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April 09 2013

12:39

April 01 2013

18:15

Shaping technology to the story: The Brown Institute for Media Innovation is finding its niche

The Brown Institute for Media Innovation just began accepting applications from students or alumni of Columbia and Stanford for its second round of Magic Grants. Helen Gurley Brown made headlines last year when she donated $30 million jointly to Columbia and Stanford to found the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, a bicoastal effort toward helping students build “usable tools” for the proliferation of “great content.”

The idea was that combining the engineering prowess of Stanford students with the journalistic know-how of Columbia students would propel innovation in the news industry. To that end, Columbia would construct a $6 million state-of-the-art newsroom within its j-school building (now under construction), and the institute would offer serious grant money — up to $150,000 per team, or $300,000 if it features members from both schools — for projects. Its next batch of Magic Grantees — due to be announced at the end of May — will go a long way toward further defining what a direct collaboration between computer science and journalism can produce.

The quest for personalized TV

The first three Magic Grants were awarded last June. Connecting the Dots is a project by two Stanford students dedicated to drawing out large, complex, data-heavy news stories through logic mapping, similar to the way that metropolitan transit maps simplify networks of trains and busses. Dispatch, a joint startup that already has an app for sale through Apple, helps journalists in crisis scenarios conceal their identities while publishing via mobile device.

The largest team belongs to the third winner, EigenNews — 10 members from both campuses combined. The idea: personalized television, built around a playlist of of national news clips based on the user’s selected preferences (by both category and by show) and by viewing behavior and user voting. (You can sign up and get a daily email update from EigenNews — it works pretty well.)

eigennews-screenshot

The design is meant to provide the user up-to-the-minute broadcast news while filtering out certain types of stories, but to maintain a sense of immediacy, some current very popular current stories make the playlist no matter what. “The playlist strikes a balance between presenting the most important stories currently and those stories that might be of particular interest to you,” wrote Stanford-based team member David Chen in an email. “For the second factor to be more evident, the user’s view history has to contain a sufficient number of samples.” As the project’s description puts it:

We forecast that next-generation video news consumption will be more personalized, device agnostic, and pooled from many different information sources. The technology for our project represents a major step in this direction, providing each viewer with a personalized newscast with stories that matter most to them…

Our personalized news platform will analyze readily available user data, such as recent viewing history and social media profiles. Suppose the viewer has recently watched the Republican presidential candidates debate held in Arizona, an interview with a candidate’s campaign manager, and another interview with the candidate himself. The debate and the candidate’s interview are “liked” by the viewer and several friends on Facebook. This evidence points to a high likelihood that a future video story about the Republican presidential race will interest the viewer. The user’s personalized news stream will feature high-quality, highly-relevant stories from multiple channels that cover the latest developments in the presidential race.

Chen said the EigenNews team wants to incorporate more sharability in the future — currently, you can generate a link by click a button on the player, but they hope to add comments soon. He also said they’re looking toward a future model that would incorporate more local coverage and user-generated video content.

“Seeing situations where the journalism is leading”

Mark Hansen, who was appointed director of the Columbia side of the Brown Institute last fall, says he imagines some form of the EigenNews project will probably live on. “That work is work that Bernd [Girod, his Stanford counterpart] does as part of his research program, so my guess would be that some part of that work will be funded consistently.” Hansen will be overseeing the administration of the second round of funding. Coming from the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing at UCLA, where he gradually began to realize the implications of data journalism, he is a blend of journalist and statistician.

“Over the course of my ten years at UCLA, the Center shifted…to more participatory systems, where we were encouraging the public to get involved with data collection. As we started working with community groups, as we started reaching out to high schools, the character of the enterprise changed,” he says. While sensor networks are opening up the power of public data, coordinating the gathering, calibration, analysis, and dissemination of that information is no small order. Hansen says that realization has honed his understanding of the important role that journalists play. His students learn to code — not just how to work with engineers who code — but what he’s most interested in are projects whose genesis is a journalistic question, not a technological advancement.

“I’m interested in seeing situations where the journalism is leading. Where there’s some story that needs to be told, or some aspect of a story that can’t be told with existing technology, but then drives the creation of a new technology,” he said. “As opposed to, ‘Look, we made tablets — okay, now you guys tell stories around tablets.’”

Since moving to Columbia, Hansen has had ample opportunity to observe the interplay of hard science and journalistic practice. He teaches a course on computational journalism, and he says the transition from teaching statisticians to journalism students has been enlightening. “When you teach a statistician about means, for example, their comment on the data will end with ‘The mean is 5.’ The journalist will say: ‘The mean is 5, which means, compared to this other country, or five countries, or other neighborhood…’ The journalists will go from the output of the method to the world. They contextualize, they tell stories — Emily Bell calls this narrative imagination — and they are hungrier than any other students I have ever worked with.”

Hansen plans to use the resources of the Brown Institute to recreate the open dialogue and experimentation of the classroom, in hopes of uncovering ideas for projects and prototypes to receive Magic Grant funding. “I’m usually the one writing the grants, not the one giving them away,” he joked. To that end, he’s been in conversation with industry professionals from the likes of ProPublica, The New York Times and Thomson Reuters, trying to figure out “what the interesting questions are,” he says. Defining what Brown can do that is distinct from the other institutes, labs, and other entities in the space is a top priority.

Organizing hackathons and other collaborative events is another route Hansen wants to explore. He is interested in a hackathon model with more concrete pedagogical objectives than the typical open-ended approach. The Brown Institute has already hosted a data hackathon, as well as a conference Hansen calls a “research threeway,” after the three sectors he aims to bring together — journalism, technology, and “opportunity” (that is, funding). Mixing speakers with journalism, media, and engineering backgrounds resulted in a “beautiful collision of language,” he said, and some intriguing ideas.

“There was a nice conversation around serendipity, especially as it connects to large data sets. I think often times we fall back on a kind of search metaphor where we are constantly googling something. If we don’t know what it is we’re looking for, how do we activate an archive, how do we activate a data set? How do you engineer serendipity?”

Building a space

Meanwhile, Hansen has also been overseeing some engineering in a more concrete sense. He hopes to unveil the Brown Institute’s newsroom by summer 2014, a two-story facility which he says draws inspiration from both traditional newsrooms and the “large, open, reconfigurable workspace” that we associate with startups and tech incubators. The space will feature a mezzanine, transparent conference rooms, and shared workspaces called “garages.” It’ll be a wireless office space with flat panel displays and a number of projectors, shared by Brown grantees, fellows, and faculty. “Emily Bell will be teaching a class on the sensor newsroom, a kind of pop-up newsroom,” Hansen says, “and that space will be the perfect space to try out the ideas that are coming out of that class.”

Hansen says one of the most rewarding parts of his directorship so far was having the chance to share the plans for the newsroom with donor Helen Gurley Brown just before she passed away last August. Both the architects and the web designers for the Institute’s new website were told to use the creative output of Brown and her husband, film producer David Brown, as a design compass. As a result, the website will feature a rotating color palette, updated on a monthly basis to reflect covers from Cosmopolitan magazine throughout Brown’s career.

Running a bicoastal institute is not without its challenges, and the hope is that the new space in New York and a newly unified website should help to deal with those. Stanford grantees and fellows don’t have a centralized office space like their New York counterparts, but travel costs are covered by Magic Grants for bicoastal projects and regular project reviews.

Still, Hansen says figuring out how to operate as one entity has been challenging. “Not only is [Stanford] 3,000 miles away, and not only is it two different disciplines,” he says, “but it’s also the quarter system and the semester system, and three hours’ [time] difference — every little thing you could imagine is different is different.” In addition, engineering grad students study for four to five years, while Columbia’s main graduate journalism program is only one year long. To allow the journalism students equal opportunity to participate, they’ll be eligible to apply for Magic Grants as part of an additional, second year. Says Hansen: “We’re doing what we can to make it feel like a cohesive whole.”

The Brown Institute is also invested in ensuring that, when it funds successful projects, they have the opportunity to live on. While grant winners can apply for a second year of funding, Hansen is also focused on communicating with private investors, companies, and other foundations. He’s particularly excited about the potential addition of computational journalism to the National Science Foundation‘s official subfields, which would open up significant additional funding for Brown Institute alums.

“It does really feel like a great moment to be thinking about technology and storytelling, technology and journalism,” Hansen says. But in addition to using technology to propel the journalism industry into the future, he takes cues from the memory of the Browns, and hopes to shape the Institute into something that reflects them both.

“Helen and David were showmen, if you will,” Hansen says. “They really understood audiences and how to tell a good story.”

March 29 2013

13:30

February 03 2012

14:00

Mediatwits #36: Facebook IPO Fever; Dive into Media; $30 Million to Columbia/Stanford

Welcome to the 36th episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Dorian Benkoil, who is filling in for Rafat Ali. It's been a crazy week in media + tech, with Google privacy concerns, Amazon falling short in earnings, and much more. But the dominant news was Facebook filing for an IPO, with demand to read its S-1 crashing the SEC's servers. The startup had $3.7 billion in revenues, with $1 billion in profits last year, and showed tremendous growth in users and advertising. Can anything slow down the juggernaut on the way to raising $5 billion in a public offering? We talked to special guest Nick O'Neill, founder of AllFacebook.com, who was impressed with the user engagement on the social networking site.

This week was also the "Dive into Media" conference put on by AllThingsD in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Special guest Peter Kafka programmed the show and interviewed many of the top execs on stage. He told us about the challenge of interviewing Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, a former improv comedian, as well as the mix of old and new media at the show. Finally, Columbia University's Journalism School and Stanford University's Engineering School received a $30 million gift from Helen Gurley Brown to create a new Institute for Media Innovation, marking the largest gift in the history of Columbia's J-School. Has digital media now arrived? Has the revolution been institutionalized?

Check it out!

mediatwits36.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

Intro and roundup

1:30: Questions about Google combining privacy policies

4:00: Google, Amazon fall short in earnings

5:50: Rundown of topics on the podcast

nick o'neill.jpg

Facebook IPO fever

7:00: Special guest Nick O'Neill of AllFacebook.com

10:00: Dorian: Each Facebook employee bringing in $1 million in revenues

11:35: O'Neill: Probably more than 60% of ad revenues from self-serving ad system

14:00: 12% of Facebook's revenues coming from Zynga

16:00: Special guest Peter Kafka

18:20: Advertisers still not sure about ROI on Facebook

D: Dive into Media

21:00: D conference tries out a niche conference for media + tech

22:45: Kafka: Twitter CEO Dick Costolo can zing you if you're not careful

peter kafka dive into media.jpg

23:45: Great insights from Hulu, YouTube execs

$30 million gift to Columbia/Stanford

28:10: Attempt to bring data and journalism worlds together

31:00: Bill Campbell, "The Coach," is an adviser on the project

32:45: Dorian: Era of digital media is here

More Reading

Microsoft Attacks Google Privacy Policy With Ads, Gmail Man at TPMIdeaLab

Facebook's IPO Filing is Here at Business Insider

Sean Parker, Chris Hughes And Eduardo Saverin Dumped Their Facebook Shares at AllFacebook

Well, Now We Know What Facebook's Worth--And It's Not $100 Billion at Business Insider

Facebook's Ad Business Is a $3 Billion Mystery at AllThingsD

Reminder: The $5 Billion Facebook IPO Won't Make You Rich at Gizmodo

Facebook's $5 Billion IPO, By The Numbers [CHARTS] at MarketingLand

The Facebook IPO: billion-user ambition at a $1bn price at Comment Is Free

Facebook and Don Graham Have Been Very Good to Each Other at Forbes

Dive into Media coverage at AllThingsD

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo: We're Not a Media Company. We're in the Media Business. at AllThingsD

Hulu Boss Jason Kilar: Who You Callin' Clown Co.? at AllThingsD

Columbia J-School and Stanford Eng Nab $30M Joint Gift for Media Innovation From Helen Gurley Brown at AllThingsD

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time prognosticating what you think Facebook will be worth:


What do you think Facebook's value will be in 5 years?

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. and Circle him on Google+

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

May 27 2011

18:00

Checking in with the Newport Daily News: Two years after a digital paywall, print is still king

Newport Daily News logo

The Newport (R.I.) Daily News might have been ahead of its time in offering the Frank Rich discount: The newspaper charges a hefty premium for digital-only access in hopes of boosting print subscriptions.

Two years have passed since the Daily News introduced a three-tiered paywall. At the time, executive editor Sheila Mullowney described the move not as a push toward digital, but as the opposite: a “print-newspaper-first strategy.”

That remains the case today.

“The print product is the thing really driving us at this point,” William Lucey, the Daily News’ publisher, told me. “As far the Internet goes, it really has not amounted to a hill of beans yet from a financial point of view.”

That sentiment is borne out in the Columbia Journalism School’s recent report on the business of digital journalism, which digs into the data:

The paper’s site, newportdailynews.com, gets around 80,000 visitors a month. Especially with online ad rates “dropping 20 percent a year,” that’s not enough to sustain the operation, which includes a newsroom of 22 people, Lucey says. Indeed, online ad revenue accounts for only 2 to 3 percent of total advertising for the paper.

After the change was put into effect, “our single-copy sales went up about 300 a day” — a bit less than 10 percent of overall single-copy sales. As the economy improves, “print is coming back. February [2011] was up 35 percent over last year” in ad sales.

As the Daily News has tweaked its price, it has preserved the print-first ethos. Earlier this year, the paper dropped its print+digital subscription price from $245 a year to $157 — a dollar more than the print-only price. A digital-only subscription, on the other hand, costs $345 a year.

The A.H. Belo-owned Providence Journal, the Daily News’ larger rival, has since announced its own paywall, expected to launch in the second half of 2011. Readers of that paper will have to pay for “original and proprietary content.”

It will be interesting to see whether the ProJo’s wall affects the Daily News. Last month I posed a far-flung hypothetical: Would readers pay for news if there were no free alternatives? In Slovakia, nine media companies are experimenting with a unified paywall — pay once for access to all — in an effort to reset years consumer assumptions about free content.

Rhode Island would seem to be (to an extent) a Slovakian analog in the United States. It’s a small, relatively uncompetitive, relatively isolated media market. Take Aquidneck Island (which is officially named, confusingly, Rhode Island), home to the 12,000-circulation Daily News. There’s some competition, sure: An ad-supported blog called Newport Now launched three months after the News’ paywall rose. And a year later, AOL’s Patch made its made its foray into Rhode Island with sites in Newport, Portsmouth, and Middletown — the whole of Aquidneck.

Still, once the ProJo paywall launches, we’ll have an interesting case study: If the only two papers covering Aquidneck are charging for access (and the ProJo hardly covers it like it used to) will citizens be more inclined to pay for online news?

The other question might be: Will that matter? In a piece examining “the uncertain future” of Rhode Island’s journalism scene, media critic David Scharfenberg described the dearth of social networking initiatives, inter-outlet collaboration, and other badges of innovation among the state’s media outlets. “What’s troubling about the Rhode Island mediascape,” he wrote, “is how slowly the players have moved to embrace this project — in an era when speed is nothing less than a matter of survival.”

But it could be that survival is a matter of sticking to roots, not branching out. If you view small newspaper publishing as a business, which it is, there’s still money in print. And it’s not as if the web has suddenly created a global audience for local news about Woonsocket, R.I. (No offense to Woonsocket, “a city on the move!”) Paywall or no paywall, the Daily News’ financial worth may lie in atoms, not bits.

And little Aquidneck Island not alone in that. “There still is value in print, no doubt about that,” the general manager of The Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune, has said. ”We shouldn’t be apologetic about it, we shouldn’t be embarrassed by it.”

May 20 2011

17:00

Mediatwits #8: LinkedIn's Bubbly IPO; Grueskin on the New York World

WGrueskin.jpg

Welcome to the eighth episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser along with PaidContent founder Rafat Ali. This week's show looks at the big IPO of business networking site LinkedIn, with the stock price doubling to more than $90 per share in its first day of trading, valuing the company at nearly $10 billion. Things are getting a little bubbly out there.

This week's special guest is Bill Grueskin, the dean of academic affairs at Columbia University's Journalism School. Grueskin talks about the upcoming launch of the school's new online publication, the New York World, as well as how Columbia is putting greater emphasis on students learning about the business of journalism. Finally, Amazon had an important milestone recently, saying it is now selling more e-books than print books. How has the Kindle survived the onslaught of the iPad and tablets?

Check it out!

mediatwits8.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

NEW! Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

Mark gets Sonic.net; Rafat get into co-working

1:00: Rafat doesn't miss planning PaidContent events

2:45: Co-working space might motivate Rafat to work

5:10: Rundown on the podcast's stories

LinkedIn IPO

8:10: The market is lacking tech IPOs

10:30: Premium subscriptions isn't a big revenue driver

11:10: Mark gives more to LinkedIn than he gets in return

Interview with Columbia's Bill Grueskin

13:10: Background on Grueskin

15:00: Columbia wanted consistency with student website

18:15: New York World will offer stories to other sites

21:10: Columbia has same challenges as legacy news orgs

23:20: Grueskin explains how Columbia is teaching business to J-school students

26:50: Comparing New York City J-schools

Amazon sells more e-books than print books

28:50: Book industry last to go digital -- but fastest, too

29:45: Mark compares Kindle to Flip cam as utility device

32:00: Rafat thinks of Kindle as "peaceful device"

More Reading

LinkedIn Shares Soar After IPO at WSJ

The LinkedIn Pop at Reuters

LinkedIn's $8B IPO -- Silicon Valley, get ready for housing recovery at VentureBeat

LinkedIn IPO Doubles, Reid Hoffman Now A Billionaire at Forbes

Does LinkedIn signify a bubble? at Globe and Mail

The LinkedIn IPO Millionaires Club at WSJ

Columbia Journalism School to launch The New York World at Columbia University

Amazon Now Selling More Kindle Books Than All Print Books at PaidContent

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time about the LinkedIn IPO:




What does the LinkedIn IPO signify?Market Research

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.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

May 13 2011

14:00

This Week in Review: New business models and traffic drivers in online news, and wrangling over app ads

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

Leaving the old ad model behind: Much of the commentary about digital news this week was generated by two big reports, one on the business of digital journalism and the other on its consumption. We’ll start on the business side, with the Columbia j-school’s study on what we know so far about the viability of various digital journalism business models. As Poynter’s Bill Mitchell suggested, the best entry point into the 146-page report might be the nine recommendations that form its conclusion.

Mitchell summed the report up in three themes: The audience for journalism is growing, though translating that into revenue is a challenge; the old model of banner ads isn’t cutting it, and news orgs need to look for new forms of advertising; and news orgs need to play better with aggregators and sharpen their own aggregation skills. In his response to the study, Reuters’ Felix Salmon focused on the advertising angle, arguing that journalism and advertising have too long been linked by mere adjacency and that “when you move away from the ad-adjacency model, however, things get a lot more interesting and exciting.”

The New York Times’ story on the report centered on advertising, too, particularly the growing need for journalists to learn about the business side of their products. (That was media consultant Mark Potts’ main takeaway, too.) Emily Bell, a scholar at the center that released the study, said that while journalists need to understand the business of their industry, integrating news and sales staffs isn’t necessarily the way to go.

The J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer recommended that news orgs respond to their business problems by learning from smaller startups and incorporating them more thoroughly into the journalism ecosystem. And paidContent’s Staci Kramer advised news orgs to focus on regular audiences rather than fly-by visitors: “Outwardly we like to complain about content farms; in reality, a lot of what news outlets are doing to the side of those front-page stories isn’t very different.”

Facebook’s growth as news driver: The other major report was released by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and looked at how people access news on the web. This study, too, found that despite a small core of frequent users, news sites are dependent on casual users who visit sites infrequently and don’t stay long when they’re there. Poynter’s Rick Edmonds conveniently distilled the study into five big takeaways.

The study also found that while Google is still the top referrer to major news sites, Facebook is quickly emerging as a significant news driver, too. University of British Columbia j-prof Alfred Hermida said this lines up with recent research he’s done among Canadians, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram said it showed that while Google is a dominant source for online news now, Facebook is primed to succeed it.

Meanwhile, the study also found that surprisingly little traffic to news sites is driven by Twitter. Lauren Dugan of All Twitter said this finding casts some doubt on the idea that Twitter is “a huge link-sharing playground,” though the Wall Street Journal’s Zach Seward said the study misses that Twitter referrals are undercounted.

The Twitter undercounting was one of several problems that TBD’s Steve Buttry had about the study, including inconsistent language to characterize findings and a bias toward large news organizations. “This study probably has some helpful data. But it has too many huge holes and indications of bias to have much value,” Buttry wrote.

Pricing ads and subscriptions on tablets: Condé Nast became the third major magazine publisher to reach an agreement with Apple on app subscriptions, and one of the first to offer an in-app subscription, with The New Yorker available now. (Wired subscriptions are coming next month.) Time Inc., which reached a deal with Apple last week, clarified that it won’t include in-app subscriptions, which would be where Apple takes that now-infamous 30% cut. The Financial Times, meanwhile, is still negotiating with Apple.

Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici explained why publishers may be warming to Apple’s deal: Turns out, more people are willing to share their personal data with publishers feared. Still, Mathew Ingram of GigaOM used iFlowReader’s bad Apple experience as a warning to other companies about the dangers of getting into bed with Apple.

Now that Apple-publisher relations have thawed, the New York Times’ David Carr moved to the next issue: Negotiations between publishers and advertisers over how valuable in-app ads are, and how much those ads should cost. Time.com’s Chris Gayomali wondered why magazines are more than giving away app subscriptions with print subscriptions, and concluded that it’s about getting more eyeballs on the print product, not the app, in order to maintain the all-important ad rate base.

In other words, Carr said in another post, publishers are following the old magazine model, where the product is priced below cost and the money is made off advertising instead. He questioned the wisdom of applying that strategy to tablets: “the rich advertising opportunity that will produce may be a less durable and less stable business than grinding out highly profitable circulation over the long haul.”

A postmortem on Bin Laden coverage: It’s now been close to two weeks since the news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke on Twitter, but plenty of folks were still discussing how the story was broken and covered. Gilad Lotan and Devin Gaffney of SocialFlow put together some fascinating visualizations of how the news spread on Twitter, especially the central roles of Donald Rumsfeld staffer Keith Urbahn and New York Times reporter Brian Stelter. Mashable’s Chris Taylor concluded from the data that trustworthiness and having active followers (as opposed to just lots of followers) are more important than ever on Twitter.

Media consultant Frederic Filloux was mostly reassured by the way the traditional news outlets handled the story online: “For once, editorial seems to evolve at a faster pace than the business side.” There were still folks cautioning against going overboard on Twitter-as-news hype, while the Telegraph’s Emma Barnett wondered why pundits are still so surprised at the significant role Twitter and Facebook play in breaking news. (“It’s exactly what they were designed for.”)

New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane gave the blow-by-blow of how his paper responded to the story, highlighting a few tweets by Times reporters and editors. Reuters’ Felix Salmon chastised Brisbane for not including Brian Stelter’s tweets, which were posted a good 15 minutes before the ones he included. The exclusion, Salmon surmised, might indicate that the Times doesn’t see what Stelter did on Twitter as reporting.

Google News founder Krishna Bharat compared the way Google handled 9/11 and Bin Laden’s death, marveling at how much more breaking-news coverage is available on the web now. The Lab’s Megan Garber used the occasion to glean some insights from Bharat about trusting the authority of the algorithm to provide a rich palette of news, but at Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan used the Bin Laden coverage to point out some flaws in Google News’ algorithm.

Reading roundup: Lots of interesting little rabbit trails to choose from this week. Here are a few:

— ComScore’s April traffic numbers are out, and there were a number of storylines flowing out of them: Cable news sources are beating print ones in web traffic, the New York Times’ numbers are down (as expected) after implementation of its paywall, and Gawker’s numbers are starting to come back after dropping last year with its redesign.

— Last week, ESPN columnist Rick Reilly told graduating students at the University of Colorado’s j-school to never write for free. That prompted Jason Fry of the National Sports Journalism Center and Craig Calcaterra of MSNBC.com’s Hardball Talk to expound on the virtues of writing for free, though Slate’s Tom Scocca took Reilly’s side.

— Late last week, Google lost an appeal to a 2007 Belgian ruling forcing it to pay newspapers for gaining revenue for linking to their stories on Google News.

— Finally, two thoughtful pieces on brands and journalism: Jason Fry at Poynter on assessing the value of organizational and personal brands, and Vadim Lavrusik at the Lab on journalists building their brands via Facebook.

May 04 2011

18:41

Columbia J-School Students Try to Keep Professor Off Social Media

News of Osama bin Laden's death brought a huge surge of activity to Twitter and other social media platforms Sunday night and Monday. So it's a strange quirk of timing that this is the week that Sree Sreenivasan -- digital media professor, dean of student affairs at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and longtime social media enthusiast -- has agreed to go silent for 24 hours on Thursday.

It's no accident that Sreenivasan shows up on such lists as Poynter's "35 Most Influential People in Social Media" and AdAge's 25 Media People to Follow on Twitter. When news began leaking out about Bin Laden's death on Sunday night, @sree was right there with:

sree tweet bin laden.jpg

He followed with tweets pointing to background information about Bin Laden and even an explanation of how a city in Pakistan came to be known as Abbottabad.

How many messages does he send out on social media?

"I get a boatload, but it's a good boatload," said Michael Cervieri, co-founder of ScribeLabs, a media production and digital strategy firm, and founder of the Future Journalism Project. "It's mostly tips, tricks and insights from sites I don't visit too much on my own. So, if I think about it, he's an ambient bookmarker I can turn to when I want to learn about new apps or changes in existing ones."

But it's not all business with Sreenivasan. His Facebook page is sprinkled with photos from family vacations or his brief forays away from his computer, BlackBerry in hand, out onto the sidewalks of New York.

SPJ Capitalizes on Loud Voice

So what could possibly silence him for 24 hours? The student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) at Columbia.

"A few years ago, Dean Sree was known for sending school-wide emails known as 'Sree-mail,'" Columbia student LaToya Tooles told me. "He sent a lot of it and students begged him to stop. Now Sree does a lot of tweeting, and while we don't mind the tweeting, we thought we would adapt a few fundraising models and capitalize on his rather loud web voice."

When Tooles and her fellow student Andrew Seaman approached Sreenivasan with the idea, he said "absolutely not." He reminded them of the Digital Death campaign last year in which a group of celebrities vowed to stay off Twitter until a certain amount of money was raised. He insisted that he would not engage in something he called "egotistical," something that suggested his messages were so valuable that people should pay for them.

sree sreenivasan.jpg

A clarification caused him to relent: This would be the opposite of the Digital Death fundraiser. Contributors would not be paying to receive his tweets; they would be paying to keep him quiet. "This is the idea that nobody really wants my stuff," Sreenivasan said.

So a Silence Sree web page was set up and if 200 people donate $5 or more, Sreenivasan's 4,999 Facebook friends and 19,400 Twitter followers will not hear from him for 24 hours. Columbia students who donate cash can give as little as $1. If fewer than 200 people donate, the silence will last for a comparable portion of the day. All the money will go to charity: 85% to scholarships for Columbia journalism students and 15% to earthquake/tsunami relief in Japan.

So far, the campaign is nearly halfway there, with 51 donors giving $443.

A Tall Order

Sreenivasan and everyone who knows him acknowledge that this is a tall order.

"I think Sree can do whatever he puts his mind to," Tooles said. "He isn't allowed on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare or Posterous. If he invents another social media between now and Thursday, I'll be very upset with him, but probably not surprised."

Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, said: "Sree is one of the most generous persons I know. He naturally has countless social media connections and he spends a lot of time coaching rookies on the tricks of the social media trade. He is a tireless facilitator, desiring for everyone to know everyone else. All that said, I'm sure he has the willpower to keep silent for a day -- but just barely."

Vadim Lavrusik, who just left Mashable to become journalism program manager of Facebook, had a devilish take on what might transpire tomorrow.

"I think that secretly, he will create a fake Facebook page for something entertaining and grow a following of a million people, all while being anonymous. We will never know," he told me.

Computer in the Delivery Room

Perhaps the person who best appreciates the degree of difficulty is Sreenivasan's wife, Roopa Unnikrishan. She awakened her husband on Sunday night when she heard the news about Bin Laden. And she remembers well that in 2003, when she gave birth to twins, Sreenivasan got permission to have his computer in the delivery room, "although he was mostly focused on video."

Andrew Lih, an associate professor at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, takes credit (or blame) for getting Sreenivasan involved in Internet journalism back in 1995 and he remains skeptical.

"Asking Sree to step away from social media communication?" Lih said. "You'd have better luck getting TMZ to ignore Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen for 24 hours."

But Daniel Dubno, founder of the consultancy Blowing Things Up and president of the Hourglass Initiative, thinks there might be a future in "Silence Sree."

"Perhaps next year, if he survives this challenge, he might give up the use of his iPad, Android, video chat, TV appearances, radio interviews, blogging, flogging, emailing, Gmailing, and the like," Dubno said. "But I still wouldn't take away his Xeroxing, faxing, Morse-coding, semaphore flag-waving, and his potential for nailing 95 theses on some door."

Ironically, Sreenivasan is organizing the first Social Media Weekend at Columbia from May 13 to 15. It's a good thing he won't be silenced then.

Carla Baranauckas is a freelance journalist, director of Round Earth Media and adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She made a small contribution to the "Silence Sree" campaign.

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April 04 2011

18:30

“Of the web, not on it”: Emily Bell on the success of The Guardian and what she plans for the Tow Center

Before Emily Bell crossed the pond to head up the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia’s J-school, she led the Guardian’s website, helping to build it into one of the most heavily trafficked news sites in the world.

At a lunch talk at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center today, Bell shared her insights into what made the Guardian successful in its online efforts, her plans for the Tow Center — and her thoughts about the challenges facing the news industry in an increasingly networked world.

Three reasons Bell pointed to to explain the Guardian’s online success:

1. They put a high priority on technical excellence

Bell took over as the Guardian’s director of digital content in 2006. And “people actually thought, when I said that I was going off to work on the web, that I had been sacked.” At the paper, however, there was a core of people “who really understood the web,” Bell notes. And having that technical expertise didn’t just mean understanding code and web design and all the rest; it also meant understanding, almost implicitly, user behavior — and transforming the Guardian into a digital-first proposition. (It’s about being, as Bell has said before, “of the web, not on the web.”)

One of the most important shifts in mindset at the Guardian came in the form of the separation between form and content (which “now seems absolutely obvious,” Bell said, “but at the time seemed revolutionary”). And a lot of that process involved “freeing ourselves of the legacy mindset” and, in general, “getting the newsroom converged.”

2. They had a financial model that encouraged innovation

At the Guardian, which until 2008 was owned by the Scott Trust, the profit motive gave way to a broader emphasis on long-term thinking and experimentation. That led, in turn, to “a much higher tolerance for innovation” than the paper’s competitors, Bell said. The two most successful outlets in Britain, online, were the BBC and The Guardian, she noted — “neither of whom had to speak to shareholders.” Guardian staffers had greater financial leeway than most of their revenue-focused counterparts to experiment, innovate, and, importantly, fail.

3. They had a clear aim in their innovation strategy

“I’m not a massive fan of PowerPoint,” Bell confessed. But! Part of what allowed for the Guardian’s nimbleness when it came to innovation, she said, was that it “developed a really clear strategy.” The paper took the original tenets of Guardian journalism laid out by C.P. Scott and fused them, essentially, onto the networked infrastructure of the Internet. “Really, we’re about reaching as many people as possible in the world,” she said — and so the question for the Guardian’s staff became how to extend their reach using the tools of the web.

Part of that came down to a general openness to users. Bell created the Guardian’s Comment Is Free section (“which I think some of the Guardian columnists would like to see me imprisoned for!”) based on the recognition that the future will be increasingly networked, conversational, and participatory. In fact, “I stole it directly from Arianna Huffington,” she said. Through watching what Huffington was doing with her then-new news site — leveraging the unlimited space of the Internet to invite commentary from thinkers both professional and amateur — Bell figured that Huffington had it right. “This was the way that commentary would work under a collective brand for the foreseeable future.”

At Columbia

Bell’s work at the Tow Center is a continuation of that recognition — but also the product of another recognition that innovation, to some degree, requires stepping outside of the industry in order to observe it and affect its course. “As an operative in a daily news organization, it was getting harder and harder to connect” to the innovation side of journalism, Bell noted. Increasingly, “I think the space for doing that in your daily lives, as working journalists, is extremely limited — and the necessity to do it is greater than ever.”

The Tow Center, Bell said, focuses on three things: experimentation and research in the field; bringing the results of that experimentation back into the classroom; and creating a stronger digital presence for Columbia’s j-school. And “how those three things inform each other is important.” Part of the work the center will do will be to extend the purview of news innovation beyond journalism itself — to “expand the skill set” of journalism to include and embrace expertise in law, technology, the digital humanities, and the like.

“The solutions to what will make the Fourth Estate and constitute the press in the future lie largely outside the field as it’s practiced at the moment,” Bell said. After all, it’s not just news outlets that are developing ways of creating communities and connecting them — which is something that remains central to journalism’s core mission. Now everyone’s rethinking connectivity and influence. Looking to industries beyond the news, Bell noted, can help answer a key — perhaps the key — question when it comes to innovation: “what you need to support and guard a free press in the future.”

October 15 2010

14:00

Columbia developing a year-round news outlet to let students learn how to build and serve an audience

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that journalism schools, even more than other media institutions, are experiencing an existential crisis under news’ new conditions. On the one hand, schools are upholders of tradition and journalistic principles; on the other hand, their practical mandate — “to prepare the next generation of journalists” — requires them to be forward-looking in ways that would intimidate even the most prescient futurists among us. And the schools are navigating the common anxiety in remarkably unique ways: CUNY, under the guidance of Jeff Jarvis, is bringing a new focus to journalistic entrepreneurialism; Arizona State’s Cronkite School is partnering with The Arizona Republic and 12 News to fact-check politicians; NYU recently launched The Local East Village, a community-driven, hyperlocal site, in conjunction with The New York Times; Columbia has developed its Tow Center for Digital Journalism, which launches this Tuesday, and established its joint master’s program with the university’s engineering school.

To Columbia’s list we can now add another innovation: The j-school is developing a new site that will function as a year-round, standalone news outlet. It will be topic-based rather than hyperlocal — think broad concepts like health, crime, government spending, etc. — but it will be focused on New York City (or, as the j-school’s dean of academic affairs, ex-WSJ.com managing editor Bill Grueskin calls it, “our local hometown of 8.3 million people”). The site is still in its early planning stages, and details are still being worked out; as a strategy, though — and as a symbolic step forward — it has a mission that feels appropriately back-to-the-future: The site, Grueskin told me, will be about “doing journalism that’s of real value to the community.”

A permanent home for content

Websites featuring student work are nothing new, of course, at Columbia or other programs: Columbia’s introductory reporting and writing courses have web presences that act as training venues and work-distribution outlets, as do many of its content-specific courses (one of which, Columbia News Service, distributes its work via the New York Times News Service and Syndicate). And, school-wide, The Columbia Journalist exists to showcase some of the best student work produced during the academic year. Those products don’t, however, operate year-round; on the contrary, their content yields to the semester system, complete with vacations, interruptions for exams, and, of course, the summer hiatus. “You create these beautiful sites,” Grueskin points out, “and then two months later, they go dark.”

To change that — to create a site that produces content year-round, enabling it to be a destination rather than simply a means of distribution — the school will establish a new post-graduate fellowship program, along the lines of its Columbia Journalism Review and digital media fellowships, both of which currently take two students from each graduating class to work at the school for a year after graduation. (I was one of the CJR fellows after I graduated from the school.) Though the number of fellows to be hired, and their pay, remains to be determined — everything depends on the amount of money the school is able to raise for the project — the influx of journalistic manpower will add to the crop of students who stay on to contribute something and, in the process, extend their education. It will also combat the dark-site problem.

The new importance of audience

Which is only a problem, of course, if you care about building an audience for your work — if you define a school’s mission not only in terms of educating students, but also in terms of education more broadly: cultivating a community around journalism. That’s where Columbia’s upcoming site becomes especially significant: It’s merging the two goals, broadening its definition of good journalism education to include those clichéd-but-crucial new media buzzwords: “user engagement.” That’s a pedagogical mandate. Understanding the nuances of building and keeping an audience “is a crucial skill,” notes dean Nick Lehmann — particularly given the increasingly common assumption that editorial content will be produced in some kind of partnership with consumers as journalism reinvents its compact with the public. (The people formerly known as, and all that.) So “a big next step for us to take is to have a real audience for one of our sites that we can interact with,” Grueskin says.

That really is a big next step. J-schools, in the “conservatory” model of arts programs, have often regarded journalism not only as a public service, but also as a craft. In that, they’ve prided themselves on their very separation from the vagaries of the marketplace — which is to say, from audiences. The site’s bid for audience alone marks a significant shift in the role j-schools are carving for themselves in the new media landscape. “Journalists love to have impact,” Grueskin puts it, “and you want to feel that the journalism that you’re doing is being read or watched or listened to, and then acted upon.” There’s also the nice education loop a standalone site provides: “If this got up and running, it could actually create a fair amount of data and information that could feed back nicely into the way that we continue to try to improve the way that we teach journalism.”

Part of the work of the outlet — and, from the pedagogical perspective, part of the instruction it will offer to the students staffing it — could be in collaborating with other outlets to customize that content, and those platforms, for their needs. “We are probably less interested in pairing up with a single news organization, and more interested in acting as what you might call ‘a news service for the 21st century,’” Grueskin says: “news, or tools for news, that can be adopted by other media players, large, medium, and small.” (Think along the lines of ProPublica’s embeddable and adaptable news applications, for example — or, from a content perspective, data sets that “can be very easily localized and adapted by either big players or small.”) So “while there would be a website associated with the effort,” Grueskin says, “that wouldn’t be the sum total.”

Indeed, the site, like most news sites nowadays, would be only one aspect of the school’s broader push toward community engagement and journalistic impact. “Because of who we are and what we do and the larger institution we’re located in,” Lehmann says, “we can probably do year-round, meaningful local news coverage more cheaply and sustainably than a standalone, de novo, web-only organization can do. So we may be a more efficient way to meet that social need — and that’s a good motivation for us, too.”

April 20 2010

15:50

Lost Remote: New journalism programme to mix digital storytelling and business

“Even with the state of journalism today,” claims Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman, “most university professors would be loath to meld a curriculum of storytelling with the business side of the equation”. This is not the case at the University of Washington digital media programme though, which aims to become the ‘Columbia Journalism School of digital media and communication’, and teach “a unique blend of digital storytelling, social media and the business of digital media”.

“The three go together,” says Hanson Hosein, the director of the Masters of Communication in Digital Media program and a former NBC News correspondent who covered the Iraq war as a one-man band. “We’re hearing from our applicants that there’s nothing else like our program.”

Full story at this link…

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