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August 21 2012

14:00

At Rural Newspapers, Some Publishers Still Resist Moving Online

In 1968, Dick Graham bought a small weekly newspaper in Ferry County, Wash., one of the most remote and sparsely populated counties in the Pacific Northwest.

Forty-four years later -- give or take a few months -- broadband Internet is arriving.

Graham and his century-old newspaper, The Republic News-Miner, have cast a wary eye toward the web and raised a legitimate question: Should rural newspapers go online?

Graham, now 75, has resisted.

"I'm old-fashioned," he said. "I don't put nothing up for nothing."

Long shielded from the pressure of Internet news competition, as well as classified competitors like Craigslist, rural newspapers have reportedly fared far better than their metropolitan counterparts. While newspapers in population centers saw growing competition from online startups in the past decade, rural newspapers have faced relatively little competition. (So-called hyper-local sites like AOL's Patch are clustered in metropolitan areas and altogether absent from rural areas in the West.)

al_cross_uky.jpg

As broadband Internet spreads into rural communities -- spurred by a $7 billion federal investment -- rural newspapers are increasingly facing a question encountered by their metropolitan counterparts a decade ago: What information should be offered online?

The considerations aren't solely economic. Rural newspapers that ignore online opportunities may be risking their relevancy -- and losing opportunities -- in their communities, experts say. And rural readers may be missing out as well; a recent survey suggests that rural citizens are going online to look for news but struggle to find local content, especially when compared to more metropolitan citizens. Instead, those readers are finding state or national media outlets that may have little or no "local" content.

That places rural weekly newspapers at a crossroads.

"It's a 24-7 world and they come out 52 times a year," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. "The worst day to die in a rural area is on a Thursday -- your obit won't be printed for a week."

'We need a business-model solution'

Digitally savvy rural journalists can quickly publish breaking community news, making their publications even more relevant to readers. But the web may not work for every rural publication; Cross said some rural papers may jump directly to mobile platforms, as phone technology rapidly evolves and cellular networks continue to spread.

Today, community newspapers are struggling with the same economic worries that larger publications have seen online, according to Bill Will, executive director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents about 130 community newspapers in the state.

"We have lots of business-model questions," Will said at an April roundtable discussion at Washington State University. "We need a business-model solution."

Translating digital readership into advertising dollars may be as perilous for rural news outlets as it has been for larger metros.

"They rightly have been wary of putting information online for free because that cannibalizes their print content," Cross said. "But I think there is a way to go online ... You put things online that you can't put in print."

Federal investment carries broadband to small towns

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In Ferry County, the online debate has been slow to arrive.

For more than a decade, the county's residents relied primarily on dial-up connections or satellite Internet access -- about 80 percent of county residents were unserved by broadband Internet, according to the state's 2012 Annual Report on Broadband in Washington.

Three years ago, the federal government invested more than $7 billion into expanding broadband Internet access to unserved or underserved areas. The money, which was appropriated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has strengthened network capability and expanded infrastructure across the country, including Washington state.

Today, more than 96 percent of the state's households have access to broadband Internet, a network that stretches from the foothills of the Cascade Mountains to rural farmland and tiny mountain towns. But rural communities still lag behind larger cities, which tend to have faster broadband access, digitally literate citizens, and journalists increasingly adept at web and social media tools.

Technology leaders say that these rural residents are on the wrong side of the country's digital divide, and small businesses, rural citizens, and far-flung towns run the risk of falling further behind as cities increasingly become more digitally savvy. Broadband access must be partnered with public education, experts say, so that communities and citizens understand the impact of faster Internet access -- think of it as building a highway system without teaching people how to drive.

Three Initiatives to Help

Participants in the April roundtable, which was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Knight Foundation, recommended three initiatives:

  • A news consortium to facilitate training for community journalists and partnerships with larger media organizations to increase the flow of information.
  • A grassroots campaign to increase digital literacy in rural areas, as well as with state and local policymakers.
  • An annual survey of news awareness among Washington citizens, as well as a measure of the health of the state's media outlets, and the expansion of high-speed broadband.

Obviously, that outreach takes money in a time of strained state and local budgets.

"If communities need to become digitally literate, then how can they accomplish this, given today's economic realities?" Angela Wu, former broadband policy and programs director for Washington state, asked at the April roundtable. (A full report on the roundtable can be viewed here.)

Critics say rural residents choose to live in small towns; many do, of course, but others must be close to jobs or cheaper housing. Others question whether such communities need quicker access to YouTube videos or other web diversions. Those critics fail to realize how video conferencing or a web presence can fundamentally alter rural businesses -- or educate rural citizens.

Research from colleagues at Washington State University suggests that rural residents find it "significantly more difficult" to keep abreast of local news than metropolitan residents. Rural residents are less frequent consumers of news media for local news, even though they appear to be seeking broadcast and online outlets for state and national news, according to the study by Douglas Blanks Hindman and Michael Beam. (Both rural and non-rural residents say it's easier to keep up with local news than it was five years ago, but non-rural residents find it significantly easier than rural residents, according to the survey.)

That gap may be the product of a dearth of local online information in small towns. In many small communities, weekly or monthly publications may be the sole source of news, and that news does not always migrate to the web. But in the Pacific Northwest -- Ferry County -- change is coming.

In Ferry County, competing papers and approaches

In 2009, Greg Sheffield opened another weekly newspaper in Ferry County, creating a new challenge for Graham's News-Miner.

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Sheffield's paper, The Ferry County View, created a competition for the county's 4,000 households. And unlike Graham, he's begun moving content online -- though not all of it.

"I'm just afraid that if we put our content online that if will remove the incentive people have to read the published newspaper," said Sheffield, a former private pilot turned publisher. "I might consider putting it behind a paywall, but it's just not my top priority."

And he's not sure it's a good economic idea.

"I wish there was an old newspaper publisher's club where I could sit down and ask, How do you deal with this?" Sheffield said. "I would love to have that opportunity."

Graham, who has officially retired as publisher of the News-Miner but still owns the publication, said his paper's circulation has dropped from 1,200 to about 900 in recent years.

"I'm no different than a lot of the weekly newspapers. I spent more for computers than I did buying the place," Graham said. "(A web presence) is something that we've had some inquiries about. I'm just not too sure in these small towns how well that goes over."

For Graham, who began working at newspapers at age 12, the arrival of broadband may threaten his readers' habitual perusing of the print paper each week.

"People get their paper early Thursday morning and have their coffee," Graham said, before pausing. "Of course, they're all 80 years old now."

Benjamin Shors teaches journalism at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

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August 20 2012

13:34

Red & Black Lesson: Students Must Balance Business Needs at College Papers

There are no winners in the mess at the Red & Black. But there are lessons.

The Red & Black at the University of Georgia has long been regarded as one of America's finest college news operations. The students' journalism is consistently first class, and publisher Harry Montevideo has a track record as one of the sharpest business minds in the industry. (Disclosure: Montevideo has been a mentor of mine.)

But last week, a clumsy board memo became public, suggesting students focus more on "good" stories and granted more editorial control to professionals. Student editors resigned in protest. And Montevideo scuffled with a reporter at an open house. Montevideo has since issued a written apology for the scuffle and the board member who wrote the memo has resigned.

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How could things go so wrong? And what can the rest of us who work in college newspapers learn from it?

On the face of it, the dispute rests on whether students or professionals "control" the editorial content. Certainly, student control is central to the mission of student media. But the reality of running an independent, self-supporting college newspaper in the digital age is more nuanced than just who controls content.

Boards, editors and publishers must figure out how to evolve from the 1990s model of a journalism lab funded by an advertising monopoly to a 2010s model of a media company fighting in a hyper-competitive market.

"Every paper in the country wrestles with that: How do we deliver what you need to know vs. what you want to know?" said Barry Hollander, a professor at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

"If I knew the answer, I'd be a consultant ... I have no idea what the answer is, and I have my doubts about anyone who says they know what the answer is. We're all trying to feel our way along."

From lab to business

College newspaper boards and publishers must figure out the business model while still giving students the editorial freedom that they deserve and without compromising traditional journalistic values and ethics. In some ways, it's a more complicated balance than professional newsrooms where the publisher and owners get the final say on all business and editorial decisions.

In the 1990s model, college newspapers offered students and advertisers the only option for news and a local marketplace. That opened up a river of revenue that subsidized student-led newsrooms and provided nearly limitless journalistic freedom. I was a product of that system at the Oregon Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon in the late 1990s. It was the most fun I've had in journalism.

But I will be the first to admit, we occasionally produced some silly, unprofessional and self-absorbed journalism. In that model, it didn't matter. We practiced the skills we learned in class -- writing, sourcing and beats -- and didn't have to bother with advertisers, rates and readership.

But those days ended long before Myspace.

In the 2010s model, college newspapers offer one option among dozens. They compete against Facebook, Google and Twitter for students' time and advertisers' money. For many newspapers, readership and revenue are down 25 percent or more from the peak in the 1990s or 2000s.

Boards and publishers stare at those trendlines and seek solutions. But they also know they have no direct control over the most important piece of the operation: the content.

Different models at different schools

Each independent college newspaper confronts that challenge differently.

"It's the same as it has always been: education, training, persuading, suggesting. Some combination of all of those things," said Eric Jacobs, general manager for 31 years at The Daily Pennsylvanian.

At the Red & Black, the board believed the newspaper needed more professional oversight, especially online. "You've got to have people there to guide these things," Elliott Brack, the board's president, told the Student Press Law Center. "Each one of those takes its own professional."

But the students believed they were being forced into assignments that were more public relations than newsgathering, including "grip and grin" photos during sorority rush week, said Evan Stichler, the Red & Black's former chief photographer. "I think they were looking at it more from the marketing and advertising standpoint of getting viewers," he said.

At UCLA's Daily Bruin, director Arvli Ward is building a digital advertising network completely divorced from the newspaper. So far, his staff has built 60 mobile apps. His goal: to generate enough advertising revenue to subsidize the student newsroom.

"The monopoly that we owned was not on distributing dead tree products around campus, it was the advertising monopoly," Ward said. "That's what we have to regain. When we regain that, we can funnel money to our newsroom and let students do what they do. It's not going to be The New York Times, and sometimes it's going to be off color, but that's what makes a college newspaper interesting."

At the University of Oregon's Emerald, where I now work again, our student editors went on strike in 2009.

Students walked out after a consultant to the board drafted an organizational chart in which the publisher would oversee the student editor. I advocated for and later chaired an Editorial Independence Committee to protect the newsroom's editorial independence.

But my perspective evolved when I became publisher of the Emerald and was accountable for the company's financial performance. I still believe that students must retain editorial control. However, I also see the need to ensure student editors run the newsroom in a way that fits with the company's long-term business goals. It's a delicate balance that is now reviewed at least annually by an Editorial Advisory Committee led by a former Emerald editor in chief and editor at The Oregonian.

The sense of urgency is intense for independent college newspapers. Now, more than ever, college newspapers need tighter working relationships among news editors, business leaders and board members.

Or as Stichler, the former Red & Black photographer, put it: "Stick to your principles. Have some standards between board, editor and staff people ... You have to make sure everyone is in agreement."

Ryan Frank is president of the Emerald Media Group, formerly the Oregon Daily Emerald, the independent nonprofit media company at the University of Oregon. He blogs at thegarage.dailyemerald.com.

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August 15 2012

14:00

In Burma, a Delicate Balance for New Freedoms of Speech

BANGALORE -- The weekend before last, black-clad Burmese journalists took to the streets of main city Rangoon to rail against the suspension of two local newspapers by the country's censorship board.

An estimated 300 protesters wore black T-shirts with the logo "Stop Killing the Press" after The Voice Weekly and The Envoy were suspended for not submitting stories for pre-publication scrutiny, a legacy of the bad old days of arbitrary rule that government has said will soon be history.

The Voice Weekly was curbed due to an article about a rumored cabinet reshuffle which it published without the censor's go-ahead. "It seems the censor board is flexing its muscles to remind everyone they are still there," said Sein Win, editor of Mizzima, another newspaper.

The protest and other related developments show how finely-balanced emerging press and speech freedoms are in Burma. In a sense, that the protest was allowed to take place at all shows that Burma's reforms are giving people at least more leeway to publicly voice their opinions, and notably, the suspension has since been lifted, in response to the protestors.

But then, on August 10, another reminder that old regime ways die hard: The government announced a new press council, to be staffed by officials, rather than journalists. This means the council will be a government entity rather than a self-regulating media body as is often the case with press councils in other countries.

Elsewhere, new-found freedoms have allowed old tensions between some of Burma's dozens of ethnic and religious groups come to the fore.

TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK

Before a civilian government took office in March 2011, replacing the former military rulers, there was no chance such a protest would take place -- or if it did the demonstrators would have been arrested, put through a show trial, and possibly given lengthy, trumped-up jail terms.

The government is civilian in name only as it is made up of mostly former army cadres and backed by various legislatures featuring almost 80 percent army or army-backed lawmakers.

Nonetheless, the government has made numerous changes over the past year, such as freeing hundreds of political prisoners and allowing free and fair by-elections on April 1, during which famous opposition leader Ang San Suu Kyi won a parliamentary seat. Last week, the government even funded commemorations of the August 1988 student protests against the then-government, demonstrations which resulted in the army killing an estimated 3,000 civilians.

Prior to the recent, mostly informal relaxation of media freedom, the newspapers in question could not have ran anything critical of the government or even published something as seemingly innocuous as a photo of Aung San Suu Kyi.

CHANGES STILL NEEDED

But the latest suspensions are a reminder that the Burmese government can still apply the letter of the law if it so chooses and that draconian laws curbing freedom of expression remain on the books.

Shawn Crispin, southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, "We are also concerned that even if the media law includes liberal provisions, they will be trumped by the various other draconian laws on the books, including the Electronics Act, that have historically been used to threaten and jail journalists." 

With press freedom curtailed in Burma in the past, many journalists fled abroad, running news agencies from Thailand or India. One, Kheunsai Jaiyen, heads the Shan Herald agency, focusing on affairs in Shan state, a narcotics-producing region of Burma bordering northern Thailand.

mizzima.png

"For years we had to operate inside Shan state incognito," he recalls. "Now it is easier since the regime makes a show of opening up."

Some of Burma's exiled press -- such as Mizzima -- have opened offices in Burma in recent months, while others are mulling whether to establish a presence at home, pending finalization of the new press law, which will see the end of the government censors, according to the government itself. Kheunsai Jaiyen said, "We have yet to decide whether we will register officially in Burma."

NEW FREEDOMS, NEW CLASHES

In June, deadly riots between Buddhist Arakanese and Muslims, mostly Rohingya, took place in Arakan in the west of Burma.

Many Arakanese and other Burmese regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, calling them "Bengalis" and worse. State-run media published the word "kalar" to describe the Rohingya, something akin to a U.S. newspaper using the word "nigger" in a news report.

"Illegal Migrants Bangali/Rohingya People are Never and Forever cannot count in Eyhnic People of Burma Nation, ever they are legal or illegal" ran one such comment, posted anonymously under a news article about the issue in The Irrawaddy, a Burmese news magazine run from northern Thailand.

With Internet access in Burma slowly expanding and -- for those who can afford it or put up with glacial download speeds -- access to the likes of Facebook and Twitter no longer blocked, freedom to say what's on one's mind has taken a nasty turn.

Burmese at home and among the millions of diaspora scattered across southeast Asia, Europe and North America have taken to issuing diatribes about the Rohingya, with even former political prisoners under the old military junta taking to praising the current government and using ominous sounding nationalist and security justifications for supporting clamping down on what many describe as "so-called Rohingya."

In the meantime, the Rohingya issue has attracted the attention of Muslims overseas, including militants such as the Pakistani Taliban and Abu Bakr Basyir, currently in jail in Indonesia for funding terrorism. Online, doctored photos purporting to support unverified claims of a "genocide" of Rohingya have appeared and Rohingya or foreign backers have fired out some splenetic pages and posts in turn.

"There are weaknesses in both domestic and foreign reporting. Most of the local news coverage is emotional, with a strong sentiment of patriotism," Sein Win said, hinting at the need for greater responsibility and balance in Burma's partly free press.

Simon Roughneen is an Irish journalist usually based in southeast Asia. He writes for the The Irrawaddy, Christian Science Monitor and others. He is on twitter @simonroughneen and you can Circle him on Google+.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

August 10 2012

12:15

In Burma, A Delicate Balance for New Freedoms of Speech

BANGKOK - The weekend before last, black-clad Burmese journalists took to the streets of main city Rangoon to rail against the suspension of two local newspapers by the country's censorship board.

An estimated 300 protesters wore black T-shirts with the logo "Stop Killing the Press" after The Voice Weekly and The Envoy were suspended for not submitting stories for pre-publication scrutiny, a legacy of the bad old days of arbitrary rule that government has said will soon be permanently history.

The Voice Weekly was curbed due to an article about a rumored cabinet reshuffle which it published without the censor's go-ahead. "It seems the censor board is flexing its muscles to remind everyone they are still there," said Sein Win, editor of Mizzima, another newspaper.

The protest showcases how delicate emerging press and speech freedoms are in Burma. In a sense, that the protest was allowed to take place at all shows that Burma's reforms are giving people at least more leeway to publicly voice their opinions, and notably, the suspension was since lifted, in response to the protestors.

But then, on an August 10, another signal of the old regime: Government announced a new press council, but to much disappointment that the new body manned by officials, rather than journalists, meaning the council will be government entity rather than a self-regulating media body is is often the case with press councils elsewhere.

And, the new-found freedoms come with their own set of problems as tensions between some of Burma's dozens of ethnic and religious groups come to the fore.

TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK

Before a "civilian" government took office in March 2011, replacing the former military rulers, there was no chance such a protest would take place - or if it did the demonstrators would have been arrested, put through a show trial and possibly given lengthy, trumped-up jail terms.

The government is civilian in name only as it is made up of mostly former army cadres and backed by legislatures featuring almost 80 percent army or army-backed lawmakers.

Nonetheless the government has made numerous changes over the past year, such as freeing hundreds of political prisoners and allowing free and fair by-elections on April 1 last, in which famous opposition leader Ang San Suu Kyi won a parliamentary seat. Last week, the government even funded commemorations of the August 1988 student protests against the then-government, which resulted in the army killing an estimated 3000 civilians.

Prior to a recent, mostly-informal relaxation of media freedom, the newspapers in question could not have ran anything critical of the government or even published something as seemingly innocuous as a photo of Aung San Suu Kyi.

CHANGES STILL NEEDED

But the latest suspensions are a reminder that the Burmese government can still apply the letter of the law if it so chooses and that draconian laws curbing freedom of expression remain on the books.

Shawn Crispin, southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists said, "We are also concerned that even if the media law includes liberal provisions, they will be trumped by the various other draconian laws on the books, including the Electronics Act, that have historically been used to threaten and jail journalists." 

With press freedom curtailed in Burma in the past, many journalists fled abroad, running news agencies from Thailand or India. One, Kheunsai Jaiyen, heads the "Shan Herald": http://www.english.panglong.org/ agency, focusing on affairs in Shan state, a narcotics-producing region of Burma bordering northern Thailand.

mizzima.png

"For years we had to operate inside Shan state incognito," he recalls. "Now it is easier since the regime makes a show of opening up."

Some of Burma's exiled press - such as Mizzima - have opened offices in Burma in recent months, while others are mulling whether to establish a presence at home, pending finalization of the new press law, which will see the end of the government censors, according to the government itself. Kheunsai Jaiyen said "We have yet to decide whether we will register officially in Burma."

NEW FREEDOMS, NEW CLASHES

In June, deadly riots between Buddhist Arakanese and Muslims, mostly Rohingya, took place in Arakan in the west of Burma.

Many Arakanese and other Burmese regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrant from Bangladesh, calling them "Bengalis" and worse. State-run media published the word "kalar' to describe the Rohingya, something akin to a US newspaper using the word "nigger" in a news report.

"Illegal Migrants Bangali/Rohingya People are Never and Forever cannot count in Eyhnic People of Burma Nation, ever they are legl or illegal" ran one such comment, posted anonymously under a news article about the issue in The Irrawaddy, a Burmese news magazine run from northern Thailand.

With internet access in Burma slowly expanding and, for those can afford it or put up with glacial download speeds, access to the likes of Facebook and Twitter no longer blocked, freedom to say what's on one's mind has taken a nasty turn.

Burmese at home and among the millions of diaspora scattered across southeast Asia, Europe and north America have taken to issuing diatribes about the Rohingya, with even former political prisoners under the old military junta taking to praising the current government and using ominous sounding nationalist and security justifications for supporting clamping down on what many describe as "so-called Rohingya".

In the meantime, the Rohingya issue has attracted the attention of Muslims overseas, including militants such as the Pakistani Taliban and Abu Bakr Basyir , currently in jail in Indonesia for funding terrorism. Online, doctored photos purporting to support unverified claims of a "genocide" of Rohingya have appeared and Rohingya or foreign backers have fired out some splenetic pages and posts in turn.

"There are weaknesses in both domestic and foreign reporting. Most of the local news coverage is emotional, with a strong sentiment of patriotism," Sein Win said, hinting at the need for greater responsibility and balance in Burma's partly-free press.

Simon Roughneen is an Irish journalist usually based in southeast Asia. He writes for the The Irrawaddy, Christian Science Monitor and others. He is on twitter @simonroughneen and you can Circle him on Google+.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

December 21 2011

15:20

December 20 2011

15:20

7 Ways Salespeople Can Better Understand the Editorial Side of News

There was quite a reaction to my previous column, suggesting editors learn more about, and cooperate with, the business sides of their organizations.

This time, I'd like to talk to people on the business side about how they can cooperate with the editorial side to work effectively to keep a news organization solid while also increasing revenues and ensuring the organization's survival.

First, though, let me respond a bit to the critics. A lot of the comments, on Facebook, Google+, blogs and elsewhere indicated people had read the provocative headline, "Tear Down the Wall Between Business and Editorial," perhaps a subhed or two, but not the piece in full, or even half. Some were nasty, political or ad hominem attacks (one called me Mr. "Bank Oil," the kind of play on my name I hadn't heard since elementary school), others were amusing, and a fair number were supportive and thoughtful.

One careful and considered rebuttal came from the liberal Common Dreams site, which called me "oblivious to the dangers of basing your business model on giving the sponsors what they want."

I'm not. But I have seen multiple news sites struggle to survive, including ones where I've had to cut staff.

Common Dreams asks for donations, and I hope they get enough to support their operation. Most news organizations, though, cannot survive on charity. Many are in deep trouble and have gone out of business or are struggling to survive.

News media executives and entrepreneurs -- including one who praised the previous column -- have told me how pained they were at their inability to financially sustain sites they considered superior editorially.

Overcoming Skepticism from Editors

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"With many news publishers, the online brands haven't had the revenue to support the reporting and editorial operations, let alone the rest of the staff and infrastructure that's needed for a modern news organization," Tim Ruder, chief revenue officer of ad optimization company Perfect Market, told me last week.

Ruder has often faced skepticism and even the ire of editors at major news companies when offering his company's technology, which optimizes page layout and links to get more readers in and serve them higher-value ads. The editors, understandably, don't want their pages changed in any way.

But, Ruder continued, "If these type of revenue opportunities can support the newsroom without compromising reporting, that's not to be ignored."

The news is not all glum, either. I have seen entrepreneurs make a business out of news while cultivating their ability to do great work.

Part of the reason is their keen focus on what matters most. Which leads me back to the point of this column: How the business side can intelligently do its work to sustain and enhance the organization over time.

1. Remember, It's the News Business

Your product is news. News is nothing without credibility -- and that credibility can be damaged by the wrong kind of ads or sponsorship. I spent a lot of my time at ABC News explaining to the sales side why we couldn't do one thing or another while trying to suss out the advertisers' goals to reach them within the bounds of editorial tenets.

After all, the credibility and association with your site is a good part of the reason advertisers want to be on it. Without that credibility, they'll lose the venue to get the word out about their products.

If something you're proposing calls the reliability of the organization -- its credibility or trustworthiness -- into question, that damage is very hard to recover from.

2. Know and Advocate For the "Product"

I've worked with salespeople who seem to see a news page as an array of ads, with the text and pictures simply filling up the space in between.

Even if you think of the business as only a business, not a special public trust, you have to respect the product and not bastardize it in the name of making quick money. Part of your job should be to help sustain the business over the long-term.

You can't really sell the news unless you have a powerful, abiding respect for what it is and can do, the ways it serves, informs, motivates and even impassions a community. You'll be much better able to intelligently sell the advertiser on that community if you understand what motivates the people in that community, in addition to their demographic profile.

3. Get At The Client's Real Goals

Sponsors will sometimes try to push the envelope, or get something they've envisioned that's not on your site. They'll ask if they can put this extra doodad here, get that ad size or flashy thing there.

When it's not possible, any intelligent sponsor or media buyer should be able to tell you something of what the goals are. Maybe you can offer that special something in another way, or achieve their aim with an offering you already have in your arsenal.

Sponsors who are considering your organization are doing so not only because you offer them exposure to a certain user base or group, but also because of the environment they get to be in.

It can be a bit of work, especially when you're dealing with media buyers who are trying to fit you into a spreadsheet model as part of a larger buy. But I've found that more often than not, there's a way to help them understand, then reach an accommodation.

4. Understand the Line, Then Help Hold It

It's very tempting when there's money on the table to say "yes," then run to try to get the request fulfilled. Cultivate and listen to the voice in the back of your head that will tell you when something goes a little, or a lot, too far.

A sponsor may request something you are pretty sure won't fly. First you have to understand why. It's not enough just to know the rules. You have to grasp the reason you can't do something a sponsor is asking.

I give a flat "no" when asked if sponsorship would guarantee news coverage of a given client and am ready with very clear reasons for giving that answer. I also then work to get at the client's underlying goals to find a way to reach them within the strictures. (See the previous point.)

To salespeople, editors can seem like "no" machines. If an editor objects to something you're proposing to offer, he or she may seem obstructionist, but there may be a legitimate reason.

Just as I called on editors to work with the sales side, the sales side has to understand the editorial imperatives and try to work within them. It helps, too, if the business side works with the editorial side to devise the strictures.

5. Work With the Editors, and Let Them Help You

Having a strong relationship with editors can beget other benefits. Mike Orren, founder of Pegasus News, a site that serves the Dallas-Fort Worth area, put the newsroom and sales teams in the same room.

MikeOrren.jpg

"Our ex-newspaper restaurant critic was yelling across the room saying there was a review coming, and the sales team might want to pitch them," he said, noting that the critic didn't say whether the review was good or bad. Either way, the sponsor might want to be there -- if the article is negative, the sponsor may want the opportunity to counter that perception. But "never was she [the critic] going to let somebody tell her how to review a restaurant," Orren said.

The sales team also helped the editorial side. "Sales would tip the editorial team that someone wasn't paying bills and maybe were going to go out of business," Orren told me at the Street Fight Summit earlier this fall. "We got more scoops out of our sales team than probably anywhere else."

6. Don't Underestimate How Hard It Is To ...

  • Get a story. The text and video you see that magically appears day after day takes a lot of time and effort to gather, edit and produce -- especially in a reliable and trustworthy way. A lot of reporters work all hours and sacrifice health, sleep and social life to get a story. Understand and respect that dedication. It can be a lot harder than it looks.
  • Get people to look at it. A lot of the work of getting people to discover a story once it's been produced falls on the editorial team, especially in the digital realm. That, too, takes time, effort and understanding of the community.

7. Now, More than Ever

For a few decades, news in America had a heyday of nearly unsurpassed profitability brought about by advantages such as high barriers to entry, limited distribution channels, and advertisers with few other ways to reach consumers. Salespeople could literally sit and wait for the phone to ring.

"It's like printing money!" one publisher gleefully exclaimed to me, holding up a classified page on which every column inch represented more dollars.

Those reliable and hefty profits supported all kinds of editorial efforts that, unfortunately, can no longer be sustained in the same way.

As the industry restructures, I have suggested editors learn how the business works and how far they can go to help it without compromising the operation. Sales needs to understand that "money talks" but the people making "the product" are ultimately responsible for whether it's worthwhile for those who consume it.

I want to see news organizations survive and do great work, and I believe that today, the only way to ensure that is to take a more holistic approach to the business of news.

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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December 08 2011

15:20

Why Our Startup Decided Not To Target the Newspaper Industry

Are there opportunities for technology startups which target the media business?

Fred Wilson -- a venture capitalist who has made investments in Twitter, Zynga, Tumblr, Etsy, and FourSquare, among others -- apparently thinks not. As reported on MediaShift on November 15, Wilson told an audience of CUNY students with interests in business and journalism that better opportunities could be found in industries that aren't as "picked over" and have problems that aren't being solved.

As the co-founder of a technology startup that once considered the news industry as a source of partnerships and revenue, I agree with Wilson that startups should look elsewhere.

However, the reason they should do so is not because the media industry lacks problems that need to be solved. If anything, the media industry has problems that span every sector of the industry and every segment of the value chain. Rather, the reason why startups should look for other opportunities is many industry problems are so intractable, and the chance for making a successful business is so slim, that it simply doesn't make sense to target it.

The case of Invantory

Right now, we're developing Invantory, a mobile software platform that targets the local classifieds marketplace that is currently dominated by Craigslist. We're going to make the Invantory experience one that is defined by an easy-to-use interface and great-looking photographs that are now possible with most smartphones. Further, we're attacking a problem that has vexed users of Craigslist and newspaper classifieds for years -- the lack of a system to vet who you're dealing with. Our reputation system, which is built on proprietary algorithms and other safeguards, will help users better evaluate the other parties before they make contact.

My partner, Sam Chow, is a former Microsoft engineer and an experienced programmer for Apple's iOS platform. My own background is online news, content and communities. In the 2000s, I was a technology journalist and online editor, and in the 1990s, I worked at a daily newspaper and on a daily television newscast.

My news roots run deep, and I thought there might be some alignment between our platform and the needs of local news publishers, which have seen their own classifieds revenue fall sharply in the last five years. In 2006, classified revenue in four categories (cars, jobs, real estate and "other") totaled $17 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Last year, it totaled just $5.6 billion. Wouldn't it be great if our platform could somehow help the media industry, while building Invantory's user base?

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I began seeking out publishers, online news professionals and other experts to better understand the market and the possibilities for our platform to serve online news operations through white-label apps or other solutions. Very quickly I realized there would be a problem selling to publishers. Most people I talked with had reservations about dealing with software vendors, ranging from a reluctance to share revenue to outright mistrust.

"I've dealt with enough vendors to become very cynical," a publisher of a small newspaper told me. "Whether they extrapolate revenue based on bigger markets or outright lie, we have become very suspicious."

This sentiment, which was echoed by others I spoke with, made me realize that the sales cycles would be punishing. For many customers, it would be hard to get our foot in the door, let alone successfully close a deal.

Yet the same publisher was interested in a technology that could help once again make classifieds a draw -- as well as bring in revenue or improve efficiencies. He readily admitted that his own technology was complicated for users. "On Craigslist, it's easy to create an ad, upload a photo, and publish," he said. "We should be able to do that."

The barriers

I spent time studying how classified systems worked at various publishers. I found it very interesting that many smaller publishers still had a classifieds desk that took ads over the phone, often augmented by email with customers. Some larger publishers had online classifieds tools, but they were clunky. Part of the problem related to the fact that most attempted to serve both the print and online classifieds, and did neither job well. Others were poorly configured. The system used by my hometown newspaper didn't even let me post classifieds locally -- but did make it possible to create listings in markets more than 20 miles away. The system also tried to charge expensive rates for relatively small ads -- $15 to $20 was a typical base rate for a small text ad in print. (A simple online classified ad was included for free.) No wonder people were abandoning newspaper classifieds for Craigslist.

Beyond the clunky ad creation systems, one of the biggest technology problems I observed was the nonstandard online publishing platforms used across the industry. This is actually a huge, underappreciated issue for all news publishers, including broadcasters, news agencies, blog-based news and opinion sites. It leads to additional costs, complexities, and talent shortages that companies based on older media platforms -- including print, television and radio -- did not have to deal with.

Among newspaper websites, it's not hard to find home-grown hacks or heavily customized content management systems. Even at publishers which use the same CMS across their properties, variations are common -- a typical example might involve different versions of Drupal and Drupal modules, owing to staggered technology upgrades, different needs for various brands, and complications involving legacy applications and data. Throw different registration and online payment systems into the mix, and you can start to understand the problem new software platforms targeting this industry are faced with.

Related to the CMS mess was a lack of developers and other technical staff at media organizations. This is a problem that afflicts many industries, not just the news business. But it exacerbated the problem with nonstandard publishing systems. Not only would heavy programming work be required to get Invantory to work with a new customer's site, but integration would largely fall back on us. Systems integration is technology consulting that requires lots of time and specialized development staff. It was not a business that we wanted to get into.

The Final Nails in the Coffin

The final nails in the coffin came at the New England Newspaper & Press Association's fall conference in October. There, I heard more details about the pain being experienced by publishers, and received advice that helped us make our decision to abandon our original plan to target the media industry.

One of the speakers, Amy Mitchell of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, laid out the grim financial outlook. She stated that while most newspapers are still managing a profit, they're surviving by managing costs. Mitchell was unable to identify any solution to the revenue crisis. "We are not recommending anything other than experimentation," she told the audience, adding that this was going to be tough at many publications whose corporate cultures are resistant to change and innovation. This signaled that publishers were not only less likely to invest in innovative technologies, they were also unable to afford more expensive third-party software.

News industry analyst, author and blogger Ken Doctor was even more skeptical of a turnaround. "It is impossible for anyone to keep up with the disruption," he stated. Doctor went on to predict that broadcasters would soon begin to feel the same pain as newspapers and magazines, as business models based on traditional advertising eroded further.

However, Doctor also saw opportunity in tablet platforms. "If you read, you're going to have a tablet," he said, adding that the price of Kindles and other devices will soon drop to $50. "Why wouldn't you buy one?" he asked the audience.

The final presentation of the afternoon was from Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor turned Silicon Valley CEO. As a consultant, speaker and author of the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, he has become a well-known pundit on the travails of the news industry. During his NENPA talk, he predicted more top-line pain for publishers, owing to a number of trends:

  • "The audience trend is you don't have audiences under the age of 40."
  • "The most important thing happening is brands are going directly to consumers."
  • "High-priced reach advertising is not defensible."
  • "Coca-Cola has 34 million friends on Facebook ... This is the future for marketing and advertising."

Later in the day, I spoke with Mutter, and described our vision for Invantory as a mobile classifieds platform that could potentially sell white-labelled apps and platform technology to the news industry. He was pessimistic, not only because of the problems I cited earlier, but also because of the climate for raising capital in this space. "VCs with any experience won't invest in you," he warned.

Nevertheless, Mutter seemed hopeful about the idea of doing something different with classifieds. "Think about a real way to reinvent the classifieds market," Mutter told me. "Because there isn't one now."

Moving on

That evening, I met my partner and told him that the idea of selling to the news industry wouldn't work. Doing so would require huge investments of time and staff expertise, for skeptical customers who generally couldn't afford expensive technology systems. Raising capital would be more difficult when investors heard who we were targeting. We are still going ahead with our plan to create a mobile classifieds platform, but will instead go direct to consumer based on a freemium business model.

We've already built out the cloud infrastructure and now have a demo application. Work has already started on our intellectual property -- the proprietary technologies that will drive our reputation system. Soon we will begin user testing. (If you're interested in signing up for product updates, or seeing an alternative to Craigslist in your town or city, please use the sign-up form on the front page of the Invantory website.)

We understand that we'll face a new set of challenges, especially in terms of developing a solid go-to-market strategy and revenue plan. But we believe the time is ripe for innovation in this space.

Ian Lamont is the former managing editor of The Industry Standard and a web media veteran with years of experience developing online news, community and content. He eventually left the news media to return to grad school, earning an MBA as an MIT Sloan Fellow. His startup, Invantory, is a mobile software platform for local classifieds. Follow him on Twitter at @invantory or @ilamont or email him at ian.lamont@invantory.com.

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September 16 2011

18:17

What's the Best Business Model for Metro Newspapers?

Metro daily newspapers have been in a long rut in the United States, with many retrenching, closing or flailing for a new digital business model while cutting editorial staff to the bone. Many papers are watching the pay walls at places like NYTimes.com, and the new launch of the pay site, BostonGlobe.com. And what about newspapers like the Guardian in the U.K. that have kept content free, and pushed for an even bigger global audience?

What's the right mix of free and paid content for metro newspapers? Answer our poll, and share your thoughts in the comments below.


What's the best business model for metro newspapers?

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16:30

Mediatwits #20: Newspaper Special: Boston Globe Pay Wall; Guardian U.S.; Philly Tablet

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The Mediatwits podcast is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

Welcome to the 20th episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali, the one and only founder of PaidContent. This week is a special edition on newspapers, newspapers and more newspapers. First up, the Boston Globe launched its new pay-walled site, BostonGlobe.com, which is free for print subscribers but costs $3.99 per week for non-print subscribers. The old Boston.com site will look more cluttered and have less content from the paper. The special guest this week is Chris Mayer, publisher of the Globe, who talks about why they went with a two-site strategy, and how people will still be able to see Globe content if they come from social media or search links.

Next up is the move by the U.K. newspaper the Guardian, with its third attempt to take on the American market. The paper launched a new site, GuardianNews.com, helmed by Janine Gibson, and will be moving over star reporter Nick Davies as well as new hire Ana Marie Cox. Can they finally get a foothold in the States? And finally the Philadelphia newspapers and Philly.com are subsidizing an Android tablet for subscribers at $99 with a two-year subscription contract. Will people take up their offer?

Check it out!

mediatwits20.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

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:

Intro

1:40: Update on Michael Arrington leaving TechCrunch

3:10: Big conflicts of interest at TechCrunch Disrupt

4:10: Rafat likes "retro" feel of print NY Times

5:15: Rundown of topics on the show

BostonGlobe.com pay wall

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7:20: Rafat likes clean look of BostonGlobe.com

8:35: Special guest Chris Mayer, publisher of the Boston Globe

10:30: The split between two groups of Globe readers

15:40: Mayer: Readers appreciate advertising, as long as it's not disruptive

18:20: Will BostonGlobe.com do a special app or stay out of App Store?

21:10: The Globe's marketing push for its paid content

23:30: BostonGlobe.com will allow free reads of stories via social media and search without limits

25:45: Mark wonders if having two sites will really hurt the Globe

Guardian launches new U.S. site

26:20: Guardian moves Nick Davies stateside and hires Ana Marie Cox

28:20: Rafat impressed that they're hiring 20 to 30 people

Philadelphia papers subsidize Android tablets

30:35: Get a $99 tablet if you subscribe for two years at $9.99 per month

32:40: Allows many possible advertising deals

34:45: Why we're still watching moves by newspaper companies

More Reading

Four Observations (and Lots of Questions) on the Boston Globe's Lovely New Paywalled Site at Nieman Journalism Lab

Boston Globe pioneers double website strategy as it erects paywall at the Guardian

Judgement Day: Does the Boston Globe's paywall site have a chance in hell? at the Boston Phoenix

BostonGlobe.com, the pay site, now free until Oct. 1

The Guardian Launches a U.S. Homepage with a Special American U.R.L. at New York Observer

Nick Davies, Ana Marie Cox Join Guardian's New U.S. Operation at Capital New York

The Guardian Launches in America at the Next Web

GuardianNews.com, the new U.S. site

Philly papers offering subscribers $99 Android tablet at CNET

Sound Familiar? Philadelphia Newspapers Subsidize A Tablet To Sell You A Subscription at Wired

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time the best business model for metro newspapers:


What's the best business model for metro newspapers?

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+

CUNY-J LOGO.jpg

The Mediatwits podcast is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

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July 15 2011

16:46

Mediatwits #13: Smartphone Ownership Booms; This Week in Rupert

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Welcome to the 13th episode of "The Mediatwits," the weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali, the founder of PaidContent. This week's show looks at a recent survey by Pew Internet that found that 35 percent of Americans now have smartphones, and that ownership is even higher among people of color. Guest Aaron Smith from Pew explained one surprise from the survey: 25 percent of smartphone users were using their phone as their main source of accessing the Net.

Then talk once again turned to the United Kingdom, and what is becoming a regular feature on the podcast: "This Week in Rupert." The phone-hacking scandal continues to widen, with News Corp. dropping its bid to take over BSkyB, and a new FBI investigation into possible hacking of the phones of 9/11 victims in the U.S. Special guest Jack Shafer, Pressbox columnist for Slate, says not to jump to conclusions and that the New York Post and Fox News are innocent until proven guilty.

Check it out!

mediatwits13.mp3

Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

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:

Google+ addictions

0:40: Mark convincing friends to join Google+

3:10: Rafat waiting until it grows out of early adopter phase

3:30: Rundown of topics for the podcast

Pew Internet survey on smartphone use

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05:00: Background on Pew Internet's Aaron Smith

07:15: Smartphones becoming part of daily life

11:15: Theories on popularity of smartphones by blacks, Latinos

This Week in Rupert

14:50: Slate's Jack Shafer now supporting Murdoch (joking!)

16:10: Update on the phone-hacking scandal, spreading to 9/11 victims?

18:20: Everyone's guilty before anything is proven

20:20: Guardian, Nick Davies deserve praise for staying on story

22:30: Fox News impacted? Mark and Jack argue it out

25:45: Twitter keeps Jack updated on story

More Reading

Smartphone Adoption and Usage at Pew Internet

As smartphones proliferate, some users are cutting the computer cord at Washington Post

Smartphones and Mobile Internet Use Grow, Report Says at NY Times' Bits blog

Jack Shafer's Pressbox column on Slate

Rupert Murdoch, Paper Tiger at Slate

Murdoch Pulls the Ultimate Reverse Ferret at Slate

FBI to investigate Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.: Did it hack 9/11 victims? at Christian Science Monitor

Google Plus Users Top 10 Million; 1 Billion Items Shared Each Day at ReadWriteWeb

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time about how you access the Internet:




How do you access the Internet?

Check out the results of a previous poll: What do you think about Google+?

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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.

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July 07 2011

21:59

UK Phone-Hacking Scandal Shows Clash of Privacy with Need to Know

British journalism has undergone one of the most radical weeks in several decades this week.

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"Rocked," "chaos," "shocking" -- use whatever adjectives you like, but news this week that the News of the World (NOTW) tabloid hacked into the phones of child murder victims, families of July 7, 2005 terror attacks and parents of soldiers killed in action has turned the stomachs of much of Britain.

Now Rupert Murdoch's News International has shut down the NOTW after 168 years. This weekend will be the last edition of Britain's biggest selling newspaper.

The public appetite for information, particularly about celebrities and major news stories is insatiable -- until it becomes an intrusion into your own individual life. Is the duty to provide information more important to society as a whole than individual privacy? Does the civil "public interest" test outweigh the private protection of an individual?

'Hackgate'

The phone hacking scandal, or "hackgate" as some have dubbed it on Twitter, is a long-running saga and the New York Times Magazine investigation last year remains the best and most detailed single explanation. The Guardian has steadfastly kept attention on the matter.

As a basic summary, a reporter or private investigator would dial into the cell phone of a celebrity, politician or other public figure and then use a four-digit PIN number to access the voicemail. Many people never even change the PIN on their mobile voicemail or know how to do that. Investigators might pose as the celebrity in question and call the cell carrier saying they lost their PIN and need to reset it.

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The technique first began to unravel in 2005 when messages to Royal family aides were appearing read and saved, even though they hadn't heard them.

That eventually led to the conviction of NOTW Royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. Police said Mulcaire's notebook had thousands of names and corresponding details of cell phone numbers and PIN numbers.

Since then, attention has always been on which celebrities, MPs or other public figures had their phones hacked -- a practice which is illegal, except by the security services with a court order.

A Widening Scandal

That was until this week. When it emerged on Monday that Mulcaire had accessed the voicemail of 13-year-old Milly Dowler who went missing, and deleted messages in some cases giving the impression she was still alive to worried family members, the public reacted. Only on this past June 23 a man was convicted of murdering the schoolgirl so it was still fresh in the public's mind.

The revelations have continued, with more alleged hacking vicitms: the parents of murdered children Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002, the family members of victims of the London terror attacks on July 7, 2005, and the parents of fallen soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has also been revealed that up to five Metropolitan Police may have been paid bribes of £100,000 for information, from the same force that was supposed to be investigating the allegations of phone hacking, throwing the entire voracity of the inquiry into question.

So, how widespread is the practice of phone hacking? There have been reports -- by the New York Times feature last year in particular -- that other newspapers may have bought information obtained through phone hacking, or phone hacked directly, or that the technique was common at the NOTW. Although there have been a handful of arrests from within the NOTW, nobody has ever been charged beyond the original Royal reporter and private investigator. No other newspapers have yet been identified by police.

Pushing the Boundaries

I know a fair number of reporters and not one of them would engage in illegal activity for a story. Have we sometimes pushed boundaries? Of course. Do we sometimes feel a bit questionable afterwards? Yes. We're human.

When a newspaper told me they wanted a picture of school pupils but with "no fatties, uglies or ethnics," they apologized but that was the style of the paper. That's not illegal, but it's not the journalism I believe in.

Stories are regularly "spiked" because of the biases or agenda of a paper. Thankfully the UK has enough publications that almost any story can end up in print eventually, despite those barriers.

This story is still moving rapidly. Advertisers were pulling out of the paper. Ford was the first, very early on after the revelations and before any social media campaign really got going.

Social Media Pushes Advertisers Out

Mitsubishi said they were second on Tuesday as "morally right" to suspend advertising with a paper. Based on a suggestion from one of their Facebook followers, they are diverting the money to a children's charity instead.

As the week went on and the public identified which advertisers were in the weekly paper -- particularly thanks to data from the Guardian -- many other firms have pulled the plug, including the Royal British Legion on Thursday morning.

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Tesco, the UK's largest food retailer, said they wanted the police investigation to take its course, even while people on Twitter and Facebook bombarded them demanding they pull their advertising.

The Co-operative Group confirmed they heard from members by email, phone and via Facebook and Twitter while they were already reviewing their advertising, which they have now suspended.

Airlines, phone companies, the Post Office, and others have all pulled their advertising. One parody story even joked that Fish Refusing to Be Wrapped in the News of the World.

Other social media suggestions have included canceling subscriptions to Sky TV (i.e. BSkyB) which News International is trying to buy, or avoiding shops that sell the paper.

Closing NOTW

And then late on Thursday afternoon, News International chairman and Rupert's son James Murdoch told staff that the good work of the paper had "been sullied by behaviour that was wrong -- indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company."

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"The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself," he said.

Ultimately, the paper was in decline already. Circulation of the NOTW fell from 4,104,227 in October 2001 to 2,606,397 in April 2011, a drop of 36.5 percent. That is a significant pressure on any paper.

Total sales for 10 Sunday papers in October 2001 was 14,044,396. That has plummeted to 9,082,065 as of April, a drop of 35.3 percent. But the UK remains one of the most read newspaper markets in the world.

One non-press colleague said yesterday: "Everyone talks about freedom of the press. They've had their chance. Take it away."

Hundreds of people have worked for the NOTW as staff, hundreds more as contributors, and thousands more have been willingly quoted in the paper.

The actions of a handful of reporters or those they hire does not in any way dissuade me from the importance of journalism, a free press or a "smart, fearless journalism," as Mother Jones magazine aptly puts it.

Feeding the News Appetite

I personally don't know any reporters who lack souls. We don't exist in such realms of black or white, good or evil. But I know all of us are under pressure to feed the ever increasing news appetite, often within ever shrinking offices of demanding firms with expectant shareholders.

In one case, a colleague was required to supply one story each week on Harry Potter author JK Rowling, no matter what. "No" isn't an answer to the boss. They achieved those results perfectly ethically.

To interpret pressure as justifying unethical and illegal practices is a choice of individuals. They are culpable, as are any bosses who knew of them.

However wrong the hacking activities were and are, many of those leaping to condemn them are not without bias themselves.

Broadsheet newspapers are almost gloating at the peril of the tabloid press which disgusts, but outsells, them.

MPs have repeatedly been caught in adulterous or worse behavior by the tabloid press over the years, but would never dare speak out against News International prior to the current public furor.

And government opponents see this as a chance to extract blood from Prime Minister David Cameron for making the mistake of hiring former NOTW editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief (who might be arrested tomorrow).

Final Consequences

Ultimately we have a clash of what my retired philosophy professor father refers to as the "social duty to provide as much information as possible", and the duty of "non injury to others." So which trumps which?

The question now is what will happen in this Sunday's last ever NOTW. What will the NOTW put on its front page (one tweet suggested the word "Sowwy" and a picture of a kitten)? Will it come back in another form in a few months?

When the Sun published lies about the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, it has arguably never recovered sales in Liverpool and is still reviled. That may well have happened to the NOTW, but would have requited more than 2.6 million customers to switch off to the celeb gossip and "real life" coverage they are in the habit of devouring. Has the Murdoch empire now successfully drawn a line under this sordid tale by closing the paper?

It is only one product -- the conflicting appetites for information and privacy are not going anywhere any time soon.

Disclaimer: I have, a few years ago now, been paid for freelance stories and tips by the Scottish editions of the News of the World and the daily sister paper, The Sun, and more recently by the Sunday Times. I stand by those individual stories.

Photo of Rupert Murdoch by David Shankbone via Wikipedia.

Tristan Stewart-Robertson is a Canadian freelance reporter based in Glasgow, Scotland, operating as the W5 Press Agency.

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May 11 2011

19:02

No Gloom Here: In Latin America, Newspapers Boom

If you spend much time in U.S. newsrooms these days, you might contract a serious case of gloom and doom. Talk is still focused on declining circulations, aging readerships, and the absence of new business models to pay for the production of quality content.

But it would be a mistake to assume that this is the case for the rest of the world. In fact, in many regions, the newspaper business is booming. Some countries' newspapers are pulling in record advertising and those double-digit profit margins that were common in 1990s America.

I recently had the chance to observe this phenomenon firsthand at the Bogota, Colombia, conference of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), where there was little gloom or doom to be found.

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Instead, newspapers were reporting extraordinary growth in advertising sales from 2005 to 2009: 62 percent in Argentina, 70 percent in Brazil, and 57 percent in Colombia itself. (These figures, drawn from a ZenithOptimedia forecast, contrasted with 34 percent drops in the U.S. and the U.K. over the same period.)

Newspaper circulation is growing sharply in Brazil (29 percent), modestly in Argentina and Bolivia, and holding steady in Colombia and Chile. (It was down more than 12 percent in the U.S.)

But what's most striking about the Latin American news industry is the sense of dynamism. The digital revolution is coming to Latin America -- but it's arriving hand-in-hand with the news organizations, and that makes all the difference.

Multi-Platform Success

That point was reinforced with a visit to the newsrooms of El Tiempo, Colombia's leading daily. The newspaper understandably prides itself on the way it has implemented newsroom convergence. Its expansive headquarters are a few decades old, but look freshly minted, refitted top to bottom with new technology. They include the daily paper, two television channels (CityTV and Canal El Tiempo), as well as a vast array of online products.

In El Tiempo's model, information is endlessly produced and recirculated across platforms. Pieces that air on the television channels are recut by a team of young online editors into two- and three-minute pieces that can circulate online. Breaking news goes out on Twitter, leading traffic back to the website and the newspaper. Each platform is carefully monitored for editorial quality.

According to newspaper director Roberto Pombo, "We had to appoint a journalist to be our Twitter editor because we had a report that went out on Twitter that diverged from the story on ElTiempo.com. It was a garden-variety error, but it convinced us we needed editors to be responsible for social networks."

Pombo has shaped the paper's news to be platform neutral. "We're going with everything in every medium, and the audience can stay where they are," he said. Pombo said the newspaper El Tiempo, whose staff create much of the core content, generates about a 9 percent profit, which is augmented by profits from the television and online operations. "Our newspaper readers are not diminishing, our online audience is growing, and the ads are holding," he said.

Online earnings are smaller but are growing more rapidly. The company has no plans to charge for online content, but goes to great lengths to leverage cross-promotion.

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Spanish Ownership

"You can't carry out convergence as a cost-cutting measure -- but you save money in the long run," Pombo said. "All I care about is that if somebody gets a news update on Twitter and somebody asks, 'Where did you get that,' they answer 'Tiempo.' It's all about the brand."

El Tiempo was founded in 1911 and long operated under the leadership of the Santos family. In 2007 the paper was sold to Planeta, a Spanish publishing group, which had to readjust to the Colombian market.

"The owners are living two realities. There's an economic crisis in Spain, but things are fine here, so we have to explain it to them," Pombo said. Spain's newspapers are suffering worse than those in the U.S.

El Tiempo is not alone in its prosperity. Sebastian Hiller, director of La Vanguardia Liberal in the city of Bucaramanga, said, "Most of the major Colombian papers are making 15-20 percent profits, and some of them 30 percent, especially if they've been investing in convergence." (One exception is the venerable Bogota paper El Espectador, which has recently struggled back from the brink of extinction.)

Slow, Steady Economic Growth Good for News

What explains the robust health of these Latin American news organizations?

The first answer is the local market. The Andean nations have largely dodged the 2008 economic downturn, and have been experiencing steady growth in recent years.

Second, this growth has been more evenly distributed than in the past. Many Latin American countries are seeing incomes rise among the urban poor, and with them disposable income. This is a sweet spot for newspaper sales, since there may be discretionary spending for a daily newspaper, but not enough for a computer and an Internet connection.

In Colombia, as in other Latin American countries, there has been a boom in new tabloids and glossy consumer magazines, many of which subsidize quality broadsheets in the same company. Some of these tabloids have reached circulations of 2 million to 3 million within two years of their launch.

Capturing Digital Sales

Third, and perhaps most intriguing, digital is arriving in Latin America, but more slowly than in the U.S. and Europe. This has allowed news organizations to learn from other markets' mistakes, and claim larger shares of the online advertising space before the search engines and aggregators can dominate it. The managers don't care whether the advertising ends up on paper or online -- as long as it ends up with them.

One of the side benefits of this development is a dramatic rise in quality. A number of papers in the region have expanded their foreign coverage and investigative journalism, and have won the prizes to prove it. (For a striking example, look to Costa Rica's La Nacion, where exemplary reporting in 2004 landed two past presidents in jail.)

This is not to say that everything's rosy south of the border. Mexican newspapers are under attack from narco traffickers and corrupt government officials, while Argentina's leading newspaper, Clarin, is locked in a bitter contest with the government. On the other hand, news media are playing a stronger role in Latin American society than ever before, and their business models may buy them precious time to forge a path into the future.

Anne Nelson is an educator, consultant and author in the field of international media strategy. She created and teaches New Media and Development Communications at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and teaches an international teleconference course at Bard College. She is a senior consultant on media, education and philanthropy for Anthony Knerr & Associates. She is on Twitter as @anelsona, was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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May 03 2011

22:27

What's the Best Social Media Policy for News Organizations?

So far, most legacy news organizations have been all over the map when it comes to social media policies. The old guard doesn't want reporters and editors to go on Twitter and show bias or give opinions on stories in progress. The new guard wants to mingle with the audience and have some personality on social media. The latest place to put up restrictions is Bloomberg, which asked reporters to join Twitter but "we should not share work in progress or use social media as a vehicle for breaking news."

So what is the right balance for a social media policy? How much freedom should reporters and editors have to engage with people, and how much should be restricted? Vote in our poll below, or share your own thoughts in the comments.




What's the best social media policy for news organizations?online surveys

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April 25 2011

17:41

Why I Gave Up the Newspaper to Save Newspapering

The following is a guest post from Nicholas White, the CEO of The Daily Dot, a new startup in community journalism. White leaves a long lineage of newspaper men and women in his family to join digital media and explains why.

Six months ago, I quit my family's 179-year-old newspaper company. I left not because newspapers are crumbling -- though they are -- but because the very thing that has made the old industry so fragile offers hope for the future of journalism.

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I quit to start an entirely new newspaper: an experiment in media called The Daily Dot.

Everything you know about this failing industry is wrong. Which is to say, it's right, but it's also not why the industry is failing.

Growing Up with Newspapers

I grew up in the news business. My family has owned and operated small-town newspapers for six generations. You can see the history of the entire industry in the United States in the history of my family: why it once was great, what's wrong with it now, and why I'm starting the newspaper of the future to save it.

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My great-great-granduncle I. F. Mack bought our first paper, the 47-year-old Sandusky Register, in 1869. He was a "free lance" or "bad boy" (depending on whom you asked) of the old school, and he was a fixture of the local scene. In 1891, the Detroit Free Press said, "He runs a Republican morning newspaper in the city of Sandusky, Ohio. The town and county are both Democratic, but still the Register lives on, a credit to a larger city. Mr. Mack is one of the most brilliant paragraphers in the country and maintains a paying business because more people desire to see what he says than they do for the news in the paper."

He left the Register to R.C. Snyder, his son-in-law, who owned the Norwalk Reflector 16 miles to the south. He was a small man who strode the avenues of Norwalk and Sandusky, Ohio, swinging his cane like a boulevardier's rapier. He kept a stub pencil and ends of newsprint in his pocket in case news broke out wherever he found himself. His daily column chronicled the comings and goings about town, a favorite feature of which were the antics of his grandson and the Pleasant Street Gang. He was also a shrewd businessman and he bought out the competition or put them out of business, and we became monopolies.

When Snyder died shortly before World War II, my grandfather was in Washington, so my great-grandmother took over. We had nearly lost everything in 1929, but we didn't lay off a single employee during the Great Depression, even though we had to print our own money, good only in town, to stay afloat. Mambi inherited that huge burden, and at less than five feet tall, she handled the company's debt collections personally and with all the mercy and compassion of a loan shark.

Twenty years after she died, my father still heard complaints about her behavior, such as the time she walked into a haberdashery on Main Street during business hours, stood in the middle of the sales floor, and loudly announced that she wouldn't be leaving until she got the money she was owed. But she handed down a company that was debt-free.

My grandfather ran the papers when he returned from Washington. He published his son's school report cards in the paper (D average). That may not have been great parenting, but he wanted everyone in town to know that we printed the news, all of it, and without exception.

Publishers Not from the Community

For more than a century, these newspapers were of, by, and for the people that lived in their communities.

And community is why the newspaper business is falling apart.

Some blame lies with the industry. Dad (Dudley White, Jr.) took over the newspapers in 1957. He started buying other newspapers across the country, and we became a chain, like everyone else. He remained publisher of his hometown papers, and he continued to run the editorial page where he advocated for things like a university campus (successful) and an effort to combine town and township (unsuccessful).

In his mid-40s though, he moved to California. That was OK because a good community man took his place.

Today, as a result of my father and my cousin's leadership, the company owns 12 newspapers and 10 radio stations. Eventually, as the company grew, publishers mostly stopped being community men and women. They merely paused in the towns they covered -- keeping the lid on things until they got a better offer, a bigger town, and a larger paycheck. The publisher today who's an authentic member of his community -- and I am privileged to know a few -- is rare indeed.

The internal problem, however, is not nearly so large as the fact that the world beyond our insular industry is changing. Community itself has moved. People don't swing their canes on Main Street anymore, and if someone did, he wouldn't hit a soul.

That doesn't mean community is gone, however. Wherever people get together and talk, and form relationships and social structures and identities, you've got a community.

We may once have defined it by geography, but it wasn't ever really about breathing the same air: It was about the ethereal bonds between people.

Redefining Place

And today, people are forming those bonds in ways that transcend and redefine the concept of place.

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So what is community about today? I wish I could tell you. Human nature is such that we can't imagine anything that is truly new -- at least, not all at once. Most of the time, we just rearrange images of the past whenever we attempt to see the future.

Stumbling our way toward the inevitable requires a leap of faith. The Daily Dot, a new publication we announced recently, is my leap. The Daily Dot will swing its cane on the main streets and thoroughfares of the online community.

There are communities in Facebook and Reddit and Etsy today just as surely as there was a community in Sandusky, Ohio, 142 years ago. But right now they're living without the benefit of community journalism. The Daily Dot is going to change that. We're going to report what happens in those communities, up and out of those communities, just the way my great-great grand-uncle did. When news breaks in Tumblr or the kids get up to tricks in 4Chan, we'll be there with our stubs of newsprint to tell the story.

This is what we mean by calling The Daily Dot the hometown newspaper of the world wide web. There are stories waiting to be told, issues discussed, and communities defined by their collective senses of interests, concerns, and even histories. These are the aspects that have always been foundational to a sense of community for my family, and as we migrate to a world of digital natives and experience more of our lives online, The Daily Dot will be the paper of record for these emerging territories.

Community Journalism in a Digital World

I trust that if we keep following people into the places where they gather to trade gossip, argue the issues, seek inspiration, and share lives, then we will also find communities in need of quality journalism. And rather than simply covering the web from broad and outside perspectives like other publications, The Daily Dot is conceived from the outset to be of, by and for the web -- which is, after all, the largest community in the world.

We will be carrying the tradition of local community-based journalism into the digital world, a professional coverage, practice and ethics coupled with the kind of local interaction and engagement required of a relevant and meaningful news source. Yet local to us means the digital communities that are today every bit as vibrant as those geographically defined localities.

Unfortunately, geography is forged into the very foundation of the newspaper business, in its heavy iron presses and fleets of trucks, and in the deeply etched mindsets of its journalists. It may be that the industry as we've known it for the last century has to disintegrate so that the reportage it sustained can survive and flourish.

The only reason I walked away from my family's generations-long heritage serving communities is because I thought I could better carry on that work through a startup. If that sounds crazy, well, my father is fond of saying, "You don't have to be a genius to run a newspaper. You just have to have brass f---ing balls."

If you think community and journalism matter, or if you live any part of your life online, I want you to join us. Go to dailydot.com and sign up for our newsletter. There are stories waiting to be told.

Nicholas White is the co-founder and CEO of The Daily Dot, the hometown newspaper of the world wide web.

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April 09 2011

23:35

WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, NY Times Feud at Logan Symposium

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BERKELEY, CALIF. -- I am at the 5th Annual Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium, a gathering of the top investigative journalists that happens each year at University of California at Berkeley. Lowell Bergman, a professor at the school and former "60 Minutes" producer and longtime investigative journalist, brings together an invite-only crowd of journalists, technologists, academics and more. The title of the conference is "Leaks, Laws & Lies" and will include a live Skype call with WikiLeaks' Julian Assange.

(You can see previous coverage of post Logan Symposiums by PBS MediaShift here.)

My goal was to live-blog the Symposium, but due to issues with Internet access, I was only able to take quick live notes, which I'm now posting on MediaShift. The highlight of the first day of the conference was the appearance via Skype of WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, who is under house arrest in the U.K. A panel called "The War on WikiLeaks included representatives from the New York Times, Guardian and Der Spiegel, all news outlets that worked with and published the leaks from WikiLeaks, including the Afghan War Logs, Iraq War Logs and international cables from the U.S. State Department.

New York Times executive editor Bill Keller at one point was asked why he had described Julian Assange in such a critical way in a story after posting the leaked material. Keller said he had never met Assange and that his description of Assange came from what reporters told him. Later, Assange joined the panel via Skype, and the warmth quickly left the room. None of the panelists wanted to ask Assange a question, until Keller attacked Assange for saying that the U.S. media didn't care about what happened in the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Assange looked over the panel from a large projection screen, almost like a world leader via satellite.

Below are my detailed notes of what people said on that panel, and the intro before the panel. These are not exact quotes but are paraphrases of what the principals said. I also took some videos of some of Assange's answers, and will posting the best of those as well.

Intro from Lowell Bergman

Lowell Bergman, UC Berkeley: Our investigative reporting program is totally privately funded, so Jerry Brown can't slash our budget.

People in our audience are from Latvia, Japan, Germany, the widest group we've had, with people who've won Oscars, Pulitzer Prizes. Not just journalists but also financiers, law enforcement, faculty, students, and even PR flacks.

David Logan passed away but his sons are here...I learned that David Logan was a man of many interests, from a jazz afficianado, he had Picasso drawings and he eventually funded the chair at Berkeley for me to teach here. We also have investigative journalism fellowships here.

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Six months ago I got a grant from Knight for a study about collective work in investigations that's being done by a former fellow. For the next year and a half, we're going to do a study on collective investigative reporting, create a guide and set up standards and procedures for how to work together. We'll talk more about collaboration on the WikiLeaks panel.

Non-profits can't afford legal counsel so we have an active group helping them. Hewlett Packard found information about journalists including John Markoff of the New York Times. He sued and won a quarter million dollars, and he gave us $100,000 to give out a Markoff Award, with a drawing of John on it. We give it out to our low maintenance supporters. This year the winners are Bob Bishop, and Herb and Marion Sandler.

Something new for us: We'll have a series of talks about WikiLeaks, along with a videotape we produced with Julian Assange. He was here last year, and can't be here this year, obviously. We did send an invitation to Bradley Manning but he can't make it. We'll have two brief talks, Julian's tape and then the panel, and if we can pull it off, Julian will be on his way back to his residence, he will try to get there in time by the end of the panel, and will join us by Skype. And will be on during lunch to answer questions.

Julian is not really a source. He's a new kind of person, with a new kind of vocation. We all need to do a lot of thinking about it. He's not a source, and he's not a legacy journalist. He's an advocate and that's not rare among journalists these days.

Bradley Manning is being held without charges and is in solitary confinement in conditions that are close to torture. Daniel Ellsberg, who's in Hawaii and can't be here, was indicted under the Espionage Act, but was only saved because they broke into his office. Today a liberal administration is holding him under bad conditions and no one is protesting it. Those are my blunt observations of what is going on. And the leaks continued.

Mark Feldstein, author: This is a Cliff's Notes of the history of leaks. Thomas Jefferson even leaked information himself. President Buchanan leaked information about President Polk. The only time it related to national security was in World War II when the Chicago Tribune wrote that the U.S. broke a secret code, but it wasn't really a threat to national security. In the atomic era the government started using the Espionage Act from World War I to prosecute leakers. Newspapers self-censored themselves at the request of the government.

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Jack Anderson, a syndicated columnist, was the WikiLeaks of the '40s and '50s, and his column went out to 1,000 newspapers, so it was hard to censor it everywhere. Anderson would have news conferences and hand out documents to make sure newspapers didn't miss it. He was a seasoned journalist and could handle himself better than Julian Assange. The White House plotted to kill him by poison. He blackmailed the White House, to make them back off. Assange is not quite that sophisticated.

Then came the Pentagon Papers in the '70s and Nixon and his administration tried to stop them, and turned it into a cause celebre. Now we have WikiLeaks, with national security documents able to be disseminated in a click of a mouse.

Larger lessons? All administrators want to control the agenda, exaggerate harm, want to stop the leaks. None have come to grips with the fact that the biggest threat to national security is not the press, not leaks, but mistakes by government policy. Leaks are as old as apple pie and that's why they'll continue.

Julian Assange Video

Julian Assange: The U.S. government is saying that any form of collaboration between a source and investigative journalists is espionage. That's why the New York Times is saying they were not collaborating, but that we're just a source. But the truth is that it was a collaboration. The grand jury is investigating espionage and the White House is pushing an angle that collaboration between journalists and sources is illegal. We all know how investigative journalism works. You call up a source, meet them at a cocktail party and get information.

That interpretation will result in making government completely unaccountable to investigations. You'll hear Bill Keller of the New York Times say they work hand in glove with the government. I do say that news organizations and journalists must understand their role to hold government and other powerful people to account. It's not to be popular or be a propagandist for organizations.

People say to me, "I could never do what you do." I have fears just like all of you do. The key to courage is simply understanding what the risks are and taking actions accordingly. And not being scared to challenge and see whether the risk is correct.

Panel: The War on WikiLeaks

Moderator: Jack Shafer, Slate

Panel: David McCraw of the New York Times, Holger Stark of Der Spiegel, Bill Keller of the New York Times, Gabriel Schoenfeld, Hudson Institute, Nick Davies, Guardian.

Shafer: WikiLeaks has served as a valuable archive for documents and insight into many secretive groups like Scientology, Rand Corp. and others. I'm hoping to run the most incendiary panel and discussion of the symposium.

Nick Davies of the Guardian: I heard about Bradley Manning being arrested. The most interesting story was all the documents. I found these chat logs on Wired, with someone purporting to be Bradley Manning says he finds near-criminal back deals all over the world. That it should be seen all over the world. It's breathtaking and horrifying. As a reporter, it sends shivers down your spine.

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I set out to find someone at WikiLeaks to tell their story. I made contact with people all over the world, and wanted to get in touch with Julian Assange. I found out he was flying into Brussels to make a speech, but was afraid of arrest. He figured it was a high profile place where he wouldn't be grabbed. I talked to him in the European Parliament building. So how could I convince him to give me the story, someone in the mainstream media? There was a physical threat to him.

This is a very political landscape, but we can reduce that if we create an alliance to give Julian power he didn't have. The New York Times came up as part of that alliance because it would help to have the most powerful newspaper on our side. I hooked up with Julian, and he is wonderful and strange. He was crashed out at 3 pm after a flight from Australia, I woke him up and talked to him for 6 hours. Julian could see the value and wanted to talk about the possibilities.

He agreed to give information to the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel in four packets. The Afghan War Logs, the Iraqi War Logs, the diplomatic cables and something that hasn't been published yet. How to get it? I left with nothing, Julian created a website and gave me a password made by the logos on napkins. That was the crown jewels in the journalism world.

Bill Keller, NY Times: Julian Assange has had his revenge, because we have to show up for an unlimited number of panel discussions. I'm going to skip my time and believe that the most interesting part will be the Q&A.

Holger Stark, Der Spiegel: We're actually still in touch with Julian Assange, unlike the other news organizations. We published in September 2010 an interview with him, and he was very angry because people said he was acting like a dictator. I spent a weekend with him discussing many things, and we are still going through another project with WikiLeaks. I've been asked how much WikiLeaks changed journalism. It has changed journalism and brought a revolutionary thing to journalism with an anonymous dump of documents and something no one has done before. But journalism has changed WikiLeaks more than WikiLeaks has changed journalism.

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They used to post everything they found on the Internet. Last summer he planned to dump the entire Afghan War Logs with all sources online. We all told him it was irresponsible, you can't do that, and he agreed to change that. When we published the Irag War Logs, we realized they had to be redacted. When we published the cables, he let the publishers decide what to publish. It was handed over to the media.

WikiLeaks is much more a journalism organization than it was before.

David McCraw, NY Times: There are circumstances when the press can break the Espionage Act. It's a complicated topic. If the government was secretly monitoring every mosque in the U.S., it might help national security but it also might not be legal and should be exposed. There's a very high standard that needs to be met with the First Amendment and Espionage Act before we can show that the press has broken that act. The system does in fact work.

We understand there's a responsibility and there's a way we should do this. The prosecution understands they shouldn't prosecute newspapers that are publishing this. There hasn't been a single prosecution of a news organization under that act.

Q&A with Panel

Shafer: Julian was listening in on his cell phone. I'll ask a softball question to Bill Keller. We all know that publications will work with the government before publishing sensitive information.

Keller: With the Afghan War Logs, the government didn't want to work with us at all because they didn't want to legitimize what we were doing. We allowed them to argue why we shouldn't publish them and wanted to get their reaction before publishing. They did, with caveats, make a statement about their relationship with Pakistan. When it got to the cables and the State Dept., they were prepared to be more engaged. We offered them the opportunity to make the case that we shouldn't publish them at all, or question the theme of the documents. The scale of the document is without precedent, but the process was typical. We offered the State Dept. the chance to comment before publication.

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It was a series of stories that ran over two weeks. They knew which documents we had, we told them the subject and allegations we were making. There were three categories of documents, and types of discussions: the easy calls to redact names of dissidents and sources; on the other end, stories that would be embarrassing but we didn't think that would prevent us from publishing; and then things in between where we had lively discussions. We went along with the administration's argument sometimes but not always.

We made editorial judgments on all the stories, and if Julian Assange says it's a collaboration with government, he can say that. He gave us a large amount of information, we agreed to an embargo date and that was it. He didn't see the articles, he had no input into the journalism we did. So in my view it's not a collaboration with him or with the government. We gave the government a chance to have their say.

Shafer: Gabriel, can you make the argument that the public doesn't have the right to know?

Schoenfeld: Yes, in some cases, journalists should not publish how to create an anthrax bomb. In one case someone published how to create an atomic bomb, but most of that information was in the public domain. My argument with Bill Keller is that I think the government does have a case against the leakers causing issues with national security.

An argument broke out between Nick Davies and Gabriel Schoenfeld. Here's a video of that exchange:

Shafer: Holger, play press critic for me. How did Der Spiegel cover this? What was the focus?

Stark: Sure, I will. We were interested to see how the U.S. government would respond. The U.S. government didn't want to put pressure on the press but all on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. We'll see that in the next weeks and months, they'll try to show that WikiLeaks is not a journalistic enterprise. How did we look at the documents? Not much differently than the other news organizations did. Maybe we published a bit more that would be a scandal in the U.S., about a task force that was set up to capture and kill leaders in Afghanistan. That's something we don't have in the German army, so we investigated those things more. We invested a lot of research into what Hillary Clinton was doing to collect intelligence at the UN.

Shafer: Bill, you describe Assange as smelling like he hadn't bathed in days. Do you have anything to add to that? Is that any way to talk about sources? That won't encourage more people to be sources, will it?

Keller: The fourth packet of information won't come to us, we know that. By the time I wrote that piece about Assange, it was an attempt to describe what we did and why we did in narrative form. It could have been written like a master's thesis, but it had some snippets of color. I never met Julian Assange, we only had phone conversations. I reported from what our reporters told me in their reporting. That was only one small part of the article I wrote.

He was also the story and was a public figure, and is a complicated public figure. I don't presume to make any bumper sticker statements about him.

Q: How do you think you would handle new leaks, and what effect will new copycat WikiLeaks-type groups have?

Keller: We could set up drop boxes of information. There's now OpenLeaks, and Al Jazeera has set up a dropbox but nothing has come along. We had a lot of time with introspection and second guessing, and we think we handled it right.

McCraw: There are always concerns about authenticity. The security firm from Bank of America wanted to dump fake documents to WikiLeaks, so we have the same concerns we had before with info from a plain brown envelope. Every time we had a discussion about this.

Keller: There has been a big effect of WikiLeaks documents in North Africa. There was an effect in Tunisia, which sparked other protests. We can argue whether that has been good or bad, but it has had an impact on the street.

Stark: We have a duty to publish these things, the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world and it's the role of democracy to publish them.

Q&A with Julian Assange

Here are videos I shot of some of the Q&A that happened between the audience and WikiLeaks' Julian Assange.

Q: What was in the fourth packet?

Q: How well did the media cover the leaks?

Julian Assange on how the U.S. media doesn't care about the world.

What will happen for future sources of leaks?

True Grit Panel Intro

Michael Isikoff: I've gone from an old print guy to network broadcast correspondent, and have had culture shock. I'm on NBC News and pitch stories to various shows, sometimes with success. I sold "The Today Show" on a story about a possible presidential candidate, and they bought it and were going to do it, and we had a back and forth about the script. A producer wanted some changes, and was ready to run it, and then I got a message. "I haven't been able to get to it because Lindsey Lohan fell down." I thought it was a joke but it wasn't, and "The Today Show" went to DefCon 3!

I was an ink-strained wretch with Newsweek for years. Newsweek was sold and I was looking for a job and took a job with NBC News, and they put out a release saying Isikoff will be a multi-platform journalist. I had no idea what it meant or how to do it. The best explanation I heard was from a cameraman, who said, "You want to get on 'The Nightly News' you might at best get about 2 minutes, that's like being above the fold on a front page. And then everything else is where you put out the information. You write a text piece, you put documents online and web extras, and put them all online. It's the multiplier effect.

Does it work? I have no idea. On a couple occasions it seemed to work. We did a piece on the 10th anniversary of the U.S.S. Cole. It worked fine, we had a piece on broadcast, and on the web I got some newly declassified documents about the bombing. I did a story recently on Anonymous, the group of computer hackers, who shut down MasterCard and Visa in defense of WikiLeaks last year. I had someone on Anonymous willing to come on camera to explain how they work, describing how they got onto a secure service. I had a web piece that was supposed to go with it, it was all teed up. The web extra was ready to go live, and I emailed the source and told him to watch 'Nightly News' and he emailed back and said, 'I know, I've already read it online.'

It appeared that Anonymous had penetrated the NBC web system to read the post before it had been gone live! But it wasn't really the case, because someone had actually posted it early online. It's all interesting, and fun, but whether it works are not is another question. Today we Twitter, we blog, we gab on TV, but in the end it comes down to producing valuable and important content. In our brave new world, it's about content, content, content -- that's the only thing people will remember.

*****

I'll be back at the Logan Symposium tomorrow to cover a panel on collective work and another on non-profit investigative journalism.

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.

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March 31 2011

18:10

March 29 2011

16:00

Video: Robert Scoble on How to Build a Career in Media

I don't know about you, but when I want to find out about the newest tech stuff, I read blogs and their related Twitter feeds. As a newspaper journalist, it puzzles me that somehow those blogs, with their limited resources and short history, manage to beat the mainstream media.

Take, for example, uber-blogger Robert Scoble. When Flipboard's servers went down around the time of its launch, some said it was because of a positive review on his blog, Scobleizer. Scoble currently works for hosting company Rackspace as a kind of online media ambassador, but he's also a media brand of his own.

So, when I met him a few weeks ago at the Lift conference in Geneva, Switzerland, I wanted to talk to him about how bloggers can outsmart mainstream media, and what this means for aspiring journalists, among other things.

Need for Entrepreneurial Skills

During our conversation, which is captured in the below video, Scoble made five key points about breaking into media and building a brand:

  1. Getting a job at a newspaper or television station is very hard these days. Consider other options.
  2. Focus on a niche and think about timing. The ideal niche serves a dispersed community of people who are just as enthusiastic about something as you are. The fact that they are dispersed and "just a niche" means mass media it probably neglecting them. For example, one of Scoble's friends started a blog about Facebook -- nothing but Facebook. He did this at a time when Facebook was not particularly popular (timing!), and his popularity grew along with that of Facebook. Now he runs other blogs as well.
  3. Get access to something other people don't have access to. This could be possible because of contacts you've cultivated, and special knowledge you acquire via research and reporting.
  4. Be entrepreneurial and produce multimedia coverage: Video, audio, and pictures tell a more complete story.
  5. Get to understand how Google, Twitter, and Facebook work in order to learn how distribution works.

Scoble said journalism departments don't focus enough on equipping students with entrepreneurial skills. In his view, this is because mainstream journalists have traditionally relied upon other people in their organization to find an audience and handle distribution.

"In this new world you need to do a lot of that hard work yourself," Scoble said.

This hard work has its advantages. By taking control of distribution you cut out the middle men and are able to control your content. By working on attracting an audience, you have the opportunity to build a stronger connection. Distribution is today less of an issue -- the hard thing is getting people to pay attention to what you're doing.

"That's the fun thing," Scoble said.

No matter what you end up doing -- whether you start your own website or company or work to push innovation at an established organization -- you'll need to develop a deep understanding of what it means to be a new media entrepreneur, according to Scoble.

Here's my video chat with Scoble:

******

What do you think? Is Scoble correct about the skills needed by today's journalists? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife, Elisabeth.

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March 25 2011

17:30

Mediatwits #2: AT&T Buys T-Mobile; 'Tweets from Tahrir' Authors

Welcome to the second episode of "The Mediatwits," the new revamped longer form weekly audio podcast from MediaShift. The co-hosts are MediaShift's Mark Glaser along with PaidContent founder Rafat Ali. This week's show looks at the repercussions of the $39 billion buyout of T-Mobile USA by AT&T. Rafat has had both services and will stick by AT&T, but Mark is making the move from AT&T to Verizon. Plus, Nadia Idle and Alex Nunns, the authors of the book Tweets from Tahrir, were special guests on the show, explaining how they got their book to print so fast. Finally, MediaShift poll results showed that nearly 90% of respondents would not pay for NYTimes.com content at the current high prices.

mediatwits2.mp3

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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. "iPhone Blues" by The Temps.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

AT&T buys T-Mobile

2:20: Mark sings the "iPhone Blues"

3:40: Rafat compares T-Mobile in L.A. to AT&T in NYC

5:50: Media companies will lose a big cell phone advertiser

7:20: Google makes deal to supply Sprint with Google Voice

10:20: Rafat will stick with AT&T

"Tweets from Tahrir"

Nadia Idle.jpg

13:10: Nadia Idle talks about her trip to Tahrir Square

17:45: Alex Nunns says they got permission from all tweeters to use their tweets in book

21:15: What's up with the @HosniMubarak feed?

24:30: Nadia will return to Egypt in May with books in hand

26:00: Mark and Rafat discuss print-on-demand aspect of the book

NYTimes.com pay wall

29:50: NY Times execs pooh-pooh people hacking the wall

33:50: MediaShift poll results on people paying for access to NYTimes.com

35:45: Rafat happy that companies are trying revenue models

More Reading

What does AT&T's T-Mobile merger mean to you? at News.com

Lawmaker: Make Net Neutrality A Condition Of AT&T/T-Mobile Merger at MediaPost

AT&T's Pitch for Free Mobile at WSJ

"Tweets from Tahrir" book from ORBooks.com

'Tweets From Tahrir' Collects Egypt Posts in a Book at NY Times Media Decoder

New York Times Paywall Breached With Four Lines of Code at PC Mag

A Note to Our Readers on the Times Pay Model and the Economics of Reporting at NY Times

Be sure to vote in the MediaShift poll about the AT&T/T-Mobile buyout:




AT&T + T-Mobile = _________?online survey

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.

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February 01 2011

20:41

NY Times Defends WikiLeaks Collaboration, Metered Pay Wall

"All the News That's Fit to Print" is both the slogan of the New York Times and the title of the most recent installment of the Kalb Report, a monthly media discussion put on by George Washington University in D.C. Given its title, the overflow audience at last night's discussion between Marvin Kalb and Times executive editor Bill Keller and Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet might have expected to hear more about the paper's long history in the printed word.

But in spite of the moderator's repeated attempts to talk up the front page, the "wild web," as Kalb described it, kept creeping in. Keller and Baquet explained how the Internet has -- and will continue to -- change America's newspaper of record.

Changing Strategy

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To begin with, Keller said its famous motto, which has been printed on the front page of every edition since October 25, 1896, is no longer entirely accurate.

"The slogan," as he called it, "harkens back to a day when the aim of the newspaper was to be comprehensive." Now it is simply "an aspiration, or a mindset."

Keller pointed out that, for many years after it was founded on September 18, 1851, the Times would print items as seemingly mundane as the comings and goings of ships in New York Harbor. Information like that is now relegated to trade newsletters or specialist websites.

All of these publications are now to some extent competition for the Times. While Keller sees the Wall Street Journal as his primary competitor, he is also keeping his eye on websites that have a niche focus. Last night, he specifically mentioned both the politics-centric reporting at Politico and the opinion-driven coverage at the Daily Beast.

The race is "not just for the stories," according to Keller. "The Huffington Post and places like that are competing with us for talent," he said, alluding to the recent defections of a Times' business editor and economic correspondent to the progressive news and aggregation site.

"They're competing with us a lot in the field of innovation," Keller added. "I don't regard the Huffington Post as an extremely aggressive competitor in national reporting, but the way they do social media is pretty instructive."

Rise of Metered Pay Wall

While the Times is taking user engagement cues from the Huffington Post, it is taking a page from the Financial Times when it comes to business models.

Like HuffPost, NYTimes.com attracts hundreds of millions of readers. Keller said the Times has made a "tidy sum" from advertisers trying to reach its 50 million unique visitors each month. But with a much larger news team -- Keller put the current headcount somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 -- the Times' digital ad revenues are not enough to offset losses from declining print ads and circulation, which has fallen to about a million subscribers per day.

To make up this difference, the Times is planning to end unlimited access to its website. Like the Financial Times, Keller said that "later this year" NYTimes.com will implement a metered pay wall. That would allow casual users to read articles on the site, but charge frequent visitors if they are not already subscribers to the print newspaper.

"People who use the New York Times website as their newspaper," he said, "should pay a little something for it."

Keller's statement seems simple enough, but it is a profound departure from the way newspaper companies have viewed their websites in the recent past. And, because of the Times' size and stature in the American media landscape, its change of heart will likely have a profound effect on the web strategies of other newspapers around the country.

Working with WikiLeaks

Kalb's pointed questioning seemed to suggest the view that the Times' decision to collaborate with WikiLeaks has degraded the definition of, and standards for, journalism organizations. Keller and Baquet, the DC bureau chief, both pushed back hard against this notion.

Baquet.jpg"The New York Times became the enabler of WikiLeaks by publishing a lot of stories based on the cables WikiLeaks provided. And when I use the word 'enabler,'" Kalb emphasized, "I'm not using that in a positive way."

WikilLeaks is not a journalism organization, according to Keller. "They are an advocacy group," he said. "You can call them a vigilante group," he added.

And, Keller pointed out, they didn't need the support of the Times to throw American diplomacy into disarray. "They would have published it to a website available to anybody who wanted to look at it and the information would have circulated through the blogosphere in a day."

Baquet was more forceful in his defense of the controversial collaboration. "There is no question that WikiLeaks added tremendously to the understanding" of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, he said.

Baquet said questions about if the Times was "behaving in an arrogant way, flaunting its ability to publish this stuff, enabling WikiLeaks," missed the point.

"To me the most unimaginable and arrogant thing the New York Times could have done," Baquet said, "was to have this stuff, look at it and say, 'This is interesting. Let's have an ethical debate. Let's put it back in the computer. And let's go have lunch.'"

Regardless of their objections with the source -- and Keller, as he's done before, again expressed his distaste for WikiLeaks and Julian Assange by association -- the Times felt obligated to share information it had received.

New Opportunities

The web has not only upended the Times' motto and business model and forced it into unusual sourcing arrangements, it has also enabled new editorial experiments and collaborations.

"It's a particular malady of the journalist that we jump right to the negative," Baquet said, "but the reality is that the rise of the Internet and newspapers is the greatest thing that has hit us since sliced bread."

For those outlets that can still afford to do it, the web has opened new opportunities in international reporting. Keller was eager to talk about the paper's thorough reporting of the ongoing protests in Egypt.

Keller also highlighted an innovative series from 2008, Kremlin Rules. The stories were translated into Russian and posted on one of the country's most popular blogs to elicit comments, which were then translated back into English before each article was published in the Times.

"The Russian readership enriched our stories about Russia," Keller explained.

In addition to collaborations with Russian bloggers, the Times has worked with NYU and non-profit newsrooms like ProPublica. During the question and answer session after the discussion, I asked Keller if readers and media watchers should expect more projects and partnerships from the Times in the future.

"Yeah, I think so," he said. "These days we're in an era of experimentation and -- as long as we can be persuaded that we can undertake an experiment without putting the credibility of the paper at risk -- we're game to try it."

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based associate editor at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of The New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at The Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar.

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January 19 2011

16:40

In Search of Meaningful 'Social Media Optimization' (SMO)

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

In my previous post I explained how easy it is these days to integrate social streams into articles by using services such as Storify. Since that article appeared, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Xavier Damman, the co-founder of Storify.

Echoing what is an increasingly common refrain, Damman told me that everybody is a reporter now. Which means it's the responsibility of journalists to find the best content and turn it into a story, adding context and making sense of it all. You can watch our discussion in the below video:

Damman has a strong focus on "social media optimization" (SMO). I must admit that the acronym SMO sends shivers down my spine. It reminds me of search engine optimization (SEO), which in itself is a good and logical thing. Unfortunately, it has led to countless "SEO experts" who have infested Twitter.

As author Bruce Sterling said recently in an interview at The WELL:

There was a halcyon period there where people seemed lost in the info overload and the search machines were full of limpid lucidity. But we may be approaching a period where the machines will feed you an infinite amount of cunningly engineered gibberish and you have to climb to the mountaintop and talk to some human greybeard in order to have any idea what's going on.

There are those who say that the perfection of SEO leads to the increasing uselessness of Google. That's true, but then I found myself sitting with Damman as he advocated social media optimization. He said that social media, rather than Google, are increasingly responsible for the the traffic referrals to blogs and other websites. SMO is all about facilitating the sharing of content. In Storify, when you use a tweet, you're prompted to inform the sender of that tweet that you used her content. The idea is maybe that person will retweet that notice so her followers will get the news your story is out there.

I can live with that, because it just seems a straightforward way to say thank you and maybe to start a conversation.

In Search of SMO

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In an effort to gather more about this new discipline, I looked up "social media optimization" on the young but increasingly popular Q&A site Quora. I stumbled upon this question: "What is social media optimization and how do you leverage it?" Benjamin Gauthey, who works in digital marketing at Microsoft, replied and said he published a how-to article about the topic. I must admit his reply made me hesitate because it was phrased in evil SEO language: "This post will focus on learning Social Media Optimization, to acquire eyeballs to your websites and increase conversations about your brand."

In fact, his post is pretty good. Gauthey starts with a very sound principle: "Forget about money for now and focus on common interests."

He recommends: Releasing information, producing charticles and infographics, using social media bookmarking, offering widgets, providing sharing options, immersing yourself in social networks and discussions, and not forgetting about RSS feeds and badges and reward systems. I recommend reading his post, as he offers plenty of advice.

All of this sounds very sensible; and yet, I sympathize with what Sterling said in the above quote. It's so easy to get this stuff very wrong. I don't believe in "increasing conversations about brands." I hardly see any such conversations on social media, except between SEO and marketing people who end up talking in social media echo chambers.

Forget About Brands

I don't really think people want to discuss the brand of my newspaper. They want to discuss the news, and eventually they want to discuss how we cover the news. They also want to discuss things with other readers and citizens, and eventually the regular participants also want to talk about ways to improve the site's moderation and/or discussion features and practices.

I also don't believe brands create communities. The communities are already there, and we, the media, have to find ways to serve them by covering news, curating reports and facilitating conversations.

So what does this mean for SMO and the tools Gauthey recommends?

Before using those tools, engage in lots of conversation with community members. Have a good look at what they do and don't do.

This may make some social media aficionados cringe, but many online communities are filled with people who are not on Twitter. They may be on Facebook, but perhaps they only use it for their friends and family, and not for brands or news reading. RSS feeds are another tool whose use varied widely.

Does this mean we should forget about these tools? No -- but use them wisely. In the community my newspaper is involved with, Twitter is not a very popular network. But using Storify to curate and embed tweets seems to be highly appreciated.

Curating and Connecting

I'm convinced curating and connecting are of paramount importance for today's media.

Curating means eliminating noise, checking facts and enhancing the quality of information, and providing context so that news stories take on meaning for your community.

Connecting means facilitating conversations. For some communities, it will be enough to launch a hashtag on Twitter and organize discussions there. For others, it means embedding social streams and discussions in a more familiar context. Storify is one way to do this. For example, StockTwits does this for its community of investors by integrating Twitter on its site and providing categories and contextual information.

In order to be successful with this, you must make sure you become a true member of the community you work for. I do realize there is this journalist ethos of being separate and detached, but what we actually want are journalists doing their jobs in a fair and balanced way. If we expect them to contextualize news that matters, they need to be intimately aware of what drives their community.

For each and every tool or strategy, ask yourself how it will serve the community and how you could adapt it in such a way that it becomes meaningful to the community.

In fact, this is part of what I learned from Rohit Bhargava, who launched the SMO concept with his August 2006 blog post suggesting 5 Rules of SMO. As is explained in Wikipedia, his thinking evolved and in August 2010 he suggested 5 New Rules of SMO. Bhargava wrote:

The core change I would make is to add and focus on a word that I think truly describes the social web today in a way that few people really grasped four years ago: sharing.

Instead of saying "reward inbound links" he now focuses on rewarding engagement:

Today the real currency is around conversation or engagement. While there are a million definitions for "engagement" ranging from comments and discussion to posting or sharing content -- this is the behavior that matters most in the social web and the one that we should all focus on rewarding when it happens.

There's a crucial point to take into account when we talk about communities and communicative action, something which the German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas discussed at length: the importance of the claims to moral rightness, ethical goodness or authenticity, personal sincerity, and aesthetic value (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

In other and considerably less philosophical words: don't play games when you try to incite community engagement. There are no tricks for optimizing social media. In our case it boils down to being the best journalists we can be. In these times, that means connecting, curating, and providing great tools to facilitate conversations.

Roland Legrand is in charge of new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife, Elisabeth.

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

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