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February 10 2012

14:00

Mediatwits #37: Merger Mania: CIR-Bay Citizen; GigaOM-PaidContent; Twitter Censorship

robert rosenthal headshot.JPG

Welcome to the 37th episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Jillian York, who is filling in for Rafat Ali. It's been a crazy week in media + tech, with important mergers abounding! First up is the Center for Investigative Reporting announcing that it will try to merge with another non-profit, the Bay Citizen, making a powerhouse investigative team to cover local, state and national issues. We get all the key players in that deal as guests on the show: CIR chairman Phil Bronstein, CIR executive director Robert Rosenthal and Bay Citizen interim CEO Brian Kelley.

Next up, there's a merger of key tech sites, both started by Indian-born bloggers who turned them into startup businesses. GigaOM announced it was buying PaidContent from the Guardian for an undisclosed sum. The Guardian will get stock in GigaOM's parent company and get a seat on the board. Special guests OM Malik, founder of GigaOM and Staci Kramer, SVP at ContentNext (and sometimes co-host of Mediatwits), talked about the deal and how the "synergy" in this case didn't mean layoffs. And finally, we discussed the recent move by Twitter to censor some tweets in countries that had more stringent free speech controls. Was Twitter right to implement these rules?

Check it out!

mediatwits37.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

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Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

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

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

PhilBronstein.jpg

Intro

1:00: Jillian York explains her work at the EFF

2:20: Blogs, online forums, social media only places for free expression in many countries

3:35: Rundown of topics for the podcast

CIR and Bay Citizen

4:30: Special guests Phil Bronstein, Robert Rosenthal, Brian Kelley

8:00: Rosenthal: Want to create engaged audience in Bay Area and globally

11:10: Kelley: Should be excellent synergy between organizations

12:45: Kelley: Striking about timing of executive departures, but not connected

17:20: Bronstein: Sustainability is something we talk about every day

GigaOM buys PaidContent

20:00: Special guests Om Malik and Staci Kramer

22:30: Malik: We can now cover a broader spectrum of topics

22:40: Kramer: In this case, synergy won't mean layoffs, cost-cutting

26:30: Kramer: We're not new media, we're media

28:50: How is Om any different than Michael Arrington as VC?

Twitter censoring tweets

32:30: Micro-blog service will comply with rules in other countries

33:45: Is the #TwitterBlackout a good idea?

35:50: York: The laws in the countries are the problem, not the companies' policies

38:10: York: I don't think these companies should be in China

More Reading

Bay Citizen, Center for Investigative Reporting Plan to Merge. Now What? at MediaShift

Bay Citizen in Merger Talks With Another Nonprofit at Wall Street Journal

The Bay Citizen's short, strange saga in nonprofit news could be coming to an end at SF Business Times

Bay Citizen, Center for Investigative Reporting Announce Intent to Merge at Bay Citizen

GigaOM + PaidContent = Perfect Sense at MediaShift

Is GigaOM Buying paidContent? at AllThingsD

Why We Are Buying PaidContent at GigaOM

GigaOM And paidContent Join Forces at PaidContent

Twitter Censorship Move Sparks Backlash: Is It Justified? at Wired

Twitter's censorship is a gray box of shame, but not for Twitter at Reuters

Twitter Censorship: Outkast's Big Boi Involved In Beyonce Tweet Takedown at Huffington Post

South Korean Indicted Over Twitter Posts From North at NY Times

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time about Twitter censoring tweets:


What do you think about Twitter censoring tweets?

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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February 09 2012

22:10

GigaOM + PaidContent = Perfect Sense

When the U.K.-based Guardian Media Group bought PaidContent in 2008, it was portrayed as an attempt to expand into the U.S. market. The Guardian newspaper was a forerunner in its use of the web, and already got a large portion of its traffic from North America.

But I had trouble seeing why a general interest news organization, even a forward-looking one, would buy what was a essentially network of niche sites geared toward media and technology executives.

Now, a company that's steeped in the businesses of Silicon Valley, GigaOM, has a acquired "the best chronicler of the media industry," founder Om Malik wrote on his blog yesterday. "The ethos of PaidContent and our company are in sync."

The founder of ContentNext Media (PaidContent's parent company), Rafat Ali, who is co-host of this site's Mediatwits podcast, seemed equally pleased.

"Just married the woman of my dreams & the company I founded got the best owner possible. Both after false starts," he tweeted from New Delhi.

When news of the acquisition spread this week, it wasn't a particular surprise to anyone who'd been watching either company over the last several years. It made perfect sense -- and actually, a lot more than the Guardian purchase in 2008.

So, the news signals two things: 1) the formation of a tech media super-group and 2) a shift in strategy for the Guardian.

The Players

Rafat_Ali.jpg

New York-based PaidContent has since its founding in 2002 been one of the leading properties covering the business of media, especially digital. It expanded into coverage of mobile with MocoNews, Indian tech media with ContentSutra, and launched PaidContent:U.K. The sites in January received more than 700,000 unique visitors, according to reports.

The GigaOM network, founded by Malik in 2006, is based in Silicon Valley and covers tech industry verticals such as clean tech, broadband and Apple. It says it receives 4.5 million unique visitors monthly.

Both networks were founded by Indian-born journalists who'd worked in the heady 1990s of New York's Silicon Alley, Ali for Silicon Alley Reporter, Malik for Red Herring and Forbes. Malik moved to Silicon Valley in 2000 to work for Business 2.0.

Ali and Malik are also good friends, and Ali is on GigaOm's board of advisers.

Malik has talked of wanting to try his hand in business after covering it for so long. He worked tirelessly to build his company from a blog covering technology to a network, a research subscription service, and an events company.

Standing with Ali and Malik in the fall of 2007, I heard Ali quietly caution his friend to take care of his health. "Blogging can kill you," I remember him saying. Eerily, a couple months later, Malik suffered a heart attack. He has recovered but is said to be more careful about his work habits today.

Ali, whom I have worked for and with and who is also a friend, has told me of running the business off his laptop both in London and from his apartment in Santa Monica, Calif., where he lived before coming to New York a few years ago.

He, too, worked tirelessly and because of that, PaidContent developed a reputation for never missing a beat. He formed the company almost by accident, having launched it as a way to get a job after Silicon Alley Reporter, and was able to sustain himself with speaking engagements and a few sponsorships.

He hired noted journalist Staci Kramer, who helped him build the site and the staff and became senior vice president at the parent company ContentNext.

staci_d._kramer-s.jpg

"This is a great outcome of an intense process," Kramer wrote me last night in an email. "Guardian News & Media gave us a great vote of confidence with the initial acquisition and again now by making sure we were matched with the right company, then staying as minority shareholders."

GigaOm Gets Quality Staffers

Malik wrote that the "first and perhaps most important reason" for the deal was "people. I have been an admirer of PaidContent's editorial team from the very beginning of its journey. Rafat Ali and Staci Kramer were two of my favorite writers in the early days of professional blogging."

He also cited others on the team, including Ernie Sander (whom I worked with at the AP), who he said would become "executive editor of our sprawling online editorial operations."

ernie_sander-o.jpg

Together, Ali, Kramer and others built an event business and launched ContentNext Dex, a financial index of media-related sites and a research arm, neither of which seemed to take hold. Ali told an M.B.A. class of mine he visited last year that ContentNext, which he left in 2010, made a significant share of its revenue from events.

After 2008, New York media types sometimes marveled how Ali & Co., and Mediabistro.com founder Laurel Touby, my former boss, both sold just before the "nuclear winter," as a friend from Mediabistro called the subsequent economic collapse.

Mediabistro was paid $23 million by what's now WebMediaBrands, $3 million of that in longer-term "payout" bonuses should the company hit certain performance markers. The Guardian paid 4 million pounds (about $6.3 million at today's exchange rate) for PaidContent in 2008, the Guardian reported yesterday.

The guardian as PaidContent's guardian

It's not surprising that in the recent environment and focused on other areas, the Guardian couldn't quite make its new venture thrive.

One of the smaller of leading U.K. media organizations, and solely owned by a trust to keep it independent, the Guardian Media Group has struggled financially in recent years, reporting a before-tax profit for 2011 of 9 million pounds (about $14.24 million) after losses of 96.7 million and 171 million pounds, respectively, in the previous two years.

It has, meanwhile, pushed to get more of its operations into digital, an area where it could be innovative and expand its footprint to new markets.

It has launched blogs headed by aggressive reporters, had "hack days" that invited developers to figure out new ways to cover and present news, developed multiple feeds that allowed seamless intake and display of news and information, even given rather open access to its wider database via APIs (application programmer interfaces) that let others build applications on its proprietary data.

In the annual report, the company said its re-version-ed iPhone app had 322,000 downloads in less than its first three months. It last month ended a three-month free trial of its iPad app, opting to charge 9.99 pounds (about $16) after a week.

Guardian News & Media, the division that bought ContentNext, announced last November that "following a strategic review" it was looking for a buyer for ContentNext while it turned its U.S. focus to "building the Guardian." Guardian Media Group's 2011 annual report said the company was "looking ahead to further digital launches ... most importantly a major expansion in the U.S. with a new digital-only operation based in New York."

It recently launched the U.S.-focused GuardianNews.com.

Under terms of the deal, Guardian News & Media gets a minority stake in GigaOM alongside venture investors such as Reed Elsevier, Alloy Ventures and True Ventures. It also gets an observer seat on GigaOM's board, Malik said.

'A Fraction' of the Original Price

Neither Malik, the Guardian nor ContentNext named a price. Ad Age reported it was a "fraction" of the original deal. Guardian representatives pointed me to their statement online.

By taking a seat on GigaOM's board, the Guardian perhaps hopes to learn more about how the digital world works at the cutting edge. In turn, GigaOM gets more knowledge of media and the international sphere.

GigaOM, in acquiring ContentNext, gets a presence in covering the New York-centric media world, a crowded arena in which it has made forays but never solidified its hold.

They will turn the New York offices of ContentNext into GigaOM East, just blocks from where Ali and Malik used to work.

A GigaOM representative told Ad Age the company would keep PaidContent at its current web address and hadn't decided whether to fold it into GigaOM.com.

"By blending [PaidContent's] coverage with ours, we hope to watch this fast-changing industry ever more closely," Malik wrote.

The GigaOM purchase is hardly an "OMG" -- it just makes good sense.

An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

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January 17 2012

18:00

NewsRight’s potential: New content packages, niche audiences, and revenue

When NewsRight — the Associated Press spinoff formerly known as News Licensing Group (and originally announced by the AP as an unnamed “rights clearinghouse”) — began to lift the veil a couple of weeks ago, most of the attention and analysis focused on “preserving the value” of news content for content owners and originators. In the first round of reports and commentary on the launch, various bloggers and analysts quickly made comparisons to Righthaven, the infamous and all-but-defunct Las Vegas outfit that pursued bloggers and aggregators for alleged copyright violations.

But most of that criticism misses an important point: Would NewsRight’s investors, all legacy news enterprises, really invest $30 million in a questionable model just to enforce copyrights? Or are they investing in a startup that has the capacity to create revenues from new, innovative ways of generating, packaging and, distributing news content?

While some of the reactions point to the former, I believe the opportunity (and NewsRight’s real intention) lies in the latter: NewsRight has the potential to create revenue for any content creator large or small, and to enable a variety of new business models around content that simply can’t fly today because there hasn’t been a clearinghouse system like it.

(As background, here at Nieman Lab in 2010, I first described the potential benefits of a news clearinghouse months before AP announced the concept. Then after AP made public their plans, I described a variety of new business models it could enable, if done right.)

First, let’s have a look at some of the critics:

  • TechDirt, disputing whether NewsRight would actually “add value,” asked: “AP finally launches NewsRight…and it’s Righthaven Lite?”
  • InfoWars, posting a video talk with Denver radio talk host David Sirota, inquired: “Traditional media to bully bloggers with NewsRight?” In the interview Sirota said, “What I worry about is that it ends up being used as a financial weapon against those voices out there who are citing that information in order to challenge it, scrutinize it, and question it.”
  • GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram pointed out that while NewsRight itself says it will stay out of pursuing copyright infractions via litigation, “one of the driving forces behind the agency is the sense on the part of AP and other members that their content is being stolen by news-filtering services…and news aggregators.” Ingram concludes: “What happens when an organization like The Huffington Post says no thank you? That’s when it will become obvious how much of NewsRight’s business model is based on carrots, and how much of it is about waving a big stick.”
  • Nieman Lab’s own coverage by Andrew Phelps also focused on the tracking and enforcement aspects of NewsRight’s core technology.

NewsRight’s launch PR didn’t do much to dispel these concerns. CEO David Westin said himself in a video: “NewsRight’s designed…to make sure that the traditional reporting organizations that are investing in original journalism are reaping some of the benefits that are being lost right now.” And the company’s press release, quoting Westin, went no further that the following in hinting that there were new business opportunities enabled by NewsRight: “[I]f reliable information is to continue to flourish, the companies investing in creating content need efficient ways to license it as broadly as possible.”

Those traditional news organizations (29 of them, including New York Times Co., Washington Post Co., Associated Press, MediaNews Group, Hearst, and McClatchy) are the investors who scraped together $30 million to launch NewsRight. The Associated Press also contributed technology and personnel to the effort.

Given those roots — along with the initial PR, Westin’s own background as a lawyer, and the fact that NewsRight’s underlying AP-derived technology, News Registry, was explicitly developed to help track content piracy — it’s not hard to see where all the skepticism comes from.

But ultimately, if NewsRight is to be successful, it will have to create a new marketplace. It’s going to have to do more than trying to get paid for the status quo — that is, to collect fees from aggregators and others who are currently repackaging the content of its 29 owners. It can do that, but in addition, like any business, it will have to develop new products that new customers will pay for; it will have to bring thousands of content sources into its network; and it will have to enable and encourage thousands of repackagers to use that content in many new ways. And it will have to focus on those new opportunities rather than on righting wrongs perceived by its investors.

I spoke last week with David Westin about where NewsRight was starting out and where it might ultimately go. While he repeated the company mantra about returning value to the originators of journalistic content — “NewsRight is designed with one mission: to recapture some of the value of original journalism that’s being lost in the internet and mobile world” — it’s clear that his vision for NewsRight goes well beyond that. Here’s some of what we covered:

NewsRight’s initial target is “closed-web” news aggregators. Media monitoring services like EIN News, Meltwater News, and Vocus provide customized news feeds to enterprise clients like corporations and government entities, typically at $100 per month or more. Essentially, they’re the digital equivalent of the old clipping services. Currently, these services must scrape individual news sites, and technically, they should deliver only snippets with links back to the original sources (although whether they limit themselves to that is not easy to monitor). What NewsRight offers the monitoring services is one-stop shopping that includes (a) fulfillment: an accurate content feed (obviating the need to scrape, and eliminating uncertainty by always delivering the latest, most complete version of a story); (b) rights clearance; and (c) usage metrics. The monitoring services will have the option to improve their offerings by supplying full text (or they can stick with first paragraphs); the content owners share the resulting royalties.

While NewsRight currently must individually negotiate content deals, it’s working toward a largely-automated content-exchange system. Clearly, as NewsRight grows, there will have to be an automated system with self-service windows. “I hope that’s right, because that means we will have been successful,” Westin said when I suggested that would have to happen. The deals with private aggregators being worked on now all require one-off negotiations for each deal, both with the aggregators and with the content suppliers. That’s marginally possible when there are 800 or so content contributors to the network, but to be a meaningful player in the information marketplace, the company will need to grow to encompass thousands of content creators, thousands of repackagers, republishers, or aggregators of content, and many millions of pieces of content (including text, images and video) — requiring a sizable infrastructure and high level of automation.

Any legitimate news content creator can join NewsRight for free for the duration of 2012. “Anyone who generates original reporting, original content, can benefit from this. We’re open to anyone who’s doing original work.” Westin says. That includes not only newspapers and other traditional news organizations — it can include hyperlocal sites and news blogs. Basically, that free membership will bring you back information on how and where your content is being used. NewsRight’s system is currently tracking several billion impressions for its investor-members and is capable of tracking billions more for those want to use the service. (All this is rather opaque on the website right now, but if you’re interested, just click on the “Contact us to learn more” link on their homepage, and they’ll get back to you.)

Down the road, NewsRight is looking for ways to create new content packaging opportunities. Westin: “There is a large number of possible businesses [that we can enable]. We don’t have any of them up and running yet; it’ll be a better story when we’ve got the first one up. But I do envision a number of people who might say, ‘I wanted to create this product, dipping into a large number of news resources on a specific subject, but it’s simply been too cumbersome and difficult to do’…We should be able to facilitate that.” What he envisions is something that reduces the friction and the transaction costs in setting up a news feed, app, or site on a niche topic and allows a multiplicity of such sites to flourish — “new products based around the content that don’t exist now.” That includes personalized news streams — products for one, but of which many can be sold: “As we continue to expand News Registry and the codes attached to content, it makes it possible to slice and dice the news content with essentially zero marginal cost.”

While the initial offerings to private aggregators carry a price tag set by NewsRight, in the ultimate networked and largely automated point-to-point distribution arrangement — individual asset syndication — NewsRight will likely stay out of pricing. The “paytags,” or the payment information embedded in the Registry tags, will be able to carry information on a variety of usage and payment terms — not only what the price is, but nuanced provisions like time constraints (e.g. this can’t be used until 24 hours after first published), geographic constraints (to limit usage by regional competitors), variable pricing (hot news costs more than old news), and pricing based on the size of the repackager’s audience. Content owners would likely have control over these options, but there’s also the potential for a dynamic pricing model — something similar to Google’s auction mechanism for AdWords — in order to optimize both revenue and usage.

The NewsRight network could make it possible to monetize topical niche content that’s too difficult to syndicate today. There a lot of bloggers, hyperlocals, and other niche sites today that earn zero or minimal revenue and are operated as labors of love. The potential for NewsRight is to find new markets for the content of these sites. And general publishers like newspapers might find it profitable to jump into specialized niches for which there’s no local audience, but which might generate revenue via redistribution through NewsRight to various content aggregators.

Could that grand vision come to fruition? As I’ve pointed out before, a very similar system has worked very nicely for ASCAP and BMI, the music licensing organizations, which not only collect royalties for musicians but enable a variety of music distribution channels. (This is on the performance and broadcast side of the music biz, not the rather broken recorded music side.) Both AP CEO Tom Curley in launching NewsRight and Westin in discussing it refer to ASCAP and other clearinghouses as models — not just for compensating content creators but for enabling new outlets and new forms of content. NewsRight’s is purely a business-to-business model — it doesn’t involve end users. So the traction it needs will come when it can point not just to compensation streams from private aggregation services, but to new products and new businesses made possible by its system.

December 07 2011

19:20

Your 2011 holiday gift guide, brought to you by the news

Santa running down the street in Algers, France

If you want to save journalism, you might turn to journalism this year for all your Christmas shopping.

This weekend at NewsFoo, an O’Reilly “un-conference” for about 170 journalists and tech disrupters, the tech writer Mónica Guzmán posed a question: “Can’t we [news organizations] sell anything besides articles?” Yes, it turns out, and there are numerous examples of them trying it.

A couple of months ago Guzmán was talking to an entrepreneur in Seattle who had just sold his latest startup to Google. “We got to talking about journalism, and I’m always fascinated to listen to people who come from an innovative mindset, but not a news mindset, look at news. What he said, basically, is I don’t see how news is really going to innovate and move forward unless they can get past this idea that what they sell is just content.”

News organizations have one big advantage in business: They know their audience.

“We have a huge leg up when it comes to organizing information communities,” she said. “[News outlets] build those communities that can be really specific and really well defined.” (NewsFoo is generally off the record, but Guzmán talked with me after her session.)

Here are a few examples of all the ways news companies are selling non-news products to consumers. Some might look better wrapped up under the tree than others, but if you feel like supporting the news, maybe there’s room on your credit card for one or two of them.

Merchandise!

For the oenophile in your life, buy a gift subscription to the New York Times Wine Club. Six rare wines (four red, two white) for $90 per shipment, or $180 for the most exquisite Reserve Club varietals. Each bottle is paired with tasting notes and an NYT recipe. Europeans can sample Telegraph Wines, “one of the UK’s most respected wine merchants.” A case of six bottles of Prosecco goes for £54 and includes two complimentary Champagne flutes.

Spaceballs: The Flamethrower

The Telegraph doesn’t stop at wine. There’s a Telegraph Garden Shop, Motoring Shop, a travel shop for holiday cottages. You can buy earrings, duvet covers, snow boots, and clothes hangers. “They are the leading retailer of clothes hangers in the U.K.,” said Jeff Jarvis in an April 2010 Editor & Publisher story. The newspaper raked in a quarter of its profit in 2009 from selling things, he said.

The Onion cheaply repurposes tons of its own content into coffee-table books and framed prints. NPR, almost true to stereotype, sells “green gifts,” “gifts for gardeners,” and “gift for tea lovers.” None of those items have NPR branding, just the kind of things a typical NPR listener might like to buy. (And shoppers know their purchase helps support the news.)

The überaggregator Boing Boing sells stuff as weird as that which it aggregates, e.g., rubber finger tentacles, a remote-controlled flying shark, a bacon-scented air freshener. That site outsources the e-commerce software and payment processing.

Specialty iPhone apps

Santa's Hideout screen shot

There are plenty of smartphone and iPad apps that try to generate revenue for news organizations, but it’s less common for there to be an app that doesn’t have anything to do with the outlet’s journalism. Just today we wrote about Condé Nast’s new Santa app, which helps parents assemble and share lists of what their kids want for Christmas.

This summer Hearst Corp. launched its App Lab, a sort of digital R&D unit for the ad agencies who work with Hearst. It was Hearst that developed Manilla, a financial management product for consumers, earlier this year.

Events

In September, the web-only Texas Tribune launched the Texas Tribune Festival, a first annual symposium that brought together politicians, wonks, lobbyists, and others from the universe of Texas politics. (I interviewed editor Evan Smith about it this summer.) Tickets cost $125, but the real money comes from corporate sponsorships. In 2010, before the festival existed, the Tribune raised about $600,000 in event sponsorship, Smith told me. The Tribune festival was modeled on the New Yorker Festival, which also sells tickets and big-name sponsorships. Forbes follows a similar model for its CEO conferences around the world, but those tickets are a lot pricier.

Digital marketing services

Rubber finger tentacles

435 Digital is a Chicago consulting firm that does web design, SEO, and social media — actually, it’s a division of Tribune Co., but you would never know that from looking at its home page. The group is made up of the people who gave us Colonel Tribune and the ChicagoNow blog network.

GannettLocal, too, offers marketing services for local businesses that advertise in Gannett-owned papers. Condé Nast sells its in-house creative talent to advertisers, competing with the very agencies whose work fills the pages of its magazines.

Using reporters’ smarts

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, as I wrote this summer, packages its reporters’ in-house expertise about particular topics as paid webinars that cost as much as $96 apiece.

The premium content, the merch, the events, the consulting, the apps — they are all specialty products for niche audiences. Whether all of the offerings are making money is for another story.

“Last-minute shopping?” by Louise LeGresley used under a Creative Commons license.

November 27 2011

20:03

"United States of Internet Censorship" - a summary of debates at Stanford

Anita Zielina resumed some "Freedom of the Internet"-debates at Stanford. Here's her summary.

More Than Paper :: “Technically, the censoring method of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is exactly the same thing used by repressive governments all over the world”, Code for America Director Andrew McLaughlin warned at a debate at Stanford Law School last week. “The internet is under attack right now, and many claims are being made why free speech should be restricted – because of copyright infringements, because of pornography, because of crime.

Anita Zielina: "Censorship is waiting around the corner."

Continue to read Anita Zielina, morethanpaper.org

19:25

Om Malik: my 10 years of blogging: reflections, lessons & more

And blogging still makes sense ...

GigaOM :: Ten years is a long time. Sometimes it is so long that one forgets a lot more than one remembers — like the fact that it I have been blogging for a decade. I would have totally forgotten about the amount of time that has passed, had it not been for (what else) a blog post from Fred Wilson, one of the more engaging and rigorous bloggers on the web. It just so happens he is a venture capitalist, but he would be a great blogger without the VC tag as well.

His post made me ask myself: how long has it been since I have been blogging? Not an easy answer.

Looking back - continue to read Om Malik, gigaom.com

July 05 2011

14:58

With Facebook, Twitter successful in the consumer sphere, Google+ could find a home in the workplace

GigaOM :: While Facebook and Twitter have been massively successful in the consumer space, they’re not really suited for use in the workplace, as they make it difficult to keep personal and work-related information separate, and few companies would be happy about the possibility of potentially confidential information being broadcast to the world. Simon Mackie, GigaOM, writes: "Google, however, has produced an app that’s much more suited for use in the workplace by building Google+ around its Circles feature, which enables users to limit the sharing of information to specific groups of people, and by incorporating some very useful built-in collaboration features."

Continue to read Simon Mackie, gigaom.com

May 25 2011

18:59

Reed Elsevier Leads $6M investment in GigaOM tech news and analysis

GigaOM :: Reed Elsevier Ventures — the London-based venture arm of Reed Elsevier, one of the largest publishing companies — is leading a $6 million investment in the parent company behind GigaOM, GigaOM.tv, GigaOM Events and GigaOM Pro. Current investors in the company, Alloy Ventures and True Ventures, are participating in this new round of funding.

Continue to read Om Malik, gigaom.com

September 23 2010

17:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different newsrooms, different perceptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

The value of metrics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 25 2010

19:30

Engaging with journos: At GigaOM, there’s an app for that

Have you ever tried to get in touch with an online journalist, only to wander her employer’s labyrinthine maze of non-linked bylines and PR department messages and institutional contact forms? Have you ever, desperate but not optimistic, actually written a message into one of those contact forms, only to have it languish, unanswered, in what you can only assume is the cyber-equivalent of the Lost island’s Orchid station? Have you ever found yourself thinking, “This is not how things should be done”?

If so, you will probably love GigaOM’s new iPhone app. The app — a free one — has the comprehensiveness of the most effective media apps: As GigaOm founder Om Malik put it in announcing its App Store availability, the platform features “a unified experience of all our various properties — from our blogs to our paid subscription service to our events to our real-time Twitter feed.” One key difference, though: The app also offers a direct communications channel to GigaOM’s writers. Swipe to the final screen of the app, and you’ll be greeted with a list of those writers; tap on a name, and you’ll be led to the author’s iPhone-abbreviated bio — complete with a photo and an “Ask the Author” button.

Tap the button, and you’ll be sent to an email interface pre-populated with the author’s (direct! non-institutionally-mediated! hallelujah!) email address.

The direct-communication-with-authors approach is standard at GigaOM: “There should be no friction when it comes to our readers getting in touch with us,” Malik told me. “That was the premise of starting my company, and that’s the premise I hold true today. We are who we are because of our readers, and they should have the ability to get in touch with us whenever they want.”

The new app facilitates that ability. The communications interface is built into the user experience even more explicitly and directly than it is on the website proper: swipe, click, email, done.

But, then: Don’t the writers get overwhelmed by messages? Well, “some days it gets to be too much,” Malik acknowledges. “But people understand that you won’t respond right away.” Besides: While, overall, “yes, it’s going to take time — and, yes, it takes you away from your writing or reporting or whatever you’re doing,” Malik says, “customer service is a part of any business. And journalism is no different.” Communicating with users, both in taking direct feedback and giving it back, “is just good business practice.”

While the direct-email approach isn’t immediately feasible for bigger outlets with broader editorial interests (imagine if the New York Times’s app offered a direct communications channel to Maureen Dowd!), the overall, connection-is-key attitude is ripe for emulation. As much as we love to talk about “engagement” and “connection” and all the rest, the talking-to-journalists aspect of our press’s new approach to its old public mandate hasn’t, for the most part, caught up with all the 2.0 rhetoric. Easy, direct communications with reporters suggests the engagement side of news’s new frontier. And while, sure, GigaOM isn’t the New York Times, in size or attitude or mission, its emphasis on connection suggests the way we’re all heading: Toward a more direct, and open, dialogue between journalists and the people they serve.

And that dialogue doesn’t just benefit readers; the value, as in any true conversation, goes both ways. “I have learned so much…by being able to communicate with people on a one-on-one basis,” Malik points out. “That, really, is what’s behind this whole thing.”

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