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April 18 2011

20:14

Another online milestone for the Pulitzer Prize

It’s prize season for journalists, and today came the biggest of them all: the Pulitzer Prizes. And the trend toward online-only news organizations playing a part in what has traditionally been a newspaper game continues.

In the journalism categories, of the 1,097 total entries, about 100 came from online-only outlets, according to Pulitzer officials. Those entries came from 60 different news organizations. That’s a healthy growth curve, considering that in 2009, the first year online entries were welcomed, 37 organizations submitted 65 entries.

In the winner’s circle again is ProPublica, which took home its second Pulitzer this year. But unlike the nonprofit’s last prize, which was for a story published in The New York Times Magazine, this year’s prize (for reporters Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein) was for work that didn’t move through a partner newspaper (although they did partner with radio’s Planet Money and This American Life). As ProPublica chief Paul Steiger wrote, “This year’s Prize is the first for a group of stories not published in print.”

ProPublica’s win follows on the heels of last year’s Pulitzer for Mark Fiore and his animated editorial cartoons, which had a home on SFGate, not in the San Francisco Chronicle, and the ground-breaking Pulitzer for PolitiFact in 2009.

At the same time more online-only content is receiving a nod from the Pulitzer committee, it’s also worth noting that more projects are entering the awards that include a digital component. In this year’s journalism entries nearly a third featured online content, which is up from just one fourth last year. Of the finalists digital content was featured in seven winners, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s award for Explanatory Reporting and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Investigative Reporting prize among others.

A hearty congratulations to all the winners and finalists — especially the three past or present Nieman Fellows to be honored. They are current Nieman Fellow Tony Bartelme (finalist in Feature Writing), 2005 Nieman Fellow Amy Ellis Nutt (winner in Feature Writing), and Mary Schmich (finalist in Commentary). Nutt’s win is the 107th Pulitzer (if our quick count is right) to be won by a Nieman Fellow.

September 09 2010

15:45

What Apple’s new App Store rules mean for news orgs: Some new clarity, but still plenty of fuzziness

After loads of criticism for unexplained decisions, inscrutable rules, and what appeared to be a desire to protect the public’s morals and the feelings of the powerful, Apple has decided to finally state what the rules are for getting your app accepted into the App Store for iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. (The change comes packaged with another shift of interest to many developers: allowing them to use non-Apple tools to code their applications.)

Developers have had many complaints about what had been a highly opaque process, but from the perspective of journalists, there were two complaints that trumped all. First, Apple seemed leery about criticism of public officials. As we reported, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore had his iPhone app rejected because it made fun of public figures — a task in the first sentence of any editorial cartoonist’s job description. And second, Apple seemed eager to play morality police, rejecting apps from legitimate news outlets that dared to show a nipple or otherwise titillate beyond Apple’s boundaries.

Now, for the first time, we have actual language from Apple on what’s allowed and what’s not. Not always precise language, but language. On the first point of satire and criticism, here’s Apple’s rule:

Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harms way will be rejected

Professional political satirists and humorists are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary

As a practical matter, that exemption lets just about any news organization or working journalist off the hook on charges of being too satirical/cruel/malicious. As we’ve seen a number of editorial-cartoon apps get rejected then approved, I suspect this rule was already in place inside Apple.

But the future-of-journalism pundit inside me can’t help but get riled up whenever someone starts trying to separate political speakers into “professionals” and everyone else. Particularly since that first clause is so broadly defined. So a professional columnist or cartoonist can say nasty things about Obama, but Joe Citizen can’t? Defining who is a “professional” when it comes to opinion-sharing is sketchy enough, but when it includes political speech and the defining is being done by overworked employees of a technology company, it’s odious.

As for the second issue, “objectionable” content:

Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected

Clear, right? Actually, there’s some additional narrative language on the same subject:

We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, “I’ll know it when I see it”. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.

Unsurprisingly, though, different people see different lines. And while mainstream news organizations in the United States are unlikely to be crossing whatever Apple’s line is (cue “This is a family newspaper!”), there are any number of legitimate online publications that could. So Potter Stewart’s quote ends up being another way to dodge specifics. And as with the satire question, the line gets drawn between the respectable pros and the rest in the rabble.

Finally, there’s one more element in the new guidelines that will be of interest to nonprofit news organizations. As our friend Jake Shapiro at PRX has written, Apple’s policy on seeking donations through iPhone apps leaves a lot to be desired from the nonprofit’s point of view — in part because the rules were never clear. Here’s what they are now:

Apps that include the ability to make donations to recognized charitable organizations must be free

The collection of donations must be done via a web site in Safari or an SMS

The first element could impact apps like This American Life’s, which costs $2.99 — although it has asked for donations via push notifications, which may not fall under “the ability to make donations.” But it’s the second line that’s the complaint for nonprofits. Rather than kick a potential donor into a web browser, they’d like to be able to accept a gift directly within the app, using Apple’s one-click payment system. That’s the way in-app purchases (like buying extra features in an app or levels in a game) happens. Apple’s new rules don’t change anything about that policy.

June 07 2010

19:26

Apple’s impact: What Steve Jobs’ WWDC announcements mean for the news industry’s mobile strategy

Apple CEO Steve Jobs just stepped off the stage in San Francisco at this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference. His announcements focused squarely on the new iPhone 4, about which you’ll find no shortage of information at Apple’s site and elsewhere online.

But what do Apple’s announcements mean for the news industry, which increasingly looks to mobile product — Apple’s in particular — as a new delivery mechanism and (fingers crossed) a revenue driver? Here are five takeaways from Jobs’ keynote that will have an impact on news organizations.

Apple’s spate of satire- and morals-related rejections of apps rejected from the App Store appear to be a pretty low priority for the company.

Apple’s come under a lot of criticism from developers for how it manages its App Store, the major platform for reaching iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad owners. An Apple rejection can mean the investment of building an app is rendered worthless, and it’s not always clear why, precisely, an app is being rejected.

Here’s what Jobs had to say about the App Store approval process, paraphrasing from gdgt’s liveblog of the event:

We get about 15k apps submitted every week. They come in up to 30 different languages. Guess what: 95% of the apps submitted are approved within 7 days. What about the 5% that aren’t? Why don’t we approve them? Let me give you the three top reasons.

The number one reason: it doesn’t function as advertised. It doesn’t do what the developer says it does, so we tell the developer to change the app or the description.

The second reason: the developer uses private APIs. … If we upgrade the OS and the app breaks, we won’t have a happy customer.

And the third most frequent reason: they crash. If you were in our shoes, you’d be rejecting apps for the exact same reasons.

I just wanted to give you the facts — sometimes when you read some of these articles, you may think other stuff is going on.

Maybe number four was “violates Apple’s sense of morality,” and number five was “makes fun of powerful people.” But we don’t know that, because Jobs didn’t mention either. News orgs are fine with the technical guidelines he outlined, but App Store rejections based on rude editorial cartoons or an artfully bare nipple are harder for them to take.

Apple still has not done the obvious: state clearly what is allowed and what is not in terms of morals and satire. Not doing so, of course, maximizes Apple’s power because it can decide on a case-by-case basis. But it also means that content producers can’t have any confidence in the system, and open platforms like Android will have increasing appeal.

Apple’s become a big player in the ebook space very quickly — and that’s a space news orgs want to be in.

In the two months since the iPad launched — and with it Apple’s new ebook platform, iBooks — Apple has taken over a remarkable 22 percent of the ebook market. (That’s based on data from five of the six major publishing companies; the sixth, Random House, isn’t on the iPad.)

In one sentence, Jobs revealed more hard data about ebook sales than Amazon has in 2.5 years of the Kindle. (I exaggerate, but only slightly. Amazon still hasn’t unveiled any hard numbers on Kindle device or ebook sales. Maybe this will prompt them.)

Those Apple ebook sales are based on the 2 million iPads sold, which are the only Apple devices that have iBooks. But iBooks is coming to the iPhone and iPod touch later this month — around the same time Jobs said the 100 millionth iPhone OS device will be sold. In other words, iBooks’ momentum is about to get punched up.

I continue to maintain that ebooks are a huge potential opportunity for news organizations. Ebooks favor timeliness and quick turnarounds in a way that traditional print books can’t, and the digital format means that expectations for length are tossed aside. There’s not much of a print business model for a 50-page printed prose book — but there absolutely can be one for a 50-page ebook. And people feel comfortable paying for ebooks, much more so than for anything labeled “news.” A growing ebooks market with dueling distribution systems (Amazon and Apple) fighting over content is a good thing for news organizations.

Better mobile screen quality could be a push away from print.

The new iPhone 4 features four times the pixels of its predecessor in the same space, which Jobs promises creates images and text far crisper than ever before. The images on display at the demo looked really impressive. And while the iPhone appears to be in the lead now, undoubtedly its competition will catch up soon enough.

Pro: A better screen means more people will find using mobile devices more pleasant. That could lead to more use of news orgs’ apps and websites on them.

Con: A better screen limits the salience of one of print’s best selling points: higher visual quality. Jobs said 300 dpi is the limit for what the human eye can typically detect. Past iPhones have been at 162 dpi. The new iPhone 4 is 326 dpi — a level Jobs says is indistinguishable from print. (“Text looks like you’ve seen it in a fine printed book, unlike you’ve ever seen in an electronic display,” Jobs said, paraphrasing.) We’ll see about that, but newspapers and magazines are still a lot more effective monetizing print publications than digital ones, so devaluing one of print’s best qualities probably won’t help.

The “mobile” part of mobile video will increasingly mean editing, not just shooting.

Jobs unveiled a version of iMovie for the iPhone; a version for the iPad can’t be too far off, even though the iPad (currently) lacks a camera. There have been editing apps for video on the iPhone and other platforms before, but iMovie looked both powerful and relatively simply. Reporters in the field getting iPhone video will find it easier than ever to do their own edit before shipping it back to headquarters. I wouldn’t want to be Flip right now; the reasons to have a Flip in addition to a smartphone seem fewer now.

Even before launching, iAd is proving to be a big gorilla in the mobile display advertising space.

I’ve written about iAd before. It’s Apple’s new immersive, interactive advertising platform being offered up to iPhone developers to put into their apps. Today Jobs showed off a sample iAd, and the crowd seemed to like it.

But the most stunning datapoint was Jobs’ claim that iAd would take in 48 percent of the U.S. mobile display advertising business in the second half of 2010. Remarkable if true, although it’s derived from some questionable math (dividing Apple’s hard-dollar sales numbers into a JP Morgan estimate from the start of the year — see page 46 of that document for the origin). And mobile display advertising is only a small slice of overall mobile advertising — in the same report, SMS advertising is a $3.2 billion business and mobile search advertising is another $321 million.

But in any event, it’s a sign that Apple is here as a big player in yet another market. For large news organizations that could afford to do their own mobile ad sales, Apple’s probably a competitor. For smaller ones that would have a tough time breaking into the mobile ad game, getting 60 percent of iAd revenues — the share Apple is promising — might not be such a bad deal.

June 02 2010

18:10

Steve Jobs: If your app does not fit, you must resubmit

Last night, Apple CEO Steve Jobs spoke at All Things Digital’s D8 conference, where among other topics he discussed the touchy matter of apps being rejected from the iTunes store for political content. Jobs essentially made the case for rejected developers to simply submit the same app again until it makes its way past Apple’s app evaluators.

The context is a story we reported in April on how an iPhone app created by Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore had been rejected by Apple the previous fall on the grounds that it “ridicules public officials.” Fiore had thrown up his arms and gone back to his cartooning, not bringing the issue back up until we asked him about it. The news spread like wildfire, and, within a week, Apple responded, inviting him to resubmit his app, unchanged, which was swiftly approved and made available in iTunes. Jobs himself called the original decision a “mistake” in an email to an Apple user.

Then last night Jobs insinuated that perhaps Fiore could have solved his own problem if he had just resubmitted his app, rather than doing nothing in the months between the rejection and winning a Pulitzer. Here’s a paraphrase of Jobs’ comments from All Things D’s liveblog (emphasis mine):

“We have a rule that says you can’t defame people,” says Jobs, noting that political cartoonists by virtue of their profession sometimes defame people. The cartoon app was rejected on those grounds, he adds. “Then we changed the rules…and in the meantime, the cartoonist won a Pulitzer….But he never resubmitted his app. And then someone asked him, ‘Hey why don’t you have an iPhone app?’ He says we rejected it and suddenly, it’s a story in the press…Bottom line is, yes, we sometimes make mistakes…but we correct them…We are doing the best we can, changing the rules when it makes sense.”

The problem here is that Apple sent Fiore an email outlining the rule and telling him to change his app if he wanted in. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the email (again, emphasis mine):

If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that NewsToons does not violate the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.

Why would he think to disregard those instructions and just submit again? In the following months, Apple made no announcement about a change to the defamation rule; the rule, in fact, still exists today as Jobs mentioned. Less than two weeks ago, another political app was rejected under similar defamation grounds. If there was a change, it wasn’t communicated publicly and it is still being dealt with inconsistently. As Dan Gillmor has written repeatedly, Apple has hardly been a model of transparency on what makes it through the App Store process and what doesn’t, and as Apple platforms become an increasingly common vector for the distribution of news, it’s in everyone’s interest for that to change.

The message from Jobs here is that, yes, Apple makes mistakes — but if you want one fixed, don’t count on them to contact you or speak about it publicly. Just disregard that rejection email and just try again.

April 20 2010

19:01

Apple approves Pulitzer winner’s iPhone app; cartoonist now free to mock the powerful on cell phones

Big update on the Mark Fiore story: His editorial cartoon app, NewsToons, is finally available for sale in the iTunes App Store. The app — smartly marketed as “the app Steve Jobs was talking about!” — is available for download here, for 99 cents.

For those who missed our post Thursday, Fiore is this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for editorial cartooning. But he couldn’t get his iPhone app past Apple’s app review process. In December, Apple rejected NewsToons because, as Apple put it, his satire “ridicules public figures,” a violation of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which bars any apps whose content in “Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

After our story, Apple faced a wave of criticism from around the web, and the company invited Fiore to resubmit the app for approval on Friday. Apple CEO Steve Jobs called the initial rejection a “mistake,” but critics still worry about the editorial control Apple has over the content sold in the App Store, on iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads.

April 16 2010

18:31

Satire police update: Apple to reconsider keeping Mark Fiore’s cartoon app off the iPhone

Yesterday we told you about Mark Fiore, the animated cartoonist who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning on Monday. Fiore wants to take his work mobile, but unfortunately for him, Apple rejected his iPhone app back in December, saying it “ridicules public figures.” The rejection email cited a clause in the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which bars any app whose content in “Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

After our story ran, Fiore got a call from Apple — four months after receiving a rejection email — inviting him to resubmit his NewsToons app. Fiore says he resubmitted it this morning. We’ll keep you posted on what happens. If history is a guide, though, this is likely to be good news for Fiore. Tom Richmond’s Bobble Rep app was initially rejected, then approved after a firestorm of online criticism. Daryl Cagle went through something similar last year.

But whatever happens with Fiore’s app, there is a broader issue at stake here. As Apple’s role in the mobile sector grows, should it get to dictate what content we can access? Dan Gillmor has been on a quest to find out what arrangement major news organizations have with Apple:

In addition, I asked the Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today — following up on a February posting when I asked why news organizations were running into the arms of a control-freakish company — to respond to a simple question: Can Apple unilaterally disable their iPad apps if Apple decides, for any reason, that it doesn’t like the content they’re distributing?

Guess how many responded? Zero. Today Rob Pegoraro at the Washington Post took up the same issue, asking a spokeswoman for his company the same questions, she directed him to Apple. Apple has not responded to Pegoraro. (I also have not heard back from Apple on requests for comment about its satire policy generally or in Fiore’s case in particular.)

So what should media do? I’m not certain what the answer is, but I do like the spirit of push-back in what Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote yesterday:

Look, let’s face it. The iPad is the most exciting opportunity for the media in many years. But if the press is ceding gatekeeper status, even if it’s only nominally, over its speech, then it is making a dangerous mistake. Unless Apple explicitly gives the press complete control over its ability to publish what it sees fit, the news media needs to yank its apps in protest.

April 15 2010

11:00

Mark Fiore can win a Pulitzer Prize, but he can’t get his iPhone cartoon app past Apple’s satire police

This week cartoonist Mark Fiore made Internet and journalism history as the first online-only journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize. Fiore took home the editorial cartooning prize for animations he created for SFGate, the website for the San Francisco Chronicle.

I spoke with Fiore about his big win and plans for his business. Fiore is not on staff at the Chronicle, or anywhere else; since 1999, he’s run a syndication business, selling his Flash animations à la carte to TV, newspaper, and magazine websites for about $300 a piece. (The price varies by size of the outlet.) In a typical month, he might have about eight clients. Before 1999, he ran a similar syndication business for his print cartoons, using a lower-price-per-image, higher-volume model.

When I asked about the next phase of his business, curious if it will include a mobile element, Fiore said he’s definitely hopeful about mobile devices. “I think the iPads and anything iPod to iPhone — to maybe a product not made by Apple — will be good or could be good for distributing this kind of thing,” he said.

But there’s just one problem. In December, Apple rejected his iPhone app, NewsToons, because, as Apple put it, his satire “ridicules public figures,” a violation of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which bars any apps whose content in “Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

Here’s the email Fiore received from Apple on December 21, 2009:

Dear Mr. Fiore,

Thank you for submitting NewsToons to the App Store. We’ve reviewed NewsToons and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains content that ridicules public figures and is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement which states:

“Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.” Examples of such content have been attached for your reference.

If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that NewsToons does not violate the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.

Regards,

iPhone Developer Program

Apple attached screenshots of the offending material, including an image depicting the White House gate crashers interrupting an Obama speech. Two other grabs include images referencing torture, Balloon Boy, and various political issues.

Fiore isn’t the first editorial cartoonist to clash with Apple. Last year, an app called Bobble Rep app, which used political caricatures by Tom Richmond, was initially rejected by Apple. After an online uproar, a few days later Apple changed its position, allowing the app into the store. (Fiore’s rejection landed in his inbox just a month later.) Daryl Cagle, who runs a cartoon syndication site with 900 newspaper subscribers, had a similar battle with Apple last year, waiting around for months before eventually being allowed in. And while Apple eventually ruled in those cartoonists favor, the company went on an app-banning spree in February targeting apps with bikini-level sexual content. (Although a few established news brands like Sports Illustrated were allowed to remain.)

It’s also an example of the alarm bells some critics of the app store system were sounding in the lead-up to the release of the iPad. Brian Chen at Wired warned publishers to consider questions of independence, in light of a controversy over Apple’s vague policy on sexual content. And several German news orgs like Bild and Stern have already seen Apple get into the business of banning certain editorial content from the App Store.

Fiore has not resubmitted his app, saying he’d heard about the experiences of others cartoonists and wasn’t in a position to get into a fight with Apple. Still, he has a hunch Apple will eventually change its mind on him, as it has with other cartoon apps. “They seem so much more innovative and smarter than that,” he told me.

Apple did not respond to my request for comment on its satire policy, or Fiore’s case in particular.

April 13 2010

08:20

ProPublica, SFGate.com and NYTimes among Pulitzer winners

The 2010 Pulitzer winners were announced yesterday, with winners and finalists from online journalism, as well as print backgrounds.

Reporter Sheri Fink from the US non-profit investigative organisation ProPublica has been awarded a Pulitzer prize for her work in collaboration with the New York Times Magazine:

…for a story that chronicles the urgent life-and-death decisions made by one hospital’s exhausted doctors when they were cut off by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina.

Other online winners included Mark Fiore for his animated cartoons on SFGate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle website:

…where his biting wit, extensive research and ability to distill complex issues set a high standard for an emerging form of commentary.

The online element of New York Times’ staff reporting was commended in the Pulitzer prize for national reporting:

Awarded to Matt Richtel and members of The New York Times Staff for incisive work, in print and online, on the hazardous use of cell phones, computers and other devices while operating cars and trucks, stimulating widespread efforts to curb distracted driving.

The New York Times has the full list of 2010 Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists, with comments from the board.

Or download the Pulitzer prize PDF at this link.

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