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April 27 2012

14:00

This Week in Review: Rupert takes the stand, and the Post’s pressure on young aggregators

Fresh accusations and denials for News Corp.: After several months of investigation, News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, testified this week before the British government’s Leveson inquiry into their company’s phone hacking and bribery scandal. Rupert made headlines by apologizing for his lack of action to stop the scandal and by admitting there was a cover-up — though he said he was the victim of his underlings’ cover-up, not a perpetrator himself (a charge one of those underlings strenuously objected to).

Murdoch also said he “panicked” by closing his News of the World newspaper last year, but said he should have done so years earlier. He spent the first day of his testimony defending himself against charges of lobbying public officials for favors, saying former Prime Minister Gordon Brown “declared war” on News Corp., which Brown denied. James Murdoch also testified to a lack of knowledge of the scandal and cozy relationships with officials.

Attention in that area quickly shifted this week to British Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt, with emails released to show that he worked to help News Corp. pick up support last year for its bid to takeover the broadcaster BSkyB — the same bid he was charged with overseeing. Hunt called the accusation “laughable” and refused calls to resign, though one of his aides did resign, saying his contact with News Corp. “went too far.”

The commentary on Murdoch’s appearance was, perhaps surprisingly, mixed. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple mocked the fine line Murdoch apparently walked in his currying favor from public officials, and the Guardian’s Nick Davies said Murdoch looks vulnerable: “The man who has made millions out of paying people to ask difficult questions, finally faced questioners he could not cope with.” He antagonized quite a few powerful people in his testimony, Davies said, and the Leveson inquiry ultimately holds the cards here.

But Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff said Rupert doesn’t use his newspapers to gain officials’ favor in the way he’s accused of doing, and Reuters’ Jack Shafer argued that there’s nothing really wrong with lobbying regulators to approve your proposals anyway. “Don’t damn Murdoch for learning the rules of the regulatory game and then playing them as aggressively as he can,” he wrote.

Plagiarism and aggregation at the Post: A Washington Post blogger named Elizabeth Flock resigned last week after being caught plagiarizing, but the story went under the radar until the Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, wrote a column charging the Post with failing to properly guide its youngest journalists. Pexton said he talked with other young Post aggregators who “felt as if they were out there alone in digital land, under high pressure to get Web hits, with no training, little guidance or mentoring and sparse editing.”

Poynter’s Craig Silverman wrote a strong follow-up to the column, talking to several people from the Post and emphasizing the gravity of Flock’s transgression, but also throwing cold water on the “journalism’s standards are gone, thanks to aggregation” narrative. Reuters’ Jack Shafer thought Pexton went too easy on Flock’s plagiarism, but others thought it was the Post he wasn’t hard enough on. The Awl’s Trevor Butterworth said Flock’s mistake within the Post’s aggregation empire shed light on the “inherent cheapness of the product and the ethical dubiety of the entire process. You see, the Post—or any legacy news organization turned aggregator—wants to have its cake and other people’s cake too, and to do so without damaging its brand as a purveyor of original cake.”

BoingBoing’s Rob Beschizza made the same point, criticizing the Post for trying to dress up its aggregation as original reporting. The Raw Story’s Megan Carpentier used the example as a warning that even the most haphazard, thoughtless aggregated pieces have a certain online permanence under our bylines.

Technology, connection, and loneliness: A week after an Atlantic cover story asked whether Facebook was making us lonely (its answer: yes), MIT professor and author Sherry Turkle echoed the same point last weekend in a New York Times opinion piece. Through social and mobile media, Turkle argued, we’re trading conversation for mere connection, sacrificing self-reflection and the true experience of relating with others in the process.

Numerous people disputed her points, on a variety of different fronts. Cyborgology’s David Banks charged Turkle with “digital dualism,” asserting that “There is no ‘second self’ on my Facebook profile — it’s the same one that is embodied in flesh and blood.” At The Atlantic, Alexandra Samuel said Turkle is guilty of a different kind of dualism — an us/them dichotomy between (generally younger) social media users and the rest of us. Turkle, she wrote, “assumes conversations are only meaningful when they look like the conversations we grew up having.”

Like Banks, Mathew Ingram of GigaOM pointed out the close connection between online and offline relationships, and sociology prof Zeynep Tufekci argued at The Atlantic that if we are indeed seeing a loss in substantive interpersonal connection, it has more to do with our flight to the suburbs than social media. Claude Fischer of Boston Review disputed the idea that loneliness is on the rise in the first place, and in a series of thoughtful tweets, Wired’s Tim Carmody said the road to real relationship is in our own work, not in our embrace or denial of technologies.

New media lessons from academics and news orgs: The University of Texas hosted its annual International Symposium on Online Journalism last weekend, one of the few of the scores of journalism conferences that brings together both working journalists and academics. As usual, University of British Columbia j-prof Alfred Hermida live-blogged the heck out of the conference, and you can see his summaries of each of his 14 posts here.

Several people distilled the conference’s many presentations into a few themes: The Lab’s staff identified a few, including the need to balance beauty and usefulness in data journalism and the increasing centrality of mobile in news orgs’ strategies. At the Nonprofit Journalism Hub, conference organizer Amy Schmitz Weiss organized the themes into takeaways for news orgs, and Wisconsin j-prof Sue Robinson published some useful notes, organized by subject area.

A couple of specific items from the conference: The Lab’s Adrienne LaFrance wrote on a University of Texas study that found that the people most likely to pay for news are young men who are highly interested in news, though it also found that our stated desires in news consumption don’t necessarily match up with our actual habits. And Dan Gillmor touted the news-sharing potential of one of the conference’s presenters, LinkedIn, saying it’s the first site to connect news sharing with our professional contacts, rather than our personal ones.

[Editor's note: Mark's too modest to mention the paper he coauthored and presented at ISOJ.]

Reading roundup: Several interesting debates lurked just a bit under the radar this week. Here’s a quick lay of the land:

— Reuters’ Felix Salmon wondered why the New York Times doesn’t sell early access to its big business scoops to hedge funds looking for a market advantage, as Reuters and Bloomberg do. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram argued that the public value of those is too great to do that, and Salmon responded to his and others’ objections. The conversation also included a lively Twitter exchange, which Ingram and the Lab’s Joshua Benton Storified.

— The Chicago Tribune announced its decision to outsource its TribLocal network of community news sites to the Chicago company Journatic, laying off about 20 employees in the process. The Chicago Reader and Jim Romenesko gave some more information about Journatic (yes, the term “content farm” comes up, though its CEO rejected the term). Street Fight’s Tom Grubisich called it a good deal for the Tribune.

— In a feature at Wired, Steven Levy looked at automatically written stories, something The Atlantic’s Rebecca Greenfield said she didn’t find scary for journalism’s future prospects, since those stories aren’t really journalism. Nebraska j-prof Matt Waite also said journalists shouldn’t be afraid of something that frees them up to do their jobs better, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram tied together the Journatic deal and the robot journalism stories to come up with something a bit less optimistic.

— This week on the ebook front: A good primer on the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit of Apple and publishers for price-fixing, which The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Crovitz said is a completely normal and OK practice. Elsewhere, some publishers are dropping digital rights management, and a publishing exec talked to paidContent about why they broke DRM.

— Gawker revealed its new commenting system this week — the Lab’s Andrew Phelps gave the background, Gawker’s Nick Denton argued in favor of anonymity, Dave Winer wanted to see the ability for anyone to write an article on it, and GigaOM talked with Denton about the state of tech.

— Google shut down its paid-content system for publishers, One Pass, saying it’s moved on to its Consumer Surveys.

— Finally, a few long reads for the weekend: David Lowery on artist rights and the new business model for creative work, Ethan Zuckerman on the ethics of tweet bombing, danah boyd on social media and fear, and Steve Buttry and Dan Conover on restoring newsroom morale.

Rupert Murdoch artwork by Surian Soosay and texting photo by Ed Brownson used under a Creative Commons license.

March 30 2012

14:00

This Week in Review: Grappling with ground-up activism, and a new ‘pay-less’ form of paywall

Activism and journalism from the ground up: Now that the story of Trayvon Martin’s killing has moved fully into the U.S.’ national consciousness, a few writers have taken a look back to examine the path it took to get there. The New York Times’ Brian Stelter traced the story’s rise to prominence, highlighting the role of racial diversity in newsrooms in drawing attention to it. Poynter’s Kelly McBride gave a more detailed review of the story’s path through the media, concluding: “This is how stories are told now. They are told by people who care passionately, until we all care.” (This week, there was also bottom-up sourcing of a more dubious nature on the story, as the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum pointed out.)

The New York Times’ David Carr looked at the Trayvon Martin story and several other web-driven campaigns to assess the value of “hashtag activism,” acknowledging its limitations but concluding that while web activism is no match for its offline counterpart, it still makes the world a better place.

There were several other strains of conversation tying into digital activism and citizen journalism this week: the Lab re-printed a Talking Points Memo story on the unreliability of Twitter buzz as a predictor of election results, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing wondered whether social media movements have surpassed the impact of traditional journalism on many issues.

Meanwhile, the report of an embellished photo from a citizen journalist in Syria led some to question the reliability of that information, but GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram countered that citizen journalism isn’t displacing traditional journalism, but helping complement it when used wisely. One of Ingram’s prime examples of that blending of traditional and citizen-powered journalism was NPR tweeter extraordinaire Andy Carvin, who was the subject of a fine Current profile, in which he described Twitter as “the newsroom where I spend my time” and pinpointing news judgment as the key ingredient in his journalistic curation process.

Debating the effectiveness of news paywalls: Google formally unveiled its new paywall alternative in partnership with publishers this week: News sites include surveys that users need to answer in order to read an article. Google pays news sites a nickel per answer, advertisers pay Google for the survey, everybody goes home happy. Just a few publishers have signed up so far, though. (You might remember that the Lab’s Justin Ellis wrote on Google’s testing of this idea last fall.)

Elsewhere in paywalls: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said his paper has not ruled out a paywall plan, though he also clarified that there’s “nothing on the horizon.” His publication is, obviously, far from the only one grappling with the prospect of charging for content online: The New Republic’s new owner dropped the magazine’s paywall for recent articles, and The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, explained why he doesn’t see a paywall in that paper’s future.

Pexton said the Post first needs to build up its reader base and make sure the site’s technology runs better, and he cast some doubt on the helpfulness of The New York Times’ pay plan for its bottom line. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum picked apart Pexton’s analysis of the Times’ numbers, and asserted that a paywall’s purpose isn’t to be enormously profitable, and non-paywall digital revenue plans aren’t, either. “The point [of a paywall] is to stop or slow the bleeding and to help make the transition to an all-digital future five or ten years down the line — one that includes more than one flimsy revenue stream based on volatile and not-very-lucrative digital ads,” he wrote.

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram suggested a “velvet rope” approach to paid content instead of a paywall, in which users would volunteer to pay in exchange for privileges and perks. The Times’ David Carr was skeptical — on Twitter, he summarized the post as, “Don’t build a paywall, create a velvet rope made out of socmedia pixie dust and see if that pays the bills.”

The Guardian opens up: The Guardian is firmly positioning itself at the forefront of what it calls “open journalism,” as it hosted a festival last weekend called the Guardian Open Weekend, during which more than 5,000 readers visited its London offices. The paper recapped the event, and Polis’ Charlie Beckett urged The Guardian to go further and faster in incorporating readers into its production process, turning them from “readers” to “members.”

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger held a Q&A with readers on open journalism, in which he spoke of the tension between the print and digital products in enacting change: “In order to be effective digital companies newspapers have to free themselves of some of the thinking that goes into the creation or a printed product…But most of the revenue is still in print, so the transition is bound to be a staged one, involving fine judgements about the pace of change.” Rusbridger also tweeted the paper’s 10 principles of open journalism, which were helpfully Storified by Josh Stearns, along with some other open journalism resources.

New accusations against News Corp.: A new branch grew out of News Corp.’s ever-growing tree of scandals this week, when two news orgs in Britain and Australia almost simultaneously broke stories about alleged hacking by NDS Group, a British satellite TV company of which News Corp. owns 49 percent. According to the BBC and the Australian Financial Review, NDS hired hackers to break into its competitors’ systems and get codes for satellite TV cards to illegally leak them to the public, giving them pay-TV services for free. The New York Times knitted the two allegations together well.

The Australian Federal Police is now looking into the case, and Reuters reported on the growing pressure for new investigations against News Corp. in Britain and Australia. Meanwhile, Frontline aired a documentary on the scandal, and The Guardian reported on Rupert Murdoch’s attacks on the accusations on Twitter.

Mike Daisey, journalism, and advocacy: Interest in last week’s blowup over This American Life’s retraction of Mike Daisey’s fabricated story about abuses of Chinese factory workers turned out to be more intense than expected: As the Lab’s Andrew Phelps reported, the retraction was the most downloaded episode in TAL history, surpassing the previous record set by the original story. Daisey himself gave a much more thorough, less defensive apology this week, and Gawker’s Adrian Chen said he wished Daisey would have been so contrite in the first place.

In Current, Alicia Shepard examined the story from the perspective of Marketplace, the public radio program that exposed Daisey’s falsehoods. In a long, thoughtful post, Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard’s Berkman Center compared Daisey’s story to the Kony 2012 viral video, using them to pose some good questions about the space between journalism and advocacy.

Reading roundup: A few other interesting pieces that surfaced this week:

— A couple of pieces succinctly laying out some of the growing challenges for those trying to control online content and discourse: First, a piece in The Guardian by Michael Wolff on the trouble that the rise of mobile media poses for news business models, and second, a post by JP Rangaswami positing Africa as the next site of resistance against online media control.

— In a similar vein, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram wrote about the ways in which the giants of tech are all moving in on the same territory of user data and control, arguing that the real challenge is getting users to care about whether we end up with an open or closed web.

— NYU j-prof Jay Rosen wrote an insightful piece on how journalists claim the authority to be listened to by the public: “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.”

— Finally, at Poynter, Matt Thompson put together an interesting typology of journalists: Storyteller, newshound, systems analyst, and provocateur. He’s got some great initial tips on how to work with each type, and play to each one’s strengths within a newsroom environment.

January 13 2012

16:30
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