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September 05 2012

13:43

Why Fact-Checking Has Taken Root in This Year's Election

We are all fact-checkers now.

For years, Americans' political press has been stuck in a fact-free model of neutrality, often covering even the most obvious lies as "one side" of a dispute. From Swift Boats and global warming to Iraq's nonexistent WMDs, this coverage shrouds even rudimentary empirical claims in a fog of truthiness. But that may be changing.

As this year's presidential campaign enters the homestretch after Labor Day, a new, aggressive model of fact-checking appears to be taking root. It is fast, aggressive and sometimes even outraged about falsehoods on the campaign trail.

Take Paul Ryan's convention address last week. Ryan offered several misleading statements and a few obvious lies -- falsehoods that he had to know were false -- although there's nothing new about politicians lying. Just look at Ryan's fellow running mates: Sarah Palin lied about the Bridge to Nowhere in her convention address, for example, while during a nationally televised debate, Dick Cheney falsely said he had never met John Edwards, and Edwards falsely charged that the Bush administration lobbied to cut combat pay. They faced mild corrections and very little collateral damage for those high-profile statements.

This time, however, reporters did not let Ryan off the hook by noncommittally airing criticism ("opponents disagreed with his claims"), or reducing corrections to one of those stand-alone sidebars evaluating distortions ("three Pinocchios for the deficit commission history"). Instead, several authoritative accounts of Ryan's address decided that his falsehoods were a key part of the news Ryan made, as these headlines show:

washpostryanspeech.png

Mr. Ryan's Misleading Speech (Washington Post)
Deficit Vow Lacks Specifics (A.P.)

Paul Ryan Address: Convention Speech Built On Demonstrably Misleading Assertions (Huffington Post)

Opinionated commenters were even harsher, focusing more on factual failure than ideological differences. Taken together, the overwhelming verdict on Ryan's speech was that he should not be believed. (By one online measurement, on the day after the speech, the most widely cited convention articles led with the falsehoods.)

The Ryan-Romney campaign's misleading welfare ads have drawn similar media condemnation. Ditto for the false claims that Obama raised taxes on middle-class Americans and, more darkly, the recurring, false suggestion that he was born abroad.

This newfound vigor for reporting facts over false equivalency -- the very "truth vigilantism" that a New York Times public editor once presented as an optional challenge for today's press -- looks like a mainstay on the campaign trail.

Yet after years of complaints from media critics and ridicule from the media's unofficial ombudsmen on Comedy Central, why is this happening now? A few interlocking trends suggest the reasons are both structural -- campaigning in a digital era -- and parochial, given the strengths of the two nominees.

Fact-Checking Has Gone Viral

This is the first national race in which Twitter is fundamentally altering campaign coverage. The message-sharing platform has upended how most political reporters watch the campaign.

Newt Gingrich used to deride Washington conventional wisdom as the product of what 500 people said to each other over lunch -- nowadays, it's more like what those people retweet. The pack mentality remains, but the backchannel is more visible and more subject to pushback. For reporters, that means fact-checking is not only faster, but it draws from a wider array of sources.

Returning to Ryan's speech, for example, many of the most retweeted items from that night were not jokes or partisan attacks. They were simple messages about fact-checking. "Factory mentioned by Paul Ryan actually announced it's closing before Obama took office," declared a typical example from the Washington Post.

When that kind of information goes viral, it instantly stokes press and public attention on the politician's fibs, and crowdsources part of a reporter's homework. Separating exaggeration from dissembling takes time, but reporters can draw on credible Twitter sources for a head start. That makes it easier to instantly report the "news" of the candidate's statements and a factual counternarrative.

The Press Oligopoly is Ending

While bloggers have been nipping at reporters for several campaign cycles, they have now fully arrived as credentialed colleagues. Some of today's most successful campaign "bloggers," like Nate Silver, promoted to the New York Times from the open-source user diaries of Daily Kos, or Ezra Klein, who joined the Washington Post after an impressive stint blogging for the American Prospect, specialize in providing quantifiable facts at breakneck speed. The interpretative emphasis is on evidence over opinion: Charts rule and canards are usually debunked _ before_ the regurgitation that politicians take for granted. It's a different orientation than conventional campaign coverage, which often celebrates the horse race and prizes direct access to the principals, no matter what they are saying. And as empiricist blogging is integrated into the elite press, it provides credentialed competition that can both impact and supplant the conventional model.

"The fact-checking franchise has grown from a handful of specialists," Jay Rosen, an NYU journalism professor, told MediaShift via email, "to something that every full-service news operation should do." The contribution from sites and bloggers devoted to fact-checking, he said, "probably accounts for some of the intensity" of online fact-checking this cycle.

But still, you can't fact-check much unless the facts are routinely in danger.

Romney, Obama and the Truth War

Finally, beyond any structural shifts, this year's campaign also features two nominees with message strategies that have now been specifically honed to address today's fact-checkers.

Romney is icing them out while Obama is cultivating them.

Faced with nearly unanimous rebukes for its welfare attack, the Romney campaign doubled down, making several more ads with the same claim. Then, its pollster flatly told the press that the campaign would not have its strategy "dictated by fact checkers." That gambit -- call it honesty about dishonesty or "cynical postmodernism" -- may have taunted some reporters into even more assertive truth-squading. According to one source familiar with the White House's thinking, Team Romney's strategic mistake was not the lying, but offending the press.

For its part, the Obama campaign is now invested in veracity as a core attack. The president has plenty of impact over what issues are newsworthy, and his campaign is arguing that spin, lies and exaggerations show that the Romney-Ryan ticket can't be trusted. As Buzzfeed's Ben Smith recently argued, this "pants on fire politics" aims to bend the premium on accuracy into a political advantage. Smith said reporters should be wary of attempts to referee larger policy disagreements as if they were mere factual disputes. That's not going to be easy.

Ari Melber is an attorney, correspondent for The Nation magazine, and contributing columnist to Politico. During the 2008 presidential election, Melber traveled with the Obama Campaign on special assignment for The Washington Independent. In 2010, he authored a 74-page special report for techPresident analyzing the first year of Organizing for America, the 13-million person network that grew out of the 2008 presidential campaign, which Northwestern political scientist Daniel Galvin called "the most comprehensive and insightful account of Obama's 'Organizing for America' to date." Melber has contributed chapters to the books "America Now," (St. Martins, 2009) and "At Issue: Affirmative Action," (Cengage, 2009), and has been a featured speaker at Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Columbia and NYU, among other institutions. Melber has also served as a Legislative Aide in the U.S. Senate and as a national staff member of the 2004 John Kerry Presidential Campaign. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a J.D. from Cornell Law School, where he was an editor of the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. (Contact via www.arimelber.com).

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August 29 2012

18:14

PBS NewsHour’s viewers are translating its videos into 52 languages (and counting)

Ever try watching Sesame Street in Turkish, or Hindi? Big Bird has made his way to 150 countries, and has been translated into more than 50 languages.

Now, PBS NewsHour is working to follow the bird and push some of its newsier content to global audiences. Partnering with the translation platform Amara, the show is crowdsourcing an effort to add subtitles to politics-themed videos, including moments from the U.S. presidential campaigns and short man-on-the-street interviews with American voters.

So, for example, now you can watch a video of President Barack Obama talking about a new immigration policy with subtitles in Vietnamese; or the Ukrainian version of Mitt Romney announcing Paul Ryan as his running mate. (Amara, formerly known as Universal Subtitles, is also involved in projects to crowdsource captioning for Netflix films and TED talks.) Since January, PBS NewsHour has built up a community of hundreds of dedicated volunteer translators across the world, and videos have been translated into 52 languages.

Because translations are done at the whim of volunteers, the outcome is unpredictable for any given video. As of this writing, for example, Ann Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention was available in English, French, and…Georgian, a language that has millions of speakers but isn’t usually the first that comes up among translation projects in the United States.

Generally, Obama gets more attention from translators than Romney. (It’s understandable that a sitting president would draw more attention than his as-yet-unelected rival.) Some languages are more popular than others. One volunteer in Indonesia is particularly active, which means that many videos have Indonesian subtitles.

“The most frequent languages besides English are Spanish, French, Indonesian, Chinese, and Korean,” Joshua Barajas, a production assistant at PBS NewsHour who handles communications with the volunteer translators, told me. Arabic and Turkish aren’t too far behind.

And what about quality control, a question that comes up in just about any crowdsourced project? It can be particularly difficult — if not downright impossible — to keep tabs on volunteers who are submitting work in a language you don’t understand.

“There has been one incident,” involving a captioner who inserted some foul language, Barajas said. “One troll. We quickly got rid of it. For the most part, it’s been pretty polite.”

And that’s because the volunteers who are involved are really, really involved. If they see something that’s not right — more often a technological bug or minor translation error than inappropriate conduct — they’re quick to notify the team at PBS, Barajas said.

Running parallel to these videos is a translation effort for a series called Listen to Me. PBS NewsHour has been collecting short interviews with people from around the country based on three questions: What’s the most important issue to you during this election? Are you hopeful about the future? Do you think the political system is broken? (For now, PBS affiliates have been shooting and submitting footage, but NewsHour plans to let people submit their own videos, too.)

There have been a few kinks to work out on the production side. A syncing issue with subtitles has since been resolved. Quite a few translations get started but not finished. (The video of Romney introducing Ryan lists 17 languages, but only six are complete; Bengali, Korean, Portuguese, Swahili, and Turkish are all less than 10 percent done.) And PBS NewsHour wants to build a more reliable language mix; they hope to partner with language classes at universities to achieve this.

But the biggest challenge is impact: how to measure it, yes, but mostly how to make a difference in the first place.

The core idea behind the translation project is that “everyone should have access to the political conversation regardless of the language they speak or their ability to hear,” Barajas said. But how do you let people know that these translations are available to them?

This is an issue that all newsrooms confront: What good is a great story — in any language — if you don’t have an audience ready to consume it? But most newsrooms aren’t trying to reach a divided global audience in dozens of languages.

“As of right now, we’re limited in gauging the translations’ reach,” Barajas said in a follow-up email. “We look at YouTube views and the growth of the Amara community for some insight, but these are limiting benchmarks of course.”

Still, NewsHour deserves credit for taking on a translation project of this scope. (Even a newspaper that simply directs its readers to Google Translate is going farther than most English language news outlets in the United States.) Ultimately, it appears what PBS NewsHour is really doing is community building.

“People are just excited because they feel like they want to be a part of something, and they feel like they’re contributing,” Barajas said. “They’re able to catch the nuances that otherwise would have been, well, lost in translation.”

August 17 2012

17:55

Study: In the Digital Race for President, Obama Has a Clear Lead

If an election outcome rested on how well a campaign does with Twitter, then President Barack Obama's camp would be focused not on November 2012 but January 2013. Not only is the Obama campaign out-tweeting the Mitt Romney team, but the Obama tweets are being shared at a rate of 17-to-1 compared with Romney's.

The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism analyzed the digital activity of the two campaigns over a two-week period in June. The report shows that there is a "digital gap" between the presumed Republican and Democratic candidates for president, just as there was between Obama and John McCain in 2008.

pew-post-frequency.jpg

Project for Excellence in Journalism, August 2012

The report reviews candidate activity across a mature set of digital platforms: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube plus the campaign websites. In June, the Obama campaign had a presence on nine social media platforms: Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Spotify, Twitter (@barackobama plus five others), Tumblr and YouTube. The Romney campaign had public accounts on only five: Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Twitter and YouTube; it has subsequently added Tumblr and Spotify, according to the report.

A digital legacy

Obama established a broad digital presence in 2008 and has maintained it throughout his presidency. Thus it is not surprising that his digital support dwarfs Romney's.

For example, on Facebook, today the Obama's campaign page has almost 28 million likes versus 4.5 million for Romney's campaign. On Twitter, @BarackObama has 18.6 million followers; @MittRomney has 863,000. On YouTube, Obama has 210,000 subscribers (214 million views) whereas Romney has almost 15,000 subscribers (18 million views).

The Obama campaign is not only active in more spaces, it's more active, period. Across the platforms analyzed in this report, the Obama campaign posted almost four times as much content as the Romney campaign: There were 614 Obama posts in the two-week period but only 168 posts by Romney.

A Twitter gap

This gap was most evident on Twitter, where @BarackObama averaged 17 tweets per day and @MittRomney averaged one tweet per day. On Facebook, the campaigns are neck-and-neck. The Obama campaign produces more videos for YouTube and more content for the website blog than the Romney campaign.

Analysis of both accounts using Seattle-based Tweetstats makes the point about the Twitter gap visually.

TweetStats for BarackObama.jpg

TweetStats, August 16, 2012

TweetStats for MittRomney.png

TweetStats for Mitt Romney

Content

But what do the campaigns talk about in these spaces? And to whom?

pew-who-they-talk-about.png

Both campaigns were focused on the economy in June, with 1-in-4 Romney postings and 1-in-5 Obama postings discussing the subject.

What differed was the approach.

Romney's campaign made twice as many posts focused on jobs as Obama. Reflecting the cerebral candidate that he is, Obama's campaign spent just as much time talking about "broader economic policy issues such as the need to invest in the middle class and how the election presents a choice between two economic visions."

Here are two tweets that illustrate the difference.

Barack Obama, August 14: "I don't believe in an economy from the top down. I believe that the economy grows from the middle class out, and from the bottom up."

Mitt Romney, August 12: "If your priority is creating more jobs and putting more people to work, that's what we know how to do. #RomneyRyan2012"

Not surprisingly, the challenger was more than twice as likely to mention the incumbent than the other way around. In June, Romney's campaign devoted about a third of its posts to Obama, "largely attacking him for a policy stance or action." The Obama campaign mentioned Romney half as much.

Wordle, a tool used to visualize how frequently words appear in a text, starkly shows this difference.

Wordle - Mitt Romney Tweets - June 8 - Aug 16.jpg

Wordle, 78 Mitt Romney Tweets (June 8 - August 16)

Wordle - obama.png

Wordle, 89 Obama Tweets (August 14-16)

Also, the Romney campaign is much more likely to communicate with an image or a video than the Obama campaign, making an emotional appeal versus a rational appeal.

But in the public spaces -- YouTube, Twitter and Facebook -- neither campaign goes out of its way to actually talk with citizens.

The report notes that is rare for either candidate to "reply to, comment on or retweet something from a citizen." Although if it is going to happen, the odds are that it will be the Obama campaign.

In its analysis of June tweets, the report shows that only 16% of @barackobama tweets were retweets. Most of those were campaign related; only 3% of all tweets were "retweets of citizen posts." During the two-week analysis, the Romney camp had one retweet.

TweetStats reveals that the June pattern is the norm for both campaigns. Over the lifetime of the two Twitter accounts, @barackobama shows 14% retweets and @mittromney shows 2%.

TS-retweets-obama.png

TS-retweets-romney.png

The campaigns may not interact with voters, but they regularly issue calls for action, with "about half of each candidate's posts [including] a request for some kind of voter follow-up activity."

"These calls to action were most common on the website blog posts. Every single blog post from the Obama campaign during the time studied included some call to action, as did 91% of his YouTube posts. Most, 81%, of Romney's homepage content and 40% of his YouTube video posts had calls to action as well. Twitter was the platform least likely to contain a call to action," according to the Pew report.

"For Obama, the primary call to action most often (51% of the time) was a request for some kind of digital-oriented response, such as watch this video, join this list or sign up to be part of a 'team,'" the report said. "For Romney the request that appeared first most often (31% of the time), was to donate money. These tended to appear in the form of a donate button."

Some of those calls for action include "share this post."

The most popular platform for engagement turns out to be Facebook, not Twitter.

pew-obama-shares.png

Project for Excellence In Journalism, August 2012

Likes and dislikes

The Pew researchers recorded the likes and dislikes (where appropriate), comments, retweets and views for up to 48 hours after posting. The Obama campaign posts on Facebook generated more than 1,100,000 likes. The Romney campaign generated about 635,000 likes, about half as many.

But the Obama campaign posts more often than the Romney campaign, so average likes per post is an important metric. Obama Facebook posts had an average of 2,938 comments per post versus an average of 1,941 for Romney's.

The Obama campaign had more than 150,000 retweets during this two-week period. Romney, on the other hand, had almost 8,600 retweets. However, on Twitter the ratio between the two campaigns matches: 17-to-1 total tweets, 17-to-1 retweets.

And the Obama campaign YouTube videos averaged 466 likes per video compared with 253 per video for the Romney campaign.

2008-prez-campaign.png

In comparing the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, the Pew researchers ignore Twitter, saying that it "was not in the mix in 2008." That is not the case.

John Edwards was the first presidential candidate to embrace Twitter. Barack Obama sent his first tweet in 2007:

"Thinking we're only one signature away from ending the war in Iraq. Learn more at http://www.barackobama.com 12:04 PM Apr 29th, 2007 from web"

On August 10, 2008, the Obama campaign used Twitter to invite supporters to be among the first to know the pick for vice president. Announcements were made by text and email.

By the end of the campaign, Obama's presence in the emerging network was phenomenal, and 165,000 people had signed up for one-way political advertisements.

It may be hard to believe, but in 2008 YouTube was also a new platform for political communication. YouTube gives candidates the opportunity to share longer messages than financially possible on television. And like Facebook and Twitter, it encourages sharing.

All campaigns want their videos to "go viral," to be shared quickly and widely.

In the two-week period, the researchers report than no video went viral. Videos for both campaigns averaged about 40,000 views within 48 hours of posting. But the most popular video wasn't campaign-related but human-related: it was Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama's Father's Day card. Its metrics: 2,265 Facebook shares in the first 48 hours and 211,663 YouTube views.

The History and the Future

Political digital campaigning truly got its start with the Howard Dean campaign in 2004. Ron Paul's supporters demonstrated the potential of the medium for fundraising when they contributed more than $4.2 million on November 5, 2007; Paul was polling in the single digits at the time.

But just as Harry Truman was the first president to make a coast-to-coast address on television in 1951, it wasn't until the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960 that the medium had an impact on political communication. Those who heard the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won; those who watched on television picked Kennedy. Kennedy went on to win the contest, and "more than half of all voters reported that the Great Debates had influenced their opinion; 6% reported that their vote was the result of the debates alone."

We'll not know for a while whether a similar watershed moment for digital political communication came during the Dean, Paul or Obama (first) run for president. But there is no doubt that a generation immersed in digital communication technologies will turn to these tools to learn about candidates and issues. And not just turn to them first; eventually, they'll turn to them only.

Kathy Gill has been online since the early 1990s, having discovered CompuServe before Marc Andreessen launched Mosaic at the University of Illinois in 1993. In 1995, she built and ran one of the first political candidate websites in Washington state. Gill then rode the dot-com boom as a communication consultant who could speak web, until the crash. In 2001, she began her fourth career as a full-time academic, first teaching techies about communications and now teaching communicators about technology. At the University of Washington, she teaches undergraduate digital journalism as well as classes in the Master of Communication in Digital Media program. For almost five years, she covered politics for About.com; for three years, she covered agriculture.

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August 13 2012

14:02

September 04 2011

17:53

Omar Abdullah and a nationwide debate: Twitter as platform for Indian politicians

India Today :: Barack Obama did it. Hugo Chavez does it. Shashi Tharoor was a pioneer. And now, Omar Abdullah has sparked a nationwide debate with his comments on the medium. It's Twitter time once more. The humble 140-character tweet is again hogging the headlines in Indian politics. The microblogging site seems to be emerging as the medium of choice for politicians and social activists such as Kiran Bedi to engage with the masses.

Continue to read Abhik Sen, indiatoday.intoday.in

July 31 2011

06:02

Role of Twitter in debt-ceiling debate: "Make a phone call. Send an e-mail. Tweet."

Bloomberg :: President Barack Obama has put his political organization to work on the social network, mobilizing supporters on Twitter Inc. for the Washington wrangling over raising the federal debt ceiling. 

With 9.4 million followers, @barackobama, the president’s campaign Twitter feed, is the third most followed on the service. As the House of Representatives was heading toward a vote on a Republican plan to raise the debt ceiling that he already had threatened to veto, Obama went before White House microphones to urge voters to “let your members of Congress know” how they feel. “Make a phone call. Send an e-mail. Tweet,” he said. “Keep the pressure on Washington.” - Obama was not alone.

Continue to read Kate Andersen Brower | Margaret Talev, www.bloomberg.com

July 24 2011

07:39

Politics in real-time: Barack Obama the big winner in GOP Twitter debate

U.S. News :: Mary Kate Cary: Here at Thomas Jefferson Street, US news staff watch presidential candidates debate on Twitter in favor for their audience. Yesterday they watched the launch of a new idea, created by TheTeaParty.net. The organization invited all the GOP presidential candidates to a 90-minute debate in which they’d have to answer questions from the moderators and the public, all in 140 character tweets.

Does that work? Is it possible to transfer political debates to Twitter? 

[Mary Kate Cary:] "Just because it was a new idea doesn’t mean it was a good idea."

What Twitter can and can't - continue to read Mary Kate Cary, www.usnews.com

July 23 2011

11:23

When President Barack Obama's press office uses Flickr too often

Politico :: One of the most memorable visual images this year shows President Barack Obama and his national security team in the Situation Room, transfixed by a live video of the mission of Osama bin Laden's takedown unfolding. Like other iconic pictures of this administration, the Situation Room shot was taken by a staff photographer for the White House’s Flickr page. But the administration’s use of Flickr has sparked tension between the White House and news photographers who say the press office uses its Flickr page too often to control images and circumvent news coverage.

[Julie Mason:] For some news organizations, publishing a photo taken by the White House is comparable to pasting an administration press release into a newspaper and calling it news — a concept anathema to an independent press.

A discussion - continue to read Julie Mason, www.politico.com

July 05 2011

11:05

U.S. VP Joe Biden joins Twitter @VP - news, announcements and behind the scenes

TechCrunch :: Following President Barack Obama’s announcement that he will actually start Tweeting from @barackobama, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has also joined Twitter, under the account @vp. This seems to be the Vice President’s first official active Twitter account. The White House Blog reports that Biden’s staff will be providing updates on the latest news and announcements coming out of the Office of the Vice President, “as well as a behind the scenes look at Veep-life.

Continue to read Leena Rao, techcrunch.com

May 28 2011

16:08

Appointed - Twitter's Dick Costolo now member of President Obama's Advisory Committee

Business Insider | SAI :: President Obama has decided to appoint Twitter CEO Dick Costolo to his National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. Costolo will be joining executives from Microsoft and McAfee, as well as Dan Hesse of Sprint Nextel and Ivan Seidenberg of Verizon

Continue to read Alyson Shontell, www.businessinsider.com

May 02 2011

21:36

A Twitter Timeline on the Killing of Osama Bin Laden

[View the story "Timeline of Tweets Around Death of Osama Bin Laden" on Storify]

Did you see any other key tweets around the news of Bin Laden's killing? Share them in the comments below and I'll add them to the timeline above.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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19:20

At the NYT, no paywall exemption for Bin Laden

When The New York Times announced its pay meter back in March, publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. also announced that — along with the many, many other pores and passages the paper had built into its gate — the Times had built into its new system the ability to open the gate for breaking-news stories that were, essentially, must-reads. “Mr. Sulzberger wanted a flexible system,” the paper reported at the time, “one that would allow the company to adjust the limit on the number of free articles as needed — in the case of a big breaking news event, for example.”

Or, as Sulzberger told Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters:

“Let’s imagine there’s a horrifying story like 9/11 again,” [Sulzberger] said in an interview. “We can — with one hit of a button — turn that meter to zero to allow everyone to read everything they want,” he said. “We’re going to learn. We built a system that is flexible.”

Last night’s news about the death of Osama bin Laden would seem to qualify as one of those big must-read stories. So it’s interesting to note that the Times’ coverage of the news — all of its articles and blog posts — remained behind the paper’s gate last night. And they’ll remain there. “There are no current plans to open up the news and features about Bin Laden for free on NYTimes.com,” a Times spokesperson told me. “As you know, readers get 20 articles free each month, and they can access Times content through other means, such as blogs, social media and search.”

The Bin Laden story broke on May 1, just a few hours after all non-subscribing Times readers had seen their monthly 20-article count reset to zero. Barring a big Sunday-morning reading binge, most were probably still at the very beginnings of their monthly allotments. And while “any decision to make any content free on NYTimes.com will be made on a case by case basis,” the spokesperson notes, “in this case in particular, the fact that the story broke on May 1 was certainly a factor.”

The Times’ pay meter is probably the most analyzed edifice in the news industry at the moment. And it’s not as if there were nowhere else online (or on television, or in print) to learn about the bin Laden raid.

Still, it’s remarkable how little we know about how the paywall’s breaking-news caveat works. The notion of stories that are so big that they shouldn’t be paid for — or, more accurately, so big that the Times shouldn’t require people to pay for them — is a complicated, but also crucial, one, particularly considering the careful balance the Times has struck between business interest and public interest in its rhetoric about its pay scheme.

If and when a story is taken from outside the wall, who makes the decision about the exemption? Is it someone on the business side or the editorial side— or a collaboration between both? Is the exemption something that the Times will announce publicly, or something it will simply enact, without comment? And if the day of the month on which a story breaks is a factor, as it was in this case…on what day would a big story become exemption-worthy?

The biggest question, though: If Osama’s demise didn’t make the cut, what story would?

September 17 2010

18:27

Hallmarks of Good Campaign Sites: Simplicity, Inspire Action

A political campaign website is the place where candidates recruit new volunteers, and where the candidate can get their message out unfiltered. It's more important than ever, and yet many candidates still struggle to get it right.

"The website really is that first real encounter with the voter; it's your chance to turn a casual visitor into an actual supporter," said Colin Delany, founder and chief editor of Epolitics.com.

A good website will get visitors to take action in some way. Often, one of the best small victories for a candidate is to get people to provide an email address for future contact. Email is like the gateway drug for a politician's campaign website, getting people involved one click at a time.

But that's just the beginning. Getting the basics right requires a dedication to making the simple things work for average folks.

Inspire Action

Joe Rospars, a founding partner of Blue State Digital and the new media director for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, said that a politician's website should make it as easy as possible for someone to figure out how they can help the candidate by either giving time, money or passing along information from the campaign site to friends.

Blue State Digital.gif

"At a technical level, when there are too many clicks to get to the thing you want people to do and they want to do, that's a waste of their time and a missed opportunity," Rospars said.

Rospars also said a campaign needs to ask if the website is a true reflection of their offline operations. For national candidates, they must determine if the website offers opportunities to engage at the local, statewide and national levels. Is it the heartbeat of the campaign in terms of the latest news, information, organizational efforts and events that are going on?

Of course, a campaign website has to have good content. Delany said this content has to help persuade a potential supporter. At the same time, a website and online presence can't have so much going on, and be so complicated that a small team -- or the candidate herself -- can't keep everything updated.

"You want to reach people through the channels that they use," Daleny said, "but if you are out on 20 different social networks, you don't have time to maintain any of them well. You don't want to build any more than you can maintain."

Examples of Good and Bad

Daleny pointed to the re-election website of Sen. Harry Reid and the campaign site of Sean Duffy, who is running for Congress in Wisconsin's seventh district, as exceptional candidate websites. He noted that while the layouts are different, it's easy to find buttons for getting involved and where to find out more about the candidates. Additionally, Daleny suggested that Reid's emphasis on Nevada's landscape is something that might draw positive attention to his unpopular candidacy with something that constituents care for, while Duffy's emphasis is on him as a candidate.

harry reid grab.jpg

In contrast, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's campaign site for his run for governor seems to have been inspired by BarackObama.com, according to Delany. But, he said, "it's so cluttered that it's almost an assault on the eyes...very hard to pick out the information you're actually looking for."

A website played an important role in the victory of Senator Scott Brown during Massachusetts' special election in January 2010. Robert Willington, a web and political strategist for the Brown campaign and executive director of RebuildTheParty.com, said the campaign website should act as a "hub" for what's happening at campaign headquarters and with the candidate.

scott brown grab.jpg

"It's like the center part of the wheel that connects everything else," Willington said. He said the Brown campaign often used social media like Twitter to drive people to the site.

Tim Hysom works as the director for communications and technology services at the Congressional Management Foundation. He has also worked on the CMF's Gold Mouse Report, which recognizes the best websites on Capitol Hill. Hysom said a good candidate's website acts as a kind of virtual office.

"The website should be a place where every kind of information that the [actual] office could provide...is available to the greatest extent possible," he said.

Two examples of sites that do it right are the winners of the CMF's top award, the Platinum Mouse Award. Last year those were Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rep. Steve Israel from New York.

murkowski grab.jpg

One thing that all good campaign websites have in common is that they get to the point quickly and do a good job of capturing a user's interest.

"At the end of the day what many people will give you is their first couple of seconds on the site," Rospars said. "If you don't make clear that they are important or that there are real opportunities to get involved and that it will be a meaningful thing for them, they are gone."

Steven Davy is the web content editor at The World, a BBC,WGBH,PRI co-production. He is also the developer of Exploring Conversations, a multimedia website examining the language of music. He is the politics correspondent for MediaShift.

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May 14 2010

16:26

E&P: US media ‘unabashedly biased’ toward Barack Obama

Editor & Publisher have a comment piece from Congressman Lamar Smith in which he claims the US media have been exceptionally favourable toward President Obama and relatively disparaging of George Bush and the tea party movement.

The mainstream media’s treatment of President Obama provides an interesting case study. Journalists who gave to President Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign outnumbered those who contributed to Sen. McCain by 20-to-1.

And once the election was over, the slanted coverage continued. The nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs, comparing media coverage of Presidents Bush and Obama at the same point in their presidencies, found that 58 percent of all network news evaluations of Obama and his policies were favorable, while only 33 percent of assessments of Bush were favorable.

Full story at this link…

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April 06 2010

23:36

How Technology Changed American Politics in the Internet Age

The 2008 U.S. presidential campaign drew the attention of the world. In the aftermath, the Obama campaign's use of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were widely credited with helping secure the historic victory of President Barack Obama.

But the Obama campaign wouldn't have been able to make its technological strides without the innovations first deployed by the Howard Dean campaign years before; and, in turn, the designers of the Dean campaign made sure to study the technology lessons of Jessie Ventura's successful gubernatorial run.

The dawn of the Internet era and introduction of technologies such as email lists and social media have had a remarkable impact on American politics. Below are some highlights, game-changing moments, and other uses of technology that stand as significant moments in political history.

The Internet Era

An early moment in any timeline about modern tech development in politics is the February 1997 creation of the GOP Internet forum FreeRepublic. To put it in perspective, 1998 was the year Google was founded. It was also the year that MoveOn was created for progressives as a political community formed in response to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

Another early note: I would be remiss not to include the now famous 1999 Al Gore interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "Late Edition," when the the vice president declared, "I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth." Though technically not claiming credit for the Internet, Gore's comments would become famous.

2000

Following Sen. John McCain's 2000 primary win in New Hampshire, the New York Times ran a story with this headline: His Success in New Hampshire Brings McCain an Overnight Infusion of Cybercash. The story cited figures released by the McCain campaign that suggested he raised more than $500,000 over the Internet in less than 24 hours after the polls closed. This was a significant moment for online fundraising.

The 2000 election year saw the Bush campaign make innovative use of phone bank technology for get-out-the-vote initiatives. It also used email lists to drive voters to action.

That campaign year was notable for the use of online ads. A study from AdRelevance, Nielsen Online's service that tracks advertising activity, was reported in USA Today on October 30, 2000. It suggested that "Republicans used a more 'targeted' approach, while Democrats relied on a 'broad reach' effort. The Republicans, for example, ran more than 20 unique banners on 35 sites...the Democrats achieved all their exposure with a single banner ad on Yahoo."

The AdRelevance study also reported that Republicans used online marketing tools to build a database of 700,000 names.

2001

2001 saw the emergence of popular political websites such as the Libertarian-leaning Instapundit and liberal community website MyDD. The latter was established by Jerome Armstrong, who would go on to work on Howard Dean's presidential campaign. Armstrong's writing on MyDD also featured one of the first references to the online-based political activism term "netroots."

2002

2002 saw the rise of one of the web's most popular bloggers, Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos. Two years later, Moulitsas would be among the first bloggers given press credentials to cover the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

2003

February 2003 saw a tectonic shift in how political campaigns are run, thanks to the rise of Howard Dean and his campaign's use of Meetup to empower supporters to self-organize. The Dean campaign also created a YouTube-like online video site call Dean TV, experimented with SMS, used an online event tool called Get Local, and created a pre-Facebook-style site called Deanlink, among other pioneering innovations.

"We fell into this by accident," Dean told Wired magazine. "I wish I could tell you we were smart enough to figure this out. But the community taught us. They seized the initiative through Meetup. They built our organization for us before we had an organization."

According to the Wired piece, in February 2003 there were 11 Dean meetings around the country organized through Meetup. By late fall, there were more than 800 monthly meetings on the calendar.

Zephyr-Teachout.gifZephyr Teachout, director of Internet organizing for Dean For America, told me that of all the online tools experimented with and deployed during the campaign, the meeting tool was the most exciting.

"The meeting tool was completely opposed internally when we started designing it in May 2003," she said. "If you ask people what [they] do for a candidate, now I think most people know that they can go to events and get other people to support them whereas 10 years ago it wouldn't even be possible. It's really changed people's sense of possibility in terms of their potential interaction with a campaign."

Another significant technical innovation in 2003 came when Arizona became the first state to implement online voter registration.

2004

2004 saw the launch of the successful Democratic online fundraising outfit ActBlue. The summer of 2004 was also marked by the Rock the Vote campaign that registered an estimated 1.2 million new voters. The campaign included a partnership with Motorola that launched a large-scale mobile political project which enabled people to sign up to receive information on their mobile devices.

That same year, the Washington Times had reported in August that Daily Kos received about 200,000 visitors a day during the Democratic National Convention.

And on September 9, bloggers for the right-leaning site Power Line published a post suggesting Dan Rather's "60 Minutes II" report on George W. Bush's National Guard service included some fraudulent memos. The post and the more than 500 other sites that linked to it are credited with exposing the report and later causing CBS News to apologize, leading to Dan Rather's resignation. Time Magazine named Power Line Blog of the Year.

2005

In early 2005, three former PayPal employees, Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim created YouTube. The popular video sharing site has significantly changed political campaigns, by allowing citizens to post their own video from campaign events, including politicians making faux pas.

By May of 2005 a new site called The Huffington Post was launched by Arianna Huffington, Kenneth Lerer, and Jonah Peretti that would add a new dynamic to online political coverage.

Today, politicians with blogs are very common, but in 2005 Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston established the first Congressional blog with the help of rising GOP Internet guru David All.

In 2005, another GOP Internet tech star, Patrick Ruffini, the webmaster for the 2000 Bush campaign, launched the highly successful "eCampaign" operation while at the Republican National Committee.

2006

By 2006, political campaigns online were widespread and in full force. In June, one of the first to test out the use of YouTube for their campaign was Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston. He posted a video of what his campaign called Mailtube, an attempt to reach out to constituents through the use of online video.

YouTube started to take hold of the political imagination when, on August 15, 2006, then Sen. George Allen (R-VA) called opposition campaign volunteer S.R. Sidarth "macaca." The video went viral and is seen as a major turning point that led to Allen's electoral defeat.

2006 was also the year that the Rightroots coalition was created to support GOP candidates online. The site raised over $300,000 for different candidates.

2007

Zephyr Teachout said the initial use of most technologies is not where it ends up having an impact. She cites the Dean campaign's use of Meetup and email as examples. Echoing this point, 2007 saw some of the most notable uses of technology in political campaigns. One example is how Barack Obama's team took the social networking suite developed by the Dean campaign to a new level with Blue State Digital's creation of My.BarackObama.com.

Facebook gave rise to an enormous constituency of political activity in 2008, and upstart Twitter dipped its toes in the campaign waters. One of the biggest tech innovations of the year came on July 23, when CNN held the first YouTube Debate for the Democrats in Charleston, S.C. The Dems were followed by the GOP's November 28 YouTube Debate in St. Petersburg, Fla.

2007 also saw an innovative use of distributed online video by Mike Huckabee's campaign for the GOP nomination. Ron Paul, building on Howard Dean's pioneering fundraising efforts, created the money bomb which raised $4.3 million in 24 hours on November 5 largely through online donations. Paul did it again on Dec. 16 when his campaign brought in $6 million in 24 hours, which Fox News called the biggest one-day take ever.

In other 2007 notes, Slatecard was created by David All and Sendhil Panchadsaram as a website that funneled contributions to conservative candidates. All also started the group blog TechRepublican, focusing on the intersection of Republican politics and technology. (In April 2009, TechRepublican was awarded the Golden Dot Award for the Best Blog in National Politics).

Another tech innovation launched in 2007 was the Ustream.tv platform for live online interactive video broadcasts. The technology was been widely used by politicians, including by Barack Obama when he appeared with Oprah during a South Carolina rally which included 74,000 participants.

2008

Supported by online campaigning, the Democrats had a good election year in 2008, taking large majorities in both houses of Congress and celebrating the election of Barack Obama.

Tech innovations played a big role in the election successes of the Dems. One notable highlight was the August 28 text from the Obama campaign:

"Breaking news: the text message is out and it's official... Barack Obama has selected Joe Biden to be his running mate!"

In October 2008, the Obama campaign released its free Obama08 app, which organized a person's iPhone contacts to enable supporters to call friends located in important electoral districts among other features.

While much of the attention in 2008 was on the Democrats, in the spring of 2008 The Next Right was formed as a GOP imitation of the huge left-wing community Daily Kos and MyDD.

In other significant tech innovations, Facebook Connect was launched in July. Connect is a set of APIs from Facebook that enables Facebook members to log onto third-party websites. The release of the API paved the way for the David All Group development of the award winning Act.ivi.st, which integrates with a campaign and sends out messages to the online communities including Facebook and Twitter.

David-All.gif"The idea of web surfing is so dead," All told me. "Once you get people to a website, it's rare they are going to go back too often. But, every single day they are going to be logging into Facebook and they are going to be engaging with that community. So if your news can be liked or commented on and engaged with it is really powerful."

2009

After one of the biggest election years in modern history, in March 2009 New York's 20th congressional district held a special election. Democrat Scott Murphy's successful run was supported by a new tech innovation from Google, the Google Blast Advertising Campaign, which blanketed sites running Google AdSense with Murphy ads targeted to people in his district.

2010

With elections fast approaching, we're bound to see new kinds of tech innovation that will turn heads this year. I recently wrote here on MediaShift about how the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts was aided by a smartphone app created for GOP candidates called Walking Edge. It offered Brown's canvassers a database of where undecided voters and supporters live. The app used geo-location tools and Google Maps so that after canvassers made contact with a person, they could update the database in real time.

The Walking Edge falls squarely in what Zephyr Teachout describes as the "data oligarch" model, which is designed to create massive databases. But Teachout said there is also the potneital for the Internet to allow for more civic organizing.

"[The Internet is] one of the greatest collective action problem-solving tools in world history," Teachout said. "These are constantly in tension with each other."

What do you think of the milestones in our list? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments.

Steven Davy is a freelance journalist, and freelance radio reporter/producer. He regularly covers the defense industry and security related issues for UPI. Additionally, he hosts a current affairs newsmagazine radio show called the Nonchalant Café Hour which broadcasts live in Kalamazoo, Mich. Steven recently created Exploring Conversations as a multimedia website examining the language of music for his graduate thesis project at Michigan State University.

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January 07 2010

19:11

Keeping Martin honest: Checking on Langeveld’s predictions for 2009

[A little over one year ago, our friend Martin Langeveld made a series of predictions about what 2009 would bring for the news business — in particular the newspaper business. I even wrote about them at the time and offered up a few counter-predictions. Here's Martin's rundown of how he fared. Up next, we'll post his predictions for 2010. —Josh]

PREDICTION: No other newspaper companies will file for bankruptcy.

WRONG. By the end of 2008, only Tribune had declared. Since then, the Star-Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Journal Register Company, and the Philadelphia newspapers made trips to the courthouse, most of them right after the first of the year.

PREDICTION: Several cities, besides Denver, that today still have multiple daily newspapers will become single-newspaper towns.

RIGHT: Hearst closed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (in print, at least), Gannett closed the Tucson Citizen, making those cities one-paper towns. In February, Clarity Media Group closed the Baltimore Examiner, a free daily, leaving the field to the Sun. And Freedom is closing the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, which cuts out a nearby competitor in the Phoenix metro area.

PREDICTION: Whatever gets announced by the Detroit Newspaper Partnership in terms of frequency reduction will be emulated in several more cities (including both single and multiple newspaper markets) within the first half of the year.

WRONG: Nothing similar to the Detroit arrangement has been tried elsewhere.

PREDICTION: Even if both papers in Detroit somehow maintain a seven-day schedule, we’ll see several other major cities and a dozen or more smaller markets cut back from six or seven days to one to four days per week.

WRONG, mostly: We did see a few other outright closings including the Ann Arbor News (with a replacement paper published twice a week), and some eliminations of one or two publishing days. But only the Register-Pajaronian of Watsonville, Calif. announced it will go from six days to three, back in January.

PREDICTION: As part of that shift, some major dailies will switch their Sunday package fully to Saturday and drop Sunday publication entirely. They will see this step as saving production cost, increasing sales via longer shelf life in stores, improving results for advertisers, and driving more weekend website traffic. The “weekend edition” will be more feature-y, less news-y.

WRONG: This really falls in the department of wishful thinking; it’s a strategy I’ve been advocating for the last year or so to follow the audience to the web, jettison the overhead of printing and delivery, but retain the most profitable portion of the print product.

PREDICTION: There will be at least one, and probably several, mergers between some of the top newspaper chains in the country. Top candidate: Media News merges with Hearst. Dow Jones will finally shed Ottaway in a deal engineered by Boston Herald owner (and recently-appointed Ottaway chief) Pat Purcell.

WRONG AGAIN, but this one is going back into the 2010 hopper. Lack of capital by most of the players, and the perception or hope that values may improve, put a big damper on mergers and acquisitions, but there should be renewed interest ahead.

PREDICTION: Google will not buy the New York Times Co., or any other media property. Google is smart enough to stick with its business, which is organizing information, not generating content. On the other hand, Amazon may decide that they are in the content business…And then there’s the long shot possibility that Michael Bloomberg loses his re-election bid next fall, which might generate a 2010 prediction, if NYT is still independent at that point.

RIGHT about Google, and NOT APPLICABLE about Bloomberg (but Bloomberg did acquire BusinessWeek). The Google-NYT pipe dream still gets mentioned on occasion, but it won’t happen.

PREDICTION: There will be a mini-dotcom bust, featuring closings or fire sales of numerous web enterprises launched on the model of “generate traffic now, monetize later.”

WRONG, at least on the mini-bust scenario. Certainly there were closings of various digital enterprises, but it didn’t look like a tidal wave.

PREDICTION: The fifty newspaper execs who gathered at API’s November Summit for an Industry in Crisis will not bother to reconvene six months later (which would be April) as they agreed to do.

RIGHT. There was a very low-key round two with fewer participants in January, without any announced outcomes, and that was it. [Although there was also the May summit in Chicago, which featured many of the same players. —Ed.]

PREDICTION: Newspaper advertising revenue will decline year-over-year 10 percent in the first quarter and 5 percent in the second. It will stabilize, or nearly so, in the second half, but will have a loss for the year. For the year, newspapers will slip below 12 percent of total advertising revenue (from 15 percent in 2007 and around 13.5 percent in 2008). But online advertising at newspaper sites will resume strong upward growth.

WRONG, and way too optimistic. Full-year results won’t be known for months, but the first three quarters have seen losses in the 30 percent ballpark. Gannett and New York Times have suggested Q4 will come in “better” at “only” about 25 percent down. My 12 percent reference was to newspaper share of the total ad market, a metric that has become harder to track this year due to changes in methodology at McCann, but the actual for 2009 ultimately will sugar out at about 10 percent.

PREDICTION: Newspaper circulation, aggregated, will be steady (up or down no more than 1 percent) in each of the 6-month ABC reporting periods ending March 31 and September 30. Losses in print circulation will be offset by gains in ABC-countable paid digital subscriptions, including facsimile editions and e-reader editions.

WRONG, and also way too optimistic. The March period drop was 7.1 percent, the September drop was 10.6 percent, and digital subscription didn’t have much impact.

PREDICTION: At least 25 daily newspapers will close outright. This includes the Rocky Mountain News, and it will include other papers in multi-newspaper markets. But most closings will be in smaller markets.

WRONG, and too pessimistic. About half a dozen daily papers closed for good during the year.

PREDICTION: One hundred or more independent local startup sites focused on local news will be launched. A number of them will launch weekly newspapers, as well, repurposing the content they’ve already published online. Some of these enterprises are for-profit, some are nonprofit. There will be some steps toward formation of a national association of local online news publishers, perhaps initiated by one of the journalism schools.

Hard to tell, but probably RIGHT. Nobody is really keeping track of how many hyperlocals are active, or their comings and goings. An authoritative central database would be a Good Thing.

PREDICTION: The Dow Industrials will be up 15 percent for the year. The stocks of newspaper firms will beat the market.

RIGHT. The Dow finished the year up 18.8 percent. (This prediction is the one that got the most “you must be dreaming” reactions last year.

And RIGHT about newspapers beating the market (as measured by the Dow Industrials), which got even bigger laughs from the skeptics. There is no index of newspaper stocks, but on the whole, they’ve done well. It helps to have started in the sub-basement at year-end 2008, of course, which was the basis of my prediction. Among those beating the Dow, based on numbers gathered by Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, were New York Times (+69%), AH Belo (+164%), Lee Enterprises (+746%), McClatchy (+343%), Journal Communications (+59%), EW Scripps (+215%), Media General (+348%), and Gannett (+86%). Only Washington Post Co. (+13%) lagged the market. Not listed, of course, are those still in bankruptcy.

PREDICTION: At least one publicly-owned newspaper chain will go private.

NOPE.

PREDICTION: A survey will show that the median age of people reading a printed newspaper at least 5 days per week is is now over 60.

UNKNOWN: I’m not aware of a 2009 survey of this metric, but I’ll wager that the median age figure is correct.

PREDICTION: Reading news on a Kindle or other e-reader will grow by leaps and bounds. E-readers will be the hot gadget of the year. The New York Times, which currently has over 10,000 subscribers on Kindle, will push that number to 75,000. The Times will report that 75 percent of these subscribers were not previously readers of the print edition, and half of them are under 40. The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post will not be far behind in e-reader subscriptions.

UNKNOWN, as far as the subscription counts go: newspapers and Kindle have not announced e-reader subscription levels during the year. The Times now has at least 30,000, as does the Wall Street Journal (according to a post by Staci Kramer in November; see my comment there as well). There have been a number of new e-reader introductions, but none of them look much better than their predecessors as news readers. My guess would be that by year end, the Times will have closer to 40,000 Kindle readers and the Journal 35,000. During 2010, 75,000 should be attainable for the Times, especially counting all e-editions (which include the Times Reader and 53,353 weekdays and 34,435 Sundays for the six months ending Sept. 30.

PREDICTION: The advent of a color Kindle (or other brand color e-reader) will be rumored in November 2009, but won’t be introduced before the end of the year.

RIGHT: plenty of rumors, but no color e-reader, except Fujitsu’s Flepia, which is expensive, experimental, and only for sale in Japan.

PREDICTION: Some newspaper companies will buy or launch news aggregation sites. Others will find ways to collaborate with aggregators.

RIGHT: Hearst launched its topic pages site LMK.com. And various companies are working with EVRI, Daylife and others to bring aggregated feeds to their sites.

PREDICTION: As newsrooms, with or without corporate direction, begin to truly embrace an online-first culture, outbound links embedded in news copy, blog-style, as well as standalone outbound linking, will proliferate on newspaper sites. A reporter without an active blog will start to be seen as a dinosaur.

MORE WISHFUL THINKING, although there’s progress. Many reporters still don’t blog, still don’t tweet, and many papers are still on content management systems that inhibit embedded links.

PREDICTION: The Reuters-Politico deal will inspire other networking arrangements whereby one content generator shares content with others, in return for right to place ads on the participating web sites on a revenue-sharing basis.

YES, we’re seeing more sharing of content, with various financial arrangements.

PREDICTION: The Obama administration will launch a White House wiki to help citizens follow the Changes, and in time will add staff blogs, public commenting, and other public interaction.

NOT SO FAR, although a new Open Government Initiative was recently announced by the White House. This grew out of some wiki-like public input earlier in the year.

PREDICTION: The Washington Post will launch a news wiki with pages on current news topics that will be updated with new developments.

YES — kicked off in January, it’s called WhoRunsGov.com.

PREDICTION: The New York Times will launch a sophisticated new Facebook application built around news content. The basic idea will be that the content of the news (and advertising) package you get by being a Times fan on Facebook will be influenced by the interests and social connections you have established on Facebook. There will be discussion of, if not experimentation with, applying a personal CPM based on social connections, which could result in a rewards system for participating individuals.

NO. Although the Times has continued to come out with innovative online experiments, this was not one of them.

PREDICTION: Craigslist will partner with a newspaper consortium in a project to generate and deliver classified advertising. There will be no new revenue in the model, but the goal will be to get more people to go to newspaper web sites to find classified ads. There will be talk of expanding this collaboration to include eBay.

NO. This still seems like a good idea, but probably it should have happened in 2006 and the opportunity has passed.

PREDICTION: Look for some big deals among the social networks. In particular, Twitter will begin to falter as it proves to be unable to identify a clearly attainable revenue stream. By year-end, it will either be acquired or will be seeking to merge or be acquired. The most likely buyer remains Facebook, but interest will come from others as well and Twitter will work hard to generate an auction that produces a high valuation for the company.

NO DEAL, so far. But RIGHT about Twitter beginning to falter and still having no “clearly attainable” revenue stream in sight. Twitter’s unique visitors and site visits, as measured by Compete.com, peaked last summer and have been declining, slowly, ever since. Quantcast agrees. [But note that neither of those traffic stats count people interacting with Twitter via the API, through Twitter apps, or by texting. —Ed.]

PREDICTION: Some innovative new approaches to journalism will emanate from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

YES, as described in this post and this post. See also the blogs of Steve Buttry and Chuck Peters. The Cedar Rapids Gazette and its affiliated TV station and web site are in the process of reinventing and reconstructing their entire workflow for news gathering and distribution.

PREDICTION: A major motion picture or HBO series featuring a journalism theme (perhaps a blogger involved in saving the world from nefarious schemes) will generate renewed interest in journalism as a career.

RIGHT. Well, I’m not sure if it has generated renewed interest in journalism as a career, but the movie State of Play featured both print reporters and bloggers. And Julie of Julie & Julia was a blogger, as well. [Bit of a reach there, Martin. —Ed.]

[ADDENDUM: I posted about Martin's predictions when he made them and wrote this:

I’d agree with most, although (a) I think there will be at least one other newspaper company bankruptcy, (b) I think Q3/Q4 revenue numbers will be down from 2008, not flat, (c) circ will be down, not stable, (d) newspaper stocks won’t beat the market, (e) the Kindle boom won’t be as big as he thinks for newspapers, and (f) Twitter won’t be in major trouble in [2009] — Facebook is more likely to feel the pinch with its high server-farm costs.

I was right on (a), (b), and (c) and wrong on (d). Gimme half credit for (f), since Twitter is now profitable and Facebook didn’t seem too affected by server expenses. Uncertain on (e), but I’ll eat my hat if “75 percent of [NYT Kindle] subscribers were not previously readers of the print edition, and half of them are under 40.” —Josh]

Photo of fortune-teller postcard by Cheryl Hicks used under a Creative Commons license.

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