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May 31 2013

14:08

This Week in Review: Debating journalists’ role in DOJ seizures, and Facebook tackles hate speech

james-rosen-fox-news

Blame for both the DOJ and journalists: The story of the U.S. Department of Justice’s seizure of news organizations’ phone and email records moved into “who knew what and when” stage, especially regarding the case of Fox News reporter James Rosen. Fox didn’t know Rosen’s phone records and emails had been taken until it became public last week, but The Wall Street Journal reported this week that its parent company, News Corp., was notified by the DOJ in 2010 but didn’t tell Fox.

News Corp. issued some mixed signals in response, initially saying it had no record of notification from the DOJ but eventually conceding that it didn’t dispute the DOJ’s claim that notification was sent. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza put forward a theory as to why it’s in News Corp.’s interest to be more deferential to the Obama administration DOJ, but in Fox News’ interest to be more antagonistic. However, The Atlantic Wire’s Elspeth Reeve noted that Fox News doesn’t have a very good track record on advocating for journalists’ freedom in these cases.

The metastasizing issue — coupled with the DOJ’s seizure of what the Associated Press claims is “thousands and thousands” of its phone records — has led Attorney General Eric Holder to plan a meeting with the top representatives of several major news organizations to hash out guidelines for DOJ intrusion. Several news organizations, including The New York Times and AP, announced, however, that they wouldn’t attend the meeting because it’s set to be off the record. The Daily Beast’s Daniel Klaidman wrote a thorough piece on Holder’s regrets in these cases, saying that it’s not part of the progressive image in which he views himself, and Salon’s Alex Pareene explained why Holder’s likely to keep his job despite the outcry.

In a pair of stories, The New York Times reported on the remarkable scale of many of the Obama administration’s leak inquiries and journalists’ charges that such efforts are creating a chilling effect on investigative journalism on the federal government. Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian expressed his dismay at journalists’ lack of action against the administration’s actions: In the current climate, he said, “it’s very difficult to imagine the US press corps taking any meaningful steps to push back against these attacks. And as long as that’s true, it’s very hard to see why the Obama administration would possibly stop doing it.”

At the same time, several others argued that the press’s self-defense reaction is a bit too knee-jerk in this case. Slate’s Fred Kaplan and The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus both argued that Rosen’s source was not a whistleblower exposing corruption but someone simply breaking the law and revealing harmful information. And Reuters’ Jack Shafer contended that Obama has not declared war on the press, as his crusade against leaks has been much more on the supply side than the demand side.

Still others, including Peter Sterne of the New York Observer and Matthew Cooper of the National Journal, were concerned that the proposed shield law wouldn’t do enough to protect journalists. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones tried to find a middle way between their concern for journalists and the objections of those such as Pincus.

Facebook rape ad

Facebook, hate speech, and censorship: Yet another debate over Facebook’s control over its users’ content simmered this week, though it was a bit different from the privacy flaps of the past. A coalition of feminist groups called Women, Action, and the Media wrote an open letter to Facebook last week urging it to remove content that trivializes or glorifies violence against women, noting that Facebook already moderates what it considers hate speech and pornographic content.

The groups also campaigned to Facebook’s advertisers, succeeding in getting several of them to pull their advertising until Facebook took some action. Facebook ultimately responded by posting a statement saying it hadn’t policed gender-related hate speech as well as it should have and vowing to take several steps to more closely moderate such content. The New York Times has a good, quick summary tying together the advertiser campaign and Facebook’s response.

While Valleywag’s Sam Biddle argued that all Facebook did was try to placate those protesting rather than commit to any real action, while Forbes’ Kashmir Hill and Reuters’ Jack Shafer noted that Facebook probably didn’t do this out of any morally consistent concern over content, but simply because of advertiser pressure. Hill concluded that “the procedure appears to be that they will draw the line when advertisers start complaining to them,” and Shafer argued that Facebook has only pushed this discourse underground, further away from the voices of reason and shame.

And while everyone seemed to agree that Facebook’s well within its rights to police speech on its own platform (and that it’s clamping down on a particularly heinous form of speech in this case), they also wondered about the precedent. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM wondered about the slippery slope of what Facebook considers hate speech.

newsweek feature

Newsweek on the block (again): Variety reported that IAC is attempting to sell Newsweek, a month after its chairman, Barry Diller, called his purchase of the magazine a “mistake.” IAC shut down Newsweek’s print edition at the end of 2012, turning it into a web-only publication. As Variety noted, most every indicator at Newsweek — subscriptions, traffic, cash flow — is trending downward.

Newsweek confirmed the attempted sale with an internal memo, saying that Newsweek is drawing resources away from its sister site, The Daily Beast. Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici offered a more detailed explanation: Diller bought Newsweek thinking he needed a print publication to supplement its digital ad base, but since it’s failed at that, it’s become a mere distraction (and drag on the bottom line). Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan urged prospective buyers to stay away, though Mathew Ingram of paidContent offered some tips for its new owner: drop the paywall, aggregate, go deep on particular topics, develop a strong voice, and embrace mobile.

Reading roundup: Despite the quiet week overall, there were several smaller stories to watch:

— Rob Fishman of BuzzFeed wrote a thoughtful piece questioning whether the social media editor might be an endangered species at news organizations, as engagement with social media becomes a deeper part of each journalists’ work and routines. Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa (more on him in a bit) said social media editors are more important than ever, and Digital First’s Mandy Jenkins countered that many news organizations (especially smaller ones) still have a need for someone dedicated to newsroom-wide social media integration and gave some useful advice about how to do it. Elsewhere in social media, Twitter said it wants to partner with media companies rather than become one of them, and Jeswin and Jesse Koepke talked on Medium about how undo Facebook’s massification of online social interaction.

— One of the news industry’s most prominent social media editors, Anthony De Rosa, announced he’s leaving Reuters to join Circa, the startup that summarizes top news stories by breaking them down into “atomic units.” PaidContent’s Mathew Ingram explained what Circa’s up to, and Fast Company’s Anjali Mullany published a Q&A with De Rosa about his plans there.

— A few News Corp. pieces: It announced it will officially split into a publishing company (called News Corp.) and an entertainment company (21st Century Fox) on June 28. It introduced its retooled News Corp. logo, and the new News Corp.’s head, Robert Thomson, declared that it would have “relentless” cuts in store after the split.

— BuzzFeed announced a new YouTube channel featuring video through a partnership with CNN. The Wall Street Journal explained what’s behind both companies’ move deeper into online video.

— Finally, a couple of smart pieces on the native advertising phenomenon: CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis made the case against news orgs getting into native advertising, and Publish2′s Scott Karp laid out some of the difficulties of making native advertising scale.

January 13 2012

16:30

December 22 2010

18:00

Martin Langeveld: Predicting more digital convergence and an AP clearinghouse, coming in 2011

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

As we draw to a close, it’s time for this year’s predictions from Martin Langeveld, which are the closest thing we have to a tradition around here. We just posted a look back at Martin’s predictions for 2010, a year ago. Here’s what he foresees for 2011; check back next year to see how he did.

Digital convergence: News, mobile, tablets, social couponing, location-based services, RFID tags, gaming. My geezer head spins just thinking about all this, but look: All these things will not stay in separate silos. Why do you think AOL invested $50 million or more launching Patch in 500 markets, without a business model that makes sense to anyone? What’s coming down the pike is new intersections between all of these digital developments, and somehow, news is always in the picture because it’s at the top of people’s lists of content needs, right after email and search. There are business opportunities in tying all of these things together, so there are opportunities for news enterprises to be part of the action. Some attempts to find synergies will work, and some won’t.

But imagine for a moment: personalized news delivered to me on my tablet or smartphone, tailored to my demographics, preferences, and location; coupon offers and input from my social network, delivered on the same basis; the ability to interact with RFID tags on merchandise (and on just about anything else); more and more ability not only to view ads but to do transactions on tablets and phones — all of these delivered in a entertaining interfaces with gaming features (if I like games) or not (if I don’t). In other words: news delivered to me as part of a total environment aware of my location, my friends, my interests and preferences, essentially in a completely new online medium — not a web composed of sites I can browse at my leisure, but a medium delivered via a device or devices that understand me and understand what I want to know, including the news, information and commercial offers that are right for me. All of this is way too much to expect in 2011, but as a prediction, I think we’ll start to see some of the elements begin to come together, especially on the iPad.

The Associated Press clearinghouse for news. Lots of questions here: Will be it nonprofit or for-profit? Who will put up the money? Who will be in charge of it? What will it actually do? It will probably take all year to get the operation organized and launched, but I’m going to stick with the listing of opportunities I outlined when news of the clearinghouse broke. I continue to believe that the clearinghouse concept has the potential to transform the way that news content is generated, distributed and consumed. (Disclosure: I’m working on a project with the University of Missouri to explore potential business models enabled by news clearinghouses.)

Embracing real digital strategies. Among newspaper companies, Journal Register will continue to point the way: CEO John Paton ardently evangelizes for digital-first thinking — read his presentation to the recent (Nieman-cosponsored) INMA Transformation of News Summit, if you haven’t seen it. Is there another newspaper company CEO who agrees with Paton’s mantra, “Be Digital First and Print Last”? I doubt it, because what it means, in Patton’s words, is that you “put the digital people in charge, and stop listening to the newspaper people.” Most newspaper groups pay lip service to “digital first,” but in reality they’re focused on the daily print edition. And that’s why audience attention will continue to go to new media unencumbered by print, like Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Patch, Gawker Media, and hosts of others. So for a prediction: Journal Register will outsource most of its printing, sell most of its real estate, bring the audience into its newsrooms with more news cafes like their first one in Torrington, Conn. It will announce by year end that 25 percent of its revenue is from digital sources. It will also launch online-only startups in cities and towns near its existing markets, perhaps with niche print spinoffs. And finally, toward the end of 2011, we’ll see some reluctant and tentative emulation of Paton’s strategies among a few other newspaper groups.

Newspaper advertising revenue. An extrapolation of the 2010 trend (see my 2010 scorecard) would mean 2011 quarters of, say gains of 2 percent, 4 percent, 6 percent and 8 percent. But for that to happen, marketers would have to decide, during Q4 of 2011, to direct 8 percent more money into advertising in a medium that continues to report “strategic” cuts in press runs and paid print circulation, that is not finding fresh eyeballs online, that has an audience profile getting older every year, and that has done little R&D or innovation to discover a digital future for itself. With sexy new opportunities to advertise on tablets and smartphones coming along daily, why would any brand, retailer, or advertising agency be looking to spend more in print? My prediction is for a very flat year, with the quarterly totals (for print plus online revenue) coming in at Q1: +1.5%, Q2: +2.0%, Q3: no change and Q4: -3%. That final quarter will revert to negative territory primarily because of major shifts in retail budgets to tablet and smartphone platforms and to digital competitors like Groupon.

Newspaper online ad revenue. This has been a bright spot in 2010, with gains of 4.9 percent, 13.9 percent, and 10.7 percent so far. Assume another gain in Q4. But there are several problems. First, at most newspapers a big fraction of so-called online revenue is hitched to print programs with online components, upsells, added values, or bonuses. So there’s no way to tell whether the reported numbers are real, representing actual gains purely in ads purchased on web sites, whether there’s a lot of creative accounting going on to make the online category look better than it actually is, or whether it would even exist without the print component. Secondly, there’s a lot of new competition at the local level for dollars that retailers earmark for web marketing. Groupon, alone, will do close to $1 billion in revenue this year, compared with about $3 billion total online revenue for all newspapers combined. Add the “Groupon clones” like LivingSocial, and the social couponing business is probably already at about 50 percent of newspaper online revenue, and could well pass it in 2011, very much at newspapers’ expense. That’s why I predict newspaper online revenue will be: Q1: +5.0 percent, Q2: +3.0 percent, Q3: no change and Q4: no change.

Newspaper circulation. The trendline here has been down, down, down, every six-month reporting period ending March 31 and September 30. Complicating the picture: newspapers have been selling combo packages, ABC-qualified, where a single subscriber counts for two because they are buying (sometimes on a forced basis) both a 7-day print subscription and a facsimile digital edition. Lots of inflated and un-real circulation will show up in the 2011 numbers. But if we look at print circulation alone, which ABC will continue to break out, demographics alone dictate a continuation of the negative trend. My prediction: down 5 percent in each of the spring and fall six-month ABC reporting periods. That will mean that by year’s end, print newspaper penetration will fall to about one in three households (a long way down from its postwar peak of 134 newspapers sold per 100 households in 1946).

Online news readership. There are a couple of ways to look at this. For newspaper websites, NAA recently switched from Nielsen to Comscore because they liked Comscore’s numbers better. As a base measure, Comscore is showing about 105 million monthly unique visitors and 4 billion pageviews to newspaper sites, with the average visitor spending 3.5 minutes per visit. Prediction: all three of those metrics will stay flat (plus or minus 10 percent) during 2011. The other way to look at it is: Where are Americans getting their news? The Pew Research Center looks at this on an annual basis, and in 2010 showed online, radio, and newspapers more or less tied as news sources for Americans. Is there any doubt where this is going? In 2011, Pew might add mobile as a distinct source, but it will show online clearly ahead of newspapers and radio, with mobile ascendant.

Newspaper chains. Nobody can afford to buy anybody else, and no non-newspaper companies want to buy newspapers. There might be some mergers, but really, there are no strategic opportunities for consolidation in this industry, because there are no major efficiencies or revenue opportunities to be gained. Everybody will just muddle along in 2011, with the exception of Journal Register, which as noted above will move into adjacent markets with digital products and generally show the way the rest should follow.

Stocks. The major indices will be up 15 to 20 percent by September, but they’ll drop back to a break-even position by the end of 2011. Newspaper stocks will not beat the market. Others: AOL and Google will beat the market; Yahoo and Microsoft will not.

November 19 2010

15:00

October 22 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: Hard news’ online value, a small but successful paywall, and the war on WikiLeaks

[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]

The value of hard news online: Perfect Market, a company that works on monetizing news online, released a study this week detailing the value of this summer’s most valuable stories. The study included an interesting finding: The fluffy, celebrity-driven stories that generate so much traffic for news sites are actually less valuable to advertisers than relevant hard news. The key to this finding, The New York Times reported, is that news stories that actually affect people are easier to sell contextual advertising around — and that kind of advertising is much more valuable than standard banner ads.

As Advertising Age pointed out, a lot of this goes back to keyword ads and particularly Google AdSense; a lot of, say, mortgage lenders and immigration lawyers are doing keyword advertising, and they want to advertise around subjects that deal with those issues. In other words, stories that actually mean something to readers are likely to mean something to advertisers too.

But the relationship isn’t quite that simple, said GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram. Advertisers don’t just want to advertise on pages about serious subjects; they want to advertise on pages about serious subjects that are getting loads of pageviews — and you get those pageviews by also writing about the Lindsey Lohans of the world. SEOmoz’s Rand Fishkin had a few lingering questions about the study, and the Lab’s Megan Garber took the study as a cue that news organizations need to work harder on “making their ads contextually relevant to their content.”

The Times Co.’s paywall surprise: The New York Times Co. released its third-quarter earnings statement (your summary: print down, digital up, overall meh), and the Awl’s Choire Sicha put together a telling graph that shows how The Times has scaled down its operation while maintaining at least a small profit. Digital advertising now accounts for more than a quarter of The Times’ advertising revenue, which has to be an relatively encouraging sign for the company.

Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson talked briefly and vaguely about the company’s paid-content efforts, led by The Times’ own planned paywall and the Boston Globe’s two-site plan. But what made a few headlines was the fact that the company’s small Massachusetts paper, The Telegram & Gazette, actually saw its number of unique visitors increase after installing a paywall in August. Peter Kafka of All Things Digital checked the numbers out with comScore and offered a few possible reasons for the bump (maybe a few Google- or Facebook-friendly stories, or a seasonal traffic boost).

The Next Web’s Chad Catacchio pushed back against Kafka’s amazement, pointing out that the website remains free to print subscribers, which, he says, probably make up the majority of the people interested in visiting the site of a fairly small community paper like that one. Catacchio called the Times Co.’s touting of the paper’s numbers a tactic to counter the skepticism about The Times’ paywall, when in reality, he said, “this is completely apples and oranges.”

WikiLeaks vs. the world: The international leaking organization WikiLeaks has kept a relatively low profile since it dropped 92,000 pages of documents on the war in Afghanistan in July, but Spencer Ackerman wrote at Wired that WikiLeaks is getting ready to release as many as 400,000 pages of documents on the Iraq War as soon as next week, as two other Wired reporters looked at WikiLeaks’ internal conflict and the ongoing “scheduled maintenance” of its site. WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange responded by blasting Wired via Twitter, and Wired issued a defense.

One of the primary criticisms of WikiLeaks after their Afghanistan release was that they were putting the lives of American informants and intelligence agents at risk by revealing some of their identities. But late last week, we found out about an August memo by Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledging that no U.S. intelligence sources were compromised by the July leak. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald documented the numerous times government officials and others in the media asserted exactly the opposite.

Greenwald asserted that part of the reason for the government’s rhetoric is its fear of damage that could be caused by WikiLeaks future leaks, and sure enough, it’s already urging news organizations not to publish information from WikiLeaks’ Iraq documents. At The Link, Nadim Kobeissi wrote an interesting account of the battle over WikiLeaks so far, characterizing it as a struggle between the free, open ethos of the web and the highly structured, hierarchical nature of the U.S. government. “No nation has ever fought, or even imagined, a war with a nation that has no homeland and a people with no identity,” Kobeissi said.

Third-party plans at Yahoo and snafus at Facebook: An interesting development that didn’t get a whole lot of press this week: The Wall Street Journal reported that Yahoo will soon launch Y Connect, a tool like Facebook Connect that will put widgets on sites across the web that allow users to log in and interact at the sites under their Yahoo ID. PaidContent’s Joseph Tarkatoff noted that Y Connect’s success will depend largely on who it can convince to participate (The Huffington Post is in so far).

The Wall Street Journal also reported another story about social media and third parties this week that got quite a bit more play, when it revealed that many of the most popular apps on Facebook are transmitting identifying information to advertisers without users’ knowledge. Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz found the juxtaposition of the two stories funny, and while the tech world was abuzz, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch gave the report the “Move on, nothing to see here” treatment.

An unplanned jump from NPR to Fox News: Another week, another prominent member of the news media fired for foot-in-mouth remarks: NPR commentator Juan Williams lost his job for saying on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor that he gets nervous when he sees Muslims in traditional dress on airplanes. Within 24 hours of being fired, though, Williams had a full-time gig (and a pay raise) at Fox News. Williams has gotten into hot water with NPR before for statements he’s made on Fox News, which led some to conclude that this was more about Fox News than that particular statement.

NPR CEO Vivian Schiller explained why Williams was booted (he engaged in non-fact-based punditry and expressed views he wouldn’t express on NPR as a journalist, she said), but, of course, not everybody was pleased with the decision or its rationale. (Here’s Williams’ own take on the situation, and a blow-by-blow of the whole thing from NPR.) Much of the discussion was pretty politically oriented — New York’s Daily Intel has a pretty good summary of the various perspectives — but there were several who weren’t pleased with the firing along media-related lines, including the American Journalism Review’s Rem Rieder, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and the Columbia Journalism Review’s Joel Meares. NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard disapproved not of the firing per se, but of the way it went down, and The New York Times’ Brian Stelter also used the episode as an object lesson in the differences between traditional and point-of-view journalism.

Two other media critics, Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News and James Rainey of the Lost Angeles Times, both criticized the firing on the grounds that NPR has imposed too strict of a standard for a journalist — and especially for someone paid to express his opinion. Bunch wrote a thoughtful post on NPR retreating into the “dank temple of objectivity,” and Rainey wondered how this standard would be enforced: “How does one distinguish between the permissible ‘fact-based analysis’ and the currently verboten ‘punditry and speculation?’”

Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s deal dies: With rumors swirling of a merger between Newsweek and the online aggregator The Daily Beast, we were all ready to start calling the magazine TinaWeek or NewsBeast last weekend. But by Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal had reported that the talks were off. There were some conflicting reports about who broke off talks; the Beast’s Tina Brown said she got cold feet, but new Newsweek owner Sidney Harman said both parties backed off. (Turns out it was former GE exec Jack Welch, an adviser on the negotiations, who threw ice water on the thing.)

Business Insider’s Joe Pompeo gave word of continued staff shuffling, and Zeke Turner of The New York Observer reported on the frosty relations between Newsweek staffers and Harman, as well as their disappointment that Brown wouldn’t be coming to “just blow it up.” The Wrap’s Dylan Stableford wondered what Newsweek’s succession plan for the 92-year-old Harman is. If Newsweek does fall apart, Slate media critic Jack Shafer said, that wouldn’t be good news for its chief competitor, Time.

Reading roundup: We’ve got several larger stories that would have been standalone items in a less busy week, so we’ll start with those.

— As Gawker first reported, The Huffington Post folded its year-old Investigative Fund into the Center for Public Integrity, the deans of nonprofit investigative journalism. As Gawker pointed out, a lot of the fund’s problems likely stemmed from the fact that it was having trouble getting its nonprofit tax status because it was only able to supply stories to its own site. The Knight Foundation, which recently gave the fund $1.7 million, handed it an additional $250,000 to complete the merger.

— Nielsen released a study on iPad users with several interesting findings, including that books, TV and movies are popular content on it compared with the iPhone; nearly half of tablet owners describe themselves as early adopters; and one-third of iPad owners have not downloaded an app. Also in tablet news, News Corp. delayed its iPad news aggregation app plans, and publishers might be worried about selling ads on a smaller set of tablet screens than the iPad.

— From the so-depressing-but-we-can’t-stop-watching department: The Tribune Co.’s woes continue to snowball, with innovation chief Lee Abrams resigning late last week and CEO Randy Michaels set to resign late this week. Abrams issued a lengthy self-defense, and Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass defended his paper, too.

— J-prof Jay Rosen proposed what he calls the “100 percent solution”  — innovating in news trying to cover 100 percent of something. Paul Bradshaw liked the idea and began to build on it.

— It’s not a new debate at all, but it’s an interesting rehashing nonetheless: Jeff Novich called Ground Report and citizen journalism useless tools that can never do what real journalism does. Megan Taylor and Spot.Us’ David Cohn disagreed, strongly.

— Finally, former Los Angeles Times intern Michelle Minkoff wrote a great post about the data projects she worked on there and need to collaborate around news as data. As TBD’s Steve Buttry wrote, “Each of the 5 W’s could just as easily be a field in a database. … Databases give news content more lasting value, by providing context and relationships.”

October 14 2010

14:30

The Newsonomics of replacement journalism

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

Finally, we’re seeing light on the horizon. Journalism hiring is picking up.

The second half of the year has so far produced TBD’s hiring of 50 in Washington, Patch’s push to pick up 500 journalists across the country, and the new alliance for public media plan to hire more than 300 journalists in four major cities, if funding can be found in 2011. In addition, the brand-name journalist market has suddenly flowered, as everyone from National Journal to the Daily Beast to Bloomberg to AOL to the Huffington Post to Yahoo compete for talent. These are bigger numbers — and more activity — than we’ve previously seen, though they build on earlier hirings from ProPublica to California Watch to Bay Citizen to Texas Tribune to MinnPost and well beyond.

It’s a dizzying quilt of hiring, in some ways hard to make sense of, as business models (how exactly is Patch’s business model going to succeed? what happens when the foundation money dries up?) remain in deep flux. Yet, amid the hope, now comes this question: Are we beginning to see “replacement journalism” arriving?

Replacement journalism, by its nature, is a hazy notion. We won’t see some one-to-one swapping for what used to be with something new. Replacement journalism will though give us the sense that new journalism, of high quality, is getting funded, somehow, and that the vacuum created by the deepest cut in reporting we’ve ever seen is starting to be filled. It is an important, graspable question not just for journalists and aspiring journalists welling up in schools across the country, but also for readers: Are we beginning to see significant, tangible news coverage in this new, mainly digital world?

So, let’s assess where we on, on that road to replacement journalism. Let’s start with some numbers. Take the most useful census of daily newspaper newsroom employment, the annual ASNE (American Society of News Editors) census, conducted early each year and next reported out at its April 2011 conference. ASNE’s most current number is 41,500. That’s down from 46,700 a year earlier, from 52,600 in 2008 and from 55,000 in 2007. So, over those three-plus years, that’s a loss of 13,500 jobs, a 25-percent decline.

As we consider what’s been lost and what needs to replace it, we’ve got to look as much at possible at reporting. That news-gathering — not commentary (column or blog) — is what’s key to community information and understanding, fairly prerequisite in our struggling little democracy. While we don’t know how many of those 13,500 jobs lost are in reporting, we can do some extrapolation. Using that same ASNE census, we see that a little less than half (45 percent or so) of newsroom jobs are classified as reporting, while 20 percent are classified as copy/layout editors, 25 percent as supervisors and 10 percent as photographers and artists. So — while not undervaluing the contributions of non-reporters — let’s say, roughly, that half the jobs lost have been reporters. That would mean about 6,750 reporting jobs lost in three years.

Okay, so let’s use that number as a yardstick, against a quick list of journalist hiring:

  • Investigative and extended enterprise reporting: It’s tough to come up with any one number for investigative or long-form reporting in newspapers or in broadcast. We know that many newspapers and broadcasters have cut the investment in staff here, though, through the carnage of staff reduction. (One indication: “The membership of Investigative Reporters and Editors fell more than 30 percent, from 5,391 in 2003, to a 10-year low of 3,695 in 2009″, according to Mary Walton in the American Journalism Review.) Into this breach have come the new ProPublica, the restyled Center for Investigative Reporting (with its California Watch, most notably) and the growing Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. They are joined by smaller centers from Maine to Wisconsin to California. Loss: Probably in the high hundreds. Gain: Probably in the small hundreds. Net: We’ve seen real high-quality replacement journalism, but need more, especially on the community level.
  • Washington, D.C. reporting: Dozens of D.C.-based reporting positions have been lost over the last several years, certainly, and the number may stretch into the hundreds. For awhile, the biggest news was that the Al Jazeera bureau was among the fastest-growing. Now, of course, there’s the goldrush in government-oriented reporting as the newly emboldened (and funded) National Journal group and Bloomberg Government add a couple of hundred positions, and join Politico in the D.C-based fray. With both new efforts still in formation, we’re not clear what kind of reporting they’ll do. If it’s mainly government-as-business (Bloomberg’s seeming model) and/or if it’s mainly behind pay wall, then then this new stuff will be less replacement-like. Covering public policy implications for all of us nationally, and the particular impacts on those of locally, is a key, yawning need. Loss: Significant. Gain: Substantial. Net: Unclear we see the words on our screens in 2011.
  • Hyperlocal reporting: The biggest news here is Patch, of course. With 500 sites in various stages of rollout, we can’t yet assess how much new reporting — and of what quality, what depth — will be added back, replaced. Add in the redeployment of many metro staff reporters from Hartford to Dallas to L.A., and the fact that smaller community dailies and weeklies have weathered the storms better than bigger papers. Loss: Uncountable, but real across the country. Gain: With Patch and with the re-attention of metros to smaller communities through staff redeployment and blog aggregation, it’s now substantial. Net: One of the most promising areas in replacement journalism.
  • Metro-level reporting: The devastation seems clearest here, with newspapers like the San Jose Mercury News cut to 125 newsroom staffers from 400 a decade ago, and many other dailies down by 50 percent or more. The bulk of cuts, as well chronicled by Erica Smith at Paper Cuts, appear to be at metros — and they are continuing; witness recent job losses in Sacramento and Miami and at USA Today. On the positive end of the ledger, the TBD-Bay Citizen-Voice of San Diego-MinnPost-Texas Tribune-Chicago News Cooperative parade has added real journalistic depth in selected markets. Yet, unless they grow substantially from the dozens they are — the public media push, though only in formation, is the most promising here — there’s a low replacement ratio. This is the biggest conundrum in front of us: how do we maintain current newsroom staffing of 340 at The Boston Globe or 325 at The Dallas Morning News, against the ravages of change? Loss: Huge. Gain: Spirited and of noteworthy excellence. Net: Biggest gap to fill — and the gap may be widening still.

“Replacement journalism,” of course, is a tricky term, and maybe only an interim notion — a handle that helps us from there to here to there. By the very nature of digital and business disruption and transformation, we have to remind ourselves that the future is never a straight line from past to future, and that it will offer us great positive surprises as well as continuing disappointments. William Gibson’s enduring line sums that up: “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.”

Photo by Matt Wetzler used under a Creative Commons license.

October 08 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: A surprisingly sensible move online, two ugly falls, and questioning hyperlocal news

[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]

Another old-media stalwart goes online: This week’s biggest story is a lot more interesting for media geeks than for those more on the tech side, but I think it does have some value as a sort of symbolic moment. Howard Kurtz, who’s been The Washington Post’s media writer for pretty much all of its recent history, jumped this week to The Daily Beast, the aggregation and news site run by former magazine star Tina Brown and media mogul Barry Diller. Kurtz will head the site’s D.C. bureau and write about media and politics. He’s about as traditional/insider Washington media as they come (he also hosts CNN’s Reliable Sources), so seeing him move to an online-only operation that has little Beltway presence was surprising to a lot of media watchers.

So why’d he do it? In the announcement story at The Daily Beast, Kurtz said it was “the challenge of fast-paced online journalism” that drew him in. In interviews with TBD, Yahoo News and The New York Times, Kurtz referred to himself as an “online entrepreneur” who hopes to find it easier to innovate at a two-year-old web publication than within a hulking institution like the Post. “If you want to get out there and invent something new, maybe it is better to try to do that at a young place that’s still growing,” he told TBD.

Kurtz has his critics, and while there are some (like the American Journalism Review’s Rem Rieder) who saw this as a benchmark event for web journalism, several others didn’t see The Daily Beast as the plucky, outsider startup Kurtz made it out to be. PaidContent’s David Kaplan said that with folks like Brown and Diller involved, The Daily Beast has a lot of old media in its blood. (It may merge with Newsweek soon.) Salon’s Alex Pareene made the point more sharply, saying he was going to work for his “rich friend’s cheap-content farm” for a “fat check and a fancy title.” As Rachel Sklar told Politico (in a much kinder take), for Kurtz, this is “risk, but padded risk.”

Maybe the fact that this move isn’t nearly as shockingly risky as it used to be is the main cultural shift we’re seeing, argued Poynter’s Steve Myers in the most thoughtful piece on this issue. Kurtz is following a trail already blazed by innovators who have helped web journalism become financially mature enough to make this decision easy, Myers said. “Kurtz’s move isn’t risky or edgy; it’s well-reasoned and practical — which says more about the state of online media than it does about his own career path,” Myers wrote. For his part, Kurtz said that his departure from the Post doesn’t symbolize the death of print, but it does say something about the energy and excitement on the web.

Of course, people immediately started drawing up lists of who should replace Kurtz at the Post, but the most worthwhile item on that front is the advice for Howard Kurtz’s replacement by Clint Hendler of the Columbia Journalism Review. Hendler argued we’d be better off with a media critic than with another studiously balanced media writer. According to Hendler, that requires “someone who is willing to, as the case warrants, state opinions, poke fun, call sides, and make enemies.”

A reporter and a newspaper chain’s sad scandals: Two media scandals dominated the news about the news this week. First, Rick Sanchez up and got himself fired by CNN last Friday for a radio rant in which he called Jon Stewart a bigot and suggested that Jews run the news media. Sanchez apologized a few days later, and The Huffington Post’s Chez Pazienza mined the incident for clues of what CNN/Rick Sanchez relations were like behind the scenes.

There are a couple of minor angles to this that might interest future-of-news folks: Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice used the situation to point out that those in the news media are being targeted more severely by partisans on both sides. (We got better examples of this with the Dave Weigel, Octavia Nasr and Helen Thomas snafus this summer.) Also, Sanchez was one of the news industry’s most popular figures on Twitter, and his account, @RickSanchezCNN, may die. Lost Remote said it’s a reminder for journalists to create Twitter accounts in their own names, not just in their employers’.

Second, The New York Times’ David Carr detailed a litany of examples of a frat-boy, shock-jock culture that’s taken over the Tribune Co. since Sam Zell bought it in 2007. (Gawker and New York gave us punchy summaries of the revelations.) The Tribune is possibly the biggest and clearest example of the newspaper industry’s disastrous decline over the past few years, and this article simply adds more fuel to the fire. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum noted that the article also contains the first report of Zell directly intervening in news coverage to advance his own business interests. Meanwhile, the Tribune is slogging through bankruptcy, as mediation has broken down.

New media analyst Dan Conover saw the Tribune fiasco as evidence that the news business doesn’t just need to be reformed, it needs to be blown up. “We are past the point of happy endings, beyond the hope of half measures, and we know too much now to keep accepting the smugly reasonable advice of the Old Order’s deeply conflicted spokespeople,” he wrote. It’s quite the righteous-anger-fueled rant.

The hyperlocal business model questioned: We talked a bit about hyperlocal news last week, and that conversation bled over into this week, as Alan Mutter talked to J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer about her fantastic analysis of local news startups. Mutter quoted Schaffer as saying that community news sites are not a business, then went on to make the point that like many startups, many new news organizations go under within a few years. The money just isn’t there, Mutter said. (The Wall also has 10 takeaways from Schaffer’s study.)

For those in the local news business themselves, the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Joy Mayer provided some helpful tips and anecdotes from West Seattle Blog’s Tracy Record, and the Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles put together an online news startup checklist. Meanwhile, the hyperlocal giant du jour, AOL’s Patch, continued its expansion with a launch in Seattle, and dropped hints of a plan to get into newspapers. TBD’s Steve Buttry assured local news orgs that they can compete and collaborate with Patch and other competitors at the same time.

The iPad’s explosive growth: It’s been a little while since we heard too much about the iPad, but we got some interesting pieces about it this week. CNBC informed us that the iPad has blown past the DVD player as the fastest-adopted non-phone product in U.S. history with 3 million units sold in its first 80 days and 4.5 million per quarter, well more than even the iPhone’s 1 million in its first quarter. It’s on pace to pass the entire industries of gaming hardware and non-smart cellphones in terms of sales by next year. The NPD Group also released a survey of iPad owners that found that early adopters are using their iPads for an average of 18 hours a week, and for a third of them, that number is increasing.

When the iPad first came out, many people saw its users spending that time primarily consuming media, rather than creating it. But in an attempt to refute that idea, Business Insider put together an interesting list of 10 ways people are using the iPad to create content. And marketer Hutch Carpenter looked at the quality of various uses for the iPad and predicted that as Apple and app developers improve the user’s experience, it will become a truly disruptive technology.

More defenses of social media’s social activism: Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker piece questioning Twitter’s capability of producing social change drew no shortage of criticism last week, and it continued to come in this week. Harvard scholar David Weinberger made several of the common critiques of the article, focusing on the idea that Gladwell is tearing down a straw man who believes that the web can topple tyrannies by itself. Other takes: Change Observer’s Maria Popova argued Gladwell is defining activism too narrowly, and that online communities broaden our scope of empathy, which bridges the gap between awareness and action; The Guardian’s Leo Mirani said that social media can quickly spread information from alternative viewpoints we might never see otherwise; and Clay Shirky, the target of much of Gladwell’s broadside, seemed kind of amused by Gladwell’s whole point.

The sharpest rebuttal this week (along with Weinberger’s) came from Shea Bennett of Twittercism, who argued that change starts small and takes time, even with social media involved, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. “As we all continue to refine and improve our online social communities, this shift in power away from a privileged few to an increasingly organised collective that can be called at a moment’s notice [presents] a real threat to the status quo,” he wrote.

Reading roundup: A few more nifty things to check out this weekend:

— A few cool resources on data journalism were published this week: British j-prof Paul Bradshaw wrote an invaluable guide to data journalism at The Guardian, taking you through everything from data collection to sorting to contextualizing to visualization. ReadWriteCloud’s Alex Williams followed that post up with two posts making the case for data journalism and giving an overview of five data visualization tools. And if you needed some inspiration, PBS’ MediaShift highlighted six incredible data visualization projects.

— The offline reading app Instapaper has become pretty popular with web/media geeks, and its founder, Marco Arment, just rolled out a paid subscription service. The Lab’s Joshua Benton examined what this plan might mean for future web paywalls.

— Several mobile journalism tidbits: TBD’s Steve Buttry made a case for the urgency of developing a mobile journalism plan in newsrooms, The Guardian reported on a survey looking at mobile device use and newspaper/magazine readership, and the Ryerson Review of Journalism gave an overview of Canadian news orgs’ forays into mobile news.

— Northwestern j-prof Pablo Boczkowski gave a fascinating interview to the Lab’s C.W. Anderson on conformity in online news. Must-reading for news nerds.

— The real hot topic of the past week in the news/tech world was not any particular social network, but The Social Network, the movie about Facebook’s founding released last weekend. I couldn’t bring myself to dedicate a section of this week’s review to a movie, but the Lab’s Megan Garber did find a way to relate it to the future of news. Enjoy.

September 23 2010

17:30

What impact is SEO having on journalists? Reports from the field

Last week, I wrote that SEO and audience metrics, when used well, can actually make journalism stronger. But I got pushback from journalists who complained that I was parroting back management views rather than the on-the-ground experiences of the reporters who have to deal with SEO-crazy bosses. So the natural next move was to gather more evidence.

It seems that whether SEO makes your journalistic life miserable you depends on how smart your news organization is about using SEO — and how your news organization does in making you feel invested in the process of combining SEO with quality content production. Organizations that understand the power of SEO and social news to drive traffic — rather than chase traffic — will keep their reporters in the loop and make them happy. Even if an organization has a good SEO strategy, it still needs to be communicated effectively to the newsroom, so journalists don’t feel like they’ve been turned from trained professionals into slaves to Google Trends.

Some journalists I communicated with (who shall remain nameless so they can keep their jobs) say SEO is pushing them to the brink. The demand that every story generate traffic creates, in their minds, horrible pressure to produce work that will be measured only by how much it is read. The more they can seed their work with SEO terms and then promote their work on social media platforms, the better their metrics and the happier their bosses. But that formula can make for some very exhausted journalists.

I emailed with one unhappy Washington Post reporter. She described a scene not unlike the one described by Jeremy W. Peters in The New York Times, with the majority of morning editors’ meetings focused on looking at web numbers and “usually, making coverage decisions based on that.” The reporter’s complained:

If my blog has an awesome day, I get complimented on it. If I spend weeks digging into a really juicy story, I don’t hear anything from anyone (well, unless it gets picked up by Gawker or it gets epic levels of hits). So what should I spend my time doing?

There have been several instances when reporters (or content producers) have been told by [SEO people] to drop everything they are doing and file some pithy blog post about the hot topic of the moment, which usually fades by the time we can get a story up.

She was also frustrated that that the new SEO people in the newsroom seem to have “unilateral power” and The Washington Post’s commitment to SEO was changing the way this reporter was writing.

“We are told to put SEO-powered words in our headlines, which I understand, even though it takes the life out of our heads,” she continued. “But every now and then, we have also been told to get these SEO-charged words into our first sentence or lede of a story. Wonder why a lede suddenly sounds robotic? This is why.”

But then I spoke with another Post reporter, who said “SEO has not really affected my work that much.” And while he has opinions about SEO, the reporter said that he does not “have a first-hand account of how SEO has hurt or helped me.” Have his editors not cracked the whip? Or has SEO become a natural part of his work?

Whatever it is, these two reporters aren’t thinking about SEO in the same way — which would seem to indicate that Post management could probably stand to improve the way it communicates with its staff about what it wants. Mixed communication about innovation is a common issue at times of change and the Post should not be singled out — their newsroom just happens to be one I reached out to.

Different newsrooms, different perceptions

I then turned to the crazy and wild world of online-only publications, thinking that SEO might be unusually disruptive for their journalists working under the commands to boost traffic and engage with audiences. I found this hypothesis to be untrue, even at traffic monster The Huffington Post and aspiring traffic monster The Daily Beast. For another perspective, I also spoke to the kind folks at GigaOM, the tech news blog, where technology is nothing to fear, and who actually went on the record. First, HuffPost, where my source emailed:

SEO guides the content we decide to write, but only to a certain degree…at HuffPost in particular, I know this is true because of how effectively we utilize organic SEO. Almost all of our posts are written, or should be written with SEO in mind…Sometimes SEO can determine an entire post. We have people in the office that are pretty hot on the top Google searches, and sometimes an entry will be created to utilize the traffic we get some traffic.

To be clear, organic SEO is the way that SEO works based on algorithms and natural searches. So HuffPost is really good at playing this game. But to play this game, one has to be aware that the algorithms are always changing. But does SEO do anything to their reporting or writing or actual gathering of news at HuffPost? My source:

I would say that SEO rarely impacts the actual reporting that we do. For a website as large and as SEO focused as HuffPost, instances of certain words within the article won’t actually help the search value of a post.

What about at The Daily Beast, which aspires to HuffPost levels of hyper-readership? Are work practices changing there? The source I spoke to didn’t find SEO or audience metrics onerous, simply seeing them as a small part of his job. And like my source at HuffPost, this was not an assault on journalism but the new reality — and one that didn’t actually affect the content of stories.

As my source told me, SEO gets used in pretty predictable ways, adding tags into stories and putting the SEO term in the URL slug — which isn’t same as the headline. But this journalist says the pressure of SEO has no significant impact on what he chooses to report or on how he writes.

The value of metrics

The folks at GigaOM were positive about how SEO was helping to change the way they do things — for the better. Probably because they understand the argument I made last week — that paying attention to the audience brings you in better touch with what the audience cares about. And they’re smart about how to use SEO to their advantage. Liz Gannes, a senior writer for GigaOM, listed off in an email her understanding of how SEO was affecting her work:

Metrics only get you so far…if there’s no spark of idea driving a story and voice behind it, it’s bound to be boring.

Until very recently, the most a journalist could hope for after pushing a perfectly polished piece out into the universe was feedback from (at best) a few dedicated readers or haters…Metrics give us a peek into what happens to our stories after we hit publish.

Metrics have helped Gannes think about ways that other reporters, editors and bloggers can use metrics to do better journalism:

— Recognize new and emerging topics
— Figure out the peak times of audience interest so a story will find its audience
— Help readers who have found old articles see a more recent one through links
— Understand when an article is clear and readable, or when it’s become too complicated
— Identify good sources of referral traffic
— Know when to get involved in comments and social media, potentially as inspiration for further articles.

Is SEO foe or friend for the journalist? Constant harping from editors, driven by fear of the future and the need to monetize the web, can make it feel to some journalists that SEO is destroying news judgment and their craft. But the best solution to this complaint is to figure out how to use SEO more effectively to make journalism better — and make the lives of journalists easier.

Metrics can be good for journalism and for journalists; it just takes putting aside the fear of the now to think about future strategies for building good content that will keep readers coming back. As I’ve said before, good content and high readership levels are not mutually exclusive: good stories will be found, and SEO can help.

June 14 2010

09:29

True/Slant: How WikiLeaks protects itself

The True/Slant blog first picks up the Daily Beast’s piece on the US government’s alleged pursuit of Wikileaks editor Julian Assange.

Then True/Slant’s Colin Hargen looks at what protection Wikileaks has:

In effect, Assange has been quite clever in setting up WikiLeaks as a media organization and by using credited journalists as conduits for leaked material. What it means for the U.S. government is that it will be very difficult to prosecute WikiLeaks or Assange for whatever role either played (if any) in the alleged leaking of the diplomatic cables.

Full post at this link…

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