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December 17 2010

16:00

DDoS attacks on the U.S. media, Twitter history searching, and a big blog deal: More predictions for 2011

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

Below are predictions from Michael Schudson, Alexis Madrigal, Markos Moulitsas, Joy Mayer, Nicco Mele, Nikki Usher, Steve Buttry, Paddy Hirsch, John Davidow, Ethan Zuckerman, Richard Lee Colvin, and Kevin Kelly.

We also want to hear your predictions: Today’s the last day we’ll be accepting entries in our Lab reader poll, where you tell us what you think we’ll be talking about in 2011. We’ll share those results in a couple days.

Michael Schudson, historian and sociologist, Columbia Journalism School

Prognosticating about the news media in these times is a risky business, but I’ll try one nonetheless: In 2011, none of the 250 largest U.S. cities will stop publishing (on paper) its last remaining daily newspaper. Cities with more than one daily newspaper may be reduced to one survivor.

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

One of the truly important big city papers will go digital-only.

Kevin Kelly, author and founder, Wired Magazine

Twitter will go down for 36 hours. The ensuing media attention will prompt a 10 percent increase in signups in the months following.

I’ll offer a slightly technical prediction. Denial of service attacks — DDoS — have already become a serious concern for independent media sites in countries like Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam. And DDoS has been a massive problem for WikiLeaks. I expect to see at least one major U.S. media site affected by DDoS and taken offline for a day or more in 2011. I also expect we’ll see one or more publications move from their own infrastructure to host with someone like Amazon, despite the concerns that the company hosting content might prevent its distribution.

I predict that next year’s most exciting media experiments will involve collaboration between journalists and audiences. The divide will grow between journalists who do and do not fundamentally understand and respect the value of conversation and contribution with users.

I also predict that we will we see the death of at least one traditional newspaper in a town with a vibrant community news startup.

WhiteHouse.gov will get more unique daily visitors than WashingtonPost.com by the end of 2011. WhiteHouse.gov is already competitive with MSNBC.com — and the WhiteHouse.gov operation continues to become more sophisticated and wide-reaching, covering the White House on a daily basis with photos, videos, podcasts, and blog posts.

Mobile devices — especially in the form of tablets like the iPad and Blackberry’s forthcoming Playbook — will become the dominant news delivery device in 2011.

Sarah Palin will run for president in the Republican Party’s presidential primary communicating with the public exclusively through Twitter, Facebook, email, personal appearances, and Fox News. She will eschew all other major media and be a viable candidate for president of the United States.

Social news will continue to become more and more important — and traditional news organizations will turn to trying to understand how news spreads socially.

More downsizing in the news biz, with potentially another major metropolitan newspaper or two to close or to severely reduce print publication.

CNN will solidify its campaign for the “middle,” MSNBC the left, and Fox the right, with all three becoming more blatant about their intended audience.

Steve Buttry, director of community engagement, TBD

Twitter will make some notable upgrades, including targeting and editing of tweets, historical searching, and some innovative commercial uses.

A leader will emerge in location-based news, social media, and commerce.

We will see some major realignment of journalism and news-industry organizations. Most likely: the merger of ASNE and APME, mergers of some state press associations, mergers of at least two national press organizations, mergers of some reporter-beat associations. One or more journalism organizations will close.

At least one high-profile news organization will drop its paywall.

My prediction for 2011 is a raft of data analysis and visualisation tools, as various parties try to solve the problems raised by large datasets from governments. In the longer term, I think real-time information, contextual information, and intelligent devices will play an increasingly important role.

I said that things would get ugly in 2010 and have been sadly proved right. I think they’ll get even uglier in 2011 as the reaction against the shift in power grows and the fallout from WikiLeaks continues. Expect a lot of rushed-through legislation against the invisible threats of the web, which has implications for journalists and publishers.

Paddy Hirsch, senior editor, public radio’s Marketplace

I think WikiLeaks will be stamped out by one or more governments, and we’ll see a slew of copycats pop up in its place, hosted by outraged freedom-of-speechers, on secure servers, in out of the way places. Think The Pirate Bay but with government material instead of movies.

John Davidow, executive editor, WBUR Boston

Our revenue models continue to weaken. Radio and television face extreme technological changes. IP radio is coming to our morning commute, threatening commercial and public radio alike. Television programming will continue to atomize and migrate seamlessly from screen to screen in our daily lives. Newspapers large and small face continued pressure on their bottoms lines. Despite all the major disruptions ahead, I believe the spirit of innovation and collaboration in our industry is up to the challenges ahead.

Heading into 2011, examples of innovation and new strategies are everywhere. On the public media front, NPR, CPB, and the Knight Foundation head into 2011 with Project Argo getting up to speed. This deep vertical strategy that will hit its stride in the coming year has the potential to add more depth and user engagement while at the same time helping local station bottom lines.

Major newspapers are taking dramatic steps to find sustainability models from their online products. In the coming year The New York Times will test the metered waters and The Boston Globe will be splitting its juggernaut website Boston.com into two sites, one free and one behind a paywall. Maybe a year from now we’ll have a better sense of what direction the newspaper industry should be going. I’m also encouraged by the emergence of increased local coverage and not just by Patch, but on citizen media sites like Placeblogger.com. Initiatives like these mean more jobs and more opportunity for our younger journalists. And it is those young journalists just starting out who, not just next year but in the years ahead, will provide the ideas and energy that will regenerate and redefine our industry.

Markos Moulitsas, founder and publisher, Daily Kos

One of the newsweeklies will fold operations, or at least become web-only. Same thing will happen to at least one top-20 circulation metropolitan newspaper. At least one independent blog network will be acquired in a nine-digit deal.

The sports leagues will work to bring more games onto their cable networks, like the NFL Network’s Thursday night games.

Consumer dissatisfaction with the media will continue to rise. In politics, conservatives will be even more convinced the media is out to get them, and will retreat deeper into their Fox News/Rush Limbaugh media cocoon. Progressives will realize that the media is basing their political stories on RNC press releases — just watch them treat every Sarah Palin tweet as “news,” while pretending the GOP actually cares about the deficit during the battle to raise the debt ceiling, despite their desperate fight for budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy this lame-duck session.

More and more news content will be gathered and distributed through collaborations between for-profits and nonprofit print, online, and broadcast news outlets. This will be especially true for coverage of specialized areas such as education, science, medicine, the environment, and health.

December 14 2010

17:00

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

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

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

Vivian Schiller, president and CEO, NPR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keith Hopper, director of product strategy and development, NPR

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

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

Jakob Nielsen, veteran web usability expert

1. Growth in for-pay content.

2. Strong growth in mobile content.

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

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

David Fanning, executive producer, Frontline

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

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

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

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

September 20 2010

14:00

L.A. Times’ controversial teacher database attracted traffic and got funding from a nontraditional source

Not so long ago, a hefty investigative series from the Los Angeles Times might have lived its life in print, starting on a Monday and culminating with abig package in the Sunday paper. But the web creates the potential for long-from and in-depth work to not just live on online, but but do so in a more useful way than a print-only story could. That’s certainly the case for the Times’ “Grading the Teachers,” a series based on the “value-added” performance of individual teachers and schools. On the Times’ site, users can review the value-added scores of 6,000 3rd- through 5th-grade teachers — by name — in the Los Angeles Unified School District as well as individual schools. The decision to run names of individual teachers and their performance was controversial.

The Times calculated the value-added scores from the 2002-2003 school year through 2008-2009 using standardized test data provided by the school district. The paper hired a researcher from RAND Corp. to run the analysis, though RAND was not involved. From there, in-house data expert and long-time reporter Doug Smith figured out how to present the information in a way that was usable for reporters and understandable to readers.

As might be expected, the interactive database has been a big traffic draw. Smith said that since the database went live, more than 150,000 unique visitors have checked it out. Some 50,000 went right away and now the Times is seeing about 4,000 users per day. And those users are engaged. So far the project has generated about 1.4 million page views — which means a typical user is clicking on more than 9 pages. That’s sticky content: Parents want to compare their child’s teacher to the others in that grade, their school against the neighbor’s. (I checked out my elementary school alma mater, which boasts a score of, well, average.)

To try to be fair to teachers, the Times gave their subjects a chance to review the data on their page and respond before publication. But that’s not easy when you’re dealing with thousands of subjects, in a school district where email addresses aren’t standardized. An early story in the series directed interested teachers to a web page where they were asked to prove their identity with a birth date and a district email address to get their data early. About 2,000 teachers did before the data went public. Another 300 submitted responses or comments on their pages.

“We moderate comments,” Smith said. “We didn’t have any problems. Most of them were immediately posteable. The level of discourse remained pretty high.”

All in all, it’s one of those great journalism moments at the intersection of important news and reader interest. But that doesn’t make it profitable. Even with the impressive pageviews, the story was costly from the start and required serious resource investment on the part of the Times.

To help cushion the blow, the newspaper accepted a grant from the Hechinger Report, the education nonprofit news organization based at Columbia’s Teachers College. [Disclosure: Lab director Joshua Benton sits on Hechinger's advisory board.] But aside from doing its own independent reporting, Hechinger also works with established news organizations to produce education stories for their own outlets. In the case of the Times, it was a $15,000 grant to help get the difficult data analysis work done.

I spoke with Richard Lee Colvin, editor of the Hechinger Report, about his decision to make the grant. Before Hechinger, Colvin covered education at the Times for seven years, and he was interested in helping the newspaper work with a professional statistician to score the 6,000 teachers using the “value-added” metric that was the basis for the series.

“[The L.A. Times] understood that was not something they had the capacity to do internally,” Colvin said. “They had already had conversations with this researcher, but they needed financial support to finish the project.” (Colvin wanted to be clear that he was not involved in the decision to run individual names of teachers on the Times’ site, just in analzying the testing data.) In exchange for the grant, the L.A. Times allowed Hechinger to use some of its content and gave them access to the data analysis, which Colvin says could have future uses.

At The Hechinger Report, Colvin is experimenting with how it can best carry out their mission of supporting in-depth education coverage — producing content for the Hechinger website, placing its articles with partner news organizations, or direct subsidies as in the L.A. Times series. They’re currently sponsoring a portion of the salary of a blogger at the nonprofit MinnPost whose beat includes education. “We’re very flexible in the ways we’re working with different organizations,” Colvin said. But, to clarify, he said, “we’re not a grant-making organization.”

As for the L.A. Times’ database, will the Times continue to update it every year? Smith says the district has not yet handed over the 2009-10 school year data, which isn’t a good sign for the Times. The district is battling with the union over whether to use value-added measurements in teacher evaluations, which could make it more difficult for the paper to get its hands on the data. “If we get it, we’ll release it,” Smith said.

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