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February 26 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: The Times’ blogs behind the wall, paid news on the iPad, and a new local news co-op

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

A meter for the Times’ blogs: Plenty of stuff happened at the intersection of journalism and new media this week, and for whatever reason, a lot of it had something to do with The New York Times. We’ll start with the most in-depth piece of information from the Times itself: A 35-minute Q&A session with the three executives most responsible for the Times’ coming paywall (or, more specifically and as they prefer to call it, a metered model) at last Friday’s paidContent 2010 conference. No bombshells were dropped — paidContent has a short summary to go with the video — but it did provide the best glimpse yet into the Times’ thinking behind and approach to their paywall plans.

The Times execs said they believe the paper can maintain its reach despite the meter while adding another valuable source of revenue. Meghan Keane of Econsultancy was skeptical about those plans, saying that the metered model could turn the Times into a niche newspaper.

Reuters’ Felix Salmon started one of the more perplexing exchanges of the session (starting at about 18:10 on the video) when he asked whether the Times would put blogs behind its paywall. The initial response, from publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., was “stay tuned,” followed shortly, from digital chief Martin Nisenholtz, by “our intention is to keep blogs behind the wall.” A Times spokeswoman clarified the statements later (yes, blogs would be part of the metered model), and Salmon blogged about his concern with the Times’ execs’ response. He was not the only one who thought this might not be a good idea.

My take: Salmon has some valid concerns, and, piggybacking off of the ideas he wrote after the paywall’s initial announcement, even the Times’ most regular online readers will be quite hesitant to use their limited meter counts on, say, two-paragraph blog posts on the economics of valet parking. Times blogs like Freakonomics and Bits are a huge part of their cachet on the web, and including them in the meter could do them significant damage.

The iPad and paid content: We also saw another aspect of the Times’ paid-content plans at a conference in Australia, where Marc Frons, the paper’s chief technology officer, talked about the Times’ in-progress iPad app. Frederic Filloux, another one of the conference’s speakers, provided a useful summary of publishers’ attitudes and concerns about creating apps for the iPad, including their expectation that Apple will provide some sort of news store built on the iTunes framework.

Two media vets offered a word of caution to news organizations excited about the iPad’s possibilities for gaining revenue for news: Kara Swisher of The Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital blog said that “with their hands on none of the key technology and innovation levers online … media giants continue to be without even a pair sticks to rub together to make digital fire.” And citizen journalism pioneer Dan Gillmor wondered whether news orgs “should get in bed with a company that makes unilateral and non-transparent decisions” like the ones Apple’s been making for years.

For those following the future of paid news content, we have a few other new data points to consider: The stats-heavy sports publication The Sporting News will begin charging for its daily digital edition, and a small daily newspaper in Washington State says the first year of their paywall has been a tentative success, with less effect on traffic than expected. Also, Alistair Bruce of Microsoft has a thorough breakdown of who’s charging for what online in a slideshow posted last week. It’s a wonderful resource you’ll want to keep for future reference.

NYT, NYU team up on local journalism: The Times also had one of the week’s big future-of-journalism announcements — a partnership with New York University to create and run a news site devoted to New York’s East Village, where NYU has several buildings. NYU professor Jay Rosen has all the details you’ll need, including who’s providing what. (NYT: publishing platform, editorial oversight, data sources, inspiration. NYU: editor’s salary, student and faculty labor, offices.)

The partnership raised a few media-critic eyebrows, mostly over the issue of the Times using free (to them, at least) student labor after buying out and laying off 100 paid reporters. The Awl, BNETThe New York Observer, and Econsultancy all have short but acerbic reactions making just that point, with The Awl making a quick note about the professionalization of journalism and BNET speculating about the profit margins the Times will make off of this project.

Innocence, objectivity and reality in journalism: Jay Rosen kicked off some conversation in another corner of the future-of-journalism discussion this week, bringing his influential PressThink blog out of a 10-month hiatus with a post on a theme he’s been pushing hard on Twitter over the past year: Political journalists’ efforts to appear innocent in their reporting at the expense of the truth.

Rosen seizes on a line in a lengthy Times Tea Party feature on “a narrative of impending tyranny” and wonders why the Times wouldn’t tell us whether that narrative was grounded in reality. Journalistic behavior like this, Rosen says, is grounded in the desire to appear innocent, “meaning a determination not to be implicated, enlisted, or seen by the public as involved.” That drive for innocence leads savviness to supplant reality in political journalism, Rosen said.

The argument’s been made before, by Rosen and others such as James Fallows, and Joey Baker sums it up well in a post building off of Rosen’s. But Rosen’s post drew a bit of criticism — in his comments, from the left (Mother Jones), from the libertarian right (Reason), and from tech blogger Stephen Baker. The general strain running through these responses was the idea that the Times’ readers are smart enough to determine the veracity of the claims being made in the article. (Rosen calls that a dodge.) The whole discussion is a fresh, thoughtful iteration of the long-running debate over objectivity in news coverage.

Where do reporting and aggregation fit?: We got some particularly valuable data and discussion on one of journalism’s central conversations right now — how reporting will work in a new ecosystem of news. Here at the Lab, Jonathan Stray examined how that new landscape looked in one story about charges of Chinese schools’ connections to hacks into Google. He has a fairly thorough summary of the results, headlined by the finding that just 13 of the 121 versions of the story on Google News involved original reporting. “When I think of how much human effort when into re-writing those hundred other unique stories that contained no original reporting, I cringe,” Stray writes. “That’s a huge amount of journalistic effort that could have gone into reporting other deserving stories. Why are we doing this?”

Also at the Lab, CUNY professor C.W. Anderson spun off of Stray’s study with his own musings on the definition and meaning of original reporting and aggregation. He concludes that aggregation/curation/filtering isn’t quite original reporting, but it does provide journalistic value that should be taken into consideration.

Two other interesting pieces on the related subjects of citizen journalism and hyperlocal journalism: PR/tech blogger Darren Barefoot raises concerns about citizen journalism’s ability to do investigative journalism, and J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer makes a strong case for the importance of entrepreneurs and citizen journalists in the new system of news.

Reading roundup: I’ve got two news developments and two thoughtful pieces for you. First, BusinessWeek reported on AOL’s efforts to build “the newsroom of the future,” a model largely driven by traffic and advertising data, not unlike the controversial Demand Media model, only with full-time journalists.

Editors Weblog raises some questions about such an openly traffic-driven setup, and media/tech watcher Tom Foremski says AOL should be focusing on creating smart news analysis. Social media guru Chris Brogan likes the arrangement, noting that there’s a difference between journalism and publishing.

The second news item is ABC News’ announcement that they’re looking to cut 300 to 400 of its 1,400 positions and move toward a more streamlined operation built around “one-man band” digital journalists. The best examinations of what this means for ABC and TV journalism are at the Los Angeles Times and the Poynter Institute.

The first thoughtful piece is theoretical: CUNY professor Jeff Jarvis’ overview of the evolution of the media’s “spheres of discovery,” from brands to algorithms to human links to predictive creation. It’s a good big-picture look at where new media stand and where they might be going.

The second is more practical: In a Q&A, Howard Owens of the award-winning upstate New York hyperlocal startup The Batavian gives an illuminating glimpse into life in hyperlocal journalism. He touches on everything from advertising to work hours to digital equipment. Building off of Owens’ comments of the personal nature of online news, Jason Fry muses about the uphill battle that news faces to win our attention online. But if that battle is won, Fry says, the loyalty and engagement is so much greater online: “I chose this. I’m investing in it. This doesn’t work and wastes my investment — next. This does work and rewards my investment — I’m staying.”

February 23 2010

16:34

US Digest: NYT launches hyperlocal, HuffPost chases students, Shatner plays Twitterer, and more

Starting this week, the editor’s blog will feature an afternoon roundup of all things media from over the pond. From the hugely important to the very inconsequential, check in for a choice of America’s journalistic goings on.


NYT explore new avenues with another hyperlocal blog

Starting off small today, with news that the New York Times is launching another hyperlocal blog. this time in conjunction with students from New York University (NYU).

The new blog, which will report on New York’s East Village, will come under the Times’ URL but be developed and launched by students from the NYU Studio 20 Journalism Masters programme.

Two NY hyperlocals were launched by the paper last year under a channel called ‘The Local’. One covers Clinton Hill and Fort Greene in Brooklyn, the other Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange in New Jersey. Those blogs featured student contributions from the start, but were helmed by Times staff (although the former was recently turned over to students from CUNY). The new East Village blog is edited by a Times staffer but will be largely overseen, from inception to launch, by NYU students.

Jessica Roy, blogger at NYULocal and member of the East Village project said:

While the site will function in a similar way to the hyperlocal sites the Times already has running in Ft. Greene/Clinton Hill and Maplewood, this will be the first time journalism students will be heavily involved in the site’s content and design process before the launch.

It will be interesting to see how this ties in with the reported NYT plans to hide their blogs away behind a paywall. Can the Freakonomics blog, Paul Krugman, and other NYT blog big-hitters tempt readers to pay? Can a bunch of students from NYU?

Arianna Huffington admits spending “a lot of time” on college campuses

The NYT are not the only ones hanging around campuses and jumping in bed with students, “I’ve spent a lot of time on campuses lately” admits Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post.

But Arianna is not, apparently, just trying to recapture a youth she threw away on “promise, passion, intellectual curiosity, and vitality”. She is referring to the launch of HuffPost College, a new section of the Huffington Post devoted to the promising, passionate, intellectually curious, and vital students out there, and presumably to the billions of normal students too.

Edited by Jose Antonio Vargas, our Tech and Innovations editor, with the help of Leah Finnegan, a recent graduate of the University of Texas and the former editor of the Daily Texan, HuffPost College is designed to be a virtual hub for college life, bringing you original and cross-posted material from a growing list of college newspapers.

“Announcing HuffPost College: No SAT scores or admission essays needed” reads Arianna’s headline.

Just an internet connection then, which everyone in America must have by now, right? Hmmm…. Published yesterday, the results of an FCC study into internet use in America show that a third of the population don’t have broadband internet access – some 93 million –  and the majority of those don’t have any access whatsoever.

Here is John Horrigan, who oversaw the survey for the FCC, making the findings sound impressively grotesque:

Overall internet penetration has been steady in the mid-70 to upper 70 per cent range over the last five years. Now we’re at a point where, if you want broadband adoption to go up by any significant measure, you really have to start to eat into the segment of non-internet-users.

Fortunately for Arianna Huffington, those remaining blissfully un-penetrated (albeit in danger of being eaten into by hungry internet providers) are “disproportionately older and more likely to live in rural areas”, and not the vigourous youth, who are probably desperate to spend their time out of college at home reading about college.

Shatner to play Twitterer

One elderly American well in tune with all things online is Justin Halpern’s dad. Even if he doesn’t quite get why. Justin Halpern’s dad is the man behind Justin Halpern’s Twitter account, “Shit My Dad Says.” Although this is slightly old story already, news that William Shatner will be playing an curmudgeonly, 74 year-old man whose live-in 29 year-old son tweets “shit that he says” is too ridiculous to pass up. If CBS are in luck, the account’s 1,187,371 followers, and many more, will tune in to hear William Shatner say this:

A parent’s only as good as their dumbest kid. If one wins a Nobel Prize but the other gets robbed by a hooker, you failed.

And many, many other 140-character pearls of wisdom far to rude for the very mild-mannered Journalism.co.uk. I for one prefer Justin Halpern’s dad’s personal choice of James Earl Jones, and appalud his straight talking response to suggestions that colour is an issue.

He wanted James Earl Jones to play him. I was like, ‘But you’re white.’ He was like, ‘Well, we don’t have to be! Who gives a [censored]? You asked me who I thought, and that’s who I think.’

Who could possibly resist the powerful combination of Halpern Snr’s coarse tweets and Darth Vader’s husky voice?

Largest YouTube content provider reaches 1 billion views

One million followers is an impressive landmark in the Twitterverse, it puts you up there in the Twittersphere with such luminaries as Stephen Fry and Ashton Kutcher. It’s about 28,000 times as many as I have. Demand Media went a thousand times better than that though in YouTube terms yesterday, with its billionth view.

According to its site, the company, which has about 500 staff and is based in Santa Monica, provides “social media solutions that consumers really want”. Demand is the largest content supplier to YouTube, owning around 170,000 videos available on the site.

Co-founder of Demand Shawn Colo discusses the YouTube platform and the company’s media strategy, courtesy of Beet.TV.

Rampant cutbacks trumped by loaded shotgun

Finally, from Editor & Publisher, the happy news that redundancy is no longer the most frightening thing in the newsroom.

Employees at the Grand Forks Herald, Chicago, were more than a little surprised to find a loaded shotgun in a closet at the paper’s head offices.

“No notes, no threats, no nothing – just a loaded shotgun in a case in a closet in a common area, five rounds in it,” Grand Forks Police Lt. Grant Schiller said.

For those staffers who may not have already jumped to this conclusion, Herald editor Mike Jacobs made it clear that: “Carrying a loaded gun into the building is a dismissible offense.”

Newspaper journalists, in an age when your profession is almost a dismissable offence in itself, please, leave your loaded shotguns at home.

Image of East Village by Joe Madonna

Image of weapons ban sign by Dan4th

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