaty and Simon Willison

I’m unfairly bunching these two together because they were responsible – with others – for the Django web framework, which has been the basis for some very important data journalism projects including The Guardian’s experiment in crowdsourcing analysis of MPs’ redacted expenses, and Holovaty’s Everyblock.

Philip John

Behind the Lichfield Blog but equally importantly, Journal Local, the platform for hyperlocal publishers which comes with a raft of useful plugins pre-installed, and he runs the West Midlands Future of News Group.

Christian Payne

Documentally has been innovating and experimenting with mobile journalism for years in the UK, with a relaxed-but-excitable on-screen/on-audio presence that suits the medium perfectly. And he really, really knows his kit.

Meg Pickard

Meg is an anthropologist by training, a perfect background for community management, especially when combined with blogging experience that pre-dates most of the UK. The practices she has established on the community management front at The Guardian’s online operations are an exemplar for any news organisation – and she takes lovely photos too.

Chris Taggart

Chris has been working so hard on open data in 2010 I expect steam to pour from the soles of his shoes every time I see him. His ambition to free up local government data is laudable and, until recently, unfashionable. And he deserves all the support and recognition he gets.

Rick Waghorn

One of the first regional newspaper reporters to take the payoff and try to go it alone online – first with his Norwich City website, then the MyFootballWriter network, and more recently with the Addiply self-serve ad platform. Rick is still adapting and innovating in 2010 with some promising plans in the pipeline.

I freely admit that these are based on my personal perspective and knowledge. And yes, lists are pointless, and linkbait.

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