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November 08 2010

17:00

Energy-efficient journalism, urban planning for news

I came across a great story in The Economist last night — a look at emerging systems of urbanism, part of the magazine’s “Special Report on Smart Systems.” In cities large and small, eastern and western, established and nascent, planners are attempting to bring some of the systematized logic of the world of digital design — strategic centralization coupled with strategic individualization — to bear on the urban landscape.

Take PlanIT Valley, an area just outside Porto, Portugal — which, borrowing the “service-oriented architecture” concept from the design world, is attempting to build itself into “the world’s smartest city.”

Much of the city, which is to cost about $10 billion, will rely on prefabricated parts; its foundation, for instance, will be made of concrete blocks that come with all the gear for smart infrastructures pre-installed. Eventually the entire city and its buildings will be run by an “urban operating system” that integrates all parts and combines them into all kinds of services, such as traffic management and better use of energy.

It’s a neat idea, for informational infrastructure as much as architectural: an urban operating system. Energy-efficient, generally efficient. An approach to civic space that is strategically comprehensive — the product not merely of collective efforts, but of collaborative ones.

We often talk about news as a collective endeavor, as an “ecosystem.” (In fact, if you’re in NYC tomorrow evening, in fact, you can attend Columbia’s 2010 installment of its “Changing Media Landscape” panel, an event whose title is as apparently unironic as it is permanent.) Culturally, though, and viscerally, we tend to understand journalism as a fundamentally individualistic enterprise: A world of beats and brands, of information that is bought and sold — an epistemology built upon ownership. And we tend to see ourselves within that structure as a system only in the broadest sense: small pieces, loosely joined. Very loosely. Individual news organizations — among them, increasingly, actual individuals — decide for ourselves the scope of our coverage, the way of our coverage, the details of our coverage. Because it is our coverage. While, sure, the market rewards niche-finding and, with it, comprehension — and while, sure, we’re certainly in conversation with other outlets as we go along — still, with notable exceptions, most of the discourse we have with our peers in newsgathering plays out via the calculation of competition. In general, we’re all Darwinists. Which is to say, we’re all capitalists — even when we’re not.

Ironically, though, the net result of that core individuality, for all the obvious good that comes from it, is often some form of redundancy. “Designs are often used only once, most buildings are not energy-efficient, the industry produces a lot of waste, and many materials are simply thrown away,” The Economist notes of industrial-age planning strategies, going on to cite a Harvard Business School case study finding that the waste in question accounts for a whopping 30 percent of construction costs. The architectural impulse toward ownership — in this case, the idea that urban spaces’ constituent structures should be singular rather than systematized — is both a means to beauty and artistry…and an inefficiency that’s quite literally built into the system of production.

A similar thing happens in news: In attempting to apply the aesthetic of individualism to a pragmatic public good, to put our stamp on it in a craftsmens’ guild kind of way, we often produce work that is unintentionally, but necessarily, wasteful — because it is unintentionally, but necessarily, duplicative. (Forty reporters covering a single press conference; 2,000 covering the Chilean miners’ rescue, etc.) Just as there are only so many ways to design an office building, or a parking structure, or a green space, there are only so many ways to structure a single news story. But structure that story we do, each of us outlets, because our individual missions are just that: individual. So we repeat ourselves. Repeatedly. And we resign ourselves to the repetition. (Google “Obama + coconuts” today and you’ll get over 2 million hits. Make of that what you will.) And then, because we need some way to control the crowded content of our own creation, we rely on external engineers — Twitter, Facebook, The Huffington Post, Google News — to impose order on the chaos. The coders become the curators become the arbiters. The news, as a civic space, ends up outsourcing the design of its own traffic flow.

Which may be fine. The whole point of a system, after all, is to overcome fragmentation with collaboration — which is exactly what we’re seeing play out, organically, in our news ecosystem. But what if, at the same time, we were more intentionally systematic about the news we produce? What if we applied the operating-system logic to journalism? While there’s certainly a systemic role for redundancy — duplication in journalism provides a crucial check against error, exaggeration, and the like (and, of course, it’s in nobody’s interest to develop the first one to come over the over-centralized oversight of news) — there’s something to be said, I think, for being more broadly collaborative in our thinking when it comes to the news that we — we, the news system — serve up to consumers. (Who tend to care very little about the proprietary structures — the beats, the brands — that defines journalists’ work.) A do what you do best; link to the rest mentality writ large.

The model we saw on display in outlets’ recent collaborations with WikiLeaks could be instructive; a nice balance of competition and collaboration could be one way to bring an digital-design sensibility to the news. Collaboration is no longer the province of utopians and/or nerds; increasingly, it’s defining the systems that are, in turn, defining us. Just as architecture understands that empty space is its own form of structure, journalism increasingly appreciates that connection — links, relationships, permeable borders — is a kind of content unto itself. Openness is architecture.

In a post earlier this year, Josh advocated for the development of a New Urbanism for news, a system of information delivery that offers “a retrenchment from endless sprawl, the construction of concentrated experiences, a new consciousness of how we obtain and consume.” As abundance edges out scarcity as the defining factor of our news economy, we’ll increasingly need to think about news production as a dialectic between creativity and containment. And as a system that, for the good of its consumers, balances the benefits of competition with the complementary benefits of collaboration.

Image via peterlfrench, used under a Creative Commons license.

October 15 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: The iPad’s pay potential, Chile miner over-coverage, and another Murdoch paywall

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Advances for paid content on the iPad: We start this week with a whole bunch of data points regarding journalism and mobile devices; I’ll try to tie them together for you the best I can. Conde Nast, one of the world’s largest magazine publishers, has done the most thorough iPad research we’ve seen so far, with more than 100 hours of in-person interviews and in-app surveys with more than 5,000 respondents. Conde Nast released some of its findings this week, which included five pieces of advice for mobile advertisers that were heavy on interactivity and clear navigation. They also discovered some good news for mobile advertisers: The iPad’s early users aren’t simply the typical tech-geek early adopter set, and about four-fifths of them were happy with their experiences with Conde Nast’s apps.

MocoNews had the most detailed look at Conde Nast’s study, arguing that the fact that iPads are shared extensively means they’re not being treated as a mobile device. Users also seemed to spend much more time with the mobile versions of the magazines than the print versions, though that data’s a little cloudy. NPR has also done some research on its users via Twitter and Facebook, and the Lab’s Justin Ellis reported that they’ve found that those listeners are generally younger, hardcore listeners. Together, Facebook and Twitter account for 7 to 8 percent of NPR’s web traffic, though Facebook generates six times as much as Twitter.

There were also a few items on newspapers and the iPad: Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici reported that the New York Post will become the first newspaper without a paid website to start selling an iPad app subscription. The subscription is only sold inside the app, a strategy that The Next Web’s Martin Bryant called a psychological trick that ”makes users feel less like they’re paying for news and more like they’re ‘Just buying another app.’” The British newspaper The Financial Times said its iPad app has made about £1 million in advertising revenue since it was launched in May, but as Poynter’s Damon Kiesow noted, local papers have been slow to jump on the iPad train, with only a dozen of launching apps so far.

Meanwhile, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram ripped most magazine iPad apps for a lack of interactivity, openness or user control, saying, “the biggest flaw for me is the total lack of acknowledgment that the device this content appears on is part of the Internet, and therefore it is possible to connect the content to other places with more information about a topic.” But some news organizations are already busy preparing for the next big thing: According to The Wall Street Journal, some national news orgs have begun developing content for Samsung’s new tablet, the Galaxy, which is scheduled to be released later this year.

Too much of a good story?: Regardless of where you were this week, the huge story was the rescue of 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped underground for more than two months. The fact that it was such an all-encompassing story is, of course, a media story in itself: TV broadcasters planned wall-to-wall coverage beforehand, and that coverage garnered massive ratings in the U.S. and elsewhere. (We followed on the web, too.) With 2,000 journalists at the site, the event became a global media spectacle the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while.

The coverage had plenty of critics, many of them upset about the excessive amount of resources devoted to a story with little long-term impact by news organizations that are making significant cuts to coverage elsewhere. The point couldn’t have been finer in the case of the BBC, which spent more than £100,000 on its rescue coverage, leading it to slash the budget for upcoming stories like the Cancun climate change meetings and Lisbon NATO summit.

The sharpest barbs belonged to NYU prof Jay Rosen and Lehigh prof Jeremy Littau. “The proportion of response to story impact is perhaps the best illustration of the insanity we seen in media business choices today,” Littau wrote, adding, “I see an industry chasing hits and page views by wasting valuable economic and human capital.” Lost Remote’s Steve Safran pointed out that the degree of coverage had much more to do with the fact that coverage could be planned than with its newsworthiness.

Rupert keeps pushing into paywalls: After his Times and Sunday Times went behind a paywall this summer, Rupert Murdoch added another newspaper to his online paid-content empire this week: The British tabloid News of the World. Access to the paper’s site will cost a pound a day or £1.99 for four weeks, and will include some web exclusives, including a new video section. PaidContent gave the new site itself a good review, saying it’s an improvement over the old one.

The business plan behind the paywall didn’t get such kind reviews. As with The Times’ paywall, News of the World’s content will be hidden from Google and other search engines, and while paidContent reported that its videos had been reposted on YouTube before the site even launched, the paper’s digital editor told Journalism.co.uk that it’s working aggressively to keep its content within the site, including calling in the lawyers if need be. The Press Gazette’s Dominic Ponsford argued that the new site formally marks Murdoch’s retreat from the web: “Without any inbound or outbound links, and invisible to Google and other search engines, the NotW, Times and Sunday Times don’t really have internet sites – but digitally delivered editions.” British journalist Kevin Anderson was a little more charitable, saying the strategy just might be an early step toward a frictionless all-app approach to digital news.

As for Murdoch’s other paywall experiment at The Times, two editors gave a recent talk (reported by Editors Weblog) that juxtaposed two interesting ideas: The editors claimed that a subscription-based website makes them more focused on the user, then touted this as an advantage of the iPad: “People consume how you want them to consume.”

News orgs’ kibosh on political expression: NPR created a bit of buzz this week when it sent a memo to employees explaining that they were not allowed to attend the upcoming rallies by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (unless they were covering the events), as they constitute unethical participation in a political rally. The rule forbidding journalists to participate in political rallies is an old one in newsrooms, and at least eight of the U.S.’ largest news organizations told The Huffington Post their journalists also wouldn’t be attending the rallies outside of work.

NPR senior VP Dana Davis Rehm explained in a post on its site that NPR issued the memo to clear up any confusion about whether the rallies, which are at least partly satirical in nature, were in fact political. NPR’s fresh implementation prompted a new round of criticism of the longstanding rule, especially from those skeptical of efforts at “objective” journalism: The Wrap’s Dylan Stableford called it “insane,” Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy said the prohibition keeps journalists from observing and learning, and CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis made a similar point, arguing that “NPR is forbidding its employees to be curious.”

A closer look at Denton and Huffington: In the past week, we’ve gotten long profiles of two new media magnates in a New Yorker piece on Gawker chief Nick Denton and a Forbes story on Arianna Huffington and her Huffington Post. (Huffington also gave a good Q&A to Investor’s Business Daily.) Reaction to the Denton articles was pretty subdued, but former Gawker editor Elizabeth Spiers (who wrote the Huffington piece) had some interesting thoughts about how Gawker has become part of the mainstream, though not everyone agrees whether its success is replicable.

Figures in the pieces prompted Reuters’ Felix Salmon and Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici to break down the sites’ valuation. (Salmon only looks at Gawker, though Bercovici compares the two in traffic value and in their owners’ roles.) The two networks have long been rivals, and Denton noted that thanks to a couple of big sports-related scandals, Gawker’s traffic beat the Post’s for the first time ever this week. Also this week, Huffington announced she’d pay $250,000 to send buses to Jon Stewart’s rally later this month, an idea the Wrap said some of her employees weren’t crazy about.

Reading roundup: Busy, busy week this week. We’ll see how much good stuff I can point you toward before your eyes start glazing over.

— A few follow-ups to last week’s discussion of Howard Kurtz’s move from The Washington Post to The Daily Beast: The New York Times’ David Carr wrote a lyrical column comparing writing for print and for the web, PBS MediaShift’s Mark Glaser interviewed Kurtz on Twitter, and former ESPN.com writer Dan Shanoff pointed out that the move from mainstream media to the web began in the sports world.

— An update on the debate over content farms: MediaWeek ran an article explaining why advertisers like them so much; one of those content farms, Demand Media said in an SEC filing that it plans to spend $50 million to $75 million on investments in content next year; and one hyperlocal operation accused of running on a content-farm model, AOL’s Patch, responded to its critics’ allegations.

— Two interesting discussions between The Guardian and Jeff Jarvis: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger posted some thoughts about his concept of the Fourth Estate — the traditional press, public media, and the web’s public sphere — and Jarvis responded by calling the classification “correct but temporary.” The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade also wrote about his concern for the news/advertising divide as journalists become entrepreneurs, and Jarvis, an entrepreneurial journalism advocate, defended his cause.

— Three other good reads before we’re done:

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram told newspapers it’s better to join Groupon than to fight it.

Newspaper analyst Alan Mutter laid out French research that illuminates just how far digital natives’ values are from those of the newspaper industry — and what a hurdle those newspapers have in reaching those consumers.

Scott Rosenberg looked at the closed systems encroaching on the web and asked a thought-provoking question: Is the openness that has defined the web destined to be just a parenthesis in a longer history of control? It’s a big question and, as Rosenberg reminds us, a critical one for the future of news.

10:54

Econsultancy: Criticism of Chilean miners coverage misses the point

Econsultancy’s Patricio Robles responds to criticism of coverage of the Chilean miners’ rescue this week. Some journalism academics called it “a story about journalism’s failure”, but is this negativity part of journalism’s problem, he asks.

While nobody is suggesting that the news media blind itself to the world’s ills and injustices, one should consider that part of the news media’s dilemma is how you sell a product that is often filled to the brim with negative stories – crime, tragedy, political squabbling … The irony, of course, is that you can only sell so much bad news. At some point, people get tired of opening up the newspaper to read about a politician who cheated on his wife and didn’t pay his taxes, or turning on the television and seeing images of “suffering at home.” And let’s not forget about Lindsey Lohan. So what do people do? They cancel their newspaper subscriptions, and they skip past CNN when channel surfing.

Full post on Econsultancy at this link…Similar Posts:



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