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February 02 2011

20:30

December 16 2010

18:00

Gawker copycats, luxurious print, more robots, and a new blogging golden age: Predictions for 2011

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Below are predictions from Susan Orlean, Joe Grimm, Matt Haughey, Adrian Holovaty, Megan McCarthy, Mark Potts, Jake Shapiro, and Cody Brown.

We also want to hear your predictions: take our Lab reader poll and tell us what you think we’ll be talking about in 2011. We’ll share those results in a couple days.

We’ll be reading more on our phones, our iPads, and our Super Scout Decoder rings by the end of next year.

Several magazines — maybe Time or Newsweek or both — will go monthly and/or digital only. But there will be new magazine startups in print that will be luxurious and expensive and book-like. 2011 will be the year of those two forms making themselves distinct; things on line will become more webby, and print publications will become more “collectible” and classic.

Journalism schools will offer a “web producer” major.

The last typewriter living in the wild will be captured, its DNA sequenced; and then it will be humanely destroyed.

Joe Grimm, Poynter blogger and recruiter, Patch

In 2011, I expect to see some shakeout of traditional and innovative newsrooms. Some of the new ones will have hit the wall that tells them they don’t have the right model to go forward. Legacy newsrooms seem to gaining traction with digital advertising and are feeling some traditional advertisers come back, but they have been substantially weakened and devalued. With the amount of cash that is sitting idle, I expect we will see some acquisitions among traditional media companies. The prize in those deals will be the content parts of the operations, of course. I would not surprised if some traditional newsrooms are absorbed by digital companies looking to build credibly news-oriented footprints fast.

Watch Yahoo! and Facebook in 2011 to see how they try to grow their reputations as news sources.

Mobile and tablets will continue to boom, with some shakeout among devices and a real gold rush to build apps, backed up by original news and news aggregation. Individualized services or services curated by friends will grow.

Whether or not the Gawker suite of sites redesign is successful or not, the rest of the New York media blog world will follow suit and copy the new direction for layout, because big business blogging is basically a cargo cult where everyone does what Gawker is doing since that seems to be successful for them (in the hopes it is successful for them).

This is sort of a half-prediction and half-hope, but I’d love to see the self-publishing pendulum start to shift the other way, from centralized services (like Twitter and AOL before it) back to a beautiful diversity of decentralized/independent tools and services like we had in the “golden age” of blogging. We’ve seen some occasional banter about this over the last few years, but I think people are going to get more serious about it in 2011, and certainly by the end of 2012.

Oh, and Google is totally the new Microsoft. I can see that being a theme of 2011.

The convergence of the media and technology industries will continue. Consumer-facing technology companies will start to encroach onto traditional media territories, and media companies will realize that they need to invest more into technology in order to compete with the tech companies entering their space. There will be more tech/media partnerships like the one between Betaworks and the New York Times, but there will be a struggle to see which side — tech or media — comes out on top. The real winners will be developers, executives, and small sites that straddle both worlds.

Mobile access to the web will become more reliable, especially if the iPhone heads to another carrier (like Verizon) as has been predicted. A spike in smartphones will bring an obvious spike in mobile views. Apps will still be important, but, as mobile OSes multiply, the smarter move might be towards mobile-friendly websites that work across platforms (like http://mediagazer.com/m)

Traditional web advertising will still be a mess, yet there will be substantial resistance to changing the model. There will be too much emphasis put on metrics that no one actually knows how to measure. Pageviews will become more and more meaningless, but people will still chase them, like rainbows, hoping to find that pot of gold.

Oh, and there will be more robot/cyborg/machine involvement in media, and it will be a good thing. Algorithms are not the enemy!

A continuing explosion of blogs covering local communities and local interests, written by passionate community members whose coverage and audience engagement far outstrips what can be managed by corporately backed local interlopers like Patch. Key to these efforts, though, will be the bloggers and local site operators getting serious about tapping their share of the $130 billion local-advertising market. At the same time, the rise in location-aware mobile services will begin ushering in a new generation of targeted local coverage and information in the palm of readers’ hands. Mobile is local, and I suspect we’ll see the first breakthrough, wildly popular local mobile product in the next year or so.

Apple will change its tune on one-click donations to nonprofits and public media.

Public broadcasting will emerge from its existential crisis (Juan Williams fiasco and defunding threats) as a more focused, collaborative, and inclusive “public media” industry, reasserting a central role in sustaining journalism and leading innovation.

The Public Media Platform will launchand catalyze more collaboration and innovation, expanding beyond the borders of public radio and TV.

News orgs will start leveraging Mechanical Turk and other crowd-powered services to help manage overwhelming data needs.

“Private” social media websites like Path are going to boom. Sites that see privacy as a value as opposed to an antiquated social norm are going to go big. I don’t think Path is actually that great, but they are in the right space.

WikiLeaks will leak a government document that outlines strategies to assassinate Julian Assange.

Gawker will buy then break a story that starts a war.

December 14 2010

17:00

Smartphone growth, Murdoch’s Daily, and journalism for the poor: Predictions for mobile news in 2011

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

One of the common threads through many of their predictions was mobile — the impact smartphones and tablets and apps will have on how news is reported, produced, distributed, and consumed. (Not to mention how it’s paid for.) Here are Vivian Schiller, Keith Hopper, Jakob Nielsen, Alexis Madrigal, Michael Andersen, Richard Lee Colvin, Megan McCarthy, David Cohn, and David Fanning on what 2011 will bring for the mobile space.

Vivian Schiller, president and CEO, NPR

After two decades of saying that “this is the year of mobile,” 2011 really will be the year of mobile.

My wild prediction: 2011 will be the year of media initiatives that serve poor and middle-income people.

For 20 years, almost all native Internet content has been made for the niche interests — often the professional interests — of people who make more than the median household income of $50,000 or so. But one of the best things about the mobile Internet is that it’s finally killing (or even reversing) the digital divide.

Poor folks may not have broadband, but they’ve got cell phones. African Americans and Latinos are more likely than white people to use phones for the web, pictures, texts, emails, games, videos, and social networking. As hardware prices keep falling, we’ll see more and more demand for information that is useful to the lower-income half of the population — and thanks to low marginal costs, people will be creating products that fill that need. It’s about damn time, wouldn’t you say?

Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic and co-founder, Longshot Magazine

Murdoch’s iPad Daily will be surprisingly successful. I say it gets mid-six figure subscribers by the end of the year.

The iPad newspaper will launch and, while it won’t fall flat on its face, it will be exactly what is described at the end of EPIC 2015 — a newsletter for the elite. Odd that it will be digital but suffer the end fate of newspapers as described in that video.

Keith Hopper, director of product strategy and development, NPR

I predict smartphone penetration will break 50 percent in the U.S., creating a tipping point in mobile web traffic. The web folks will then finally wake up and smell the mobile. Ubiquitous support for HTML5 and geolocation will sweeten the deal, and we’ll see some exciting new news experiences delivering proximally-relevant immediacy to your mobile devices in 2011.

The cost of creating dedicated apps for mobile phones and iPads will continue to fall and some news executives may conclude that the apps are an end in themselves, and that they can continue to provide their audiences with the same content they’ve always given them. But it will become clear over the next 12 months that delivering old, worn content in a new package will not be enough to keep traditional news organizations profitable over the long term.

Jakob Nielsen, veteran web usability expert

1. Growth in for-pay content.

2. Strong growth in mobile content.

3. Mobile often means short, so need to find ways to be interesting and brief beyond simply being snarky.

iPad magazines/newspapers will figure out a way to display across platforms or else they be considered an elite novelty.

David Fanning, executive producer, Frontline

The tablet reader — the iPad et al — is the big game-changer. Not only is it going to revitalize print and launch an exciting new era of editorial design and execution, it is the real promise of convergence we’ve been talking about for so long. It’s going to be a wonderful challenge to create the new publications. It’s also a device that seems to offer a subscription or pay model that is quite natural and acceptable to readers and viewers.

For Frontline it is the bright hope. As broadcast appointment viewing declines, we’ve seen more and more viewers go to our website (we’ve been streaming our films since 2000), but also worried that with shorter and shorter attention spans, we were sowing the seeds of our own destruction. Now I can see a future for this idea we’ve defended for so long — intelligent narrative documentary journalism — and it’s on my lap. I can comfortably watch at length without a twitchy finger on a mouse threatening to pull me away. I can pause and see the film wrapped together with the best of literary journalism. I can experience the resurgence of great documentary photography, and of course I can connect to the living, pulsing web (if I have to). I can decide to throw my film up onto my widescreen TV, and sit back and watch, but most of all, I will have it all on my virtual bookshelf. That means I will have to be making journalism that lasts, that is not disposable, that is so well made it’s worth keeping. It’ll sit next to my ebooks; in fact it will be a form of ebook.

As magazine publishers rush onto this new platform, photographers and filmmakers are already embedding their video in the pages. Books like Sebastian Junger’s War are scattering short pieces of video actuality in the narrative, and there is at least one chapter that is a longer mini-documentary, on Sal Giunta, the Medal of Honor winner. But these are more illustrations than longer narrative works. Our challenge at Frontline will be to publish our longer films and embed within them other terrific journalism that both echoes and complements our stories. That’s going to be fun to design and edit.

So this new technology, the tablet, will expand our editorial horizons, force us to make new partnerships, collaborate with more writers and photographers, and find ways to invent a new kind of publication, while holding onto some old ideas about the appeal and strength of good journalism.

December 13 2010

17:00

The great paywall debate: Will The New York Times’ new model work?

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Many of their predictions centered on what may be the most anticipated business-model shift of 2011: The New York Times’ shift to charging for full access to NYTimes.com next month. We found voices on both sides of the “will it work” debate. Here are Steve Brill, Markos Moulitsas, Megan McCarthy, C.W. Anderson, Paddy Hirsch, Jason Fry, Nikki Usher, and Barry Sussman on how they see the metered model shaking out.

Prediction for 2011: The building up — and subsequent tearing down — of online paywalls for general news sites. The New York Times are planning implement their paywall in January and I predict it will be modified enough — either by the Times themselves or outside developers — to be rendered irrelevant by March.

As it becomes clear (as it already is to our Press+ affiliates, and as will also be made clear when The New York Times, too, launches its metered model approach) that the sky doesn’t fall in on newspaper and magazine websites who try the freemium model, more newspapers and magazines (and online only sites, too) will begin charging their most frequently-visiting customers for their content online.

Unlike old-fashioned pay walls, the metered model means publishers keep all their online ad revenue and almost all of their monthly unique visitors. (Our affiliates have not lost a nickel of ad revenue.) By next year I bet a big chunk of publishers are doing it and most of the rest are planning it.

Progress will be slow but steady; they’ll gradually climb some of the way back to their old margins. More important, they’ll be preserving their franchises as the trusted-brand provider of news and information in their community — whether that community is the world of sophisticated news consumers who read the Times or those in a small town in Pennsylvania or the UK who read the local paper for news about the school board. Only now they’ll gradually be moving out of the business of paying printers and truck drivers to facilitate that. Their customers will be customers for their content, no matter how it is delivered. That in turn will enable daily papers, for example, gradually to stop printing daily, cutting back on the week’s slowest ad days or even ultimately cutting back just to Sunday or to no print version at all.

C.W. Anderson, assistant professor of media culture, CUNY

Faced with a massive migration of regular readers to the Guardian and the BBC, The New York Times will abandon its recently enacted paywall.

Now, since The New York Times “porous” paywall won’t even go into effect until early 2011, it’s possible the so-called “wall” will still be active as 2011 draws to a close. But the decision to ditch it will have already been made internally. The wall won’t affect many readers, but it will impact the obsessive news junkies, the people who want to trawl every WikiLeaks cable and parse every detail about the inner workings of the U.S. State Department. Where will these folks go? Will they pay up? Of course not — they’ll simply click over to the Guardian and the BBC, two websites that fit nicely into the demographic niche currently occupied by the Times. Links to the Times will dry up (despite the paywall’s porousness). The egos at 620 Eighth Avenue wont be able to handle the shift in the center of the news conversation across the ocean, and there will be more and more exemptions made to the types of online content that counts towards the meter. Columns will be first to go. The paywall won’t ever make or lose much money, but the real impact will be cultural and organizational — suddenly the Times won’t be the most important news institution in the minds of the American public. Finally, the whole thing will be quietly shelved.

Secondary prediction: The paywall won’t ever be launched, and the leaders of New York Times Co. will admit it was all hatched out in a moment of online madness that swept the industry in late 2009.

The New York Times’ switch to some sort of online pay-to-read system will be a financial success right off the bat — even a windfall for the Times.

Paddy Hirsch, senior editor, public radio’s Marketplace

While news outlets that are hewing to the pay-to-read model will persist in charging readers, the trend will continue to move against them. More and more content will be offered for “free” to consumers as distribution platforms continue to proliferate. Inevitably, this will erode the pay-model outlets’ readerships, and we’ll eventually start to see capitulation by all except the most “niche” journalism organizations, such as trade magazines.

Paywalls will succeed — to a point. The Times and other papers will have success with payment plans that hew to the metered model practiced by the Financial Times, Journalism Online [which owns Press+], and others. But this success will be limited: It will be effective in getting papers’ most loyal customers to pay, but that percentage of customers will be so small that such efforts will be largely seen as failures. We’ll still be talking about analog dollars and digital dimes and bemoaning the lack of a silver bullet. The subscription debate will have moved away from absolutist dogma to a more nuanced view, which will be good, but the level of frustration will remain high and contribute to a lot of noise in conversations.

Markos Moulitsas, founder and publisher, Daily Kos

The NY Times effort to implement a paywall won’t survive the end of the year.

The NYT paywall (with a few bumps and starts) may be the dawn of a new era for national news organizations, but it may be impossible to generalize to other, smaller, and more local news organizations. [Usher does some of her research on the Times, but notes that she has no insider knowledge on this one. —Ed.]

May 18 2010

16:00

Mediagazer: From zero to big traffic driver in just two short months

Last week we were perusing our Google Analytics report here at the Lab and one data point stood out: A site barely two months old had inched into our top 10 referring sites for the previous month. Checking today, it’s up into our top five, passing up many more traditional traffic drivers.

The site is Mediagazer, the media-focused offshoot of the popular technology site Techmeme, and like its sibling it combines editors and an algorithm to gather the best stories on its subject from around the web. On Monday, Mediagazer debuted a feature called Leaderboard (it came first to Techmeme) which ranks news-about-news sources in terms of their prominence on Mediagazer. (We fare well on it, but I swear that’s not why we’re interested.)

I spoke with the site’s editor Megan McCarthy about how the site became a traffic-driver so quickly. McCarthy credits the site’s addictive quality: People arrive via the online equivalent of word of mouth, like social media, and once they’re there, a hefty (though undisclosed) percentage keep coming back. The site already has a core readership that checks in every day, McCarthy said. Mediagazer refreshes every five minutes, thanks to the algorithm searching the web for new content getting linked by other sites; meanwhile, McCarthy is trolling the web for links the algorithm might not have seen yet and prioritizing the ones it has. On a typical day, Mediagazer links to about 40 stories. (McCarthy would not disclose monthly traffic statistics.)

Mediagazer isn’t entering an empty space; from Romenesko to our own Twitter feed, there are plenty of people sorting through the media news of the day. Mediagazer’s scope is broader than, say, ours, including things like new TV lineups and media criticism we wouldn’t cover. Mediagazer joins the other sites run by Techmeme: political news at Memeorandum, celebrity gossip at WeSmirch, and baseball at BallBug, although those three sites are purely automated with no human intervention.

The site is also active on Twitter, sending out the links it posts, with the tweak of including the personal Twitter handle of the author who wrote the post, as you can see above. (The tweet attribution is automated, but requires a one-time setup process with the help of the human.) McCarthy said they want to let journalists know about Mediagazer — I certainly noticed the @ mentions showing up in my Twitter feed — and they want to give readers another opportunity to drill down into a subject area of interest.

“I want anyone who looks at the site to know, not only what’s going on [in the media industry], but what’s going to happen,” McCarthy said.

The combination of links, frequent updates, and obsessive readers seems to create the kind of place that active tweeters and bloggers would stop by. That target audience is clear in the kind of advertisements Mediagazer serves — they seem to be primarily from companies that provide software services to bloggers. It also probably explains why we’re seeing so many Mediagazer readers coming our way.

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