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June 28 2013

14:32

Radio storytelling: When is a story just a story, and when do listeners expect more?

Jay Allison, who produces The Moth Radio Hour and founded Transom.org, once said, ”In public radio, our signature is story.” 

He entered radio in the 1970s, from the theater. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute — it’s exactly the same, because it’s a medium in time.’ In order to hold attention (radio storytelling) must at least recognize theatrical values like rhythm and pace and climax and scene and character, and story,” he now says. “A lot of radio simply didn’t — it adhered to newspaper values, and as a result, I think not that many people listened. Bit by bit, the understanding was that theatrical values — by which I do not mean fiction — were incredibly important to holding attention, even to conveying information, to creating expectation and then to finally creating a memory. All of those scene-painting skills were the very heart of radio.”

And they still are. With so many storytelling shows on the air — The Moth, Radiolab, This American Life and, rising quickly, Snap Judgment — here’s a question that programs have been dealing with lately in the new “golden age” of public radio: What happens when a story turns out not to be true? Or true-ish? What level of accountability do listeners expect? How is the storyteller’s compact with the listener changing?

Allison remembers a radio story whose teller described passing through Customs at a certain Washington, D.C., airport, when in fact that airport had no Customs unit, as a skeptical listener pointed out. The storyteller “did get it wrong, and that mistake seemed to undermine her veracity in the mind of the listener for the entire story,” Allison says, “even though it was just something that happened in the flurry of extemporaneous storytelling.” An egregious example of listener betrayal is, of course, the This American Life excerpt of Mike Daisey’s stage show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, parts of which proved fabricated. Producer Ira Glass devoted an entire show to a retraction, and to understanding why and how the deception happened.

A lesser known example involves Snap Judgment, the Oakland-based NPR show with a stated mission of presenting “compelling personal stories — mixing tall tales with killer beats to produce cinematic, dramatic and kick-ass radio.” The show has taken off, especially among listeners age 33 to 42. Its founding producer is Glynn Washington, himself a riveting storyteller. He came to public radio with a University of Michigan law degree and a background in nonprofits, and last week The Atlantic wrote:

… Washington, a proud student of (Ira) Glass’s, is the next big thing. In its first three years, Snap Judgment, Washington’s fast-paced, music-heavy, ethnically variegated take on the public-radio story hour, has spread like left-end-of-the-dial kudzu. It is on 250 stations, reaching nine of the top 10 public-radio markets, and its podcast is downloaded more than half a million times a month. And while there has long been minority talent on public radio—a realm that includes National Public Radio and other producers of non-commercial radio, like American Public Media and Public Radio International—Washington is the first African American host to swing a big cultural stick, the first who seems likely to become a public-radio superstar on the order of Glass or Garrison Keillor.

A couple of years ago, Snap Judgment aired a segment by Jeff Greenwald, a San Francisco freelance journalist and travel writer who founded a nonprofit called Ethical Traveler. In “On the Road,” Greenwald told the following story: While hitchhiking once, at age 21, he and his girlfriend accepted a ride with a young couple who turned out to be mental-hospital escapees, and murderers. The story hinged emotionally on Greenwald’s incredulity at being left alive, and on his affection for the couple, whose names he believed to be Tony and Sue but that turned out, he said, to be Bella and Sam. (“We loved them,” he told listeners. “We loved those killers. And they loved us.”) You can hear the story here:

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 3.32.12 PM

A former Seattle newspaper reporter and blogger named David Quigg heard the story on the radio. As he later wrote in a blog post, the story, to him, did not ring true. Nor did the story feel quite right to another listener a few weeks ago, when a slightly different version aired on a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. show called Definitely Not the Opera. A third version of the story lives in a 2003 Lonely Planet guide called The Kindness of Strangers. After some empty Googling in search of the details, Quigg tweeted at Snap Judgment, asking whether the show could vouch for the piece’s veracity. The show responded: “Vouched.”

“Big, big mistake,” Washington says now. The word ”vouched” implies that the producers had checked out the story and were good with it. They hadn’t. Should they have? When, and to what extent, should storytelling shows verify information, and to what extent do their disclaimers absolve them of such an obligation? Moth Radio Hour airs and stages stories “as remembered and affirmed by the storyteller.” This American Life describes itself as a teller of “mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There’s lots more to the show, but it’s sort of hard to describe.”

We chatted with Washington the other day about some of this. He said an intern probably sent the “Vouched” tweet, back when Snap Judgment’s social media controls were looser, and that while the show makes no journalistic claims, the same kind of mistake wouldn’t happen today. Here’s part of the conversation, lightly edited for length:

Washington: The stories on the Snap Judgment show — we’re not reporters; we’re storytellers. We don’t check things the same way. In the course of putting stories together we have our own BS meter and if something doesn’t ring true we’ll put that in the context of the story itself, like, “I don’t know about this.” Our stories are constructed to be true to the person telling them. Like, someone will say their grandmother had magical powers and that she knew that her husband would be flying over her head at a certain time in a field 40 years ago — we’re not gonna fact-check that. We’re not. That’s a tale from that person and we’re gonna accept that as it is. It really is different. For us as a new program, what we don’t wanna do – I think the blogger is correct, because what we don’t want to do is mislead people. If we have dubious content we’ll — I really enjoy, let’s say, a protagonist who has, oh, a precarious relationship with the truth; I have to be sure that in that situation I’m acting as an everyman so that the audience understands to some degree that this is to be taken with a grain of salt. And that was probably the issue with the Jeff Greenwald piece. I think the blogger has a really good point. I mean I think it was a mistake.

Snap Judgment's Glynn Washington

Snap Judgment’s Glynn Washington

How did it happen?

When we were first starting … the controls weren’t in place to stop that sort of thing. And stupid things like this happened. You’re not gonna hear that piece ever again on Snap Judgment in the same context. If we do run that piece we’re gonna put some sort of disclaimer or something on it. I love the piece itself, as a piece of storytelling, but I think the blogger is right. We did not do enough due diligence to present that as straightforwardly as we did.

What would you do differently today?

I think, No. 1, we would ask some more questions. Jeff had been a regular contributor to the program and we probably dropped the ball in not asking the same types of questions as we do to every single person who comes through the door. The same Internet search that the blogger did? I did it too. I did it too late. I did it after the piece had aired. And that’s why we were like, Ugh. We were like, Okay, we’ve got to revise our policies enough to say not just new people but every story, every person, gets the same level of review. That was a change for us. That story was one of the fairly early stories in our program, when we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off. That’s the thing with our show. We want the stories to be true to the person telling them. That’s for sure. Are we gonna fact-check every single thing? No. But if you’re telling me that the killer picked you up on the side of the road, I want to know that the basis of that story happened, or we’ll present it as straight fiction. Whenever we do a story as fiction it’s generally a fantastical story, like, I shot Superman with a God bullet, or something like that.

Greenwald says his brush with killers definitely happened, and that if he had thought he was being held to journalistic standards he might’ve told the story differently, so as to avoid being confronted with listeners’ doubts. “That’s been really thorny,” he says. “And at this point I find myself a bit red-faced. Because I’ve gone through the police records, I’ve looked through the list of hitchhikings and murderers at that time; I have done as much due diligence as I can in my spare time … and I have not come up with a lot of proof for the story.” (On Monday, he began making inquiries to the FBI, for records.)

The hitchhiking happened in 1974, he says, five years before he became a journalist. The killers stole his backpack, which contained his journals recounting the episode, he says; his father, who knew the story, died in the ’80s; Greenwald lost touch with his girlfriend and didn’t track her down before telling the story. “So there’s no documentation,” he says. “People can do with it what they will. I never felt I presented it as a piece of authoritative investigative journalism. I presented it as a story that I remembered.”

He said, “At what point is a story simply allowed to be a story?” A possible answer: When it doesn’t involve real-world events or stakes. A story about a genie popping out of a bottle presumably has zero stakes for the listener, whereas a story about serial killers or a near plane crash does. In the hitchhiker story, a listener might reasonably expect to learn — at the very least — the suspects’ full names and, perhaps also, when the event happened and what became of Tony and Sue.

Greenwald calls this the difference between storytelling and journalism, but not all listeners make the distinction, even when a show signals its intentions:

Washington: There’s definitely a strict line between, say, This American Life and Snap Judgment. Ira Glass is a reporter. He’s the best features reporter in America. And I’m not. I’m not a reporter. Ira uses storytelling tools; I use certain tools of reportage. But we say, “This is not the news; this is storytelling with a beat” for a reason: to set the listener’s expectation of what these are. This is a story. It’s not reportage when you’re having a conversation with your friend or your mother or your spouse or your lover, whatever. It’s a different type of communication, and that’s where we are. But again, where the blogger’s right: We should have done more homework on that piece. Because it’s all about, for me, am I meeting the expectations that the listener has? Generally people get where we’re coming from on this thing, but some of the early episodes we’ve got stuff like genies popping out of things, and people telling that with a straight face. This happened to them; that’s true to them. No one has ever just related in a Vulcan world of straight facts; we relate through narratives, and narratives have beginnings and middles and ends. But like I say: The issue there is expectation. Especially as a newer show, we were in a new kind of dialogue with people as to what to expect from us. In fact it was a big question when we were first starting the show: What do we mean by “truth?” One early idea was to say we didn’t care about truth. But it wasn’t true. We do care about truth. We just think there’s a different way oftentimes at getting at it. That’s the whole basis of the show, is that there’s a different way to get at what happened.

Describe the typical Snap Judgment story.

That’s the whole thing! We can’t be typical! My Snap Judgment stories are generally based upon my own life experiences. Generally every episode or so I’ll tell a story about things that happened to me. It’s interesting, this whole aspect of memoir. I mean Oprah might James Frey me if I sat down on her couch but I’m telling stories of things that happened 30 years ago, and in those stories I’m telling, “She said this, this happened here, that’s the way it went down.” Now, I’m not trying to deceive anybody. Actually it’s kind of funny. I have a close crew of friends. We lived together in Japan — we started there in a program in 1989, so I’ve known these guys for a while. One of them used to say, “I’m gonna catch you in an exaggeration. I’m gonna catch you. I’m gonna do it. Because I know every one of your stories.” And it’s been a long time and he ain’t caught me yet. I mean did so-and-so say things in the order I’m putting them? Probably not. But did the essence of the event happen? Yeah. Absolutely. It’s kind of like an Angela’s Ashes situation, where (Frank) McCourt went in and started putting words in people’s mouths from 50 years ago, back in Ireland. Beautiful piece of work as a type of memoir, but not a piece of reporting.

So, audio memoir.

That’s one way to put it. My pieces are audio memoir. But there are other aspects that go into it. The whole thing about storytelling — this is what we don’t want to do; this is how we actually spend most of our time, as far as fairness is concerned: What I don’t want to do is have a person tell a story that in some way implicates another person in wrongdoing. We have a hard time with this. Fairness ends up being really difficult in storytelling because oftentimes you’re implicating somebody else in your situation. So because of that we will say, like, “the names have been changed,” or “this happened in such and such place.” I’ve started off a story by saying I’ve had to change the details of the story; the basic thing did in fact happen but I don’t want to implicate.

Transparency is often what’s missing in, for example, memoir.

Right, and it ends up being really difficult sometimes. Here’s the thing, too: Journalism 101, for audio journalism, is that you use the sound from the places where you’re doing the story, but you don’t go later on and start adding a bunch of made-up stuff. This is what we do all the time. It ends up being a clue, to some extent, that we’re not gonna be following regular journalistic prohibitions. We soundscape the heck out of pieces, and it’s certainly not sound sound.

Example?

Okay, so there’s a story that I told — I have a goddaughter who was born extremely prematurely. The mother of the baby, her partner was out of the country and she asked me to go to the (neonatal intensive care unit), to see the baby. The hospital had rules that only parents could go into this unit. So I told the hospital that I was the parent. And I went there. And when we were telling this piece we had hospital sounds come in the back. And I say that I saw her and she was hooked to various monitors. And you can hear the monitors. When I picked her up the monitors started going crazy, until they placed … her on my chest, because they said the thing that was good for preemies was skin-to-skin contact. So the whole time there were heartbeat sounds, there were monitor sounds — there was all kind of soundscaping that happened with that piece. It’s the first three minutes of an episode that we did called “Close Knit.” But that’s not reportage. Like, journalism students would be properly aghast if that was passed off as a reporting piece.

What kinds of staff conversations do you have about this kind of thing?

We had them a lot early on because we were defining the show. That sort of Jeff Greenwald issue, I don’t think that would happen today, because a lot of this stuff has been worked out. We ourselves understand our show better than we did when we were starting out. We’re not here to fool anybody. We are setting a different relationship than other NPR programs are setting with their audience. Garrison (Keillor) does the same thing. Not to be too critical, but it seems like there’s a big (David) Sedaris pass that happens. David’s not trying to fool anybody. What did he say — it was something to the effect of somebody asked, “Is this true?” and he said, “True enough.” I mean none of this is hard-and-fast stuff. Look, if David Sedaris were telling me the news on the ground in Baghdad, I’d be upset about it. But if he’s telling me, “This is what happened to me last week,” as a story, I don’t have any problems with that. The closer we get to news, and the closer that things actually matter in a real-world context apart from a personal story, the more careful we have to be. Like recently we were doing a story on a pollution triangle in Louisiana where there’s like a triangle of cancer happening in a certain community, and various chemical companies were suspected of elevating the cancer risks in this area. All of a sudden, yeah, we had to kind of put our reporter hat on and be really damn sure we’re getting our facts right.

Right.

No. 1, I can’t get sued by Dupont.

Yeah, that would be bad.

But in a broader sense, when we’re talking about the news, or newsy topics, we’re talking about something that has relevance beyond a personal story. A lot of our stories are aimed at the heart. A person can find different types of resonance. But when we’re taking a broader look at things we gotta check things out more. This is not the news, but if we’re telling certain stories that have real-world implications, we have to use certain journalistic tools to make sure the integrity of the piece is correct.

NPR, meanwhile, is grappling with these issues on a broader scale.

“All these shows get into a realm of audio storytelling that is fairly new territory for us,” says Eric Nuzum, NPR’s vice president for programming. “…There is no question that there is a rightful expectation of NPR programs that they be truthful. … How do we clearly identify the sourcing of the material, and in a way that doesn’t get in the listener’s way? That’s what these growing pains are addressing. Is Snap Judgment a work of journalism? No. Is it accountable to many NPR standards? Of course.”

In some ways, NPR is navigating its own legacy. “One of the issues is that these things are appearing within the context of public radio, which achieved its stripes in news and journalism,” as Allison puts it, “so that the audience starts to feel that everything they hear on public radio must be journalism. That’s a misapprehension.”

He says, “I mean, my big interest is this: You don’t want to inhibit the great art of storytelling with people just slavishly adhering to facts and details where they don’t matter and where they have no potential to create harm or even a misimpression. If it all becomes about that, then the focus on the remembering and the retelling may become inhibited by people becoming almost frightened that they’re gonna be taken to task. Now that’s different from, obviously, making up a story or changing major details, especially details that potentially affect the lives of others. That’s a whole different phenomenon. Everybody needs to guard against that.”

Check back soon for Part 2 of our conversation with Washington. Discussed: how growing up in a cult influenced his storytelling, the traits of great storytelling, aiming at the heart, and “seeing your own narrative.”    

 

March 29 2012

14:00

The Difference Between 'Invention' and 'Innovation'

Two and a half years ago, I co-founded Stroome, a collaborative online video editing and publishing platform and 2010 Knight News Challenge winner.

From its inception, the site received a tremendous amount of attention. The New School, USC Annenberg, the Online News Association and, ultimately, the Knight Foundation all saw something interesting in what we were doing. We won awards; we were invited to present at conferences; we were written about in the trades and featured in over 150 blogs. Yet despite all the accolades, not once did the word "invention" creep in. "Innovation," it turns out, was the word on everyone's lips.

Like so many up-and-coming entrepreneurs, I was under the impression that invention and innovation were one and the same. They aren't. And, as I have discovered, the distinction is an important one.

Recently, I was asked by Jason Nazar, founder of Docstoc and a big supporter of the L.A. entrepreneurial community, if I would help define the difference between the two. A short, 3-minute video response can be found at the bottom of this post, but I thought I'd share some key takeaways with you here:

INVENTION VS. INNOVATION: THE DIFFERENCE

In its purest sense, "invention" can be defined as the creation of a product or introduction of a process for the first time. "Innovation," on the other hand, occurs if someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process or service.

Consider the microprocessor. Someone invented the microprocessor. But by itself, the microprocessor was nothing more than another piece on the circuit board. It's what was done with that piece -- the hundreds of thousands of products, processes and services that evolved from the invention of the microprocessor -- that required innovation.

STEVE JOBS: THE POSTER BOY OF INNOVATION

If ever there were a poster child for innovation it would be former Apple CEO Steve Jobs. And when people talk about innovation, Jobs' iPod is cited as an example of innovation at its best.

steve jobs iphone4.jpg

But let's take a step back for a minute. The iPod wasn't the first portable music device (Sony popularized the "music anywhere, anytime" concept 22 years earlier with the Walkman); the iPod wasn't the first device that put hundreds of songs in your pocket (dozens of manufacturers had MP3 devices on the market when the iPod was released in 2001); and Apple was actually late to the party when it came to providing an online music-sharing platform. (Napster, Grokster and Kazaa all preceded iTunes.)

So, given those sobering facts, is the iPod's distinction as a defining example of innovation warranted? Absolutely.

What made the iPod and the music ecosystem it engendered innovative wasn't that it was the first portable music device. It wasn't that it was the first MP3 player. And it wasn't that it was the first company to make thousands of songs immediately available to millions of users. What made Apple innovative was that it combined all of these elements -- design, ergonomics and ease of use -- in a single device, and then tied it directly into a platform that effortlessly kept that device updated with music.

Apple invented nothing. Its innovation was creating an easy-to-use ecosystem that unified music discovery, delivery and device. And, in the process, they revolutionized the music industry.

IBM: INNOVATION'S UGLY STEPCHILD

Admittedly, when it comes to corporate culture, Apple and IBM are worlds apart. But Apple and IBM aren't really as different as innovation's poster boy would have had us believe.

Truth is if it hadn't been for one of IBM's greatest innovations -- the personal computer -- there would have been no Apple. Jobs owes a lot to the introduction of the PC. And IBM was the company behind it.

Ironically, the IBM PC didn't contain any new inventions per se (see iPod example above). Under pressure to complete the project in less than 18 months, the team actually was under explicit instructions not to invent anything new. The goal of the first PC, code-named "Project Chess," was to take off-the-shelf components and bring them together in a way that was user friendly, inexpensive, and powerful.

And while the world's first PC was an innovative product in the aggregate, the device they created -- a portable device that put powerful computing in the hands of the people -- was no less impactful than Henry Ford's Model T, which reinvented the automobile industry by putting affordable transportation in the hands of the masses.

INNOVATION ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH

Given the choice to invent or innovate, most entrepreneurs would take the latter. Let's face it, innovation is just sexier. Perhaps there are a few engineers at M.I.T. who can name the members of "Project Chess." Virtually everyone on the planet knows who Steve Jobs is.

But innovation alone isn't enough. Too often, companies focus on a technology instead of the customer's problem. But in order to truly turn a great idea into a world-changing innovation, other factors must be taken into account.

According to Venkatakrishnan Balasubramanian, a research analyst with Infosys Labs, the key to ensuring that innovation is successful is aligning your idea with the strategic objectives and business models of your organization.

In a recent article that appeared in Innovation Management, he offered five considerations:

1. Competitive advantage: Your innovation should provide a unique competitive position for the enterprise in the marketplace;
2. Business alignment: The differentiating factors of your innovation should be conceptualized around the key strategic focus of the enterprise and its goals;
3. Customers: Knowing the customers who will benefit from your innovation is paramount;
4. Execution: Identifying resources, processes, risks, partners and suppliers and the ecosystem in the market for succeeding in the innovation is equally important;
5. Business value: Assessing the value (monetary, market size, etc.) of the innovation and how the idea will bring that value into the organization is a critical underlying factor in selecting which idea to pursue.

Said another way, smart innovators frame their ideas to stress the ways in which a new concept is compatible with the existing market landscape, and their company's place in that marketplace.

This adherence to the "status quo" may sound completely antithetical to the concept of innovation. But an idea that requires too much change in an organization, or too much disruption to the marketplace, may never see the light of day.

A FINAL THOUGHT

While they tend to be lumped together, "invention" and "innovation" are not the same thing. There are distinctions between them, and those distinctions are important.

So how do you know if you are inventing or innovating? Consider this analogy:

If invention is a pebble tossed in the pond, innovation is the rippling effect that pebble causes. Someone has to toss the pebble. That's the inventor. Someone has to recognize the ripple will eventually become a wave. That's the entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs don't stop at the water's edge. They watch the ripples and spot the next big wave before it happens. And it's the act of anticipating and riding that "next big wave" that drives the innovative nature in every entrepreneur.

This article is the seventh of 10 video segments in which digital entrepreneur Tom Grasty talks about his experience building an Internet startup, and is part of a larger initiative sponsored by docstoc.videos, which features advice from small business owners who offer their views on how to launch a new business or grow your existing one altogether.

December 28 2011

15:20

Top 10 Media Stories of 2011: Arab Spring; R.I.P. Steve Jobs; Phone Hacking

Yes, 2011 was another year of massive change in the American media landscape, with newspapers struggling, radio and TV trying to sharpen digital strategies, and magazines prettying themselves for tablets. But more often than expected, we turned our eyes overseas, to the role of social media in organizing protests and revolutions in the Arab world. To the spread of Facebook and freer speech in places like Egypt and Libya. And to the shocking phone-hacking scandal that brought the News Corp. empire to its knees, shuttering its most popular tabloid, the News of the World (published since 1843).

2011 year small.jpg

As smartphones and tablets proliferated, the reality of mobile news (and advertising) finally came into focus after years of failed promises. News orgs big and small tried to cash in on mobile editions, with mixed success. While Apple and its dominant iPad platform demanded a 30% cut of digital subscriptions -- and the customer data -- publishers fought back with "web apps" that went around the App Store and its restrictions. As more Android tablets, including the popular Kindle Fire, got into the hands of consumers, the chance that more people would ditch print editions for digital grew.

So here's our annual list of the Top 10 media stories that mattered most in 2011, and some predictions of where those stories are headed in 2012.

Top 10 Media Stories of 2011

1. The Arab Spring and the "Facebook revolutions."

What started as protests in December 2010 in Tunisia, after a college graduate set himself on fire, turned into a Middle East-wide revolution of people rising up against totalitarian regimes. In Tunisia and Egypt, the ruling governments fell, and in Libya a long civil war led to a rebel victory (aided by NATO). What many of these revolutions had in common was organizing done with social networks, especially Facebook, and news spreading virally over Twitter and YouTube. And that formula was repeated in protest movements outside of the Middle East, including in the Occupy Wall Street protests here in the U.S.

While social media played a crucial role in organizing protests and spreading the word to people in the outside world, the revolutions were not dependent upon them. When the Egyptian authorities shut down Internet access, that didn't stop people from human networking and organizing person-to-person to keep protests alive. As Miller-McCune's Philip Howard wrote:

Overemphasizing the role of information technology diminishes the personal risks that individual protesters took in heading out onto the streets to face tear gas and rubber bullets. While it is true that the dynamics of collective action are different in a digital world, we need to move beyond punditry about digital media, simple claims that technology is good or bad for democracy, and a few favored examples of how this can be so.

Prediction: Social media will continue to be vital cogs in any protest movement around the world, even as the targets of those protests learn to become more savvy in using social media in response to them. The days of closing off society to the outside world are numbered as more people use online platforms to communicate with the rest of the world.

jobs day of dead.jpg

2. Steve Jobs dies, and the tech world mourns.

Love him or hate him, Apple co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs did make a dent in the universe. He was there at the birth of so many innovations, from the personal computer, desktop publishing, the iPod, iPhone and iPad (the holy trinity of gadgets). But one thing he couldn't conquer was cancer, and he finally succumbed and died in October at the age of 56. Not long after that, an in-depth biography of Jobs was published, written by Walter Isaacson, detailing his many triumphs as well as his hard-driving, caustic personality.

While Jobs made a huge contribution to helping salvage the music business with iTunes (while taking his cut), he has had mixed success in helping the news business with mobile subscriptions. And his take on revolutionizing the TV business had yet to be realized at his death. One quote that stands out from Jobs is this one from his Stanford commencement address in 2005:

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Prediction: The legend of Steve Jobs and what he accomplished will only grow bigger over the coming years, as his legacy as a media visionary is cemented and the rougher parts of his personality are downplayed.

3. The phone-hacking scandal shutters the News of the World.

Tabloid journalists have always gone to great lengths to get scoops, but nothing compares to the breathtaking deceit at the U.K.'s News of the World, which hacked into the voice-mail messages of celebrities, politicians and even a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler. What was originally deemed to be a few bad apples turned out to be widespread misdeeds that led to numerous arrests, resignations and firings at News International, the parent company of the tabloid. Even more surprising was the decision by News Corp. honcho Rupert Murdoch to close down the News of the World after 168 years of publication.

The "hackgate" scandal has led to resignations in the British government, at Scotland Yard and at various News Corp. publications (including Dow Jones publisher Les Hinton). Here's how MediaShift correspondent Tristan Stewart-Robertson summed it up:

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 conflicting appetites for information and privacy are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Prediction: The scandal will continue to unearth more villains as government inquiries and lawsuits continue into the new year. More people will use stronger passwords for their voice-mail, and tabloid journalists will need to ratchet back their "black ops" to get scoops.

4. Bubbly IPOs return for a few startups.

groupon-ceo.jpg

No one would mistake 2011 for 1999, the last year of the dot-com bubble, when IPOs were popping like champagne corks. The initial public offering was the most conspicuous way that investors and startup employees with stock options could cash in on their around-the-clock hard work. But still, some echoes of the late '90s seeped in this year, with successful IPOs for startups such as LinkedIn, Groupon and Zynga. In May, LinkedIn was priced at $45 per share, and jumped 109% to close at $94.25. As a Reuters story explained, the IPO was "evoking memories of the investor love affair with Internet stocks during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s."

The hottest startups of 2011 fell into the SoLoMo category: social, local and mobile. And Groupon was right at the sweet spot of SoLoMo, as the biggest player in the hot "daily deals" market. Despite the fact that Groupon was not profitable and its growth was slowing down, the company's IPO raised $700 million, the biggest public offering since Google. While social gaming startup Zynga raised even more money, $1 billion, its IPO actually ended its first day of trading below its initial price of $10 per share. While a few Internet companies did well going public, most are still waiting in the wings. As USA Today put it, overall IPOs have had a dismal 2011.

Prediction: With so much stock market instability, it will be tough for many companies to go public in the coming months. More likely, the exit for startups will be to get acquired, except for the big fish like Facebook and Twitter, which could have huge IPOs next year.

5. New York Times finds success with metered pay wall; others try their luck.

Why won't people pay a fair price for news content online? So many news orgs simply put up their content for free online that this is what most people expect to pay: nothing. But some exceptions like WSJ.com (leaky wall) and FT.com (metered wall) found success with a mix of free and paid content. Then came the biggest experiment of them all, the metered pay wall at NYTimes.com, where you get 20 free articles per month (or via Google search or social media) and then you have to pay anywhere from $15 per month to $35 per month for full access on the web and with mobile apps. The price seemed steep and the Times was targeting the people who use its content the most. And yet there were exceptions: Car maker Lincoln subsidized free access for many users, and a recent "special offer" gave full digital access for just 99 cents for 8 weeks.

The metered wall has been a smashing success so far for NYTimes.com, garnering 324,000 paying subscribers by the end of the third quarter, just six months after the start of the wall. Plus, the Times has 1.2 million users with full digital access. (Many have print subscriptions that give them digital access.) But where does that leave the other, smaller papers that are trying out pay walls? Gannett newspapers, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Boston Globe all have begun testing pay strategies and it's unclear if they will be as successful as the Times. But as PaidContent's Staci Kramer wrote in a year-end review, "2011 is the hands-down winner when it comes to people paying for digital content. The numbers aren't all in yet and some of it will be hard to quantify given the lack of complete transparency but it's clear that more people are willing to pay for digital access to music, news, movies, TV, games, books and magazines."

Prediction: More online newspapers will try to charge for their content with mixed success. Not everyone has the strong brand (and followers) of the New York Times, and many folks are happy to try out other free sites for news if they are forced to pay too much.

6. The battle over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in Congress.

No one likes piracy, but the two bills in Congress to fight online piracy, SOPA and PIPA, are seen as flawed and overreaching by various tech companies and online pundits. The two bills are supported by most big media companies, music publishers and Hollywood, and are opposed by big tech and online companies and organizations.

While Congress expected to pass some version of these two bills into law with little friction, online organizers have wreaked havoc with political protests that haven't been seen at this depth before. Tumblr created a slick "Call Congress" tool that popped up on its home page, and 6,000 websites participated in an online protest against what they considered to be possible censorship under the new law, with 1 million emails sent to members of Congress. As Congress adjourns for its holiday recess, the fight continues, with so many people pulling their domains from Go Daddy (a supporter of SOPA), that the domain company changed course and withdrew support for the bill.

Prediction: The bills will still likely make it through Congress in some form, but if the online protests continue apace, there might well be amendments to make the bills less overreaching when it comes to piracy enforcement.

7. Kindle Fire tablet is an affordable alternative to iPad.

Here come the low-cost Android tablets. While Apple has done such a good job with its iPad tablet in dominating the market, there was still an opening for a lower-cost, smaller tablet to steal away market share. And this Christmas season, Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet ($199) and to a lesser extent the Nook Tablet ($250) have stolen Apple's thunder with cheaper alternatives. Some leaked data to Cult of Android showed that the Fire was racking up 50,000 pre-orders per day, which could mean 2.5 million sales before it even went on sale Nov. 15!

Those are impressive numbers for Amazon, which has created quite the backlash for its bullying in the book industry, becoming a book publisher on its own and sending people as spies into bookstores to compare prices. And yet, Apple will still continue to dominate tablet sales this holiday season, according to researchers at IDC, with the Kindle and Nook tablet sales coming at the expense of higher-priced Android tablets. "I fully expect Apple to have its best-ever quarter in 4Q11," IDC's Tom Mainelli told the Washington Post, "and in 2012 I think we'll see Apple's product begin to gain more traction outside of the consumer market, specifically with enterprise and education markets."

Prediction: Apple will have to work harder at keeping its dominant lead in tablets, and will need to consider selling a cheaper, smaller tablet to compete on the low end. While the Kindle Fire will be popular as a cheap alternative, it will need to offer more than a closed Amazon environment to satisfy gadget geeks.

8. Netflix stumbles with huge price hike, poor Qwikster idea.

2011 was another strong year for people cutting the cord to cable and satellite TV. The cable industry finally acknowledged there was a slight drop-off in subscriptions, and for the first time U.S. households with TV sets declined. But one reason people were willing to cut the cord was the proliferation of "over the top" streaming TV services such as Netflix and Hulu. But after years of growth and profits, Netflix stumbled badly in 2011. The company announced it was unbundling its DVD-by-mail service and charging higher rates for DVDs and for streaming, with a spin-off company for DVDs called Qwikster.

Those moves were largely panned by pundits, and Netflix started bleeding customers, with 800,000 of them leaving the service by the end of the third quarter. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had to apologize to customers in a blog post and in a video address:

Prediction: Netflix will need a two-pronged strategy to gain back customers: aggressive pricing and promotions; better selection of streaming content. It might be tough to pull it off, but without doing anything, Netflix will find a very difficult road ahead.

9. Publishers rebel against Apple with HTML5 web apps.

Apple could only push publishers so far. While the tech giant came hat in hand to media companies promising to prop up the news business with digital subscriptions for the iPad, its terms were onerous: a 30% cut of all revenues; Apple keeps the data on customers; no links to subscriptions outside of Apple's App Store from within apps. Some publishers decided that enough was enough, and created "web apps" that worked on the iPad without going through Apple and its App Store. The most prominent web app came from FT.com, which decided to create its own HTML5 app to go around Apple's control.

When I spoke to FT.com's managing director, Rob Grimshaw, he shared these figures about their success:

> 20% of all page views for FT.com come from mobile devices
> 30% of all page views seen by paid subscribers to FT.com are on mobile devices

> More than 1 million downloads for the FT apps for iPhone and iPad

> More than 500,000 visits to the web app over the past 3 months

> 15% to 20% of new paid subscribers come from mobile devices

Apple eventually blinked and set better terms for publishers, allowing them to sell subscriptions at discounted prices. However, Apple still gets a huge 30% cut and keeps the customer data.

Prediction: More publishers will watch FT.com and others' web apps very closely, and will consider ways to get around Apple's walled garden.

10. Rise of Google+ as an alternative to Facebook, Twitter.

After several false starts (including Google Buzz, Orkut, Wave), Google finally got social networking right with its Google+ network launch in 2011. While the service quickly brought on millions of new users and was integrated tightly into Google search results and Gmail, some folks were unimpressed and felt like it was a ghost town because their friends remained entrenched on Facebook.

So what was the big deal with Google+? The service let people set up "Circles" so that status updates could be sent to discrete groups, and the "Hangouts" let you do group video chat like never before. One enterprising TV station in Columbia, Mo., even started putting Google+ Hangouts on the air. My experience was typical for the more plugged-in tech media crowd: Within a couple months on Google+, I had more people following me there than on Twitter, where I'd been active since 2008.

Prediction: Google+ will continue to be an attractive option for interactivity and higher level conversations among the more tech-insider crowd, but most people will continue their presence on Twitter and Facebook.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some other stories that didn't quite make the cut but are worth mentioning:

> Digital First takes over newspapers at the Journal Register Co. and Media News, and launches an investment company for digital news innovation.

> AOL buys Huffington Post and TechCrunch, and TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington is eventually pushed out after trying to run both TechCrunch and a new VC fund.

> #OccupyWallStreet organizes hundreds of protests around the U.S. and world to demand that money is removed from politics.

> News aggregators proliferate, with the rise of Flipboard, Zite (bought by CNN), Trove, Livestand, News.me and many more.

What do you think? What media stories were the biggest ones this year? Did we miss any key ones? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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+

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

December 19 2011

08:30

Apple moves forward with TV plans

Wall Street Journal :: Apple Inc. is moving forward with its assault on television, following up on the ambitions of its late co-founder, Steve Jobs. In recent weeks, Apple executives have discussed their vision for the future of TV with media executives at several large companies, according to people familiar with the matter.

Continue to read Jessica E. Vascellaro | Sam Schechner, online.wsj.com

08:30

Apple moves forward with TV plans

Wall Street Journal :: Apple Inc. is moving forward with its assault on television, following up on the ambitions of its late co-founder, Steve Jobs. In recent weeks, Apple executives have discussed their vision for the future of TV with media executives at several large companies, according to people familiar with the matter.

Continue to read Jessica E. Vascellaro | Sam Schechner, online.wsj.com

October 07 2011

14:30

This Week in Review: Remembering Steve Jobs, and a new-old media partnership

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

A man who thought different: The tech, media, and business worlds lost one of their brightest minds this week: Steve Jobs, the visionary who co-founded Apple and helped transform virtually every industry this site touches on, died Wednesday at age 56. Thousands of people have been pouring out their thanks and remembrances online over the past couple of days; I’ll try to highlight some of the most insightful reflections here.

First, the obituaries: The New York Times and Wall Street Journal memorialized Jobs in their formal, definitive style, while Wired’s Steven Levy took a more interpretive angle on Jobs’ life and work. The Times offered a fantastic interactive guide to Jobs’ 317 patents, and All Things Digital remembered Jobs with a collection of his own words. One of his most well-known public statements is a 2005 commencement speech that included some profound thoughts about death, including the statement, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

The New York Times and the Lab’s Megan Garber have good summaries of the ways people remembered and honored Jobs on Wednesday. Several pieces on Jobs’ legacy, by the LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik, Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, and Reuters’ Kevin Kelleher, centered on a similar point: Jobs’ expertise wasn’t in technical advancements so much as it was in his uncanny ability to recognize what made technologies frustrating for people to use and then to develop brilliant solution after brilliant solution. As the AP’s Ted Anthony put it, “He realized what we wanted before we understood it ourselves.”

Others remembered Jobs for what tech blogger Dave Winer called “the integrity of his vision.” For the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal, that vision meant a distinctive devotion to work for pure self-fulfillment, and that devotion led to, as Richard MacManus of ReadWriteWeb pointed out, a corporate culture uniquely predicated on accountability and direct responsibility. Berkman Center fellow Doc Searls brought up some old insights about Jobs’ dedication to innovation, and at the Guardian, Dan Gillmor wrote on the juxtaposition between his awe of Jobs’ genius and his concern about Apple’s growing control. Horace Dediu gave the contrarian’s remembrance, challenging the idea of Jobs as an otherworldly visionary and coming up with some poetic insight in the process.

A few people looked specifically at Steve Jobs’ impact on the media industry — GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram looked at the ways Apple has continued to disrupt media, especially with the iPhone, which definitively turned the phone into a media consumption device. Jeff Sonderman of Poynter republished a piece on Jobs’ relationship with the news industry, and the New York Times’ David Carr said Jobs made business journalism cool for the first time.

Then there were the personal stories: Fast Company collected bunches of accounts of tech execs, writers, and students’ first meetings with Jobs, and the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg shared several Jobs stories of his own. Tech blogger John Gruber wrote on the grass-stained sneakers Jobs wore to his keynote address at a conference in June — “the product of limited time, well spent.” And former Gizmodo writer Brian Lam, who had a notorious run-in with Apple last year over a lost iPhone prototype, reflected on Jobs’ kindness and forgiveness amid that incident.

My favorite takeaway came from journalism professor Jeremy Littau’s summary of his lecture on Jobs to his students: “Go create stuff. Lots of stuff. Don’t wait for me to tell you to do it and —  for the love of God — don’t wait for it to be assigned in a class or be for credit on the student newspaper. The great ones are never off the clock. They create stuff because it matters, not because they’re told to.”

Two media giants jump in together: ABC News and Yahoo announced a major partnership for online news, agreeing to share web content, count traffic together, and produce web video series. It’s not a full-fledged merger: The two organizations will remain independent, but they’ll share news bureaus and sell ads together as ABC produces web series for Yahoo and Yahoo maintains the web operations of shows like Good Morning America.

These two companies have done something like this before — as Poynter noted, their announcement this week was strikingly similar to an announcement between the two orgs back in 2000. Still, The New York Times said it’s the deepest partnership of its kind since NBC and Microsoft in the mid-’90s. The basic reasons for the move seem to make sense: As the Times and TV Newser pointed out, ABC News has plenty of corporate muscle behind it via Disney, but has lagged behind its competitors in web traffic. Yahoo, on the other hand, is swimming in traffic but has had some serious difficulty figuring where to go from there.

Still, the deal got a lukewarm reception from many online media analysts. One of them told Ad Age that for ABC News, Yahoo was “the last life vest on the Titanic.” Wired’s Tim Carmody said ABC and Yahoo could have some quite interesting opportunities for cooperation, but instead, they’re “both left chasing The Huffington Post — a fast-growing, web-native and increasingly multimedia-savvy and professional-journalism-driven site.” Mathew Ingram of GigaOM described the move as a doomed, retrograde portal strategy: What these organizations need, he said, is not more eyeballs, but more targeted audiences and well-produced niche content.

But here at the Lab, media professor Josh Braun said that while the partnership is far from a slam dunk, it’s still an ambitious move with the potential to give ABC News a foothold into round-the-clock content and some demographic niches highly coveted by advertisers. On Yahoo’s side, Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici wondered whether they’re moving away from producing original content.

Apple drops the next iPhone: The news of Steve Jobs’ death dwarfed what had been a significant development for Apple-philes: the unveiling, earlier this week, of the next iteration of the iPhone, the iPhone 4S. As the New York Times explained, the new iPhone doesn’t look much different from the current one, but most of its improvements are below the surface, most notably the addition of a voice-activated personal assistant named Siri.

This was not what everyone was expecting; for weeks, the tech press had wrongly predicted an iPhone 5, only to see upgrades that were smaller and more incremental than they expected. The result was disappointment for many, summed up well by Henry Blodget of Business Insider and Farhad Manjoo of Slate. Others, like tech writer Dan Frommer and The New York Times’ Nick Bilton, said there was plenty to like about the iPhone 4S, including faster download speeds and a more powerful camera.

Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman looked at several aspects of the new iPhone of interest to journalists, focusing specifically on Apple’s new Newsstand section for newspaper and magazine apps. He expressed some concern that the Newsstand locks publishers into Apple’s 30-percent-cut pay system while duplicating the old print news-buying experience, rather than creating something new.

Reading roundup: This week was a busy one outside of the big stories, too. Here’s what else people were talking about:

— Some conversation that continues to trickle out about Facebook’s overhaul: GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram argued that Facebook’s “frictionless sharing” is where the web is headed next, the Lab’s Ken Doctor and Gina Chen looked at what’s in this for news orgs, and at The Atlantic, Ben Zimmer looked at what Facebook has done to the way we use language.

— Commentary about last week’s Kindle announcement also continued this week, with Frederic Filloux explaining why he’s excited about the Kindle Fire’s potential for news media and magazine publishers, saying the Fire could help spark some big revenue in tablets. Meanwhile, Nate Hoffelder noted that there’s a lot that you can’t do with the Kindle and its apps, and Mathew Ingram wondered what will happen to the book industry when Kindle prices drop to zero.

— Jonathan Stray’s thoughtful post a couple of weeks ago about journalism for makers has led to a slow-burning discussion: Grad student Blair Hickman proposed a model for solution-based journalism, while journalism professor C.W. Anderson questioned whether journalists have the authority for such an approach. Meanwhile, Josh Stearns of Free Press mused on applying “systems thinking” to journalism.

— This month’s Carnival of Journalism produced a solid set of posts that examined a variety of aspects of online video, from technique to philosophy to business. Here’s the roundup.

— Two useful pieces of advice from Poynter: a guide for news sites to partnering with local blogs, and for journalists to get started with data journalism.

— Former New York Times editor Bill Keller offered a (surprisingly) bullish take on the potential for a sustainable business model in online news, and the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Robert Rosenthal gave a thorough, up-close look at what that means for a single news org in his four-part report on making CIR and California Watch sustainable. Here’s part one and the bullet-point version.

11:13

Hi, my name’s Zarino

So when Nicola asked me to write a Friday post introducing myself on the ScraperWiki blog, I never thought I’d be writing it during such a momentous few days. I was meant to entertain and beguile you with talk of my MSc research into Open Data at Oxford, tease and tantalise with news of how we’re making ScraperWiki cleaner, faster and more intuitive.

But suddenly, all of that seemed pretty unimportant. In the small hours of Thursday morning, people all over the UK woke up to find that Steve Jobs, one of the greatest and most controversial legends of the technology world, had passed away. The news rocked Twitter — there was pretty much nothing else in my stream all day — flowers and candles were laid outside Apple Stores around the world, people published poems and pictures and stories and bittersweet obituaries. Many of the highest-traffic pages on the web displayed humble banners with his name. Some simply shut down and devoted every pixel to his memory.

And it got me wondering — what does a guy do to cause such a stir? Books will no doubt be written (in fact, they already have) answering that question. They’ll talk about Steve the college dropout, Steve the child of the Sixties, Steve the garage marketeer. They’ll picture him bowtied and bespectacled grinning above the first Macintosh, clad in the inimitable blue and black at one of a hundred keynotes, and worryingly gaunt at the height of his battle with cancer. They’ll talk about how he revolutionised not just the computing industry, not just the software industry and not just the music industry, but also the animation industry, the movie industry, and the technology retail industry. And they’ll be right.

But if you ask me, the real reason why we’re all laying flowers for this guy, writing poems for him, even talking about him at all, is because he put the user at the live, beating heart of everything he did. Steve didn’t invent the mouse, or the GUI or the personal computer, but in a world of green-on-black, of FORTRAN and BASIC, he had the foresight, the passion and the balls to back these weird, unpopular and user-centric technologies, because he knew, once normal people had access to the liberating power of the silicon chip, their lives would change forever. It’s only a matter of time until someone (hopefully us!) does the same with data.

I’m no Steve Jobs (I look terrible in turtle-necks). But if I can do anything here at ScraperWiki, it’s to try and bring some of that user focus to the world of data science. Life is too short to spend it puzzling over dubug console output, or commenting out lines of code one by one. And most of all, life’s too short to be doing all of that alone. I have two goals as the ScraperWiki UX guy: to make the experience of using our services as smooth, as intuitive and as integrated as possible, and also to make it as social as possible—not in a Facebook way, but in a hackday way—so you can all benefit from the wealth of experience, backgrounds and talents around you, right now, on this very site. There’s some amazing work being done by our members, and it’s my job to make sure you can keep on doing it, keep on getting the scoops, informing the public, serving your clients, no matter how hideous the HTML or unstructured the PDF.

Like I said, I’m no Steve Jobs. Who could even try to compete? But like Steve, I have an email address – zarino@scraperwiki.com – and I want to hear from you. Yes, you, right now. And in the future, whenever you have a problem. Whenever you think of something ScraperWiki should be doing for you, or whenever it fails to do something it says it should. Drop me an email and we’ll work on a solution (I promise my responses won’t be as famously acerbic as Steve’s).

And with that, I’ll leave you. Our brilliant new Editor interface isn’t going to design itself, you know. But before I go, I should take one last chance to say thank you. To you amazing ScraperWiki diggers, to Francis and the ScraperWiki team, but most of all, to Steve, for making all of this possible. I hope we can do him proud.


October 06 2011

07:29
04:03

Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary, dies at 56

New York Times :: Steven P. Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple who helped usher in the era of personal computers and then led a cultural transformation in the way music, movies and mobile communications were experienced in the digital age, died Wednesday. He was 56.

Continue to read John Markoff, www.nytimes.com

03:06

Steve Jobs’ on death: ‘The single best invention’

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who passed away tonight, once described death as “the single best invention of life.” Why? He said that’s because death “is life’s change agent.  It clears out the old to make way for the new.” Amazing words from one of the greatest...

01:30

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

We don’t have much decoration in the Nieman Lab office. One of the few pieces we have, though, is a framed picture of a famed quote: “Real artists ship.”

Steve Jobs had been sick for a long time, and today’s news shouldn’t come as a shock — but, still. “I never expected to be this affected,” Gizmodo’s Joe Brown put it. Jobs’ loss is a loss for technology that seems, also, intensely personal — ironic, maybe, for a man as private as Jobs, but fitting for a visionary who’s done more than anyone else to bring the words “personal” and “computer” together.

With that in mind, here are some of the thoughts shared, this evening, by the people whose worlds Jobs changed — thoughts shared, we’d bet, through devices he brought to fruition.

[View the story "Steve Jobs: 1955-2011" on Storify]

July 03 2011

21:16

Mac pioneer Andy Hertzfeld and the thinking baked into Google+ (Plus) Circles

CNET :: Thirty years ago, Andy Hertzfeld was a young computer engineer working at Apple Computer on the first Macintosh under the leadership of Steve Jobs. As Jobs had repeatedly promised the small team, their creation would change the world, and he was right.

Today, Hertzfeld's passion for technology and his experiences at Apple have been baked into Google+. Hertzfeld's role on Google+ was primarily building Circles. CNET interviewed Hertzfeld by phone to ask more about the ambitions of Google+, the thinking that went into Circles, his next projects at Google, and some broader industry trends.

Continue to read Scott Ard, news.cnet.com

May 28 2011

20:58

Apple’s App Store: more than 500,000 apps, Android marketplace only 294,000

CultofMac :: Apple’s iTunes can boast a half-million apps. That figure likely will get an official stamp of approval when CEO Steve Jobs speaks June 9 before developers at the annual WWDC in San Francisco. The figure, apparently passed earlier Tuesday morning, places the Cupertino, Calif. company well ahead of its rival Google, which can claim 294,000 Android Marketplace apps for the open-source mobile operating system.

148apps has published further interesting data (latest update 2011-05-23): The application approval process has an average delay of 7.30 days (worst case: maximum delay 46 days). Apple receives 523 non-games applications per day. The count for total apps seen in US app stores alone: 499,170.

Continue to read Ed Sutherland, www.cultofmac.com

App store metrics by 148apps.biz/app-store-metrics

March 01 2011

17:16

TABLETMANIA, ONE YEAR AFTER

One year ago I produced a temporary blog about the launch of the first iPad.

I went to San Francisco for the launch and since then the tablets became the media topic of the year.

So, re-reading now the (Spanish) entries of my TABLETMANIA blog I realized that 110 % of what I said, I am sorry, was right!

Not bad for something new and received by many gurus as a DOA, “death on arrival”, product.

They were wrong.

I was right.

So, now that tomorrow Apple is going to present the new iPad2 I decided to update the entries of the blog of try to find editors for an instant book in Spanish and English

Any leads?

If yes, please contact me at: giner@btinternet.com

illustration by Luis Graena

February 25 2011

15:00

This Week in Review: TBD gets the axe, deciphering Apple’s new rules, and empowering more news sources

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

The short, happy-ish life of TBD: Just six months after it launched and two weeks after a reorganization was announced, the Washington, D.C., local news site was effectively shuttered this week, when its corporate parent, Allbritton Communications (it’s owned by Robert Allbritton and includes Politico), cut most of its jobs, leaving only an arts and entertainment operation within the website of Allbritton’s WJLA-TV.

TBD had been seen many as a bellwether in online-only local news, as Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore documented in her historical roundup of links about the site, so it was quite a shock and a disappointment to many future-of-newsies that it was closed so quickly. The response — aptly compiled by TBDer Jeff Sonderman — was largely sympathetic to TBD’s staff (former TBD manager Jim Brady even wrote a pitch to prospective employers on behalf of the newly laid off community engagement team). Many observers on Twitter (and Terry Heaton on his blogpointed squarely at Allbritton for the site’s demise, with The Batavian’s Howard Owens drawing out a short, thoughtful lesson: “Legacy managers will nearly always sabotage innovation. Wall of separation necessary between innovators and legacy.”

Blogger Mike Clark pointed out that TBD’s traffic was beating each of the other D.C. TV news sites and growing as well. The Washington Post reported that while traffic wasn’t a problem, turning it into revenue was — though the fact that TBD’s ads were handled by WJLA staffers might have contributed to that.

Mallary Jean Tenore wrote an insightful article talking to some TBD folks about whether their company gave them a chance to fail. Lehigh j-prof Jeremy Littau was unequivocal on the subject: “Some of us have been talking today on Twitter about whether TBD failed. Nonsense. TBD wasn’t given enough time to fail.”

While CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis lamented that “TBD will be painted as a failure of local news online when it’s a failure of its company, nothing more,” others saw some larger implications for other online local news projects. Media analyst Alan Mutter concluded that TBD’s plight is “further evidence that hyperlocal journalism is more hype than hope for the news business,” and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds gave six business lessons for similar projects from TBD’s struggles. Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton ripped Edmonds’ analysis, arguing that Allbritton “can’t pretend to have seriously tried the hyperlocal business space after a six-month experiment it derailed half-way in.”

Applying Apple’s new rules: Publishers’ consternation over Apple’s new subscription plan for mobile devices continued this week, with Frederic Filloux at Monday Note laying out many publishers’ frustrations with Apple’s proposal. The New York Times’ David Carr and The Guardian’s Josh Halliday both covered publishers’ Apple subscription conundrum, and one expert told Carr, “If you are a publisher, it puts things into a tailspin: The business model you have been working with for many years just lost 30 percent off the top.”

At paidContent, James McQuivey made the case for a lower revenue share for Apple, and Dan Gillmor wondered whether publishers will stand up to Apple. The company may also be facing scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission for possible antitrust violations, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The fresh issue regarding Apple’s subscription policy this week, though, was the distinction between publishing apps and more service-oriented apps. The topic came to the fore when the folks from Readability, an app that allows users to read articles in an advertising-free environment, wrote an open letter ripping Apple for rejecting their app, saying their new policy “smacks of greed.” Ars Technica’s Chris Foresman and Apple blogger John Gruber noted, though, that Readability’s 30%-off-the-top business model is a lot like Apple’s.

Then Apple’s Steve Jobs sent a short, cryptic email to a developer saying that Apple’s new policy applies only to publishing apps, not service apps. This, of course, raised the question, in TechCrunch’s words, ”What’s a publishing app?” That’s a very complex question, and as Instapaper founder Marco Arment wrote, one that will be difficult for Apple to answer consistently. Arment also briefly noted that Jobs’ statement seems to contradict the language of Apple’s new guidelines.

Giving voice to new sources of news: This month’s Carnival of Journalism, posted late last week, focused on ways to increase the number of news sources. It’s a broad question, and it drew a broad variety of answers, which were ably summarized by Courtney Shove. I’m not going to try to duplicate her work here, but I do want to highlight a few of the themes that showed up.

David Cohn, the Carnival’s organizer, gave a great big-picture perspective to the issue, putting it in the context of power and the web. Kim Bui and Dan Fenster defended the community-driven vision for news, with Bui calling journalists to go further: “Let’s admit it, we’ve never trusted the public.” There were several calls for journalists to include more underrepresented voices, with reports and ideas like a refugee news initiative, digital news bus, youth journalism projects, and initiatives for youth in foreign-language families.

The J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer gave 10 good ideas to the cause, and Drury j-prof Jonathan Groves and Gannett’s Ryan Sholin shared their ideas for local citizen news projects, while TheUpTake’s Jason Barnett endorsed a new citizen-journalism app called iBreakNews.

Three bloggers, however, objected to the Carnival’s premise in the first place. Daniel Bachhuber of CUNY argued that improving journalism doesn’t necessarily mean adding more sources, recommending instead that “Instead of increasing the number of news sources, we should focus on producing durable data and the equivalent tools for remixing it.” Lauren Rabaino warned against news oversaturation, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing said that more than new sources, we need better filters and hubs for them.

Blogging’s continued evolution: The “blogging is dead” argument has popped up from time to time, and it was revived again this week in the form of a New York Times story about how young people are leaving blogs for social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Several people countered the argument, led by GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, who said that blogging isn’t declining, but is instead evolving into more of a continuum that includes microblogging services like Twitter, traditional blog formats like Wordpress, and the hybrid that is Tumblr. He and Wordpress founding developer Matt Mullenweg shared the same view — that “people of all ages are becoming more and more comfortable publishing online,” no matter the form.

Scott Rosenberg, who’s written a history of blogging, looked at statistics to make the point, noting that 14 percent of online adults keep a blog, a number he called astounding, even if it starts to decline. “As the online population becomes closer to universal, that is an extraordinary thing: One in ten people writing in public. Our civilization has never seen anything like it.” In addition, Reuters’ Anthony DeRosa argued that longer-form blogging has always been a pursuit of older Internet users.

Reading roundup: I’ve got a few ongoing stories to update you on, and a sampling of an unusually rich week in thoughtful pieces.

— A couple of sites took a peek at Gawker’s traffic statistics to try to determine the effectiveness of its recent redesign. TechCrunch saw an ugly picture; Business Insider was cautiously optimistic based on the same data. Gawker disputed TechCrunch’s numbers, and Terry Heaton tried to sort through the claims.

— A couple of Middle East/North Africa protest notes: The New York Times told us about the response to Egypt’s Internet blackout and the role of mobile technology in documenting the protests. And Amy Gahran of the Knight Digital Media Center gave some lessons from the incredible Twitter journalism of NPR’s Andy Carvin.

— The Daily is coming to Android tablets this spring, and its free trial run has been extended beyond the initial two weeks.

— Matt DeRienzo of the Journal Register Co. wrote about an intriguing idea for a news org/j-school merger.

— Alan Mutter made the case for ending federal funding for public journalism.

— At 10,000 Words, Lauren Rabaino had some awesome things news organizations can learn from tech startups, including thinking of news as software and embracing transparency.

— And here at the Lab, Northwestern prof Pablo Boczkowski gave some quick thoughts on how we tend to associate online news with work, and what that means. He sheds some light about an under-considered aspect of news — the social environments in which we consume it.

February 20 2011

09:12

A PRESIDENT IN SLIPERS, THE FANCY HOUSE OF THE “COMANDANTE” AND THE “MANSION” OF STEVE JOBS

Revealing pictures.

Fidel and Raul Castro greeting Fernando Lugo, president of Paraguay.

A president in slipers, visiting the fancy decorated house of the “Comandante”.

Pathetic!

Compare this with the “mansion” of Steve Jobs.

February 03 2011

15:30

The Newsonomics of apps and HTML5

Editor’s Note: Each week, Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of news for the Lab.

Apps are all the rage, with The Daily’s taking center-stage this week. With tabletmania sweeping the country, you can almost hear the howls of publishers across the country, as they implore their IT chiefs: “Get me an app, pronto!” Consequently, there are many busy hands at companies like Mercury Intermedia, Verve, Mediaspectrum, Bottlerocket, Mercury Intermedia, DoApp, WonderFactory and the New York Times’ Press Engine operation, all of which are meeting the demand.

Apps are a wonder, a come-out-of-nowhere phenomenon that Apple invented for the iPhone and has been perfecting ever since. Apple just passed the threshold of 10 billion app downloads, and has spawned an entire new industry of entrepreneurs and rival (Android, Blackberry and Amazon) stores.

And yet, if you talk to tech people at the tops of news companies, they don’t focus mainly on apps. They talk about HTML5. If apps are the popular phenomenon of 2011, publishers’ on-ramp to digital reader payment, HTML5 is the future, they’ll say. And they are rapidly building the foundation for that future now.

I’m far from a tech expert, but I have talked with enough people to know that the unfolding behind-the-scenes drama of app and HTML5 development is an important one, vital to the future prospects of the news industry as it forages for new sustainable business models and forges new digital products for the mobile age. So let’s take a peek at the interplay between native apps (those we know from iPhone and iPad  innovation) and HTML5 apps (those quietly being developed in great number). Most importantly, let’s begin to explore the newsonomics of these technological changes.

Beyond Apple vs. Adobe

Most of us non-tech people first heard of HTML5 when Steve Jobs told the world last April why he wouldn’t allow Adobe’s Flash in his apps. The announcement was played by much of the press as an Apple vs. Adobe power struggle, but technologists tell me that Flash had had its issues for awhile. It made Google search engine optimization, key to everyone, difficult — and then Apple’s very public non-support gave a strong push to the alternative of HTML5. Yet the handwriting was on the wall. “We are abandoning Flash as a way to solve problems — with its coding and weight issues — for HTML, Javascript and CSS [cascading style sheets],” says Rob Covey, senior vice president of content and design of National Geographic Digital Media.

Now companies, from The New York Times to NPR to National Geographic, are rapidly building out both staffs and products based on HTML5, “rethinking interactivity,” Covey puts it. They’re also determining how that new, expected, pervasive interactivity — witness The Daily’s debut — will be accomplished most efficiently. The technology, they say, is the essential foundation for next-generation products, web and mobile, more elegant and faster than previous HTML in its presentation and more flexible in its implementation.

One big benefit: the browser-delivered HTML5 app experience is remarkably like our gee-whiz experience of Apple’s native apps. “The big deal here is is that there is no latency,” says Guy Tasaka, a New York Times Company and NewsStand alum, who now heads Tasaka Digital, a tech consultancy to news companies. That means that the fluidity we’ve all come to love about apps is built into emerging browser-based applications. It also means, as Tasaka emphasizes, “the sense of a beginning and an end…. HTML5 apps give the user a sense of a package.”

For a good tour of these apps, check out Paul Miller’s recent Engadget piece, which both describes the phenomenon and provides screenshots of HTML 5-based sites from Flixster and Amazon to the Huffington Post, USA Today (even with one for Google iTV) and the New York Times’ Times Skimmer, updated from an earlier version produced two years ago. Use these pages and you get a similar sensation to that of Flipboard’s on the iPad. (Flipboard CEO Mike McCue talks with Om Malik about HTML5+ here.)

So, in effect, the coolness of apps can be replicated, more or less, through the browser-based apps.

The app conundrum

The impact of an app-like browser experience is a big, and multi-edged, one.

On the tech level, it means a major re-training of staff in HTML5, a process that began more than a year ago at The New York Times, says Times CTO for digital operations, Marc Frons. (The Lab talked with Frons earlier this week about the paper’s new article recommendation engine.) “I knew HTML5 would have a major impact, but it has happened faster than I thought,” he tells me. Frons says much of that training, a reskilling really, is done — and that the company is well on the way to using HTML5 as the basis for most of its digital development. Rob Covey says that the retraining issue is a nuanced one, a smaller challenge with savvy developers ramping up their skills, and larger one for website producers used to using more basic coding to create pages.

On a business level, it creates a conundrum.

Steve Jobs not only created an unexpected revolution with apps. He also proved that people would pay for them. Indeed. Analysts say this new (native) app industry generated $5.2 billion in 2010 and could hit $15 billion this year. The great majority of that revenue is non-News, of course, but news publishers have begun to build their “paid content” hopes on apps nonetheless. The Guardian, The Washington Post  and CNN are among those charging small subscription prices for smartphone apps, but the big expected payoff is coming this year, as many news publishers see tablet apps as the route to cementing paying digital relationships.

Why? There seems to be some mental toggle that consumers do, swapping their demand for “free online” for a willingness to pay for mobile apps. Maybe it’s the perceived freedom of mobile. Maybe it’s the sense that we are buying something tangible — an app, a product — and making it our own on the smartphone or the tablet. Maybe it will last; maybe it won’t.

A balancing act

Yet if news technologists are right that browser-based HTML5-powered apps can deliver great experiences, then why do we need native apps? Some will tell you that apps are just a front, a way of productizing something that their new browsing experiences can deliver just as well. The power is in the code, not the app. But will readers pay for something they don’t own? Maybe apps will just become shells for delivering HTML5.

Which brings us back to the tablet. On the iPad, we can both consume news through an app and through a browser. Publishers report, among early adopters, a range of experience as to how much access comes via one or the other. As various paid tablet models go forth, this question may become a big one.

Publishers have to wonder: Is it the romance with discrete, ownable apps that consumers are willing to pay for, or is it the wider experience? We can see, in the makings of Apple’s evolving publisher subscription policies, an understanding of this dilemma. That may be why Apple is forcing news publishers to restrict browser access to news if they want to retain their direct customer relationships with readers — and continue to offer enabling apps through iTunes. There’s a balancing act here, in the uncertain interplay between native apps and HTML5 apps, as both publishers and Apple try to hedge their bets.

“Give it a year”

For now, it’s a twin development path. Apps are still a big news rage in 2011 — most would pay the price of admission to both the tablet and the paid reader content games — so the app creation companies are doing land-office business, and big news companies are creating apps even as they focus increasing peoplepower on HTML5.

Yet the promise of next-generation (later 2011-2013+) user experience seems solidly rooted in HTML5. That twin development is costly, a headache for smaller publishers, and still another factor separating out the big news boys — the Digital Dozen I identified in the Newsonomics book — from the rest of more local, smaller, more struggling news companies. Further, it’s just one more example of how the future of the business of news is rooted in technologies, from HTML5 to vastly improved analytics, which, among industry leaders, are now starting to drive strategy and execution.

In the end, we’ll see technological possibility and business heft mix and match in unpredictable ways. One technologist suggests that “application of the web using HTML5 is just a phase. Websites will eventually surpass apps in readability and usability as designers and technologists combine the best features of an app with the immediacy and depth of the Web.”

It’s hard to know at this point what that quite looks like, but, as he says, “Give it a year.” Then, though, business realities will determine how stuff gets built and sold. Remember those 10 billion downloads? The new app store ecosystem — not just Apple’s, but Google’s, Amazon’s, Palm’s and Blackberry’s — will drive some of that decision-making, as well.

[Image by Justinsomnia used under a Creative Commons license.]

October 20 2010

18:41

THE MAC IS BACK!

What an impressive new Macbook Air!

Presented a few minutes ago.

With only flash memory.

And great battery time.

With Steve Jobs, as always, expect the unexpected!

July 19 2010

06:29

BLESS CONSUMER REPORTS!

2010-07-19_0726

The New York Times David Carr makes the point about how Consumer Reports i in the “credibility business”

“It was a big week for Consumer Reports and a reminder that media that is unsupported by advertising can often have an impact that more traditional publishing, or even the most tech-savvy, enterprises don’t. With 3.9 million subscribers to its magazine and 3.3 million paid subscribers to its Web site, Consumer Reports has a combined paid circulation of 7.2 million, up 33 percent since 2004.”

“If you can’t attack the message, attack the messenger. That’s a maxim of modern public relations, one that’s on display every day in Washington, on cable TV and, last Friday, on stage in Cupertino. But, with its long history and reputation for efficacy, Consumer Reports is the opposite of a juicy target.”

As Rob Curley said today in Twitter: Bless Consumer Reports!

July 15 2010

15:30

APPLE IPHONE 4 PRESS CONFERENCE: IF YOU HAVE BAD NEWS, BETTER WAIT UNTIL FRIDAY…

0408-appleiphou_full_600

Bad news?

Send any press release or held a press conference on Fridays…

That’s the PR tradition.

So Apple not very active PR department (the fans do the work for them) announced the iPhone 4 press conference… for tomorrow Friday.

Why?

My feeling is that not because they want to hide the bad news (they are right now everywhere) or because they need to give time to the press to come to Cupertino (in less than 12 hours any American, European or Asian journalist will be able to show up in California) but… because they are trying to gain as much time as possible in order to fix the problem, organize any refund, respond to any recall or to have the supply chain ready with the new phones.

The press conference is going to be at 10 am (California time), so the markets in New York (2 pm) still will be open, and able to react to the news.

This is my take:

If the news were BAD, they will had organize the press conference AFTER the closing of the markets in Manhattan.

But because there will be GOOD news, they want Apple shares going up as soon as possible as the best response to the iPhone 4 crisis.

Right now the shares are going down, like in the past few days: from $261 on July 8 to less than $247 today.

So this is my advice: buy Apple shares tomorrow morning BEFORE the press conference and cash them in the evening.

And buy a new fixed iPhone 4.

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Don't be the product, buy the product!

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