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April 21 2011

14:30

Schiller to public radio: Don’t just sit there, take risks

Vivian Schiller

Vivian Schiller has a warning to her former colleagues at NPR: “Your continued existence is not guaranteed.”

But that warning — delivered yesterday in a talk at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center — wasn’t just about the congressional fight over public funding. It was about what she sees as the imminent threat of Internet radio in cars. “The monopoly advantage of the radio tower will begin to fade,” she said, delivering her remarks in the form of an open letter to public broadcasters.

“New digital-only startups will enter the marketplace in audio, and you will find yourselves longing for the days when the competition was that public radio station that overlapped with your broadcast signal,” she said.

The Shorenstein Center has posted audio of Schiller’s hour-long talk and Q&A; you can download the MP3 or listen to it below:

[See post to listen to audio]

Schiller suggested member stations adjust to the threat by starting to offer additional, online-only streams. If the local NPR station is serving news when a listener wants music, Pandora is just a click away. And, as Schiller warned in our predictions-for-2011 package in December, that kind of audio flexibility is coming to cars, terrestrial radio’s strongest bastion.

She said public radio could learn a few things about competition and innovation from its commercial counterparts, having worked in for-profit media herself (CNN, Discovery, The New York Times). She urged public radio to take more risks.

“You are now competing in the big leagues and are no longer the scrappy underdog,” she said. ”You must become your own disruptors. If you don’t aggressively reach out to new audiences on new platforms, someone else will. There is no such thing as lasting media loyalty, especially in this age of media promiscuity.” She said public radio needs to “let go of the nostalgia” of the craft.

In questions afterward, Schiller said little about what’s next for her post-NPR (other than “a week on the beach”) and had little to add about the controversies that led to her departure. Schiller brushed off suggestions that NPR cut ties to member stations, which receive a vast majority of the famously fraught federal funding, saying the national-local partnership model is the network’s “special sauce.” She said the surest way for stations to survive is to deliver locally focused content, alongside NPR’s national and international reporting, on every platform possible.

November 22 2010

23:16

How Should Public Media Respond to Efforts to Defund It?

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

"Here is what I still don't get," wrote NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen in response to my November 18 article, "how can public media develop a strategy or simply a coherent response to the culture war in which it is entangled if it cannot admit to itself or reason publicly with the fact that only one side in the culture war wants to destroy it... and the other one doesn't? What is public media's culture war strategy? Not to have one?"

Rosen's comment prompted a few thoughtful answers, first on MediaShift in the comments, and then at an impromptu session at Sunday's Public Media Camp.



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"I don't think it's the place of public media to 'take sides in the culture war," wrote MediaShift executive editor Mark Glaser. "I think it's public media's role to provide a forum for different opinions on the culture war, and give space for diverse opinions on it. That doesn't mean that individuals who are a part of public media can't give their opinions, and they should. The 'view from nowhere' only goes so far. But should NPR, PBS, etc try to out-dittohead the dittoheads? That doesn't make sense either." Instead, he suggested, the already-existing fan base for public broadcasting brands should be rallied. "There are already millions of people who support public media financially through donations, so maybe it takes a grassroots effort by those people to counter all the attacks."

Station manager Anthony Hunt suggested that a workable strategy might be to "develop allies that have much better armor than we do, or certainly don't want to see us change our attempts to remain value neutral because this fight won't be going away anytime soon." He suggests that public-media makers need help because they're under-resourced, and "bring a tote-bag to a knife fight" -- a phrase that echoed a quip by Jon Stewart in response to conservative comments about the Juan Williams flap.

Peter Corbett of iStrategy Labs, who helped to organize the PubCamp, suggested going on the offensive by developing "a 50 state strategy that includes gathering your troops (biggest fans) and preparing to mobilize them for war," and, somewhat jokingly, "taking a page out of cereal/fast food marketers' playbooks: go after their kids early and often, and then turn them on their parents."

Jauvan Moradi, who works at NPR Digital Media, suggested that rather than a "culture war" strategy, what's needed is a better business strategy, to deal with the possibilities of reduced funding.

"There are certainly tensions today," he wrote, "progressive vs. conservative, public values vs. private interest, urban vs. rural, new economy vs. old -- arguably reaching a pinnacle not seen in prior decades. But public media has never been a monoculture of us vs. them. Every local market has a different flavor that reflects the interests and diversity of its audience. The national content producers strive for a sort of neutrality that not only reflects our journalistic sensibilities but also allows for a sort of universality that works with the local flavors in hundreds of towns and cities. It's not our place to take a side amidst cultural tension."

Rosen disagreed. "I think culture war is precisely the right word for that is happening, and for the dynamic I am pointing out. The attempt to de-fund NPR -- an actual vote in the House of Representatives -- because of what happened with Juan Williams has no other logic than culture war logic...Now if the people in public media come to the conclusion: 'There's nothing we can do; it's up to people outside the system to make our case. We're not a participant in these so-called culture wars. We're just the victim, the target....' I can understand that, too, but they should at least arrive at that conclusion after thinking it through."

Rosen Appears via Skype

In order to think it through some more, Rosen joined Public Media Camp attendees via Skype for a discussion of strategies and obstacles. Here are a few highlights from the discussion:

  • Andy Carvin of NPR noted that the organization's government affairs office is firewalled from the editorial side of the house, which allows it to advocate. On the digital strategy end, the big question is "Can NPR mobilize people?" Right now, ethics and social media rules prevent that.
  • Several attendees noted that there's a tremendous amount of misinformation being circulated about the structure and funding of public broadcasting, and debated whether members of the public might respond to a campaign to clarify the issues, or simply ignore it.
  • Threaded throughout the discussion were comments that any battle to save or expand public media could not be waged on only one side of the partisan divide. Core supporters in past fights have been rural Republicans, whose constituents depend heavily on public broadcasting for news and educational resources in otherwise weak media markets.
  • Maxie Jackson, president and CEO of the National Federation for Community Broadcasters, suggested that NPR is now "toxic," and that organizing efforts should focus on the services that public stations provide to users in their communities. He noted that the stations that serve Native Americans provide a stark example of how much local service is crucial to underserved populations.
  • Corbett suggested a viral "I [heart] NPR" day, to mobilize and inspire fans who might then be primed to respond politically when the time came.

Rosen warned that advocates for public broadcasting need to appeal not just to facts, but to pay heed to frames. There's a tendency, he noted, to think "we're not communicating clearly -- sometimes that's true, but in a culture war, there's 'systematically distorted communication.' It's not a messaging problem, it's that there are actors who profit from this distortion. It's important to know when you're in this situation -- the goal is to engage those who aren't engaged in systematically distorted communication and discredit and shame those who distort."

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media Project at American University's Center for Social Media, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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October 29 2010

15:30

This Week in Review: WikiLeaks’ latest doc drop, the NPR backlash, and disappointing iPad magazines

[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]

WikiLeaks coverage gets personal: There were two big stories everyone spent the whole week talking about, and both actually happened late last week. We’ll start with what’s easily the bigger one in the long term: WikiLeaks’ release last Friday of 400,000 documents regarding the Iraq War. The Iraq War Logs were released in partnership with several news organizations around the world, including Al-Jazeera, The New York Times, Der Spiegel and Le Monde. (The Columbia Journalism Review wrote a good roundup of the initial coverage.)

The Guardian and The Times in particular used the documents to put together some fascinating pieces of data journalism, and The Columbia Journalism Review’s Lauren Kirchner looked at how they did it. The folks at Journalism.co.uk wrote a couple of posts detailing WikiLeaks’ collaborative efforts on the release, particularly their work with the new British nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism. A French nonprofit that also worked with WikiLeaks, OWNI, told its own story of the project.

Despite all that collaborative work, the news coverage of the documents fizzled over the weekend and into this week, leading two reporting vets to write to the media blog Romenesko to posit reasons why the traditional media helped throw cold water on the story. John Parker pointed to the military press — “Too many military reporters in the online/broadcast field have simply given up their watchdog role for the illusion of being a part of power” — and David Cay Johnston urged journalists to check out the documents, rather than trusting official sources.

There was another WikiLeaks-related story that got almost as much press as the documents themselves: The internal tension at the organization and the ongoing mystery surrounding its frontman, Julian Assange. The Times and the British paper The Independent both dug into those issues, and Assange walked out of a CNN interview after repeated questions about sexual abuse allegations he’s faced in Sweden. That coverage was met with plenty of criticism — Assange and The Columbia Journalism Review ripped CNN, and Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald joined Assange in tearing into The Times.

After being chastised by the U.S. Defense Department this summer for not redacting names of informants in its Afghanistan leak this summer, WikiLeaks faced some criticism this time around from Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici and Gawker’s John Cook for going too far with the redaction. A few other WikiLeaks-related strains of thought: Mark Feldstein at the American Journalism Review compared WikiLeaks with old-school investigative journalism, Barry Schuler wondered whether the governmental animosity toward WikiLeaks will lead to regulations of the Internet, and CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis wrote about the way WikiLeaks is bringing us toward the dawn of the age of transparency. “Only when and if government realizes that its best defense is openness will we see transparency as a good in itself and not just a weapon to expose the bad,” he said.

NPR, Fox News and objectivity: The other story that dominated the future-of-news discussion (and the news discussion in general) was NPR’s firing last week of news analyst Juan Williams for comments about Muslims he made on Fox News. Conversation about the firing took off late last week and didn’t slow down until about Wednesday this week. NPR kept finding it tougher to defend the firing as the criticism piled up, and by the weekend, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller had apologized for how she handled the firing (but not for the firing itself). NPR got a bomb threat over the incident, and even PBS, which has had nothing whatsoever to do with Williams, was deluged with angry emailers.

Conversation centered on two issues: First, and more immediately, why Williams was fired and whether he should have been. Longtime reporter James Naughton and The Awl’s Abe Sauer thought Williams should have been fired years ago because he appeared on Fox, where he’s only used as a prop in Fox’s efforts to incite faux-news propaganda. NYU professor Jay Rosen put it more carefully, saying that given NPR’s ironclad commitment to the objective view from nowhere, “there was no way he could abide by NPR’s rules — which insist on viewlessness as a guarantor of trust — and appear on Fox, where the clash of views is basic to what the network does to generate audience” — not to mention that that viewlessness renders the entire position of “news analyst” problematic.

Along with Rosen, Time media critic James Poniewozik and Lehigh j-prof Jeremy Littau advocated for greater transparency as a way to prevent needless scandals like these. Former NPR host Farai Chideya emphasized a different angle, asserting that Williams was kept on for years as his relationship with NPR eroded because he’s a black man. Said Chideya, who’s African-American herself: “Williams’ presence on air was a fig-leaf for much broader and deeper diversity problems at the network.”

The other issue was both broader and more politically driven: Should NPR lose its public funding? Republican Sen. Jim DeMint said he would introduce a bill to that effect, and conservatives echoed his call for defunding (though NPR gets only 1 to 2 percent of its budget from direct public funding — and even that’s from competitive federal grants). Politico noted how difficult it would be to actually take NPR’s public funding, and a poll indicated that Americans are split on the issue straight down party lines.

Those calling for the cut got some support, however indirect, from a couple of people in the media world: Slate’s Jack Shafer said NPR and public radio stations should wean themselves from public funding so they can stop being tossed around as a political pawn, and New York Sun founding editor Seth Lipsky argued that NPR’s subsidies make it harder for private entrepreneurs to raise money for highbrow journalism. There were counter-arguments, too: The Atlantic’s James Fallows gave a passionate defense of NPR’s value as a news organization, and LSU grad student Matt Schafer made the case for public media in general.

Magazines disappoint on the iPad: Advertising Age collected circulation figures for the first six months of magazines’ availability on the iPad and compared it to print circulation, getting decided mixed results. (Science/tech mags did really well; general interest titles, not so much.) The site’s Nat Ives concluded that iPad ad rates might drop as result, and that “Magazines’ iPad editions won’t really get in gear until big publishers and Apple agree on some kind of system for subscription offers.”

Former New York Times design director Khoi Vinh gave a stinging critique of those magazines’ iPad apps, saying they’re at odds with how people actually use the device. “They’re bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all,” he said. In a follow-up, he talked a bit about why their current designs are a “stand-in for true experimentation.”

Meanwhile, news organizations continue to rush to the iPad: The New York Post came out with an iPad app that The Village Voice’s Foster Kamer really, really liked, The Oklahoman became another one of the first few newspapers to offer its own iPad subscription outside of Apple’s iTunes payment system, PBS launched its own iPad app, and News Corp. is moving forward with plans for a new tabloid created just for tablets.

Two opposite paid-content moves: It was somewhat lost in the WikiLeaks-Williams hoopla, but we got news of three new online paid-content plans for news this week. The biggest change is at the National Journal, a political magazine that’s long charged very high prices and catered to Washington policy wonks but relaunched this week as a newsstand-friendly print product and a largely free website that will shoot for 80 updates a day. The Lab’s Laura McGann looked at the National Journal’s new free-pay hybrid web plan, in contrast to its largely paid, niche website previously.

Meanwhile, Politico said it plans to move into exactly the same web territory the Journal has been in, launching a high-price subscription news service on health care, energy and technology for Washington insiders in addition to its free site and print edition. And the Associated Press gave more details on its proposed rights clearinghouse for publishers, which will allow them to tag online content and monitor and regulate how it’s being used and how they’re being paid for it. We also have some more data on an ongoing paid-content experiment — Rupert Murdoch’s paywall at The Times of London. Yup, the audience is way down, just like everyone suspected.

Reading roundup: Outside of those two huge stories, it was a relatively quiet week. Here are a few interesting bits and pieces that emerged:

— The awful last few weeks for the Tribune Co. came to a head last Friday when CEO Randy Michaels resigned, leaving a four-member council to guide the company through bankruptcy. The same day, the company filed a reorganization plan that turns it over to its leading creditors. The Chicago Reader’s Michael Miner gave a good postmortem for the Michaels era, pointing a finger primarily at the man who hired him, Sam Zell.

— Wired’s Fred Vogelstein declared Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon our new (media) overlords. (No indication of whether he, for one, welcomes them.) MediaPost’s Joe Marchese mused a bit about where each of those four companies fits in the new media landscape.

— The Atlantic’s Michael Hirschorn wrote a thought-provoking expression of a popular recent argument: If the Internet gives all of us our own facts, how are we supposed to find any common ground for discussion?

— And since I know you’re in the mood for scientific-looking formulas, check out Lois Beckett’s examination here at the Lab of Philly.com’s calculation of online engagement, then take a look at her follow-up post on where revenue fits in.

October 22 2010

14:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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