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August 03 2010

17:30

Demotix to distribute photos via Publish2’s news wire

Summer’s brought a growth spurt for Publish 2’s News Exchange. Last week, the cooperative distribution platform announced some big-gun content partners: ProPublica, GlobalPost, Texas Tribune, and Texas Watchdog. And today, it announced another content partner: Demotix, the citizen-and-freelance-journalism driven photography site.

We’re excited to announce that Demotix, the award-winning open photo agency for independent journalists, will begin offering content via Publish2 News Exchange when we launch photo support later this summer. Newspapers and other news organizations will not only benefit from the huge efficiency of sharing photos directly through Publish2 News Exchange, but they will now also benefit from the efficiency of Demotix’s open photo sourcing platform and their presence in the U.S. news market.

The upshot: “With the addition of Demotix to News Exchange, newspapers will also be able to buy photos a la carte for coverage of major news events around the U.S. and around the world.” And “for us at Demotix, CEO Turi Munthe put it, “this opens a potentially very large segment of the US local market, and the thrill of partnering with a new news organisation that truly shares our beliefs and vision of the future.”

It’s a telling collaboration. Demotix (tagline: “The Street Wire”) lives at the intersection of professional and citizen journalism, offering a wire of user-generated images to mainstream outlets. Revenues are split by Demotix and its journalists: every time an image gets picked up from the Demotix wire, its creator gets a 50-percent share of the revenue. (Hence, another tagline: “News by You.”) And, so far, images captured by the community’s 3,200-plus active reporters (hailing from 190 countries) have appeared on some big-time front pages — The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Time magazine among them.

(For more background on Demotix, by the way, check out this fantastic overview of the platform and its impact on the freelance image marketplace from the spring issue of our sister publication, Nieman Reports.)

The team-up has been in the works for several months, Publish2’s director of news innovation, Ryan Sholin, told me. It’s not only that “we’re totally open to and interested in partnering with anybody and everybody who wants to distribute content across our pipes”; it’s also that Demotix, with its freelanced-content-distribution approach, makes particular sense as a P2 partner. (That’s one reason why, as Sholin pointed out, the Demotix logo was featured on a slide at the News Exchange’s beta launch at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference back in May.)

“I personally think it’s really cool because they focus so heavily on freelancers and almost, really, citizen journalists,” Sholin says of Demotix. “The premise is: ‘You are an independent journalist walking around town, and you see something cool, and take a picture of it — and we will help you sell it to news organizations.’ That flows so cleanly into the vision of what News Exchange can be for freelancers and independent journalists that it was a very natural fit.”

And what Demotix gets from the deal is essentially amplification of its current distribution mechanism: “the opportunity,” Sholin says, “to take the work that’s running through their system and have a much better distribution channel — to go straight into newspapers’ print publishing systems, straight into their FTP folders — without having to do a whole browse-and-download sort of interface.”

The partnership will roll out later this summer, as part of Publish2’s broader expansion into image distribution. The upcoming photo-support platform will make it easier, Sholin says, “for anybody to share photos — for newspapers to share photos, for other content providers to sell photos in the system.” And “Demotix will be one of the content providers in the system at launch.”

June 03 2010

21:31

May 28 2010

20:00

Publish2’s Ryan Sholin: “We did not set out to kill the Associated Press”

This week, with much fanfare, Publish2 announced its new News Exchange service. Using the new platform, CEO Scott Karp wrote, “newspapers can replace the AP’s obsolete cooperative with direct content sharing and replace the AP’s commodity content with both free, high-quality content from the Web and content from any paid source.” With the result being “a new efficient supply and distribution chain for high quality content brands.”

The “obsolete cooperative.” (Also: “The Associated Press monopoly over content distribution to newspapers.” And also: “The New AP.”) Fighting words, to be sure — and, all in all, a remarkably effective approach for a new initiative coming from a nearly-three-year-old, ten-staffer startup that needs to fight above its weight class: The announcement drew tons of attention from media new and traditional, much of it framed in journo-irresistible terms of “Scrappy Startup Takes on the Associated Press.” And some of it framed in terms even more irresistable than that: “Scrappy Startup Wants to Kill the Associated Press.” Hooboy: David v. Goliath goes digital!

But now that we’re moving beyond the initial flurry of announcements and analysis of the News Exchange, it’s worth noting the nuances beyond Karp’s publicitytastic “New Associated Press for the 21st Century.” “Disrupt” doesn’t mean “destroy”; it simply means to “throw into disorder.” And, for all its fight-focused framing, Publish2 (at the moment, at least) seems much more intent on shaking things up than on shaking things down. As Karp himself noted as he introduced P2X, it’s “a platform aimed at disrupting the Associated Press monopoly over content distribution to newspapers.”

And there’s another word worth noting: distribution. The Associated Press, after all, has two core functions: There’s the AP, content producer; and then there’s the AP, content distributor. The “blazing guns” Publish2 has aimed at the cooperative, to borrow Mark Coddington’s phrase, seem to be directed much more toward the latter. To my mind, that’s a crucial distinction: I’m all about shaking up the structures of distribution, of broadening the marketplace when it comes to wire content available to news organizations; I’m much less enthused about the idea of killing off a valuable — and even, I’d say, valuably institutionalized — source of reporting and information.

And — whew! — as Publish 2’s Ryan Sholin explained to me today, “We did not set out to kill the Associated Press. That’s not the goal. I don’t think that’s a logical thing to even want to do.” What the News Exchange and its creators do want, Sholin said, is to broaden the ecosystem of access when it comes to the wire content available to newspapers.

And that content includes…the AP’s. “If the AP wants to sell content through our system and distribute it to their subscribers,” Sholin said, “that seems like a win for everybody. So we’d welcome that.”

Chutzpah! So, though the battle-of-the-news-co-ops won’t (necessarily) be a death match: game on.

During our conversation, Sholin also provided some background info on the structure and goals of the — indeed, quite fascinating — News Exchange. Here’s what he told me, in a lightly edited transcript:

The general mechanics:

There’s two big pieces to the News Exchange. The first piece is that it allows news organizations to share content with each other. And that’s something that they’re already doing — but they’re not doing it in a way that’s efficient or scalable. Most of those content-sharing networks that you see popping up are emailing stories and budgets back and forth. And that’s far from the most efficient way to do the job. And it’s also not scalable.

So what we’ve done is build an efficient, scalable system that ties directly into print publishing systems. So instead of sending copy editors off on email and copy/paste errands on deadline, they’re just going to be able to open a folder in their print publishing system, the place where they’re already getting all of their stories to flow into the papers, it’s going to be right there for them in the format they need it.

[Megan: How do the News Exchanges relationships with newspapers work right now? is there an existing network?]

Right now, we’ve got about two dozen newspapers that are beta-testing. For the most part right now they’re kind of jumping in and putting up their newswire. I don’t know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. But if I were a newspaper and I were checking this out, and I liked it, I’d be turning around and going to the people that I share content with, and telling them, “Jump in.”

The financial mechanics:

Today, everything is free. If you want to come and share your free content, or your content for free, with your partners, you’re more than welcome to. If you want to take your online-only content and put it out there for print publication, you’re more than welcome to. At the same time, if you want to sell your content — for example, if you’re a nonprofit that wants to sell your content to newspapers — you can use our system to manage subscription, distribution, and promotion of those newswires, and be off on your own selling it and dealing with your own contracts and purchase orders off in your own systems right now.

We are going to add on a marketplace layer. And what that’s going to do is allow, number one, the newspapers to set a price for their newswires. I’ve talked to editors who say, “Hey, we want to sell our college football coverage. The team in our town is a popular team across the state and across the region, we want to sell this newswire to other newspapers.” And then we also have paid content providers. Even people who are looking to put photos and other content in the system who are interested in selling it. And we’re going to make it easy either to pay for either a subscription to a newswire — or, if the content provider allows it, à la carte pricing, as well. The pricing structure is definitely going to be up to the individual content providers.

[Megan: So, essentially, you provide a space for the market interactions, and charge organizations for the convenience cost of the facilitation.]

Yes. When we build on the marketplace layer, we’ll charge a transaction fee, but it’s going to be based on the volume of use. So if you’re a nonprofit organization trying to sell your stories to six papers, we’re not terribly interested in taking your money. But if you’re a major, international news provider who is using our system to sell and deliver subscriptions on a large scale to American newspapers, that’s a case where I’m sure we’ll be taking a transaction fee — based on volume of use, circulation of the papers you’re selling to. Forty-five minutes into every call with each editor, when they ask me, “What’s the business model?” that’s one half of it — that’s one side of it.

[Megan: So the fee will be determined on a case-by-case basis?]

I don’t know if I’d say case-by-case, exactly. But it’s definitely going to be based on volume of use and circulation. It’s not just going to be a blanket fee. We’re exploring all our options and it’s something that we’re going to talk in great depth with newspaper editors and content providers about. The goal here, in the long term, is to save newspapers money. So we’re not looking to add on anything to what they’re already paying for newswire content.

So the other side of the question of how are we going to make money is definitely that we’re looking to help newspapers reduce their dependence on other newswire sources like the AP. So if we make it possible for a newspaper to drop from an “AP complete” to “AP limited” — or to cancel the AP altogether (and obviously there’s a longer timeline involved with that) — we’ll be looking to assess something like a license fee for the software. And it’ll be a fraction of the difference.

The goal here is that if we can cut newspapers’ newswire bill in half, that would be a big win for them. For the major metros, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars. We talk to editors about this all the time, and they do the math in their head, and say, “Oh, that’s four FTEs.” So I personally like the sound of that: newspaper editors saying, “Oh, if you saved me that much money, I could hire this many reporters.” That seems like a good thing.

Providing content vs. facilitating its exchange:

[Megan: What about the criticisms that the News Exchange won't provide original content, as the AP does?]

The original content is out there. There are freelancers on the streets of Bangkok right now who are tweeting and filing photos and providing reports to people like The Economist and the BBC and the Financial Times. Over the past three years, Publish2’s been building up a user base of about 10,000 journalists, and we’ve done that by approving them all by hand, in large part. If someone has an @newspaper.com email address, they’re automatically shepherded into the system. But for all of our other users, we’ve spent a lot of time and resources and energy in making sure that we’ve got a user base that is journalists-only. And the end result is that there’s a ton of top-shelf freelancers already in the system.

So connecting the kind of top-shelf freelancers — content providers that we don’t normally think of as somebody that we can easily connect with to write a story — that are out there with editors in the U.S. is one big step. That’s a big piece of this. And the other big thing is just to say, “Let’s take all the international news providers that are out there and put them in one bucket.” The newspapers that are out there, picking their stories for the day: Let them decide who’s got the highest-quality content. Let them vote by slotting the stories on the pages.

One thing that we’re going to try and do in the coming days is try and get the word out a little bit and probably put up some blog posts about what the system — how the system can help a freelancer, a newspaper, a blogger, a media company — just to give an idea of the different value propositions that we’re offering to everybody in the ecosystem. Because there’s a lot of moving parts, and only so much that Scott could say onstage for six minutes. It was very much about getting the big idea out.

And I can tell you, as the guy who’s been here all week fielding calls and emails and tweets and registrations, that we got the word out. The big idea is out there. So it’s been a very exciting week here.

12:30

This Week in Review: Facebook’s privacy tweak, old and new media’s links, and the AP’s new challenger

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

Facebook simplifies privacy control: After about a month of loud, sustained criticism, Facebook bowed to public pressure and instituted some changes Wednesday to users’ privacy settings. The default status of most of the data on Facebook — that is, public — hasn’t changed, but the social networking site did make it easier for users to determine and control their various privacy settings. For some social media critics, the tweaks were enough to close the book on this whole privacy brouhaha, but others weren’t so satisfied with Facebook. Here at the Lab, Megan Garber seized on the theme of “control” in Facebook’s announcement, arguing that the company is acknowledging that online sharing is as much individual and self-interested as it is communal and selfless.

Before rolling out those changes, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg penned a Washington Post op-ed that served as a defense of Facebook’s privacy policy masquerading as an apology. “If we give people control over what they share, they will want to share more. If people share more, the world will become more open and connected,” he wrote. The reaction was swift and negative: It was called “long on propaganda and short on news,” “disingenuous” and “missing the point” by several media and tech critics.

Their comments were part of continued attacks on Facebook’s privacy stance that began to shift from “Facebook is evil” to “So what do we do now?” Facebook’s new, more private rivals escalated their efforts to provide an alternative, while social media researcher danah boyd argued that leaving Facebook would be futile and instead urged users to “challenge Facebook to live up to a higher standard.” Several legal and web thinkers also discussed whether the government should regulate Facebook’s privacy policies, and the Harvard Business Review’s Bruce Nussbaum made the case that Facebook has alienated the generational principles of its primary user base of millennials. (Mathew Ingram of GigaOm disagreed.)

But amid all that, Facebook — or at least the sharing of personal information — got another defender: The prominent tech thinker Steven Johnson. In a thoughtful essay for Time, he used the example of media critic Jeff Jarvis’ public bout with prostate cancer to argue that living in public has its virtues, too. “We have to learn how to break with that most elemental of parental commandments: Don’t talk to strangers,” Johnson wrote. “It turns out that strangers have a lot to give us that’s worthwhile, and we to them.” Of course, Johnson argues, being public or private is for the first time a decision, and it requires a new kind of literacy to go with it.

Paywalls and the links between old and new media: The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study examining the way several big news topics were discussed across several online news platforms, and as usual, it’s a whole lot of discoveries to sift through. Among the headlines that Pew pointed out in its summary: Twitter users share more technology news than other platforms, the traditional press may be underemphasizing international news, blogs and the press have different news agendas, and Twitter is less tied to traditional media than blogs. (Mashable has another good roundup, focusing on the differences between the traditional media and the blogosphere.)

The study did take some heat online: TBD’s Steve Buttry took issue with the assertion that most original reporting comes from traditional journalists, and the Knight Digital Media Center’s Amy Gahran dug into the study’s methodology and argued that Pew selected from a list of blogs predisposed to discuss what the traditional media is reporting, and that Pew’s definition of news is shaped by circular reasoning.

Gahran was looking at what turned out to be the most attention-grabbing statistic from the study: That 99 percent of the stories blogs link to are produced by the mainstream media, and more than 80 percent come from just four news outlets — the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and the Washington Post. DailyFinance media columnist Jeff Bercovici used that statistic to caution that the Times may be giving up a valuable place as one of the top drivers of online news discussion by implementing its paywall next year, while The Big Money’s Marion Maneker countered that bloggers’ links don’t equal influence, and the Times is more interested in revenue anyway. Reuters’ Felix Salmon echoed that warning, adding that if the Times is truly keeping the doors to its site open to bloggers, it should be trumpeting that as loudly as possible. And wouldn’t you know it — the next day the Times did just that, reiterating that links to their site from blogs won’t count against the limit of free visits.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper the Times and Sunday Times unveiled plans for its soon-to-be-erected paywall, including the fact that all of the sites’ articles will be blocked from all search engines. The Times and New York Times’ paywalls were almost tailor-made for being contrasted, and that’s exactly what the Lab’s Jason Fry did, using them as examples of an open vs. closed paradigm regarding paid content.

A challenger to the AP’s model: We found out about a fascinating news innovation this week at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference, where the online news sharing company Publish2 revealed News Exchange, its new content-sharing service for publishers. Essentially, News Exchange is a way for media outlets, both online-only and traditional, to send and receive stories to each other for publication while retaining control of what they share and with whom.

If that sounds like a free, open version of The Associated Press, it’s because that’s exactly what Publish2 sees it as. At the conference, Publish2’s Scott Karp came out against The Associated Press with both guns blazing, calling it “a big enemy of newspapers” and “an obsolete, inefficient monopoly ripe for destruction.” Publish2’s goal, he said, is to “Craigslist the AP.” (In a blog post, Publish2’s Ryan Sholin went into some more detail about why and how; in a Mashable post, Vadim Lavrusik looked closer at how the service will work and what it’s missing right now.)

Publish2’s bold idea was met with mixed reactions among both the tech and media crowds: A few of TechCrunch’s panelists wondered whether print publications were worth building a business around, but they were impressed enough to advance it to the final round of the conference’s startup competition anyhow. NYU j-prof Jay Rosen called it “an extension into print of ‘do what you do best and link to the rest,’” and CUNY j-prof C.W. Anderson said he was thrilled to watch Publish2 take on an irrational system but concerned that the tangle of CMS’s could trip it up. But media consultant Mark Potts noted that much of what the AP transmits is news it reports and produces, something Publish2 isn’t going to try to do. It’s rare that we see such a bold, explicit attempt to take down such an established news organization, so this will doubtless be a project to keep a close eye on.

A disappointing iPad app and an open-web debate: A couple of iPad-related developments and debates this week: While publishers cautiously awaited the iPad’s international release this week, Wired magazine released its iPad app this week — an eagerly awaited app in tech circles. The app is $5 per month, significantly more than the $10 per year that the magazine charges subscribers. Gizmodo Australia’s John Herrman called it “unequivocally, the best magazine for the iPad,” but still wasn’t entirely impressed. It’s too expensive, takes up too much space, and doesn’t deliver the reinvention of the magazine that we were expecting, he said. Lost Remote’s Steve Safran was harsher — calling it a magazine dropped into an app. “Simply taking your existing magazine and sticking in some video does not make it a more attractive offering; it makes it a website from 2003,” he said.

The New York Times Magazine’s Virginia Heffernan ruffled a few feathers this week with a short essay on “The Death of the Open Web,” in which she compared the move into the carefully controlled environs of Apple’s products like the iPhone and iPad to white flight. Web writers Stowe Boyd and Tim Maly refuted Heffernan’s argument, pointing primarily to the iPhone and iPad’s browser and arguing that it keeps the door open to virtually everything the web has to offer. And blogging pioneer Dave Winer said the phrase “death of the open web” is rendered meaningless by the fact that it can’t be verified. In a final quick iPad note, the journalism and programming site Hacks/Hackers hosted a conference in which attendees built an impressive 12 iPad apps in 30 hours.

Reading roundup: This week, we’ve got two news items and a handful of other thoughtful or helpful pieces to take a look at.

— The Bay Citizen, a nonprofit local news site based in San Francisco, launched this week. The San Francisco Bay Guardian took a look at the challenges in front of the Bay Citizen, Poynter used it as a lens to view four trends among news startups, and the Chicago Reader examined the Chicago News Cooperative, another nonprofit news startup that also provides stories to The New York Times. The Lab’s Laura McGann also gave some tips for launching a news site the right way.

— Forbes bought the personal publishing site True/Slant, whose founder, Lewis Dvorkin, is a former Forbes staffer. Dvorkin explained his decision to sell, and Felix Salmon expressed his skepticism about True/Slant’s future.

— Longtime journalists Tom Foremski and Caitlin Kelly both wrote thoughtful posts on what happens when pageviews become a high priority within news organizations. They’re not optimistic.

— Two pieces to bookmark for future reference: Mashable has a thorough but digestible overview of five ways to make money off of news online, and TBD’s Steve Buttry gives some fantastic tips for landing a job in digital journalism.

— Finally, NewsCred’s Shafqat Islam has a wonderful guide to creating effective topic pages for news. This one should be a must-read for any news org looking seriously at context-driven news online.

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