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April 26 2012

13:12

How 'Screenularity' Will Destroy Television as We Know It

Yesterday I announced the next project I'm going to work on which will focus on mobile news consumption. As a result, I've been thinking a lot about screens.

In the future, consumers will not make a distinction between their television, phone or computer screens. The only difference will be the size of each screen, its placement and, therefore, what you most likely do with it. 

iphone sky.jpg

But one will not call the handheld-sized screen their "mobile phone." That you might use it to make phone calls will be happenstance. You will just as easily make a call on the 15-inch screen at your desk or the 40-inch screen in the living room.

Let's call this future moment the "Screenularity." It is the moment in the future when, as a consumer, there's no distinction in functionality between the various screens we interact with. Much like Matt Thompson's "Speakularity," this will be a watershed moment for how we consume information and, therefore, journalism.

THE DEATH KNELL OF TELEVISION

For the entire television industry as we know it, this will be a back-breaking moment. It's not a question of "if" but "when." We see early signs of it in Netflix and Hulu, but the cracks in the dam haven't even started to show. For national broadcast journalism organizations like CNN, Fox and MSNBC, it will create a lot of disruption. For local broadcast journalism, it will leave them utterly decimated. 

Local broadcast journalism simply has no added value when compared with the wealth of information on the Internet. They rely on personality-less hosts that talk at you (not with you). Combine this with high overhead to do local reporting about topics many people simply don't care about, and you can start to see how this looks bleak for local broadcast affiliates. Breaking news is broken. Local broadcast websites are offensively bad and nowhere near competing on the open web. Their continued existence relies on the fact that the majority of people still get their news from television. But once the Screenularity hits, that will no longer be the case. There won't be a "television" just various screens. People will get their "lean back" information from the same screen they can engage with. Dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria!

THEY'RE NOT HAVING THIS CONVERSATION

Whether you love or hate the "future of news" crowd, we should admit that it's painfully devoid of broadcast journalism. I am not 100 percent sure why. I've heard Jay Rosen give a decent explanation, and it can be summarized as: "They just don't care, it's not in their interest."

I'm not saying there aren't any folks within broadcast who are forward-thinking. But considering the disproportionate size of their organizations/budgets/audience to more traditional print mediums, they are painfully absent from conversations about the future of the industry. From what I can observe, the television journalism world has no interest in the future-of-news conversation, and their websites speak louder about this than any defense they could possibly make. This is dangerous, because the majority of people still get their news from local broadcast networks. There is no plan b. There is no fallout shelter.

A DANGEROUS IDEA

For this month's Carnival of Journalism the question is: "What's a dangerous idea to save journalism." Mine is the Screenularity. Local broadcast outfits need to operate as if it's here. I recognize this is dangerous, because it assumes that an industry will disrupt itself. That inherently means there will be danger involved. People will lose their jobs. Organizations will falter and crumble. But others will come out the other end and reinvent an industry on their own terms.

Media companies must become technology companies so they can create the platforms that define the type of media they produce. If they're the ones who create the platforms, they will continue to create media on their own terms.

If local news broadcasters don't embrace the Screenularity and create the platforms themselves, they'd better hope that somebody else does it for them. And "hope" is a horrible strategy. That's what leads to complaints about "Google" or "Craigslist" killing journalism. All they did was create platforms that define the type of media produced. If you aren't creating those platforms then you have no excuse to complain about the terms those organizations create.

February 28 2012

17:00

What Will Bring More Attention to the Civic Value of Journalism?

For this month's Carnival of Journalism I am going to invoke the rule of "no apologies" and change the question a bit. Host Steve Outing asks: "What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead?"

I don't think it will be a technology, but an experience. And what will "save" journalism might not be the experience of consuming journalism.

This is an ongoing thought that comes from the second (or third) time I met Michael Maness when he was at Gannett and he talked about human-centered design and the way people relate to their communities. In short -- people relate more to the local businesses they frequent than they do the civic institutions nearby.

If you asked me where I lived in Oakland, I would tell you, "I live across the street from Bakesale Betty's." If you lived anywhere in Oakland then you knew exactly where I lived based on this reference. Everybody knows Bakesale Betty's.

The irony, however, is that I also lived across the street from the Temescal Library. Not just any library, but a Carnegie library. This is a building designed to be communal and civic. I tested this: If I told you I lived by the Temescal library, I'd get stares and a request for further information. "You know, right by Bakesale Betty's" --_ AHHH, I know where you live_, they'd respond.

carn.jpg

This is not a good or bad thing. It's just the thing. But this has consequences. I suspect if Bakesale Betty and the library had competing fundraisers, Betty would outperform the library tenfold.*

A few years later, I've moved to Berkeley.

I now live by a Thai Temple. One would think this would suffer the same fate of the library. It is a communal building, a civic building. Its appeal is seemingly narrow.

But every Sunday the Thai Temple serves brunch. Not just a lame brunch. We are talking a four-star Yelp brunch (474 reviews!). The first sentence of the first review nails it: "There are no words to describe the sense of community you feel when you go to the Thai Buddhist temple for brunch." Come for the brunch -- be nourished by the sense of community. Civic mission accomplished!

When I tell people I live by the Thai Temple they know exactly where I live (although I often have to say "Thai Brunch" for them to really know what I'm talking about).

What is saving the Thai Temple isn't the "Temple" but the experience the community has with it that centers around purchasing food. If that Thai Temple were in peril, people would rally behind it, Buddhist or otherwise.

Local news organizations need to find their Thai Brunch -- so do libraries. In fact, libraries have their "brunch." What I neglected to mention is that the Temescal library (and the new library I live by in Berkeley) both have extensions that are "tool lending libraries." In my experiments telling people I lived by the library, if I focused on the "tool lending" library, people were more likely to know where I lived. It might not be serving their direct "library" mission -- but by creating a tool lending center, both libraries are more central in the community.

So back to Steve's question: "What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead?"

Journalism has a value just as libraries do. But that inherent value doesn't have mass appeal. The question is: Can we find something, a game, an experience, a product whose value proposition draws people in and, as a result, brings more attention to the civic value of journalism? Meanwhile -- can that game/experience/product create money both to sustain itself and perhaps flow into the journalism?

We are still in the early stages of the Spot.Us/Public Insight Network merger, but increasingly this is on my mind. It's great that people will contribute to specific reporting endeavors. But those who are doing this are perhaps narrow. They are the same people who might give to NPR or any other nonprofit news organization. We want to create an experience that draws people in for something different.

It's an experience that will have a significant impact on journalism. That experience will be enabled by technology, true, but that's not what people will remember or why they'll get hooked. I don't know if it'll come in the next two years, and I don't know 100% what it will look like. But I do think that's how we'll define it.

*This is not to pick on Betty who everyone knows is awesome, lets people sell the Street Sheet and/or panhandle right in front of her store. She also gives away free ice lemonade sometimes. So don't think I'm trying to pick on you, Betty -- and please continue to hook it up!

A version of this post first appeared here.

April 01 2011

14:38

This Week in Review: Navigating the Times’ pay-plan loopholes, +1 for social search, and innovation ideas

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

Putting the Times’ pay plan in place: If you read last week’s review, the first half of this week’s should feel like déjà vu — lots of back-and-forth about the wisdom of The New York Times’ new online pay plan, and some more hand-wringing about getting around that plan. If you want to skip that and get to the best stuff, I recommend Staci Kramer, David Cohn, and Megan Garber.

The Times launched its pay system Monday with a letter to its readers (snarkier version courtesy of Danny Sullivan), along with a 99-cent trial offer for the first four weeks and free access for people who subscribe to the Times on Kindle. Times digital chief Martin Nisenholtz gave a launch-day talk to newspaper execs, highlighted by his assertion that the link economy is not a win-win for content producers and aggregators.

Meanwhile, the discussion about the paywall’s worth rolled on. You can find a good cross-section of opinions in this On Point conversation with Ken Doctor, the Journal Register’s John Paton, The Times’ David Carr, and NYTClean creator David Hayes. The plan continues to draw support from some corners, including The Onion (in its typically ironic style, of course) and PC Magazine’s Lance Ulanoff. Former Financial Times reporter Tom Foremski and Advertising Age columnist Simon Dumenco both made similar arguments about the value of the plan, with Foremski urging us to support the Times as a moral duty to quality journalism and Dumenco ripping the blogosphere’s paywall-bashers for not doing original reporting like the Times.

And though the opposition was expressed much more strongly the past two weeks, there was a smattering of dissent about the plan this week, too — some from the Times’ mobile users. One theme among the criticism was the cost of developing the plan: Philip Greenspun wondered how the heck the Times spent $40 million on planning and implementation, and former Guardian digital head Emily Bell wrote about the opportunity cost of that kind of investment. BNET’s Erik Sherman proposed that the Times should have invested the money in innovation instead.

A few other interesting thoughts about the Times’ pay plan before we get to the wall-jumping debate: Media consultant Judy Sims said the plan might actually make the Times more social by providing an incentive for subscribers to share articles on social networks to their non-subscribing friends. Spot.Us’ David Cohn argued that the plan is much closer to a donation model than a paywall and argued for the Times to offer membership incentives. And Reuters’ Felix Salmon talked about how the proposal is changing blogging at the Times.

PaidContent’s Staci Kramer said the Times is fighting an uphill battle in the realm of public perception, but that struggle is the Times’ own fault, created by its way-too-complicated pay system.

The ethics of paywall jumping: With the Times’ “pay fence” going into effect, all the talk about ways to get around that fence turned into a practical reality. Business Insider compiled seven of the methods that have been suggested: A browser extension, Twitter feeds, using different computers, NYTClean and a User Script’s coding magic, Google (for five articles a day), and browser-switching or cookie-deleting. Mashable came up with an even simpler one: delete “?gwh=numbers” from the Times page’s URL.

Despite such easy workarounds, the Times is still cracking down in other areas: As Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan noted, it blocks links from all Google sites after the five-articles-per-day limit is reached. The Times also quickly (and successfully) requested a shutdown of one of the more brazen free-riding schemes yet concocted — NYT for a Nickel, which charged to access Times articles without paywall restrictions. (It also established a pattern for unauthorized Twitter aggregators and bookmarklets: You’re fine, as long as you don’t use the Times’ name.)

So we all obviously can crawl through the Times’ loopholes, but should we? A few folks made efforts to hack through the ethical thicket of the Times’ intentional and unintentional loopholes: Times media critic James Poniewozik didn’t come down anywhere solid, but said the Times’ leaky strategy “makes the paywall something like a glorified tip jar, on a massive scale—something you choose to contribute to without compulsion because it is the right thing” — except unlike those enterprises, it’s for-profit. In a more philosophical take, the Lab’s Megan Garber said the ethical conundrum shows the difficulty of trying to graft the physical world’s ethical assumptions onto the digital world.

A possible +1 for publishers: Google made a big step in the direction of socially driven search this week with the introduction of +1, a new feature that allows users to vote up certain search results in actions that are visible to their social network. Here are two good explainers of the feature from TechCrunch and Search Engine Land, both of whom note that +1′s gold mine is in allowing Google to personalize ads more closely, and that it’s starting on search results and eventually moving to sites across the web.

The feature was immediately compared to Facebook’s “Like” and Twitter’s retweets, though it functions a bit differently from either. As GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram noted, because it’s Google, it’s intrinsically tied to search, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage. As Ingram said, it’s smart to add more of a social component to search, but Google’s search-centricity makes the “social network” aspect of +1 awkward, just as Buzz and Wave were. To paraphrase the argument of Frederic Lardinois of NewsGrange: if your +1′s go into your Google Profile and no one sees them, do they really make a sound?

All this seems to be good news for media sites. Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman said that if they essentially become “improve the SEO of this site” buttons, media companies will be pretty motivated to add them to their sites. Likewise, Poynter’s Damon Kiesow reasoned that +1 could be a great way for media sites to more deeply involve visitors who arrive via Google, who have typically been less engaged than visitors from Facebook and Twitter.

Shrinking innovation to spur it: This month’s Carnival of Journalism focuses on how to drive innovation, specifically through the Knight News Challenge and Reynolds Journalism Institute. Most of the posts rolled in yesterday, and they contain a litany of quick, smart ideas of new directions for news innovation and how to encourage it.

A quick sampling: City University London and Birmingham City University j-prof Paul Bradshaw proposed a much broader, smaller-scale News Challenge fund, with a second fund aimed at making those initiatives scale. J-Lab Jan Schaffer said we need to quit looking at innovation so much solely in terms of tools and more in terms of processes and relationships. British journalist Mary Hamilton and Drury j-prof Jonathan Groves both focused on innovation in training, with Groves proposing “innovation change agents” funded by groups like Knight and the RJI to train and transform newsrooms.

Also, University of British Columbia j-prof Alfred Hermida opined on the role of theory in innovation, Lisa Williams of Placeblogger advocated a small-scale approach to innovation, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing had some suggestions for the RJI fellowship program.

The mechanics of Twitter’s information flow: Four researchers from Yahoo and Cornell released a study this week analyzing, as they called it, “who says what to whom on Twitter.” One of their major findings was that half the information consumed on Twitter comes from a group of 20,000 “elite” users — media companies, celebrities, organizations, and bloggers. As Mathew Ingram of GigaOM observed, that indicates that the power law that governs the blogosphere is also in effect on Twitter, and big brands are still important even on a user-directed platform.

The Lab’s Megan Garber noted a few other interesting implications of the study, delving into Twitter’s two-step flow from media to a layer of influential sources to the masses, as well as the social media longevity of multimedia and list-oriented articles. A couple of other research-oriented items about Twitter: a Lab post on Dan Zarrella’s data regarding timing and Twitter posts, and Maryland prof Zeynep Tufekci more theoretical exploration of NPR’s Andy Carvin and the process of news production on Twitter.

Reading roundup: Plenty of other bits and pieces around the future-of-news world this week:

— New York Times editor Bill Keller wrote a second column, and like his anti-aggregation piece a couple of weeks ago, this piece — about the value of the Times’ impartiality and fact-based reporting — didn’t go over well. Reuters’ Felix Salmon called him intellectually dishonest, Scott Rosenberg called him defensive, and the Huffington Post’s Peter Goodman (a former Times reporter) said Keller misrepresented him.

— A few notes on The Daily: Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici said it was downloaded 500,000 times during its trial period and has 70,000 regular users, and a study was conducted finding that it’s more popular with less tech-savvy, less content-concerned users.

— Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton talked about transforming newspapers at the Newspaper Association of America convention; he summarized what he had to say in 10 tweets, and Alan Mutter wrote a post about the panel. The moderator, Ken Doctor, followed up with a Lab post looking at how long, exactly, newspapers have left.

— I’ll send you off with Jonathan Stray’s thoughtful post on rethinking journalism as a system for informing people, rather than just a series of stories. It’s a lot to chew on, but a key piece to add to the future-of-news puzzle.

Image of a fence-jumper by like oh so zen used under a Creative Commons license.

March 31 2011

19:14

Quicker, smaller, more transparent: What Knight should do next? #JCARN

This month’s Carnival of Journalism is about “driving innovation” – in the wake of the end of the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge five year run, among other things. Here’s my take:

Driving innovation needs to be quick

Any innovative idea needs to be able to deploy and iterate quickly – and any scheme to fund innovation needs to support that.

Having been through the Knight News Challenge three times, and reached the final shortlist twice, I was struck each time by how much changed in the online world between the initial submission and final award: If an internet year is worth 4.7 normal years, this process was taking over 3 ‘years’ in internet time. So much changed during that period that by the time I had reached the second or third stage, I wanted to re-write the whole thing.

In contrast, when I entered Channel 4′s 4iP fund (far from perfect, but certainly faster), the time from application to approval was swift. This allowed us to spend a few months working with the funders in addressing the issues the project raised (in Help Me Investigate’s case, largely legal ones) and still being able to start work before the Knight awards had even been shortlisted.

Why the difference? Perhaps because of the next point.

Innovation thrives on limitations

One of the reasons the internet has been so disruptive is that it has lowered the barriers to entry. Multinational media organisations have thrown millions at their own solutions, and yet most of them fail. One of the problems that funds such as Knight’s and Channel 4′s aim to solve is of access to funds – but those funds don’t have to be large.

The median value of a News Challenge award has ranged from $200,000 to $326,000 during its four years of existence, and I suspect one of the problems with Channel 4′s 4iP fund was that its £50m pot was based on television-scale budgets.

You don’t need a large amount of money to innovate online, and the best research and development comes after launch, because you can see how users are using it, and what they tell you they want it to do, or indeed what they build themselves for you.

So instead of funding to the hilt a dozen or so ideas that have to jump through several on-paper hoops to prove their theoretical viability, I would suggest this: spread small amounts of innovation funding wider across 100 pilot projects, and see how they jump through real-life hoops instead.

Projects that jump through those hoops could perhaps then apply to a second fund specifically aimed at the separate problem of scalability. I can speak from experience that running a pilot project gives you a much stronger sense of what you’ll need to do to scale up, than doing the same exercise on paper.

This second fund could even provide rapid access to servers or customer support staff or legal advice while the application is being considered (otherwise the customer experience becomes so bad that by the time funds are released, the project has no users left).

Separating funding innovation from funding scaling allows you to first fund projects that take bigger risks, and generate a bigger pool of innovators with experience of launching and managing an innovative product. And that leads on to the third point:

Support innovation, not projects

Every fund that I’ve been involved in neglected what could have been potentially their biggest value: the process itself of vetting applications and monitoring progress.

(It’s also the biggest source of resentment: there will always be accusations that funds are given to the ‘in-crowd’)

“Driving innovation” should go beyond “funding innovative projects”. Simply opening up the application process so that everyone can see how ideas develop – and what the ‘experts’ think about the detail of proposals – can help contribute to a culture of innovation. Seeing other great ideas being developed makes people feel a whole lot more innovative – and produce better ideas – than getting an opaque email saying “Proposal not accepted” and seeing a disappointing-on-the-surface winners’ list 5 months later.

For the funders this represents a lot of admin, but tough: that’s their job. And there are creative possibilities here: when you move the focus from funding innovative projects to supporting innovation you can start to broaden the focus towards building a network of innovators and aspiring innovators, towards creating a supportive ecology. That also spreads the costs, lowers risk, and increases benefits.

Ultimately, just as networked models are allowing us to revisit ways of doing things without physical limitations, the funding process should reflect that change too. It should be quicker, smaller scale, and more transparent.

February 25 2011

15:00

This Week in Review: TBD gets the axe, deciphering Apple’s new rules, and empowering more news sources

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

The short, happy-ish life of TBD: Just six months after it launched and two weeks after a reorganization was announced, the Washington, D.C., local news site was effectively shuttered this week, when its corporate parent, Allbritton Communications (it’s owned by Robert Allbritton and includes Politico), cut most of its jobs, leaving only an arts and entertainment operation within the website of Allbritton’s WJLA-TV.

TBD had been seen many as a bellwether in online-only local news, as Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore documented in her historical roundup of links about the site, so it was quite a shock and a disappointment to many future-of-newsies that it was closed so quickly. The response — aptly compiled by TBDer Jeff Sonderman — was largely sympathetic to TBD’s staff (former TBD manager Jim Brady even wrote a pitch to prospective employers on behalf of the newly laid off community engagement team). Many observers on Twitter (and Terry Heaton on his blogpointed squarely at Allbritton for the site’s demise, with The Batavian’s Howard Owens drawing out a short, thoughtful lesson: “Legacy managers will nearly always sabotage innovation. Wall of separation necessary between innovators and legacy.”

Blogger Mike Clark pointed out that TBD’s traffic was beating each of the other D.C. TV news sites and growing as well. The Washington Post reported that while traffic wasn’t a problem, turning it into revenue was — though the fact that TBD’s ads were handled by WJLA staffers might have contributed to that.

Mallary Jean Tenore wrote an insightful article talking to some TBD folks about whether their company gave them a chance to fail. Lehigh j-prof Jeremy Littau was unequivocal on the subject: “Some of us have been talking today on Twitter about whether TBD failed. Nonsense. TBD wasn’t given enough time to fail.”

While CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis lamented that “TBD will be painted as a failure of local news online when it’s a failure of its company, nothing more,” others saw some larger implications for other online local news projects. Media analyst Alan Mutter concluded that TBD’s plight is “further evidence that hyperlocal journalism is more hype than hope for the news business,” and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds gave six business lessons for similar projects from TBD’s struggles. Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton ripped Edmonds’ analysis, arguing that Allbritton “can’t pretend to have seriously tried the hyperlocal business space after a six-month experiment it derailed half-way in.”

Applying Apple’s new rules: Publishers’ consternation over Apple’s new subscription plan for mobile devices continued this week, with Frederic Filloux at Monday Note laying out many publishers’ frustrations with Apple’s proposal. The New York Times’ David Carr and The Guardian’s Josh Halliday both covered publishers’ Apple subscription conundrum, and one expert told Carr, “If you are a publisher, it puts things into a tailspin: The business model you have been working with for many years just lost 30 percent off the top.”

At paidContent, James McQuivey made the case for a lower revenue share for Apple, and Dan Gillmor wondered whether publishers will stand up to Apple. The company may also be facing scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission for possible antitrust violations, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The fresh issue regarding Apple’s subscription policy this week, though, was the distinction between publishing apps and more service-oriented apps. The topic came to the fore when the folks from Readability, an app that allows users to read articles in an advertising-free environment, wrote an open letter ripping Apple for rejecting their app, saying their new policy “smacks of greed.” Ars Technica’s Chris Foresman and Apple blogger John Gruber noted, though, that Readability’s 30%-off-the-top business model is a lot like Apple’s.

Then Apple’s Steve Jobs sent a short, cryptic email to a developer saying that Apple’s new policy applies only to publishing apps, not service apps. This, of course, raised the question, in TechCrunch’s words, ”What’s a publishing app?” That’s a very complex question, and as Instapaper founder Marco Arment wrote, one that will be difficult for Apple to answer consistently. Arment also briefly noted that Jobs’ statement seems to contradict the language of Apple’s new guidelines.

Giving voice to new sources of news: This month’s Carnival of Journalism, posted late last week, focused on ways to increase the number of news sources. It’s a broad question, and it drew a broad variety of answers, which were ably summarized by Courtney Shove. I’m not going to try to duplicate her work here, but I do want to highlight a few of the themes that showed up.

David Cohn, the Carnival’s organizer, gave a great big-picture perspective to the issue, putting it in the context of power and the web. Kim Bui and Dan Fenster defended the community-driven vision for news, with Bui calling journalists to go further: “Let’s admit it, we’ve never trusted the public.” There were several calls for journalists to include more underrepresented voices, with reports and ideas like a refugee news initiative, digital news bus, youth journalism projects, and initiatives for youth in foreign-language families.

The J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer gave 10 good ideas to the cause, and Drury j-prof Jonathan Groves and Gannett’s Ryan Sholin shared their ideas for local citizen news projects, while TheUpTake’s Jason Barnett endorsed a new citizen-journalism app called iBreakNews.

Three bloggers, however, objected to the Carnival’s premise in the first place. Daniel Bachhuber of CUNY argued that improving journalism doesn’t necessarily mean adding more sources, recommending instead that “Instead of increasing the number of news sources, we should focus on producing durable data and the equivalent tools for remixing it.” Lauren Rabaino warned against news oversaturation, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing said that more than new sources, we need better filters and hubs for them.

Blogging’s continued evolution: The “blogging is dead” argument has popped up from time to time, and it was revived again this week in the form of a New York Times story about how young people are leaving blogs for social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Several people countered the argument, led by GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, who said that blogging isn’t declining, but is instead evolving into more of a continuum that includes microblogging services like Twitter, traditional blog formats like Wordpress, and the hybrid that is Tumblr. He and Wordpress founding developer Matt Mullenweg shared the same view — that “people of all ages are becoming more and more comfortable publishing online,” no matter the form.

Scott Rosenberg, who’s written a history of blogging, looked at statistics to make the point, noting that 14 percent of online adults keep a blog, a number he called astounding, even if it starts to decline. “As the online population becomes closer to universal, that is an extraordinary thing: One in ten people writing in public. Our civilization has never seen anything like it.” In addition, Reuters’ Anthony DeRosa argued that longer-form blogging has always been a pursuit of older Internet users.

Reading roundup: I’ve got a few ongoing stories to update you on, and a sampling of an unusually rich week in thoughtful pieces.

— A couple of sites took a peek at Gawker’s traffic statistics to try to determine the effectiveness of its recent redesign. TechCrunch saw an ugly picture; Business Insider was cautiously optimistic based on the same data. Gawker disputed TechCrunch’s numbers, and Terry Heaton tried to sort through the claims.

— A couple of Middle East/North Africa protest notes: The New York Times told us about the response to Egypt’s Internet blackout and the role of mobile technology in documenting the protests. And Amy Gahran of the Knight Digital Media Center gave some lessons from the incredible Twitter journalism of NPR’s Andy Carvin.

— The Daily is coming to Android tablets this spring, and its free trial run has been extended beyond the initial two weeks.

— Matt DeRienzo of the Journal Register Co. wrote about an intriguing idea for a news org/j-school merger.

— Alan Mutter made the case for ending federal funding for public journalism.

— At 10,000 Words, Lauren Rabaino had some awesome things news organizations can learn from tech startups, including thinking of news as software and embracing transparency.

— And here at the Lab, Northwestern prof Pablo Boczkowski gave some quick thoughts on how we tend to associate online news with work, and what that means. He sheds some light about an under-considered aspect of news — the social environments in which we consume it.

February 23 2011

19:55

3 Ways to Expand the News Ecosystem

Spot.Us founder David Cohn has convened a virtual carnival: he's posing monthly questions that he'd like to see journalists take a stab at answering. The latest: how do we diversify the news ecosystem? He put it differently -- "Considering your unique circumstances, what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?" -- but I'm pretty sure the end goal is a greater diversity of information and expanded news ecosystem.

What can I do, personally? I can use my technical skills to make document-based investigative reporting a little easier and a little more transparent. But "you knew I was going to say that (because of the work I do for DocumentCloud.

1. Push for More Public Data

And every journalist and citizen can push for increased access to public information. That would, for example, making it possible for more New Yorkers to cover New York City. It doesn't take much to publish public data reliably, it just takes some political will.

2. Increase Collaboration

Another thing we can do is increase story collaboration. No one newsroom can ever reveal the complete picture. The full story become clear when many reporters come at an issue, each from their own unique perspective. If some of those reporters have gone to journalism school and have been mentored by a prize winning journalist and others are just calling it like they see it without even the benefit of a copy editor, more power to us all. (And if you imagine that the former never get a story outrageously wrong or that the latter are never downright spot-on, you haven't been paying attention.)

One reporter, working alone to cover the statehouse, is never going to get as much done as 10 reporters, each actively trying to sniff out a corruption case that hasn't already been discovered.

In the process, though, some journalists have developed a nasty habit of pretending they've got a scoop when, in fact, they're re-telling a story first uncovered by a neighborhood blog. One of my favorite hyper-local bloggers, who regularly reports on her precinct community meetings and other things nearly no other news outlet has the resources to cover, also keeps an unfortunate running tally of stories of hers that were picked up by the press without so much as a nod.

3. Share the Credit

Which brings me to my final point: Share the credit. It really is okay for journalists to look for local leads in neighborhood blogs. But when a reporter finds one, she should be sure to find a way to weave a tip-o-the-hat into her narration of the story.

Don't pretend you work in a vacuum. Giving credit is common courtesy. And it leaves your friendly local bloggers free to be incensed by horrendous construction gaffes and intransigent municipal bureaucracies instead of ticked off at you.

Journalists should strive to share their reporting and pool their technical skills and give one another the courtesy of due credit. Those simple steps would go a long way toward increasing the size, scope, and vitality of the news ecosystem.

February 17 2011

15:29

January 21 2011

15:30

This Week in Review: The Comcast-NBC marriage, j-school 2.0, and questions about paywall data

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

Huge merger, big reservations: One of the biggest media deals of the past decade got its official go-ahead when the Federal Communications Commission approved the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. As Ars Technica noted, the deal’s scope is massive: In addition to being the nation’s largest cable provider, the new company will control numerous cable channels, plus the NBC television network, Universal Studios, Universal theme parks, and two professional sports teams.

The new company will also retain a stake in the online TV site Hulu (which NBC co-founded with News Corp.), though it agreed to give up its management role as one of the conditions the FCC placed on its approval. Lost Remote’s Steve Safran called the requirement a forward-thinking move by the FCC, given how far Comcast’s content outpaces Hulu’s right now. Another of the conditions also protects Bloomberg TV from being disadvantaged by Comcast in favor of its new property, CNBC.

The decision had plenty of detractors, starting with the FCC’s own Michael Copps, who wrote in his dissenting statement that the deal could lead to the “cable-ization of the Internet.” “The potential for walled gardens, toll booths, content prioritization, access fees to reach end users, and a stake in the heart of independent content production is now very real,” he said. In the current issue of The Columbia Journalism Review, John Dunbar wrote a more thorough critique of the deal, arguing that it’s old media’s last-gasp attempt to stave off the web’s disruption of television. Josh Silver and Josh Stearns of the media reform group both penned protests, too.

A few other angles: GigaOM’s Liz Shannon Miller looked at the FCC’s emphasis on online video, and All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka explained why the deal might make it more difficult to give up cable. Finally, Steve Myers of Poynter examined NBC’s agreement as part of the merger to create new partnerships between some of its local stations and nonprofit news organizations.

Rethinking j-school: The Carnival of Journalism, an old collaborative blogging project, was revived this month by Spot.Us founder (and fellow at Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute) David Cohn, who directed participants to blog about the Knight Foundation’s call for j-schools to increase their role as “hubs of journalistic activity” and integrate further integrate media literacy into all levels of education.

The posts came rolling in this week, and they contained a variety of ideas about both the journalistic hubs component and the media literacy component. The latter point was expounded on most emphatically by Craig Silverman, who laid out a vision for the required course “Bullshit Detection 101,” teaching students how to consume media (especially online) with a keen, skeptical eye. “The Internet is the single greatest disseminator of bullshit ever created. The Internet is also the single greatest destroyer of bullshit,” he wrote.

CUNY j-prof C.W. Anderson pointed to a 2009 lecture in which he argued for education about the production of media (especially new media) to be spread beyond the j-school throughout universities, and Memphis j-prof Carrie Brown-Smith noted that for students to learn new media literacy, the professors have to be willing to learn it, too. Politico reporter Juana Summers made the case for K-12 media literacy education, and POLIS director Charlie Beckett talked about going beyond simplistic concepts of media literacy.

There were plenty of proposals about j-schools as journalistic hubs, as well. City University, London j-prof Paul Bradshaw wrote about the need for j-students to learn not just how to produce journalism, but how to facilitate its production by the community. Megan Taylor tossed out a few ideas, too, including opening student newspapers up to the community, and J-Lab editorial director Andrew Pergam and CUNY’s Daniel Bachhuber looked at the newsroom cafe concept and NYU’s The Local: East Village, respectively, as examples for j-schools. Cohn chimed in with suggestions on how to expand the work of journalism beyond the j-school and beyond the university, and Central Lancashire j-prof Andy Dickinson argued that j-schools should serve to fill the gaps left by traditional media.

A few more odds and ends from the Carnival of Journalism: Minnesota j-prof Seth Lewis urged j-schools to create more opportunities for students to fail, Cornell grad student Josh Braun pondered how the rise of online education might play into all this, and Rowan j-prof Mark Berkey-Gerard listed some of the challenges of student-run journalism.

A pro-paywall data point: One of the biggest proponents of paid news online lately has been Steven Brill, whose Journalism Online works with news organizations to charge for content online. This week, Brill publicized findings from his first few dozen efforts that found that with a metered model (one that allows a certain number of articles for free, then charges for access beyond that), traffic didn’t decline dramatically, as they were expected to. The New York Times — a paper that’s planning a metered paid-content modelwrote about the results, and a few folks found it encouraging.

Others were skeptical — like The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum, who wondered why the story didn’t include information about how many people paid up online and how much revenue the paywalls generated. Rick Edmonds of Poynter pointed out the same thing, and tied the story to a recently announced paywall at The Dallas Morning News and tweaks at Honolulu Civil Beat’s paywall.

Elsewhere in the world of paid news content, Michele McLellan of the Knight Digital Media Center talked to the editor of the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald about his newspaper’s paywall experiment, who had a warning about technical challenges but encouraging news about public feedback.

Cracking the iPad’s subscription code: Publishers’ initial crush on the iPad seems to be fading into ambivalence: The New York Times reported this week that magazines publishers are frustrated with Apple’s harsh terms in allowing them to offer iPad subscriptions and are beginning to look to other forthcoming tablets instead. Apple is cracking down overseas, too, reportedly telling European newspapers that they can’t offer a free iPad edition to print subscribers.

One publication is about to become one of the first to seriously test Apple’s subscription model — Rupert Murdoch’s much-anticipated The Daily. Advertising Age reported on the expectations and implications surrounding The Daily, and the Lab’s Ken Doctor took a look at The Daily’s possible financial figures. Mashable’s Lauren Indvik, meanwhile, wondered how The Daily will handle the social media portion of the operation.

In other iPad news, a survey reported on by Advertising Age found that while iPad users don’t like ads there, they might welcome them as an alternative to paid apps. The survey also suggested, interestingly enough, that the device is being used a lot like home computers, with search and email dominating the uses and usage of media apps like books and TV lagging well behind that. Business Insider also reported that AOL is working on a Flipboard-esque iPad app that tailors news around users’ preferences.

Reading roundup: Tons of other stuff going on this week. Here’s a sampling:

— Two titans of the tech industry, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt — announced this week they would be stepping down (Jobs is taking a temporary medical leave; Schmidt stepping down as CEO but staying on as executive chairman). Both were massive tech stories, and Techmeme has more links for you on both than I could ever intelligently direct you to.

— Another huge shakeup, this in the media world: Dean Singleton, co-founder of the bankrupt newspaper chain MediaNews, will step down as its CEO. Both Ken Doctor and the Lab’s Martin Langeveld saw Alden Global Capital’s fingerprints all over this and other newspaper bankruptcy shakeups, with Langeveld speculating about a possible massive consolidation in the works.

— As I noted last week, Wikipedia celebrated its 10th anniversary last Saturday, prompting several reflections late last week. A few I that missed last week’s review: Clay Shirky on Wikipedia’s “ordinary miracle,” The New York Times on Wikipedia’s history, and Jay Rosen’s comparison of Wikipedia and The Times.

— Pew published a survey on the social web, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and The Atlantic’s Jared Keller both offered smart summaries of the Internet’s remarkable social capacity, with Keller tying it to Robert Putnam’s well-known thoughts on social capital.

— A few addenda to last week’s commentary about the Tucson shooting: How NPR’s errant reporting hurt the families involved, j-prof Jeremy Littau on deleting incorrect tweets, Mathew Ingram on Twitter’s accuracy in breaking news, and the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s study of the shooting’s coverage.

— Finally, a wonderful manifesto for journalists by former Guardian editor Tim Radford. This is one you’ll want to read, re-read, and then probably re-read again down the road.

January 20 2011

16:39
09:37
08:00

A university without walls

This post forms part of the Carnival of Journalism, whose theme this month is universities’ roles in their local community.

In traditional journalism the concept of community is a broad one, typically used when the speaker really means ‘audience’, or ‘market’.

In a networked age, however, a community is an asset: it is a much more significant source of information than in other media; an active producer of content; and, perhaps most importantly, at the heart of any online distribution system.

You can see this at work in some of the most successful content startups of the internet era – Boing Boing, The Huffington Post, Slashdot – and even in mainstream outlets such as The Guardian, with, for example, its productive community around the Data Blog.

Any fledgling online journalism operation which is not based on a distinct community is, to my thinking, simply inefficient – and any journalism course that features an online element should be built on communities – should be linking in to the communities that surround it.

Teaching community-driven journalism

My own experience is that leaving the walls of academia behind and hosting classes wherever the community meets can make an enormous difference. In my MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, for example, the very first week is not about newsgathering or blogging or anything to do with content: it’s about community, and identifying which one the students are going to serve.

To that end students spend their induction week attending the local Social Media Cafe, meeting local bloggers and understanding that particular community (one of whom this year suggested the idea that led to Birmingham Budget Cuts). We hold open classes in a city centre coffee shop so that people from Birmingham can drop in: when we talked about online journalism and the law, there were bloggers, former newspaper editors, and a photographer whose contributions turned the event into something unlike anything you’d see in a classroom.

And students are sent out to explore the community as part of learning about blogging, or encouraged to base themselves physically in the communities they serve. Andy Brightwell and Jon Hickman’s hyperlocal Grounds blog is a good example, run out of another city centre coffee shop in their patch.

In my online journalism classes at City University in London, meanwhile (which are sadly too big to fit in a coffee shop) I am currently asking students to put together a community strategy as one of their two assignments. The idea is to get them to think about how they can produce better journalism – that is also more widely read – by thinking explicitly about how to involve a community in its production.

Community isn’t a postcode

But I’ve also come to believe that we should be as flexible as possible about what we mean by community. The traditional approach has been to assign students to geographical patches – a relic of the commercial imperatives behind print production. Some courses are adapting this to smaller, hyperlocal, patches for their online assessment to keep up with contemporary developments. This is great – but I think it risks missing something else.

One moment that brought this home to me was when – in that very first week – I asked the students what they thought made a community. The response that stuck in my mind most was Alex Gamela‘s: “An enemy”. It illustrates how communities are created by so many things other than location (You could also add “a cause”, “a shared experience”, “a profession”, “a hobby” and others which are listed and explored in the Community part of the BASIC Principles of Online Journalism).

As journalism departments we are particularly weak in seeing community in those terms. One of the reasons Birmingham Budget Cuts is such a great example of community-driven journalism is that it addresses a community of various types: one of location, of profession, and of shared experience and – for the thousands facing redundancy – cause too. It is not your typical hyperlocal blog, but who would argue it does not have a strong proposition at its core?

There’s a further step, too, which requires particular boldness on the part of journalism schools, and innovativeness in assessment methods: we need to be prepared for students to create sites where they don’t create any journalism themselves at all. Instead, they facilitate its production, and host the platform that enables it to happen. In online journalism we might call this a community manager role – which will raise the inevitable questions of ‘Is It Journalism?’ But in traditional journalism, with the journalism being produced by reporters, a very similar role would simply be called being an editor.

PS: I spoke about this theme in Amsterdam last September as part of a presentation on ‘A Journalism Curriculum for the 21st Century’ at the PICNIC festival, organised by the European Journalism Centre. This is embedded below:

Slides can be found below:

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