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August 02 2012

15:04

The newsonomics of syndication 3.0, from NewsCred and NewsLook to Ok.com and Upworthy

Of the many failed digital news dreams, digital syndication is one of the greatest enigmas. We’ve seen companies like Contentville, Screaming Media, and iSyndicate (Syndication 1.0) followed by companies like Mochila (Syndication 2.0), all believing the same thing: In the endless world of digital content, there must be a big business in gathering together some of the world’s best, creating a marketplace, and selling stream upon stream.

In the abstract, the idea makes lot of sense. Producers of content — AP, Reuters, Bloomberg, The Street, Al Jazeera, Getty Images, Global Post, and many more — want all the new revenue they can get. They want to see the content they produced used and reused, over and over again, helping offset the high cost of news creation. The enduring problem is the buy side. We’ve gone oh-so-quickly from Content is King to a content glut. In a world of endless ad inventory and plummeting ad rates, why take syndicated content just to create a greater glut of news, information, and ad spots? That dilemma still hangs in the wind, and has bedeviled news industry consortium startup NewsRight, as it tries to find a future. Yet I’ve been surprised by a new wave of news syndication that’s been developing, here and there. It’s worth paying attention to, because it tells us a lot about how the digital news world is developing.

In part, it’s about new niches being found and exploited. In part, it’s about responding to deep staff cuts at many newspapers. In part, it’s about a slow-dawning wave of new product creation, aided by the tablet. Each of the newer efforts sees the world a little differently, and that’s instructive, though technology and video (see The Onion’s “Onion Special Report: Blood-Drenched, Berserk CEO Demands More Web Videos”) play increasingly key roles. So let’s look at the newsonomics of Syndication 3.0, and a few of the newer entrepreneurs behind it.

NewsCred

As 31-year-old CEO Shafqat Islam notes cheerily, finding investors for his startup was complicated by the fact that “there are a lot of dead bodies in this space.” With 100 fairly top-drawer sources and a staff of 50 (35 of them in tech), NewsCred is the big new mover in text and still image syndication, launched earlier this year (“NewsCred wants to be the AP newswire for the 21st century”). Its 50-plus customers divide roughly equally into two groups: media and big brands.

Media, says Islam, are using NewsCred for two reasons. One is to build new products, as the New York Daily News has done with its March-launched India news site, recognizing a locally under-served audience. Skift, Rafat Ali’s new travel B2B start-up, is getting 30 to 40 percent of its content through NewsCred. The other is the emergence of the paywall: Charging for digital access, he says, has meant some news companies are wanting to bulk up, offering a better value pitch to would-be digital subscribers. The Chicago Tribune launched a biz/tech “members only” product, powered by NewsCred, at the end of June.

The brand use of news content has a bigger potential. Check out several case histories, showing the use Pepsi, Orange Telecom, and Lenovo has made of NewsCred-distributed entertainment and tech content. Brands are publishers and want an easy, one-source way to populate their sites. Islam says his seven sales people are working as consultants of a sort, especially with such brands. Figuring out how to create content experiences for brands-turned-publishers is one part of the syndication puzzle.

Lessons Learned:

  • In a sense, this is syndication meets marketing services: As news companies both produce content and try to act as regional ad agencies, the synergies between the two are becoming more evident.
  • Timing is everything: We’ve seen a maturation in curation technologies, as metatagging gets easier and cheaper, allowing niched feeds. Then, an increased emphasis on niche product creation is combining with brand need for news content, creating new potential markets.

NewsLook

With 70-plus top video news sources and 35 clients, the three-year-old NewsLook also hopes to build on the archeology of syndication ruin. Like NewsCred, it positions itself as a technology and curation company, adding value to a mass of content. For CEO Fred Silverman, the technology means, importantly, better integration of text and video content.

“We see an awful lot of guys with a video page, or a video way down at the bottom — it’s not integrated. Our push with the publishers we work with is to fluidly integrate it into a news page. You are eleven times more likely to watch that video if it is integrated into a story.” That seems like common sense — put the words and pictures together — but Silverman’s experience resonates way too deeply if you journey through news websites. For his part, he’s been working on improving both NewsLook’s own video metatagging and the ability to match that with text. Now he’s got to convince more customers to make the integration.

Using a license model — “we’re not really an ad company” — NewsLook has found its customers in three segments. He sells to content aggregators like LexisNexis and Cengage, and he sells to news companies. It’s the third area, though, vertical sites, that represent the biggest growth opportunity, especially in the tech area. NewsLook, with its video emphasis, is now partnering with text-centric NewsCred, looking for joint opportunities.

Lessons Learned:

  • Think niche. Think video. Both have audiences that may be paying ones; video ad rates are still holding up far better than text.

Deseret News Service and Ok.com

Clark Gilbert caused quite a stir when he took the reins at Utah’s largest newspaper company two years ago (“Out of the Western Sky, It’s a Hyperlocal, Worldwide Mormon Vertical”). Combining Harvard Business smarts, wide media knowledge, and traditional religious values, Gilbert promised to reshape the LDS-owned media Utah media properties in a way no one else could. Now, midway through that Utah transformation, he’s also moving on a wider world of syndication.

Ok.com has launched. It’s a movie guide like no other. Less Rotten Tomatoes and more wholesome salad, it is a “family media guide.” It’s social (Facebook login) with user-generated comments and ratings, and it offers many of the features (trailers, photos, theater times, online ticketing) that you’d expect. It’s also just the beginning. Ok.com will add TV listings, books, music, and other media to its site. Just syndicated, it so far has signed up a half-dozen customers.

“We want to own the family brand,” Gilbert says, citing his own commissioned research to indicate that it could be a large market. His segmentation of faith-based readers finds not only great dissatisfaction with the perceived amorality of Hollywood, but also questioning of the values of mainstream media.

To address the latter market: the new Deseret News Service, a “values-oriented syndication service.” That service, available for both print and digital, now reaches five markets, with a couple of dozen more on the horizon.

Business models, like cars.com, Gilbert notes, include both straightforward license fees and revenue share models, with Deseret selling advertising.

Gilbert, ever the modeler, believes Deseret is creating one for the industry.

“If you look at the product strategy, we started with the newspaper. We knew we couldn’t be good at everything…..For the Deseret News, that meant our six areas of emphasis [Family, Financial Responsibility, Values in Media, Education, Faith, and Care for the Poor]. For other newspapers, that can be something else. For Washington Post, it is politics. For Sarasota, it is retirement. What I’ve seen in the failure of the newspaper industry is that we’ve lost half our resources, but we’re going to cover it all rather than having the rigor to say, ‘What are we the best at?’

“The web rewards deep expertise. You have a lot of newspapers with high cost structures, producing average commodity news. [We looked] at what can can be the best in the country at. That led to a national edition in print and now syndication.”

Lessons Learned:

  • Combine your values — editorial, religious, or whatever — with the best web tools of the day to satisfy currently unsatisfied audiences. Then scale.

The AllMedia Platform

Critical Media CEO Sean Morgan may be the last man standing whose career has spanned syndication from 1.0 through 3.0. A founder of Screaming Media, circa 1995, his Critical Media company has been building syndication and other products (media monitor Critical Mention, video capture and creation platform Syndicaster, news video licensor Clip Syndicate) since 2002. Now, his company has produced AllMedia. Its primary function: a platform allowing clients “to collect and curate user-generated video content from their online communities.” It’s another component of its analytics-based enterprise business.

Morgan’s play here is wider than syndication, but syndication plays a key role. Critical Media’s technologies offer publishers (and others) value. In return, Critical gets the right to license news video assets, and it has amassed three million of them, and 100,000 are being added monthly; 350 (200 newspaper; 150 broadcast) local media companies are participating in Critical products. Clip Syndicate, its news video product, isn’t yet well promoted, but when it is, it could be powerful. It already enables “grab a channel” functionality for licensees. Clip Syndicate operates on a 50/50 revenue share model, with Morgan saying he is getting $21.40 CPM rates. The goal: monetize the “the biggest news video archive.”

Lessons Learned:

  • Syndication may be a long-term proposition, taking years of building infrastructure, or partnering with those who do.
  • It’s not the content — it’s the metadata about the content that unlocks its value, allowing niching and enabling product creators and editors to find what they need.

California Watch

Now incorporating content from its Bay Citizen merger, California Watch continues to expand out its syndication business. Executive director Robert Rosenthal estimates the news startup will take in about $750,000 this year in licensing money, funding about 10 percent of its budget (“The newsonomics of the death and life of California news”). California Watch offers yearly, monthly, and à la carte sales.

Its model really is the old-fashioned media wire, vastly updated with multimedia at the core and a strong enterprise journalism emphasis. With 16 significant media partners throughout California, just adding NBC Bay Area and including big TV stations and newspapers, it has been able to double some of the prices it charges over time. Further, it’s on the verge of syndicating to a major national/global news player. “Don’t silo potential audience by geography. A good story from a neighborhood in San Francisco may be the top story on the Internet one day,” Rosenthal says.

Like a traditional wire, its value is in more than its stories. It also acts as a news budget or tipsheet for subscribing news editors. With one of the largest news contingents in the state capital, Sacramento, for instance, it helps drive coverage overall.

Lessons Learned:

  • Collaboration with customers creates utility as well as content itself — and cements financial relationships.
  • Syndicated content, here, works on the older concept of scale: Do it once and distribute to many, without the burden of legacy costs and constraints.

Upworthy

Upworthy is like Hollywood Squares for progressives. No Whoopi Goldberg, but nine rectangles of meaningful video, well described by the Times’ David Carr.

Launched in March. It’s an on-ramp for Facebook, feeding the kinds of videos it prizes into the social sphere with headlining that would make a tabloid editor proud. Founder Eli Pariser (of Moveon.org and author of The Filter Bubble) says he borrowed headlining techniques from Slate, which he says writes “the best headlines on the web,” without slavishly pointing at Google search engine optimization. (Examples: “Donald Trump Has Pissed Off Scotland” and “How a 6-Year-Old With Ignorant Parents Just Became the Best Republican Presidential Candidate“).

Its declaration defines its would-be audience: “At best, things online are usually either awesome or meaningful, but everything on Upworthy.com has a little of both. Sensational and substantial. Entertaining and enlightening. Shocking and significant. That’s what you can expect here: No empty calories. No pageview-juking slideshows. No right-column sleaze. Just a steady stream of the most irresistibly shareable stuff you can click on without feeling bad about yourself afterwards.”

Upworthy is really syndication simplified. It uses the social sphere to see content re-used. Its currency isn’t licensing fees; no money changes hands in its viral promotion of content. Currently, its single revenue source is referral fees it gets from progressive organizations that pay it on a cost-per-acquisition basis for traffic.

Lessons Learned:

  • People — many, many people — will do the syndication for you if you learn the tricks and trades of headlining, SEO, and the social rumble. While Upworthy’s referral-fee business model may have limited extension, its use of social to extend syndication (perhaps with sponsorships) can be used by others.

Consider Syndication 3.0 a puzzle, with more of the parts found but the full picture still incomplete. Technology, as in all things digital, plays a midwife role, but understanding customer use — and helping would-be customers imagine use — is fundamental. Let’s face it: Costly content creation must be paid for somehow, as ad revenues falter and reader revenues build slowly. Making more use of the content that has been created makes basic sense, and the basics of that business are being built out anew.

March 30 2012

14:00

This Week in Review: Grappling with ground-up activism, and a new ‘pay-less’ form of paywall

Activism and journalism from the ground up: Now that the story of Trayvon Martin’s killing has moved fully into the U.S.’ national consciousness, a few writers have taken a look back to examine the path it took to get there. The New York Times’ Brian Stelter traced the story’s rise to prominence, highlighting the role of racial diversity in newsrooms in drawing attention to it. Poynter’s Kelly McBride gave a more detailed review of the story’s path through the media, concluding: “This is how stories are told now. They are told by people who care passionately, until we all care.” (This week, there was also bottom-up sourcing of a more dubious nature on the story, as the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum pointed out.)

The New York Times’ David Carr looked at the Trayvon Martin story and several other web-driven campaigns to assess the value of “hashtag activism,” acknowledging its limitations but concluding that while web activism is no match for its offline counterpart, it still makes the world a better place.

There were several other strains of conversation tying into digital activism and citizen journalism this week: the Lab re-printed a Talking Points Memo story on the unreliability of Twitter buzz as a predictor of election results, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing wondered whether social media movements have surpassed the impact of traditional journalism on many issues.

Meanwhile, the report of an embellished photo from a citizen journalist in Syria led some to question the reliability of that information, but GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram countered that citizen journalism isn’t displacing traditional journalism, but helping complement it when used wisely. One of Ingram’s prime examples of that blending of traditional and citizen-powered journalism was NPR tweeter extraordinaire Andy Carvin, who was the subject of a fine Current profile, in which he described Twitter as “the newsroom where I spend my time” and pinpointing news judgment as the key ingredient in his journalistic curation process.

Debating the effectiveness of news paywalls: Google formally unveiled its new paywall alternative in partnership with publishers this week: News sites include surveys that users need to answer in order to read an article. Google pays news sites a nickel per answer, advertisers pay Google for the survey, everybody goes home happy. Just a few publishers have signed up so far, though. (You might remember that the Lab’s Justin Ellis wrote on Google’s testing of this idea last fall.)

Elsewhere in paywalls: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said his paper has not ruled out a paywall plan, though he also clarified that there’s “nothing on the horizon.” His publication is, obviously, far from the only one grappling with the prospect of charging for content online: The New Republic’s new owner dropped the magazine’s paywall for recent articles, and The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, explained why he doesn’t see a paywall in that paper’s future.

Pexton said the Post first needs to build up its reader base and make sure the site’s technology runs better, and he cast some doubt on the helpfulness of The New York Times’ pay plan for its bottom line. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum picked apart Pexton’s analysis of the Times’ numbers, and asserted that a paywall’s purpose isn’t to be enormously profitable, and non-paywall digital revenue plans aren’t, either. “The point [of a paywall] is to stop or slow the bleeding and to help make the transition to an all-digital future five or ten years down the line — one that includes more than one flimsy revenue stream based on volatile and not-very-lucrative digital ads,” he wrote.

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram suggested a “velvet rope” approach to paid content instead of a paywall, in which users would volunteer to pay in exchange for privileges and perks. The Times’ David Carr was skeptical — on Twitter, he summarized the post as, “Don’t build a paywall, create a velvet rope made out of socmedia pixie dust and see if that pays the bills.”

The Guardian opens up: The Guardian is firmly positioning itself at the forefront of what it calls “open journalism,” as it hosted a festival last weekend called the Guardian Open Weekend, during which more than 5,000 readers visited its London offices. The paper recapped the event, and Polis’ Charlie Beckett urged The Guardian to go further and faster in incorporating readers into its production process, turning them from “readers” to “members.”

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger held a Q&A with readers on open journalism, in which he spoke of the tension between the print and digital products in enacting change: “In order to be effective digital companies newspapers have to free themselves of some of the thinking that goes into the creation or a printed product…But most of the revenue is still in print, so the transition is bound to be a staged one, involving fine judgements about the pace of change.” Rusbridger also tweeted the paper’s 10 principles of open journalism, which were helpfully Storified by Josh Stearns, along with some other open journalism resources.

New accusations against News Corp.: A new branch grew out of News Corp.’s ever-growing tree of scandals this week, when two news orgs in Britain and Australia almost simultaneously broke stories about alleged hacking by NDS Group, a British satellite TV company of which News Corp. owns 49 percent. According to the BBC and the Australian Financial Review, NDS hired hackers to break into its competitors’ systems and get codes for satellite TV cards to illegally leak them to the public, giving them pay-TV services for free. The New York Times knitted the two allegations together well.

The Australian Federal Police is now looking into the case, and Reuters reported on the growing pressure for new investigations against News Corp. in Britain and Australia. Meanwhile, Frontline aired a documentary on the scandal, and The Guardian reported on Rupert Murdoch’s attacks on the accusations on Twitter.

Mike Daisey, journalism, and advocacy: Interest in last week’s blowup over This American Life’s retraction of Mike Daisey’s fabricated story about abuses of Chinese factory workers turned out to be more intense than expected: As the Lab’s Andrew Phelps reported, the retraction was the most downloaded episode in TAL history, surpassing the previous record set by the original story. Daisey himself gave a much more thorough, less defensive apology this week, and Gawker’s Adrian Chen said he wished Daisey would have been so contrite in the first place.

In Current, Alicia Shepard examined the story from the perspective of Marketplace, the public radio program that exposed Daisey’s falsehoods. In a long, thoughtful post, Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard’s Berkman Center compared Daisey’s story to the Kony 2012 viral video, using them to pose some good questions about the space between journalism and advocacy.

Reading roundup: A few other interesting pieces that surfaced this week:

— A couple of pieces succinctly laying out some of the growing challenges for those trying to control online content and discourse: First, a piece in The Guardian by Michael Wolff on the trouble that the rise of mobile media poses for news business models, and second, a post by JP Rangaswami positing Africa as the next site of resistance against online media control.

— In a similar vein, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram wrote about the ways in which the giants of tech are all moving in on the same territory of user data and control, arguing that the real challenge is getting users to care about whether we end up with an open or closed web.

— NYU j-prof Jay Rosen wrote an insightful piece on how journalists claim the authority to be listened to by the public: “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.”

— Finally, at Poynter, Matt Thompson put together an interesting typology of journalists: Storyteller, newshound, systems analyst, and provocateur. He’s got some great initial tips on how to work with each type, and play to each one’s strengths within a newsroom environment.

January 19 2012

15:00

The newsonomics of signature content

What’s your signature content?

Quick: If somebody buttonholed you in an elevator, a school play, or a bar, and said, “Why should I pay you for that?” — what do you tell them?

Each passing week, it seems we’re further into the age of signature content. That only makes sense: If the death of distance is now old news, if everything is available everywhere at the touch of button or the swipe of a finger, then what makes any news or entertainment brand stand out amid this plague of plenty?

Closed systems — from three or four TV networks to less than a dozen big movie studios to a half-dozen major magazine publishers to geographically dominant newspapers — made signature content less important. Sure, big shows and big names have always driven media to some extent, but now, media without big names or big shows are going to get lost in the ether. Take Hulu’s announcement last week about Hulu Originals. You do have to wonder if Hulu’s fictional 13-episode “Battleground,” about a dysfunctional political campaign, will be bested by the Republican reality show in progress when the show debuts next month. Hulu is also bringing a Morgan Spurlock series for a second run, and probably will feature one other new program. The Hulu announcement joins Netflix’s own foray into signature content. Three years ago, would the thought of Netflix signing up Little Steven to do an original comedy series have crossed anyone’s imagination?

Hulu and Netflix both need to distinguish themselves in the market — not only from each other, but from Comcast, DirecTV, and Time Warner, among others. They need to buy protection as supposed masses consider cutting the cord on packaged services, Roku-ing and Apple-enabling Internet video onto their living-room screens. In movies and TV, we’re quickly morphing from a world of news and entertainment anywhere — get all of these things, somewhat haphazardly (Comcast Xfinity, for instance) on all of our devices — to one in which consumers ask, “What special do you have for me, in addition to my all access? Yes, All-Access, the cool feature of 2011, will quickly graduate from a wow to an expectation.

Why as consumers should we pay $7.99 (down from an initial $9.99) to Hulu Plus, when the same stuff (kinda sorta) is available through Boxee, or Apple TV, or Netflix, if I can find it? Why am I paying $7.99 a month (apparently the magic price of the moment) to Netflix for a catalog of films that is both voluminous and too often lacking what I want? Consumers are going to be asking that question a lot more.

Publishers, distributors, aggregators, and networks all want more money, and they’ve seen — courtesy of tablets and All-Access — that consumers are now more ready to pay for digital content than ever before.

Forget “content wants to be free.” Now content wants a fee. And everyone from Time Inc to The New York Times to the Memphis Commercial Appeal to Hulu’s co-owners (Fox, Disney, and Comcast) see gold. They see another digital revenue stream, in addition to advertising or to cable subscription fees. Yet they are increasingly believing they’ve got to up the ante (and Hulu is raising new funds to buy original programming) to compete and to win those consumer dollars.

News companies — at least one in ten U.S. daily newspapers and many consumer magazines — are rapidly embracing digital circulation revenue and All-Access. Yet results have been quite uneven. That makes sense: Consumers will pay for digital news, feature, and entertainment content, but they don’t want to overpay, and they’ll increasingly be forced to make choices. Buy this; let that go.

Let’s be clear. Paid media is paid media, and the original-programming pushes of the video companies have great meaning for news and magazine companies, global to local. For them, the calculus is similar. News and magazine brands can launch new products, though that’s out-of-their-DNA-tough for many. So they’ve focused primarily on sub-brands, many of which are people. These are the faces of news and magazines; many of these have become hot commodities over the last several years (“The newsonomics of journalistic star power“) as companies try to distinguish themselves — and give readers and viewers a reason to pick them out of the crowd.

How, though, can media companies afford to pay a premium for branded, promotable talent, talent that may open consumers’ pocketbooks? That’s easy: spend less on other content. So we’ve got the rise of user-generated content, obtainable free or cheap, and all kinds of new syndicate action from Demand Media to startup Ebyline (and maybe NewsRight), all trying to make it cheap and easy to get more medium- and higher-quality content more cheaply. What’s old is new again — as a young features editor, I got regular visits from syndicate and wire salesman, ranging from high-quality to the Copley News Service, that sold its stuff by the pound.

Another prominent model no news or magazine company can afford to ignore: The Huffington Post. Back to the early days when Betsy Morgan first teamed up with Arianna, HuffPost has worked this evolving content pyramid. At the top, a few highly paid site faces, many opinionated faces (some paid, most not), and then low-cost aggregation, much of it AP, headlined with the site’s recognizable swagger.

Then, of course, there’s the old standby: staff cutting. We’ve seen lots of staff cutting. In fact, these days, while we see some announcements like Media General’s big Tampa cut, most of the bloodletting is less public, but no less real. If you need to pay more to stars, and ad revenues are still declining, staff cuts of less than premium content (and those that produce it) make economic sense (“The newsonomics of the new news cost pyramid“). It’s the new news math.

These newsonomics of signature content are getting clearer. Netflix is planning to spend 5 percent of its expenses — or $100 million a year — on original, Netflix-defining content. Hulu is spending about a quarter what Netflix’s total, or $500 million in total, on all content licensing this year. We don’t know how much of that is for original content, but observers believe “Battleground” will cost $15-20 million for its 13 episodes. With its other forays, it will probably spend closer to 10 percent of its content budget on original content.

Curiously, many newspaper newsrooms constitute only 10-20 percent of the overall expenses of a daily newspaper company. So we’re starting to see some new, and old, arithmetic play out here.

Simply, Andy Forssell, Hulu’s SVP of content, explained the cost/benefit ratio to Variety: “…having an original scripted series that hasn’t been seen anywhere else yet is considered the best tool for standing out with either advertisers or viewers.”

As usual, we see the bifurcation of the bigger national brands — those with more audience to gain and more money to spend — and local news brands. While many local newspapers have cut to the bone, with too much of the tissue in the form of experienced, name-brand metro and sports columnists cajoled or drummed into “early retirement,” we see increased branding of stars at places like Time, The New York Times, Fox News, and ESPN. The sports network may be the classic business model of our age, and in its anchors and top analysts — many initially lured from daily newspapers — it has shown the way for many years now.

At the Times, consider business editor Larry Ingrassia’s build-up of business columnists, from veterans Gretchen Morgenson and Floyd Norris to new(er)bies Andrew Ross Sorkin, Brian Stelter, David Carr, Ron Lieber, and David Pogue. And the Times more recently picked up James Stewart from archrival Dow Jones.

At Fox News, Roger Ailes has cannily built the most successful cable news operation not on the interchangeable blondes that provide so much fodder for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but on O’Reilly and Hannity.

At NBC, the news franchise is so built around Brian Williams that his well received newsmagazine “Rock Center with Brian Williams” is synonymous with its host.

At Time Warner’s CNN and Time, we see the building of a worldly franchise on Fareed Zakaria’s clear-eyed, no-nonsense view of our times.

And then there’s the more local and regional press. Newspapers have long believed that it wasn’t any one or a half-dozen names that sold the paper. They’ve believed the news itself was the star, and the daily information report was the brand. That may be still be true of the Times, the Journal, the Financial Times, the Guardian, and a handful of other national/global news organizations — all of which have substantial, multi-hundred newsrooms that produce branded, unique products. It’s less true of regional and local dailies, many of which still present too much commoditized news in national, business, entertainment, and sports coverage, and have bid goodbye to many faces familiar to readers. Those that have retained familiar faces must do what they can to keep them; all need to recruiting more.

Then they may have a good answer to the question, in one form or another, consumers and advertisers will increasingly ask: What’s your signature content?

January 06 2012

15:30

This Week in Review: Lessons from Murdoch on Twitter, and paywalls’ role in 2011-12

Murdoch, Twitter, and identity: News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch had a pretty horrible 2011, but he ended it with a curious decision, joining Twitter on New Year’s Eve. The account was quickly verified and introduced as real by Twitter chairman Jack Dorsey, dousing some of the skepticism about its legitimacy. His Twitter stream so far has consisted of a strange mix of News Corp. promotion and seemingly unfiltered personal opinions: He voiced his support for presidential candidate Rick Santorum (a former paid analyst for News Corp.’s Fox News) and ripped former Fox News host Glenn Beck.

But the biggest development in Murdoch’s Twitter immersion was about his wife, Wendi Deng, who appeared to join Twitter a day after he did and was also quickly verified as legitimate by Twitter. (The account even urged Murdoch to delete a tweet, which he did.) As it turned out, though, the account was not actually Deng, but a fake run by a British man. He said Twitter verified the account without contacting him.

This, understandably, raised a few questions about the reliability of identity online: If we couldn’t trust Twitter to tell us who on its service was who they said they were, the issue of online identity was about to become even more thorny. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram chastised Twitter for its lack of transparency about the process, and The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple urged Twitter to get out of the verification business altogether: “The notion of a central authority — the Twitterburo, so to speak — sitting in judgment of authentic identities grinds against the identity of Twitter to begin with.” (Twitter has begun phasing out verification, limiting it to a case-by-case basis.)

Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay Times argued that the whole episode proved that regardless of what Twitter chooses to do, “the Internet is always the ultimate verification system for much of what appears on it.” Kara Swisher of All Things Digital unearthed the problem in this particular case that led to the faulty verification: A punctuation mixup in communication with Deng’s assistant.

Columbia’s Emily Bell drew a valuable lesson from the Rupert-joins-Twitter episode: As they wade into the social web, news organizations, she argued, need to do some serious thinking about how much control they’re giving up to third-party groups who may not have journalism among their primary interests. Elsewhere in Twitter, NPR Twitter savant Andy Carvin and NYU prof Clay Shirky spent an hour on WBUR’s On Point discussing Twitter’s impact on the world.

Trend-spotting for 2011 and 2012: I caught the front end of year-in-review season in my last review before the holidays, after the Lab’s deluge of 2012 predictions. But 2011 reviews and 2012 previews kept rolling in over the past two weeks, giving us a pretty thoroughly drawn picture of the year that was and the year to come. We’ll start with 2011.

Nielsen released its list of the most-visited sites and most-used devices of the year, with familiar names — Google, Facebook, Apple, YouTube — at the top. And Pew tallied the most-talked-about subjects on social media: Osama bin Laden on Facebook and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak on Twitter topped the lists, and Pew noted that many of the top topics were oriented around specific people and led by the traditional media.

The Next Web’s Anna Heim and Mashable’s Meghan Peters reviewed the year in digital media trends, touching on social sharing, personal branding, paywalls, and longform sharing, among other ideas. At PBS MediaShift, Jeff Hermes and Andy Sellars authored one of the most interesting and informative year-end media reviews, looking at an eventful year in media law. As media analyst Alan Mutter pointed out, though, 2011 wasn’t so great for newspapers: Their shares dropped 27 percent on the year.

One of the flashpoints in this discussion of 2011 was the role of paywalls in the development of news last year: Mashable’s Peters called it “the year the paywall worked,” and J-Source’s Belinda Alzner said the initial signs of success for paywalls are great news for the financial future of serious journalism. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM pushed back against those assertions, arguing that paywalls are only working in specific situations, and media prof Clay Shirky reflected on the ways paywalls are leading news orgs to focus on their most dedicated users, which may not necessarily be a bad thing. “The most promising experiment in user support means forgoing mass in favor of passion; this may be the year where we see how papers figure out how to reward the people most committed to their long-term survival,” he wrote.

Which leads us to 2012, and sets of media/tech predictions from the Guardian’s Dan Gillmor, j-prof Alfred Hermida, Mediaite’s Rachel Sklar, Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman, and Sulia’s Joshua Young. Sklar and Sonderman both asserted that news is going to move the needle online (especially on Facebook, according to Sonderman), and while Hermida said social media is going to start to just become part of the background, he argued that that’s a good thing — we’re going to start to find the really interesting uses for it, as Gillmor also said. J-prof Adam Glenn also chimed in at PBS MediaShift with his review of six trends in journalism education, including journo-programming and increased involvement in community news.

SOPA’s generation gap: The debate over Internet censorship and SOPA will continue unabated into the new year, and we’re continuing to see groups standing up for and against the bill, with the Online News Association and dozens of major Internet companies voicing their opposition. One web company who notoriously came out in favor of the bill, GoDaddy, faced the wrath of the rest of the web, with some 37,000 domains being pulled in two days. The web hosting company quickly pulled its support for SOPA, though it isn’t opposing the bill, either.

New York Times media critic David Carr also made the case against the bill, noting that it’s gaining support because many members of Congress are on the other side of a cultural/generational divide from those on the web. He quoted Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler: “It’s people who grew up on the Web versus people who still don’t use it. In Washington, they simply don’t see the way that the Web has completely reconfigured society across classes, education and race. The Internet isn’t real to them yet.”

Forbes’ Paul Tassi wrote about the fact that many major traditional media companies have slyly promoted some forms of piracy over the past decade, and GigaOM’s Derrick Harris highlighted an idea to have those companies put some of their own money into piracy enforcement.

Tough times for the Times: It’s been a rough couple of weeks for The New York Times: Hundreds of staffers signed an open letter to Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. expressing their frustration over various compensation and benefits issues. The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone reported that the staffers’ union had also considered storming Sulzberger’s office or walking out, and Politico’s Dylan Byers noted that the signers covered a broad swath of the Times’ newsroom, cutting across generational lines.

The Atlantic’s Adam Clark Estes gave some of the details behind the union’s concerns about the inequity of the paper’s buyouts. But media consultant Terry Heaton didn’t have much sympathy: He said the union’s pleas represented an outmoded faith in the collective, and that Times staffers need to take more of an everyone-for-themselves approach.

The Times also announced it would sell its 16 regional newspapers for $143 million to Halifax Media Group, a deal that had been rumored for a week or two, and told Jim Romenesko it would drop most of its podcasts this year. To make matters worse, the paper mistakenly sent an email to more than 8 million followers telling them their print subscriptions had been canceled.

Reading roundup: Here’s what else you might have missed over the holidays:

— A few thoughtful postscripts in the debate over PolitiFact and fact-checking operations: Slate’s Dave Weigel and Forbes’ John McQuaid dissected PolitiFact’s defense, and Poynter’s Craig Silverman offered some ideas for improving fact-checking from a recent roundtable. And Greg Marx of the Columbia Journalism Review argued that fact-checkers are over-reaching beyond the bounds of the bold language they use.

— A couple of good pieces on tech and the culture of dissent from Wired: A Sean Captain feature on the efforts to meet the social information needs of the Occupy movement, and the second part of Quinn Norton’s series going inside Anonymous.

— For Wikipedia watchers, a good look at where the site is now and how it’s trying to survive and thrive from The American Prospect.

— Finally, a deep thought about journalism for this weekend: Researcher Nick Diakopoulos’ post reconceiving journalism in terms of information science.

Crystal ball photo by Melanie Cook used under a Creative Commons license.

December 31 2011

21:00

Filter bubbles burst, blind spots shrunk, curation over SEO: Rachel Sklar’s predictions for 2012

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Bringing us home is Rachel Sklar, a media and cultural critic who is the co-founder of Change The Ratio, an adviser to early-stage startups, and a heavy-to-compulsive-tweeter.

More tattoo parlors

Earlier this week, I was blown away by this: Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt singing a charming version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”. It wasn’t just that it was an adorable clip of two adorable people singing an adorable duet, nor that it was in sly homage to their adorable movie, nor that it was guaranteed to go viral. I sent it to a dude I know who is very smart in the realm of online video, and the future thereof.

“This,” I wrote, “is the future.” He wrote back: “Every time Zooey Deschanel picks up a ukelele, a hipster angel gets his wings tattoo.” True, but that wasn’t even it. “That’s not even it,” I said. “Her genius is that she knows that, and figured out that she should own a piece of the tattoo parlor.”

Hello Giggles is that tattoo parlor.

Do you know Hello Giggles? It’s pretty brilliant, and simple, as many brilliant things are. It’s Deschanel’s website that she founded with Hollywood-and-Internet It girls Sophia Rossi and Molly McAlleer. It’s adorable and slick, like nail polish in hipster colors. Super-fun content, unabashedly girlish, the cool BFF that you love to hang out with. That was where the video broke.

Sure, it was on YouTube — capable of being picked up by HuffPo, BuzzFeed, and all the other usual suspects — but still, it was on Hello Giggles first. Their Twitter feed pointed to it excitedly earlier in the day and then — bingo, link. (And then — site, crash.) Deschanel and her friends looked around and smartly realized that if they could be the content, they could be the platform, too. Tavi Gevinson — more niche but one who could fairly be called the Zooey of the fashion world — did the same thing with Rookie Mag. Louis CK did it last month. If you know your stuff is going to be picked up, why not pick it up yourself? Owning the tattoo parlor. We’re going to see more of that in 2012.

Up with people!

It’s happened: People matter more than brands. Not all brands — people will always love to obsess over The New York Times — but for the most part, it’s individual people who earn and wield the trust of the consumer. (However that Twitter lawsuit pans out, the world will never be Team Phonedog.) So brands will align themselves more closely, and blurrily, with people. (Watch Tina Fey: She’ll probably do something interesting in this vein, that no one else could get away with, but for which she will open the door.)

Speaking of brands vs. people, it will be interesting to watch what happens to TechCrunch over the next year.

And speaking of Tina Fey, a quick coda about Amy Poehler: On “Parks & Recreation,” Leslie Knope is running for office. Outside in the real world, the 2012 election contest will be under way. There’s no way that show will not be a hotbed of trenchant political commentary this season. (BTW, Poehler was a Hillary supporter back in the day. So hopefully that will mean more goddesses in Pawnee.) Point being, people.

News is the killer app

David Carr loves to say this. And it’s true. News moves the needle, every day. Of course, what counts as “news” can be wildly expansive (latest Iowa poll vs. Iran’s latest in the Straits of Hormuz vs. something crazy Glenn Beck said vs. the new Zooey Deschanel vid) (News You Can Hormuz! Sorry). But technology has made everyone a potential real-time newsbreaker, distributor, and TV station, and that is pretty incredible. What we saw from Egypt this year — incredible. The #Occupy livestream during the Zucotti raid — riveting at 2am as the viewer numbers climbed (and the cablers blithely let their canned programming play on).

This is different from a serendipitous civilian twitpic. This is technology letting people change the game, gatekeepers be damned.

Curation is also the killer app

…that said, though, it’s gotten pretty damn noisy out there. And if 2010 and 2011 were years of opening our hearts to a blossoming Internet, 2012 is going to be the year of letting smart people do it for us. Audiences are done with SEO-baiting and bait-and-switch headlines; we’re going to get more choosy with our clicks. And with our eyeball-access. So you’d better be trustworthy, because I don’t let just anyone curate for me. Because while news will always be the killer app, who it’s delivered by will matter just as much.

This is different from “reported by The New York Times.” This is “do I trust Anthony De Rosa to be my filter?” That’s why for those of us who live on the Internet, Ben Smith going to BuzzFeed made perfect, brilliant, forward-looking sense.

Or, to quote media maven Jason Hirschhorn: “Welcome to the age of the “CJ”. The Content Jockey. Payola-free and programmed with care.” He tweeted that, quoting from his email newsletter. #PlatformAgnostic

Unbubbling and unblinding

One of the arguments for old-school newspapers is discovery — next to the article you’re reading might be a completely different article that you never would have seen, on a subject you didn’t know you were interested in. Online, we’re starting to see the opposite: While we’re opting to follow curators who deliver to us the news we wish to receive, our most trusted sites are automatically giving us what they think we want to see — or, taken dystopically, what they want us to see. Eli Pariser dubbed this “the Filter Bubble.” Things are only getting more customized, tailored, targeted, and algorithm-ized, but in 2012 we will see clear pushback on that.

As for curators, an example: The AP’s top Oscar tweets of 2011 — all men. Compiled by Jake Coyle, who follows 191 people on Twitter. Whose tweets did he choose to see? Whose tweets did he ignore? Who was completely in his blind spot? This is just one example, but lemme tell you, I got lots and lots and lots and lots and lots. And lots.

When we began 2011, that blind spot was a frustrating ongoing reality. As we end it, something has shifted — the pushback isn’t only frustrated, it’s mocking. Because the rise of social has surfaced incredible demographic activity and information. Turns out, lots of under-repped constituencies are moving lots of needles. And honestly, those who leave out women, minorities, and other under-noted groups really no longer have a excuse for it — and in so doing, look like tools. (See how the Daily Dot owned that, and moved to make immediate amends.) I watch this stuff closely, and I really do see that trend pushing forward in 2012. (Even if just to keep me from sending you angry emails. WHICH I WILL.)

There isn’t just a single story. In 2012, the audience will expect — nay, demand — to see more of them.

#NoFilter

No relation, but — #NoFilter has become a tag of note this year, thanks to Instagram. What is real? What is fake? What is Kardashian? I think 2012 will demand that we say so up front.

“‘Modern Family’ is the funniest show TV”

I said that the other day. Then I realized I’d never watched Modern Family on TV. I downloaded the first season to my iPad and I have watched it on the elliptical, on planes, in bed, waiting in the security line at the airport, on the subway and walking home from work. This goes double for most other things that I expect to be able to get, see, upload, download, send, save, share or otherwise interact with using the various pieces of technology at my disposal. Our smartphones are now our universal remotes. If you’re not offering your product on-demand in 2012, you’re losing customers in 2012.

Michelle. Sheryl. Mindy. Kristen. Kirsten. Hillary. Zooey.

Mmm-hmmm, I’m not saying anything. I’m just gonna sit back and watch.

June 03 2011

18:19

A bone of contention? - Why Bill Keller stepped down as New York Times executive editor

New York Magazine :: Keller's columns infuriated some members of the newsroom, especially the Times' media desk, who felt that the executive editor should be a kind of impartial honest broker. Times media editor Bruce Headlam and media columnist David Carr had an intervention with Keller to explain how his columns were hurting their ability to cover the industry.

[Bill Keller:] Even though I knew I would cause a certain amount of consternation in the building, I decided that was okay because it was worth having a conversation about this.

Then, last month, Keller wrote a column critical of Twitter, calling it the enemy of contemplation." Inside the Times, the column set off more alarms. Social-media staffers complained that Keller was signaling that he didn't like Twitter even as the paper was trying to encourage reporters to embrace the new tool.

Bill Keller stepped down as Times executive editor, but why?

Continue to read Gabriel Sherman, nymag.com

February 18 2011

15:00

This Week in Review: Paying up with Apple and Google, Twitter and activism, free labor for HuffPo

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

Apple lays down its terms: Publishers have been quite anxiously awaiting word from Apple about the particulars of its subscription plan for mobile devices, including the iPad; they got it this week, but it wasn’t what a lot of them were hoping for. The New York Times summarized publishers’ initial reaction with a few of the basic details — Apple gets a 30-percent cut, owns subscriber data (whether to send data to publishers is up to the subscriber), and publishers’ options for subscription services outside Apple are limited.

The Lab’s Josh Benton aptly laid out some of the primary implications for news organizations: Apple is setting itself up as toll-taker on the new news highway and putting a heavy incentive on converting print readers to tablet readers, but not putting restrictions on browser access within its devices. Media analyst Ken Doctor offered two astute takes on what Apple’s proposal will entail; we’ll call them glass-half-full and glass-half-empty.

Most of the reaction to Apple’s deal, however, was overwhelmingly negative. Media consultant Alan Mutter pointed out a couple of gotchas for publishers; Dan Gillmor called Apple’s policy stunningly arrogant, and the publishers that sign up for it “insane, or desperate”; ITworld’s Ryan Faas accused it of “gouging content producers”; Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan dubbed it “evil”; developer Ryan Carson urged users to fight Apple’s  ”extortion”; and the Wall Street Journal raised possible antitrust issues.

The beef that most of these critics have with Apple is not so much the 30-percent cut (though that’s part of it) as it is Apple’s restrictions on publishers’ alternative subscription methods. Apple is requiring that publishers that want to have a non-App Store subscription method can’t charge less than their Apple-sanctioned route, and can’t show app users how to access it, either. This means that, as Buchanan states, “Effectively, all easy roads to getting content on the iPad now run through Apple.” (Plus, as TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld noted, those terms could easily become even worse once Apple has publishers and readers hooked.)

Of course, the system looks a bit different from the consumer’s perspective — it may be the most user-friendly subscription system ever, argued MG Siegler of TechCrunch. (Publishers, of course, disagreed about that.) As GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram pointed out, this may come down to how much publishers think it’s worth to have Apple handle their mobile sales for them.

We got some mixed early signs about how publishers might answer that question. PaidContent reported on publishers who felt Apple’s terms could have been much worse, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow talked to publishers who plan to offer multiple options. Popular Science became the first magazine to jump on board and Wired is following suit ASAP, but Time Inc. pre-emptively struck deals with Apple’s competitors, and another publishers’ group threatened to take its business elsewhere.

One Pass to rule them all?: As if to underscore that point, Google announced its own One Pass digital paid-content system the next day. Unlike Apple, Google will keep about 10 percent of publishers’ revenue and allow publishers to own their subscribers’ data, according to Advertising Age. Much of the commentary about Google’s plan positioned it in opposition to Apple’s proposal: The Wall Street Journal described it as a fired salvo at Apple; search guru John Battelle summed it up as “Hey Apple, we’ve got a better way;” Alan Mutter detailed the ways Google’s plan “trumps” Apple’s; and others from The Next Web, mocoNews, and Fast Company compared the two proposals.

But several others — particularly the Lab’s Josh Benton and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds — explained that while it might seem natural to compare Google’s system to Apple’s given the timing of their announcements, Google One Pass is focused far more on web access than app access, making the paid-content company Journalism Online a more direct competitor than Apple. Journalism Online’s Gordon Crovitz made the case to paidContent for his company over Google, highlighting its flexibility, and paidContent also noted that newspaper chain MediaGeneral is trying out both systems at different papers.

A couple of other notes on Google’s plan: TechCrunch’s MG Siegler argued that Google’s agreement to allow publishers ownership of subscribers’ data is at least as big of a deal to publishers as the revenue split, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram ripped One Pass, saying that as long as its clients’ content is on the open web without the exceptional user experience of the best apps, it’s just “a warmed-over content paywall.”

Parsing out the “social media and revolutions” debate: Despite having been declared “over” early this week by The Daily’s editor-in-chief, the protests in Egypt continued to dominate conversation, including in future-of-news circles. Via The New York Times, we got a glimpse into how Egyptian officials were able to shut down their country’s Internet and how Facebook is wrestling with its role in the protests. NPR’s Andy Carvin continued to earn plaudits (from The New York Times and PR exec Katie Delahaye), and the Lab’s Megan Garber looked at the way Carvin spontaneously launched a personalized Twitter pledge drive.

But the bulk of the discussion revolved around the same discussion that’s been on slow burn for the past few weeks: What role does social media play in social activism? Washington grad student Deen Freelon has once again produced a fantastic synopsis of what we know and what we have yet to learn in this arena, so consider this a supplement to his post.

The parade of articles arguing that Twitter doesn’t cause revolutions continued at a steady pace this week, prompting NYU j-prof Jay Rosen to profile the Twitter-debunking article as a genre, concluding that the argument  — along with the glib social media triumphalism it’s refuting — is a cheap detour around thoughtfully considering the complex issues involved in social change. Several others built on Rosen’s point: Aaron Bady delved deeper into the social media-debunking article’s function; CUNY j-profs Jeff Jarvis and C.W. Anderson focused on protecting those technological tools and opined on the difference between academic and popular discourse on cause-and-effect, respectively.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t substantive things to say about social media’s role in recent protests, of course. POLIS’ Charlie Beckett noted that newly adopted technologies (such as mobile phones) have helped create a more “networkable” power structure in the Middle East, and NDN’s Sam duPont looked at social media’s role as an organizing tool, news source, and public sphere in Egypt.

To pay or not to pay: With a few exceptions (Frederic Filloux’s short, fierce takedown of The Huffington Post as a “digital sand castle” is well worth a read), the second week of commentary on AOL’s purchase of The Huffington Post centered on the question of whether HuffPo’s thousands of unpaid contributors should start getting paychecks for their work.

At The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, Nate Silver attempted to calculate the worth of a typical HuffPo post, concluding that they follow a classic power law relationship and that most of them aren’t worth much. The New York Observer’s Ben Popper said Silver is undervaluing HuffPo’s contributors, and Gannett’s Ryan Sholin made the point that having those posts within a single platform is worth more than the posts themselves.

Most of the grist for this week’s conversation, though, came from Silver’s Times colleague, David Carr, who used HuffPo as an entree into some observations about creating online content for others for free through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Quora. Paul Gillin of Newspaper Death Watch built on Carr and Silver’s analyses to make the case that in the face of devalued online content, demand for higher-quality material might bring us out of the basement of online pay.

Several others countered Carr with similar points: Web thinker Stowe Boyd, British j-prof Paul Bradshaw and HuffPo’s own Nico Pitney said that HuffPo bloggers have eminently legitimate non-monetary reasons for writing there; GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram pointed out that The Times’ op-ed system isn’t much different from HuffPo’s; and Jeff Jarvis said news folks should be thinking more about value than content.

Reading roundup: Some interesting bits and pieces to round out the week:

— Google unveiled the latest tool in its effort to fight content farms this week — an extension to its browser, Chrome, that allows users to block any site they choose from Google search results. TechCrunch called it “crowdsourcing” Google’s content farm detection, and Gizmodo said that it allows for the arresting possibility of “an Internet that never disagrees with you.”

— A few miscellaneous items regarding The Daily: Slate’s chairman, Jacob Weisberg, ripped it (“It’s just a bad version of a newspaper in electronic form with a very condescending view of the audience”); Scott Rosenberg wondered what’ll happen to its archives; and the publication updated its glitch-ridden app.

— A couple of great data journalism resources: Poynter’s Steve Myers broke down the difficulties in integrating data journalism into the newsroom, and ProPublica’s Dan Nguyen wrote a wonderful post encouraging journalists to get started with data analysis.

— The second blogging Carnival of Journalism, focusing on increasing the number of news sources within communities, began going up over the past day or so, so keep an eye out for those posts. I’ll have a roundup here next week.

— If you want a 30,000-foot summary of what’s happening on the leading edge of news right now, you really can’t do much better than Josh Benton’s speech to the Canadian Journalism Foundation posted here at the Lab. It’s a fantastic primer, no matter how initiated you already are.

February 15 2011

12:47

No, blogging for free is not feudalism

Image by jimmiehomeschoolmom

Image by jimmiehomeschoolmom on Flickr

The sale of the Huffington Post has sparked another raft of posts about how we’re all suckers for building up the value of these companies through giving away our content for free.

The New York Times’s David Carr is typical, describing users as “A Nation of Serfs” and quoting Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa’s similar soundbite “a world of digital feudalism”.

Carr misses the point entirely: that this is not “people working free” (sic) but an exchange. A user exchanges demographic details and content for the functionality offered by Facebook. They put their photos on Flickr because they benefit from the network, access, and tools.

This is nothing new: we do not criticise telephone companies for being built on people ‘giving away their content’ in the form of the billions of conversations that take place across those networks. Or the demographic data we hand over when we sign up. Oh, and we pay them.

It’s a symptom of journalistic egocentrism that it should seem odd that other people hand over their content ‘for free’ (and of being a little threatened?).

Another symptom is to see the likes of Twitter and Facebook as content platforms, rather than communication networks.

Even the Huffington Post is a network as well as a content platform – the interesting problem for that site in selling to AOL is that while some people will have been happy to contribute for the network benefits (access to likeminded individuals), some will not.

But here’s where feudalism is no comparison to make. Serfs didn’t have a choice. Huffpo bloggers can leave – as indeed, many left similar operations before (Anthony De Rosa‘s analysis is sophisticated enough to recognise this). One of the questions occupying my mind at the moment is whether the current domination of Facebook will turn out to be a stepping stone to other forms of blogging, or if the social network will be enough for most people.

The fundamental point is that this is a marketplace, and if the exchange does not feel fair, users will move on – as they did with MySpace, and Friendster before that.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a wider problem around corporatisation of the public sphere, but don’t insult millions of people by calling them serfs.

December 03 2010

19:00

INMA Transformation of Media Summit: Bundling, or how and when to get readers to pay for content

It was early in the morning when John Paton, CEO of of the Journal Register Company, had a curious statement for the assembled audience at the INMA Transformation of Media Summit Thursday here in Cambridge.

“For god’s sake, stop listening to newspaper people,” Paton told the audience. The audience filled with newspaper people.

He went on to say “we” have had 15 years to figure out the Internet and “we’re no good at this, folks. We’re no good at all.” His solution? Listening to the digital folks, as well as the audience, to find solutions to help better connect with readers and jumpstart declining revenues.

Awkward in a room of news executives from the U.S. and around the globe? Perhaps. But the theme of the first day of the INMA conference (in which the Nieman Foundation had a small hosting hand) was based around the idea of “extracting new value from content,” and the talks were wide ranging in their discussions of experimentation with business models, monetizing existing content, and reaching out to new audiences. While the theme of day one was pulling new value out of content, the discussion seemed to come back frequently to the idea of bundled subscriptions, offering content across new platforms as a vehicle to gain an audience and potentially generate new revenue.

It’s something Paton is familiar with, telling the audience that the Journal Register’s digital revenue went from “negligible” less than a year ago to 11 percent of ad revenue in November. Paton credited it to developing new revenue streams online in areas like videos, expanding from 13 revenue streams to 60.

In one of the more lively (and funny) conversations of the day, media columnists Peter Kafka of All Things Digital, and David Carr of The New York Times, found themselves in the position of talking about their respective parent companies plans for paid content — the Times’ plan for a metered site next month and News Corp.’s iPad product, The Daily.

“The web is the problem, because we all jointly agreed — and there are exceptions in this room and elsewhere — that the price of our content is nothing,” Carr said.

While both NYTimes.com and WSJ.com have a future in paid content (and also, in the case of WSJ.com, a past), both Kafka and Carr said readers should still have a level of free access, be it metered or as “samples.” Carr said he believes the future is customized tiers of subscriptions, where readers can choose between a mix of mobile devices, print, news alerts, the web, and a super-reader level “where Frank Rich will come to your house and have coffee with you,” he joked.

Kafka suggested one way forward is similar to what All Things Digital does with its series of conferences and events, a type of access that goes beyond stories and an alternate revenue stream to subscriptions and advertising.

Speaking more strictly about online content, Klas Uden, vice president of circulation marketing for Dow Jones, said “it’s not just about charging for content, but providing valuable content and understand what consumer needs are.” Uden was a member of a panel on what works and doesn’t in paid content. Uden said some of the strength of The Wall Street Journal’s model came from combining print and digital subscriptions early on, which changed customer behavior to expect paying for content but also to receive content across different platforms. Now, as the Journal expands its mobile and tablet apps, Uden said 50 percent of Wall Street Journal’s digital revenue growth comes from new devices.

Andrée Gosselin O’Meara, director of business development for The Globe and Mail in Toronto, described a similar situation, as the Globe’s biggest areas of growth are in mobile apps. The Globe and Mail offers a Kindle edition, Kobobooks edition, Globe2go app, and traditional iPhone and iPad apps; in October they served 20.5 million pageviews across all mobile devices (14 percent of all digital page views). Within 24 months, they expect to have more pageviews on mobile than on the website, she said. Gosselin O’Meara said the idea of being “device agnostic” is the key to success in gaining new readers, and potentially, subscribers.

“If people want to read their newspaper on a very basic device like the e-reader in black and white with out any picture, let them,” she said. “Let the customer choose. Let them read you however they like.”

July 19 2010

06:29

BLESS CONSUMER REPORTS!

2010-07-19_0726

The New York Times David Carr makes the point about how Consumer Reports i in the “credibility business”

“It was a big week for Consumer Reports and a reminder that media that is unsupported by advertising can often have an impact that more traditional publishing, or even the most tech-savvy, enterprises don’t. With 3.9 million subscribers to its magazine and 3.3 million paid subscribers to its Web site, Consumer Reports has a combined paid circulation of 7.2 million, up 33 percent since 2004.”

“If you can’t attack the message, attack the messenger. That’s a maxim of modern public relations, one that’s on display every day in Washington, on cable TV and, last Friday, on stage in Cupertino. But, with its long history and reputation for efficacy, Consumer Reports is the opposite of a juicy target.”

As Rob Curley said today in Twitter: Bless Consumer Reports!

June 03 2010

21:31

June 01 2010

16:00

MinnPost’s Joel Kramer on the pull between big audience and big impact

The New York Times’ David Carr took a look recently at the nonprofit news site MinnPost, which he called “one of the more promising experiments in the next version of regional news.” Here’s an excerpt:

“We want MinnPost to be able to stand on its own by 2012, and I have a very aggressive definition of sustainability, which is that we have enough revenues to survive without foundation money,” [MinnPost founder Joel Kramer] said. “A lot of the foundation money for journalism goes to large, investigative-oriented sites, and I don’t know that there will always be money for sites like ours where the emphasis is on regional coverage.”

That means that some ambitions have been deferred. The staff is small, some of the work comes from freelancers and, journalistically, MinnPost is a careful, really smart site, but it is built on high-quality analysis rather than deep reporting and investigative work. Mr. Kramer was hard-pressed to come up with a single large story the site broke that changed the course of events.

Kramer’s right that much of the attention nonprofit news outlets receive focuses on the big investigative operations, most prominently ProPublica. And if your goal is to replace what newspapers no longer do as much of, investigative reporting is an obvious focus for nonprofits and foundations. ProPublica’s Paul Steiger has said he measures his success by “impact” — a.k.a. stories that “changed the course of events” — more than audience.

I was interested in that tension between impact and audience, so I gave Kramer a call. “Having a loyal audience is central to our success and our survival, and, therefore, when we decide how to allocate resources, we have to focus on which things will build this loyal audience,” he told me. Here’s an edited version of the conversation I had with Kramer about the evolution of MinnPost.

I’m remembering when MinnPost launched back in 2007, that it was launched in response to newsroom cuts in Minnesota. Do you still see your site as serving that fill-in function of trying to produce additional news in the state? Or has your vision for what the site is doing changed?

The goal was never fill in. I would say that the goal is to serve a community of people who care about Minnesota, people who are engaged in creating the state’s future, opinion leaders, office holders, activists. It’s an important segment of the people who read newspapers. It’s not everybody. Our goal has always been to serve that audience with news, information, analysis, commentary, forum for discussion, for people who are actively involved in the community of the state. That has always been our goal. It’s never been to replace what mainstream media do, but to supplement it, aimed at the people who read the most and act on what they read the most. And that has not changed.

David Carr referred to journalism that “changed the course of events.” Do you see that sort of journalism as your responsibility as a news outlet?

I don’t think that is our principal responsibility. We take our principal responsibility as informing this community with what they want and need to know to play the roles they want to play in creating our community and creating its future.

We do ask our audience what it is that makes them read MinnPost and why they like it and why they keep coming back to it, and the most important thing is reporting and analysis from writers they trust and being on top of stories they really care about and explaining what the stories really mean. In other words, getting beyond the superficial reporting. For example, reporting on the motives of lawmakers — assessing the quality of their proposals and of their actions. Comparing what happens here to comparable situations elsewhere. Predicting what might happen next, based on the authority of the reporter. And introducing these readers to new ideas they didn’t know about, trends and people they should know about. These are the main things, the most important things we do.

Does the site look the way you would have predicted two years ago? Has it evolved based on feedback from your readers?

It has evolved. We learned both from examining the data about traffic and talking to readers that frequency of appearance on the site by trusted writers is a critical element of success. I’m not going to say that is necessarily true for everybody — I’m just talking to our experience. But for us, we learned that. Whereas before I started I might have thought that writers would take a longer period of time on a story and then write less frequently and maybe at greater length, that does not produce the kind of loyal following that we were after. That critical element is appearing frequently on the site, in a way that it is clear who the writer is.

I went back and looked at the clips from when MinnPost launched and at the time it seemed that the site was going to be more like a traditional newspaper translated online than what it is now, which I think is more like a blog that has taken reporting elements. I think if you were to read your description from when it launched and looked now, I think it looks different.

When we launched, some skeptics said that, you know, ‘Joel and his people don’t really understand new media, they don’t really understand the internet.’ And I would plead guilty to that. At the time I even said, I’m a journalist, I come out of a print background, although we did have a couple of editors with more of an Internet background than I did, and I agreed that I was trying to make something happen here that related to a value system I had built in previous media. But I said we were going to learn. So there’s no question: I’d be shocked if our site looked today like I was talking about 2.5 years ago. That’s a long time ago in the Internet world. So, yes, it’s clearly different — no question about it.

But the differences, in my opinion — and this is important to me — they’re not differences in what constitutes quality. Because you can have quality in short term, [quality] that’s in long form. You can have quality in pieces that took six months and pieces that were turned in four hours. And from day one, we were committed to the idea that our writers did not have to be bound by some false definition of objectivity, in which the writer pretends that he or she has no views about anything. So those thing were there from the beginning. But there has been a significant evolution about what works in the medium and what works to build and audience.

What about other models, like nonprofits that focus more on investigative reporting?

As is mentioned in the Times piece, we have the goal of becoming sustainable without foundations. It’s a very ambitious goal and I’m hoping we’ll achieve it by 2012, our fifth year. It’s certainly not a goal shared by all nonprofit journalism enterprises. A key to succeeding at that goal is you have to have an audience that you can figure out a variety of ways to monetize. That could be advertising, it could be sponsorships, it could be donations. It could be the support of people of wealthy means in the community who love the idea and the audience that’s been created. Having a loyal audience is central to our success and our survival, and, therefore, when we decide how to allocate resources, we have to focus on which things will build this loyal audience. And it’s that that we’re talking about changes over time because you get tremendous feedback, traffic feedback, anecdotal feedback, and you learn what it is that is attracting your audience to you.

I think the differing goals of these nonprofits are interesting; some nonprofits are just not particularly concerned with the traffic levels on their website. What do you think of the differences?

There are all kinds of different missions, and I think it’s a great time in the ecosystem where all different things are being tried. If you’re not concerned with traffic, you need to have a set of supporters who are going to be there, not because of your audience, but because of some other factor — such as your impact through investigations on the quality of government in your community, or something like that. So there are ways you could sustain with that without a focus on a regular audience. Another thing you can do, and some of my peer sites are doing this, is give your content away to other places. Now if you do that, then visits to your site are not important, and then you might be able to build a model based on syndication where publishing less frequently but giving it to prominent places could work for you. But our model is based on building a loyal audience to our site.

April 13 2010

16:00

“The 24/7 News Cycle”: David Carr, Arianna Huffington, and Mark Russell debate the future at ASNE

Earlier this morning, David Carr, Arianna Huffington, and the Orlando Sentinel’s Mark Russell gathered to discuss “The 24/7 News Cycle: New Opportunities, New Pressures.” The panel had, surprisingly, a more elegiac tone at the outset than some of the previous events at this week’s “NewsNow Ideas Summit“; near the start of the conversation, Carr mentioned starting as The New York Times’ media columnist during a time when mass layoffs at papers and other media organizations were already the norm. “For a while I was thinking, ‘Does this end with me typing my own name into a sentence about layoffs?’” he said.

Now, though, at least according to the panel, things are turning around. Despite the recognition of context, optimism — tempered by pragmatism — was the talk’s overall sensibility. “I think we’re getting to the good part,” Carr said. “That’s what it feels like to me.”

Below, three (by now familiar) ideas that emerged, again and again, during the conversation:

1. The core need for context in addition to, and as part of, news narrative.

“We need to go back to getting stories,” said Huffington. But we need, she continued, to tell stories in a new way — to bolster them with background information, smart framing, and, overall, context. “How do we do impact journalism — especially at a time when so many institutions are crumbling?” Huffington asked. Which is also to say: “How do we do journalism in a way that is transformational?”

One answer to that question, she said, is to leverage the expertise of editors. Even in the aggregative work The Huffington Post is engaged in, Huffington pointed out, “the editorial function is paramount.” If a story is “surging” — i.e., getting heavy traffic and pass-around — it’s up to an editor to decide whether to increase its reach and impact, she said. Is the story, ultimately, “worthwhile”?

Context also demands stepping back from the tumult and taking time to process information as well as produce it, Carr pointed out. “I think because we’re so busy pushing media out, that it makes us dumber and dumber,” he said. (Later, he added: “This thing about iterating, iterating, iterating — great. But every once in a while, pick up the gun and shoot it.”)

“Editors are always saying, ‘Do more with less,’” Carr said. “We know that’s baloney. We know that’s not true.” He echoed a comment Mark Russell had made earlier: Know your strengths, he said, and focus on those. “We have a guy named Brian Stelter, who every time he moves his elbow, media pops out,” Carr pointed out. But Stelter is a digital native, Carr said; not everyone can — or should — be like him. Pick your battles.

2. The need for strategic use of new technologies.

“The cloud enriches what we do in ways that we don’t even see — because it happens slowly,” Carr said. And it opens up the possibilities for journalistic creation. “There’s this cereal box of things I could be doing every single day,” Carr pointed out. But, then again, “just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it.” Again, be selective.

And that’s a rule for preserving not just journalists’ sanity, but also their journalism itself. “It’s not how many times you tweet,” Huffington said; rather, “it’s how effectively we can use the new media and the new technologies.” And it’s about taking advantage of the new connectivity that the web allows to improve journalistic storytelling. “Technology has allowed millions of people to express themselves as they’ve never been able to before, she said — to the extent that “self-expression is the new entertainment.” And leveraging that expressive explosion is to everyone’s benefit.

(As to the payment question: People ask why people edit Wikipedia for no money, Huffington said. People ask why people tweet for no money. “But nobody asks, ‘why are they watching seven hours of bad TV for no money?’”)

3. The need for respecting readers and their desires for the news.

The patriarchal days of journalism are over, the panelists suggested; today, news is about determining what readers want — and not only giving it to them, but giving it to them where they are. Social media aren’t merely valuable as crowdsourcing mechanisms; they’re valuable as distribution platforms. “That’s the stage you have to be in because that’s what the users expect,” Russell said. Ultimately, “we have to be in the spaces they’re in.”

4. The need for collaboration.

We’re in a time that finds discrepant news approaches colliding with each other. “Arianna’s marching toward us in terms of some things that she’s up to; and we’re marching up toward her,” Carr said. It’s “insurgent warfare” — “and we’re at a disadvantage because we have all of these legacy costs and systems,” he pointed out of the Times. “The frictional stuff that’s going on is breathtaking to behold.”

One thing to remember, though: When news outlets become casualties of our transforming news system, their loss “is not collateral damage,” Carr said; it’s a real reduction in our ability to cover communities. Which makes collaborations — which are, among other things, hedges against news vacuums — increasingly valuable.

A lot of these hybrid models — “which I thought were, frankly, baloney when they first launched,” Carr said — are now playing an indispensable role.

March 08 2010

17:12

US Digest: media echo-chambers; one-man bands; LA (Times) real estate agents

Talking about making sausages

Dispatches from inside the “echo-chamber of mediated Manhattan” today, courtesy of the NYT’s David Carr. Carr has an interesting piece up on what he sees an increasing amount of news on the news: ‘Breaking the story that isn’t

As a media reporter, I’m obviously not one to suggest that the activities of journalists are not a legitimate source of inquiry. But I worry that the incremental needs of an always-on Web — everyone wants to know what the state of play is at any given moment — will imperil the practice of longer-form journalism, the kind that demands time, an open mind, a lot of questions and sometimes results in dead ends.

As a media reporter reporting on a media reporter reporting on over-zealous media reporting, I’m really obviously not one to suggest that the activities of journalists are not a legitimate source of inquiry. As Carr puts it, “the manufacture of sausage is sometimes as much the point as the sausage itself”. These blog posts are little more than an aggregation, a round-up of published material, but Carr has the close online scrutiny of ongoing stories in his sights.

Twitter and blogs may have become part of advancing the story, but it’s more likely that incremental updates on what the reporters are up to — or misleading rumors about same — may harden the opposition, button up sources and sometimes derail investigations.

So at what point does the navel-gazing jeopardise good stories? How much talking about making sausages spoils the taste of them?

Carr’s piece may have been prompted by the attention paid to his paper’s coverage of the Governor Patterson scandal, which he refers to as “wild and wildly off-base rumours”. Paying the most attention was the ever-vigilant NYTPicker.

“The deeper sounds of a small journalistic orchestra

Journalists complaining about cost-cutting moves toward ‘one-man band’ journalism isn’t anything new. Journalists extolling the virtues and opportunities of ‘one-man band’ journalism isn’t anything new either.

But using a handful of good examples Howard Kurtz has produced a decent, objective edition of Media Notes today looking at both sides of the coin. Lazy journalists living in the past be warned, it also includes some intimidating tales of multi-tasking.

The highlight of the piece is the story of one journalist’s remarkable transformation, graduating from suits and ties to baseball caps and a dirty hatchback:

A coat-and-tie journalist who has worked in television news for 27 years, Broom had to reinvent himself – with the aid of a three-day boot camp on shooting video – when he joined the Gannett station in 2007. Now he wears a black jacket and black Channel 9 cap and rarely goes to the newsroom. Instead he cruises the area in an unwashed white Honda hatchback, its front seat filled with a Dell laptop, police radio, tripod and Sony HVR-V1U video camera.

Kurtz’s article is balanced, and doesn’t jump to defend the profession against the suggestion that journalists should be able to do it all, but there is a simple reminder that standards may be at risk:

A one-man band is cheaper, quicker and more nimble — but cannot produce the deeper sounds of a small journalistic orchestra.

No press pass, no get out of jail free card

Student journalist Cameron Burns finds himself on the other side of the story today in The Daily Californian, after finding himself charged at by riot police on a California freeway at the end of last week.

Covering a demonstration over public education funding for student paper The Daily Californian, Burns had left his press pass in the office and was tackled to the ground and arrested alongside the protesters, despite repeated assertions that he was a journalist.

The result? A twenty hour stint in jail and a court appearance scheduled for April 6.

L.A. Times disappears behind paywall Johnny Depp

From Reuters, news of dismay among the L.A. Times’ readership after the front page – “our most valuable real estate” according to Times’ spokesperson John Conroy – was replaced by a mock front page adorned with a huge advert for Tim Burton’s new Disney-backed Alice in Wonderland adaptation.

It seems some readers have been particularly offended by the decision to use a mock-up front page in the background of the ad, which includes the paper’s masthead, although the word ‘advertisement’ is written underneath in small letters.

“We made it clear that this was a depiction of the front page, rather than a real front page of the newspaper,” said Conroy. “We had an unusual opportunity here to stretch the traditional boundaries and deliver an innovative ad unit that was designed to create buzz.”

Perhaps the style of the L.A. Times advert is particularly galling, but as the Reuters article points out, it is not the first quality newspaper to exploit the value of the technique, called a ‘cover-wrap’.

The nationally circulated USA Today drew criticism for a pseudo edition of its newspaper distributed at an AIDS conference in Geneva as a promotion for a pharmaceutical company. The Wall Street Journal and other dailies have run partial wrap sleeves around the outsides of their papers.

I’m not sure how the film reviews page rates in real estate terms, but the film producers are in luck significantly less people will have gone for a viewing there, where the film didn’t make quite the same splash.

Fading to Black have an image of the cover here.

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February 06 2010

17:07

THE iNEWSSTAD IS COMING TO THE iPAD

2010-02-06_1704

What Steve Jobs did after the presentation of the iPad?

Went to New York to meet The New York times, The Washington Post and Time Warner magazines.

Why?

To speed up the iNewsstand application for the iPad.

People involved in these meeting will confirm very soon that their companies will lead the iNewsstand.

Listen to these three insiders talking with Charlie Rose.

Walter Mossberg (The New York Times), loves the iPad.

Michael Carrington (Techcrunch), loves the iPad.

David Carr (The New York Times), loves the iPad.

And, yes, Charlie Rose, loves the iPad too.

You cannot get more positive comments from these big guys in this 23 minute video.

WOW!

January 22 2010

15:06

This Week in Review: The New York Times’ paywall plans, and what’s behind MediaNews’ bankruptcy

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

The Times’ paywall proposal: No question about media and journalism’s biggest story this week: The New York Times announced it plans to begin charging readers for access to its website in 2011. Here’s how it’ll work: you can view an as-yet-unidentified number of articles for free each month before the Times requires you to pay a flat, unlimited-access fee to see more; this is known as a metered system. (If you subscribe to the print edition, it’ll be free.) Two Times execs answered questions about the plan, including whether you can still email and link to articles (you can) and why it’s different from TimesSelect, the abandoned paid-content experiment it tried from 2005-07. Gabriel Sherman of New York’s Daily Intel, who broke the rumor on Sunday, has some details of the paywall debate within the Times.

There’s been a ton of reaction to the Times’ plan online, so I’ll tackle it in three parts: First, the essential reading, then some other worthwhile opinions, and finally the interesting ephemera.

Four must-reads: It makes sense to start with New York Times media critic David Carr’s take on the plan, because it’s the most the thorough, cogent defense of the Times’ paywall you’ll find. He argues that Times execs “have installed a dial on the huge, heaving content machine of The New York Times,” giving the site another flexible revenue stream outside of advertising. If you’re up for a little algebra, Reuters’ Felix Salmon has a sharp economic analysis of the paywall, arguing that the value of each article will become much greater for subscribers than nonsubscribers. For the more theoretical-minded, CUNY prof C.W. Anderson has some fascinating thoughts here at the Lab on how the paywall turns the Times into a niche product and what it means for our concept of the “public.” And as usual, Ken Doctor thoughtfully answers many of the practical questions you’re asking right now.

Other thoughtful opinions: Poynter’s Bill Mitchell poses a lot of great business questions and wonders how the Times will handle putting the burden on its most loyal online-only users. Steve Yelvington reminds us that we’re not going to learn much here that we can apply to other papers, because “the Times is fundamentally in a different business than regional dailies” and “a single experiment with a single price point by a single newspaper is just a stab in the dark.” Before the announcement, former Editor & Publisher columnist Steve Outing, Forrester Research’s James McQuivey, and Reuters’ Felix Salmon gave the Times advice on constructing its paywall, almost none of which showed up in the Times’ plans. Two massive tech blogs, TechCrunch and Mashable, think the paywall won’t amount to much. Slate’s Jack Shafer says people will find ways to get around it, NYU’s Jay Rosen echoes C.W. Anderson’s thoughts on niche vs. public, and CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis doesn’t like the Times’ sense of entitlement.

The ephemera: The best stuff on Twitter about the announcement was collected at E&P In Exile and the new site MediaCritic. Steve Outing and Jason Fry don’t like the wait ’til 2011, and Cory Doctorow is skeptical that that’s even true. Former E&Pers Fitz & Jen interview a few newspaper execs and find that (surprise, surprise) the like the Times’ idea. So does Steven Brill of Journalism Online, who plans to roll out a few paywalls of his own soon. Dan Gillmor wants the Times to find out from readers what new features they’d pay for, and Jeff Sonderman makes two good points: “The major casualty of NYT paywall is sharing,” and “Knowing the ‘meter is running’ creates cautious viewing of the free articles.”

Apple’s tablet to go public: Apple announced that it will unveil its “latest creation” (read: its new tablet) next Wednesday. Since the announcement came a day after word of the Times’ paywall plans broke, it was only natural that the rumors would merge. The Daily Intel’s Gabriel Sherman, who broke the story of those Times plans, quoted Times officials putting the Times-tablet-deal rumors to rest. The Wall Street Journal detailed Apple’s plans for the tablet to do to newspapers, magazines and TV what the iPod did to music. Meanwhile, Columbia j-student Vadim Lavrusik and TechCrunch’s Paul Carr got tired of the tablet hype — Lavrusik for the print industry and Carr for tech geeks. (The Week also has a great timeline of the rumors.)

MediaNews goes bankrupt: Last Friday, MediaNews Group — a newspaper chain that publishes the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury-News, among others — announced it would file for bankruptcy protection. (A smaller chain, Morris Publishing Group, made the same announcement the day before.) For the facts and background of the filing, we’ve got a few sources: At the Lab, MediaNews veteran Martin Langeveld has a whole lot of history and insight on MediaNews chief Dean Singleton. News business analyst Alan Mutter tells us about the amazing fact that Singleton will come out of the filing unscathed but Hearst, which invested in MediaNews to save the San Francisco Chronicle, stands to lose $317 million in the deal. And MinnPost reports that the St. Paul Pioneer Press was the only MediaNews paper losing money.

Looking at the big picture, Ken Doctor says that bankruptcies like these are just a chance for newspapers to buy time while adjusting their strategy in “the fog of media war.” Steve Outing takes a glass-half-full approach, arguing that the downfall of old-media chains like MediaNews are a great opportunity for journalism startups to build a new news ecosystem.

How much do Google News users read?: An annual study by research firm Outsell and Ken Doctor on online and offline news preferences made waves by reporting that 44 percent of Google News users scan headlines without clicking through to the original articles. PaidContent noted that Outsell has a dog in this fight; it openly advocates that news organizations should get more money from Google. Search engine guru Danny Sullivan was not impressed, giving a thorough critique of the study and its perceived implications. Syracuse j-prof Vin Crosbie also wondered whether the same pattern might be true with print headlines.

In a similar vein, BNET’s David Weir used comScore numbers to argue that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft support big newspapers, and Jeff Jarvis made one of his favorite arguments — in defense of the link.

Heartbreak in Haiti: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the journalism and media connections to the largest news story in the world for the past two weeks — the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Several sites noted that Twitter led the way in breaking news of the quake and in raising money for relief. The money aspect is new, but as Columbia j-prof Sree Sreenivasan noted last June, Twitter came of age a long time ago as a medium for breaking global news. That’s what it does. The coverage also provided an opportunity for discussion about the ethics of giving aid while reporting.

Reading roundup: In addition to being out in front of the whole New York Times paywall story, Gabriel Sherman authored a nice, long think piece for The New Republic on the difficulties of one of America’s other great newspapers, The Washington Post. For what it’s worth, Post patriarch Donald Graham thought it was “not even a molehill.”

Over at Snarkmarket, Robin Sloan uses the economic concept of stock and flow to describe the delicate balance between timeliness and permanence the world of online media. It’s a brilliant idea — a must-read.

Finally, a promising new site named MediaCritic, run by Salon veteran Scott Rosenberg, citizen journalism advocate Dan Gillmor, and Lucasfilm’s Bill Gannon, had its soft launch this week. It looks like it’s going to include some nifty features, like Rosenberg’s regular curation of Twitter commentary on big media subjects.

January 15 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: Who’s responsible for local news, and Google plays hardball with China

[Our friend Mark Coddington has spent the past several months writing weekly summaries of what's happened in the the changing world of journalism — both the important stories and the debates that came up around them online. I've liked them so much that I've asked him to join us here at the Lab. So every Friday morning — especially if you've been too busy to stay glued to Twitter and your RSS reader — come here to recap the week and see what you've missed. —Josh]

Who reports local news?: Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study Monday that aimed to find out “who really reports the news that most people get about their communities?” In studying the Baltimore news media ecosystem for a week, the study found that traditional media — especially newspapers — did most of the original reporting while new media sources functioned largely as a quick way to disseminate news from other places.

The study got pretty predictable reactions: Major mainstream sources (New York Times, AP, L.A. Times) repeated that finding in perfunctory write-ups. (Poynter did a bit more with it, though.) It inspired at least one “see how important newspapers are?” column. And several new media thinkers pooh-poohed it, led by CUNY prof Jeff Jarvis, who said it “sets up a strawman and then lights the match.” Steve Buttry (who notes he’s a newspaper/TV exec himself) offered the sharpest critique of the study, concluding that it’s too narrow, focuses on stories that are in the mainstream media’s wheelhouse, and has some damning statistics for traditional-media reporting, too. Former journalist John Zhu gave an impassioned rebuttal to Jarvis and Buttry that’s well worth a read, too.

(A couple of interesting tangential angles if you want to dig deeper: New York Times media critic David Carr explains why blogs aren’t geared toward original reporting, and new media giant Gawker offers a quick can’t-we-all-just-get-along post saying web journalism needs more reporting and newspapers need to get up to speed.)

My take: I’m with CUNY’s C.W. Anderson and USC’s David WestphalOf course traditional media organizations report most of our news; this finding is neither a threat to new-media folks nor ammunition for those in old media. (I share Zhu’s frustration here — let’s quit turning every new piece of information into a political/rhetorical weapon and start working together to fix our system of news.) Clay Shirky said it well last March: The new news systems won’t come into place until after the old ones break, not before. Why would we expect any different now? Let’s accept this study as rudimentary affirmation of what already makes sense and keep plugging away to make things better.

Google talks tough with China: Citing attacks from hackers and limits on free speech, Google made big news this week by announcing it won’t censor its Chinese results anymore and is considering pulling out of the country altogether. The New York Times has a lucid explanation of the situation, and this 2005 Wall Street Journal article is good background on Google/China relations. Looking for something more in-depth? Search engine maven Danny Sullivan is your guy.

The Internet practically blew up with commentary on this move, so suffice it to say I’m only scratching the surface here. (GigaOm has a nice starter for opinions outside of the usual tech-blog suspects.) Many Google- and China-watchers praised the move as bold step forward for freedom, like Jeff Jarvis, author of “What Would Google Do?”; China/IT expert Rebecca MacKinnon (twice); New York Times human rights watchdog Nicholas Kristof; and tech guru Robert Scoble, to name a few.

TechCrunch’s Sarah Lacy was more cynical, saying this was a business move for Google. (Sullivan and Scoble rebut the point in the links above.) Global blogging advocate Ethan Zuckerman laid out four possible explanations for the decision. The Wall Street Journal and Wired had some more details about Google’s internal arguments over this move, including their concerns about repercussions on the China employees. The China-watching blog Imagethief looked at the stakes for Google, and the Atlantic’s James Fallows, who got back from China not too long ago, has a quick take on the stakes from a foreign-relations standpoint.

Jarvis also took the opportunity to revisit a fascinating point from his book: Google has become an “interest-state,” an organization that collaborates and derives power outside of the traditional national borders. Google’s actions this week certainly seemed very nation-like, and the point is worth pondering.

Fox News ethics: Fox News was the subject of a couple of big stories this week: The biggest came Monday, when the network announced that it had signed Sarah Palin to a multiyear deal as a contributor. Most of the online commentary has focused on what this move means from Palin’s perspective (if that’s what you’re looking for, the BBC has a good roundup), but I haven’t found much of substance looking at this from the Fox/news media angle. I’m guessing this is for two reasons: Nobody in the world of media-thinkers is surprised that Fox has become a home for another out-of-office Republican, and none of them are taking Fox very seriously from an ethical standpoint in the first place.

Salon founder and blogging expert Scott Rosenberg found this out the frustrating way when he got an apathetic response to his question of how Fox will cover any stories that involve her. As I responded to Rosenberg on Twitter, I think the lack of interest in his question are a fascinating indication of media watchers’ cynicism about Fox’s ethics. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Fox News would be a shill for Palin regardless of whether she was an employee, simply by virtue of her conservatism. Regardless of whether you think that attitude is justified (I do), it’s sad that that’s the situation we’re in.

Fox News was also involved in a strange chain of events this week that started when The New York Times published a front-page profile of its chief, Roger Ailes. It included some stinging criticism from Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law, British PR bigwig Matthew Freud. That led to speculation by The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove and Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff that Ailes’ days were numbered at Fox, with Wolff actually asserting that Ailes had already been fired. Then the L.A. Times reported that Ailes was still around and had News Corp.’s full support. Um, OK.

Facebook says privacy’s passé: In a short interview last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave a sort-of explanation for Facebook’s sweeping privacy changes last month, one that ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick recognized as a dramatic break from the privacy defenses Zuckerberg’s given in the past. Essentially, Kirkpatrick infers, Zuckerberg is saying he considers us to now be living in an age where privacy just doesn’t matter as much to people.

Kirkpatrick and The Huffington Post’s Craig Kanalley give two spirited rebuttals, and over at the social media hub Mashable, Vadim Lavrusik says journalists should be worried about Facebook’s changes, too. Meanwhile, Advertising Age media critic Simon Dumenco argues that we’re not getting enough out of all the information we’re feeding Facebook and Twitter.

Reading roundup: These last few items aren’t attached to any big media-related conversations from this week, but they’re all worth a close read. First, in the Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles made the bold argument that there is no revenue model for journalism. Steve Buttry filed a point-by-point rebuttal, and the two traded counterpoints in the comments of each other’s posts. It’s a good debate to dive into.

Second, Alan Mutter, an expert on the business side of the news industry, has a sharp two-part post crunching the numbers to find out how long publishers can afford to keep their print products going. He considers a few scenarios and concludes that “some publishers may not be able to sustain print products for as long as demand holds out.”

And finally, Internet freedom writer and activist Cory Doctorow explains the principle “close enough for rock ‘n’ roll,” and how it needs to drive our new-media experimentation. It’s a smart, optimistic yet grounded look at the future of innovation, and I like its implications for the future of journalism.

Photo of Sarah Palin by The NewsHour used under a Creative Commons license.

January 04 2010

15:06

DAVID CARR: “A SAVIOR IN THE FORM ON AN APPLE TABLET”

david8

David Carr writes in today’s New York Times about the upcoming Apple iTablet:

There hasn’t been this much hype about a tablet since Moses came down from the mountain, but in order for a product to have significant value, it has to solve a problem or be very useful, or both.

Conventional wisdom suggests that computers do a fine job of allowing people to read digitized content, but the act of clicking a mouse actually has little in common with flipping a page: users are scrolling vertically down into text when what they really want is to scan across as they have for hundreds of years…

The tablet represents an opportunity to renew the romance between printed material and consumer.

Think of sitting in your living room, in your bed or on a plane with a publication you really adore nestled into your lap.

Since print was first conceived, people have had an intimate relationship with the text, touching, flipping and paging back and forth.

December 14 2009

10:12

NYTimes.com: Two years on at Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal

The New York Times’ David Carr takes a look at the Wall Street Journal, two years after the paper was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Under Murdoch, it’s ’tilting rightward’ with a broadening array of news content he says.

“[U]nder Mr. Murdoch’s leadership, the newspaper is no longer anchored by those deep dives into the boardrooms of American business with quaint stippled portraits, opting instead for a much broader template of breaking general interest news articles with a particular interest in politics and big splashy photos.”

Full post at this link…

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