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May 28 2013

13:15

Circa Hires Reuters' Anthony De Rosa as New Editor in Chief

Mobile news app Circa is hoping to push further into the breaking news space, announcing today that the startup behind the app has hired Anthony De Rosa, former social media editor at Reuters, to become its editor in chief.

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Circa collects the "atomic units" of stories -- facts, quotes and images -- and puts them into running stories with alerts to updates. The startup was co-founded by Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh and his partner, Matt Galligan, and is under the editorial leadership of David Cohn, who was the founder and director of Spot.Us, a non-profit that pioneered "community funded reporting." Cohn has written about both Spot.Us and Circa here on Idea Lab.

"As the head of editorial I'm very excited to have Anthony come on board," Cohn said in an email. "I know he will bring a lot to the table and will help Circa push forward in the 'breaking news' space which, combined with our 'follow feature' really puts us in a unique position to serve a readers' needs."

De Rosa is owner of tumblog SoupSoup and co-founder of hyperlocal blogging tool Neighborhoodr. At Reuters, he trained staff to make use of live blogs and social media to try to produce a constant river of breaking news. In an article in 2011, The New York Times' Paul Boutin dubbed De Rosa the "undisputed King of Tumblr."

"There's a huge opportunity to present news in a way that's made for mobile. Nobody is thinking about this more than Circa and I'm thrilled to help move that mission forward," De Rosa said in a statement announcing his new position.

You can tune in on the recent Mediatwits podcast with Circa founder Huh on PBS MediaShift, and here's another Mediatwits podcast with Cohn, talking about the prospects for Circa now and in the future.

Desiree Everts is the associate editor for Idea Lab and PBS MediaShift. She's dabbled in digital media for the past decade including stints at CNET News and Wired magazine.

March 29 2013

12:50

August 20 2012

13:34

How Wikipedia Manages Sources for Breaking News

Almost a year ago, I was hired by Ushahidi to work as an ethnographic researcher on a project to understand how Wikipedians managed sources during breaking news events.

Ushahidi cares a great deal about this kind of work because of a new project called SwiftRiver that seeks to collect and enable the collaborative curation of streams of data from the real-time web about a particular issue or event. If another Haiti earthquake happened, for example, would there be a way for us to filter out the irrelevant, the misinformation, and build a stream of relevant, meaningful and accurate content about what was happening for those who needed it? And on Wikipedia's side, could the same tools be used to help editors curate a stream of relevant sources as a team rather than individuals?

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Ranking sources

When we first started thinking about the problem of filtering the web, we naturally thought of a ranking system that would rank sources according to their reliability or veracity. The algorithm would consider a variety of variables involved in determining accuracy, as well as whether sources have been chosen, voted up or down by users in the past, and eventually be able to suggest sources according to the subject at hand. My job would be to determine what those variables are -- i.e., what were editors looking at when deciding whether or not to use a source?

I started the research by talking to as many people as possible. Originally I was expecting that I would be able to conduct 10 to 20 interviews as the focus of the research, finding out how those editors went about managing sources individually and collaboratively. The initial interviews enabled me to hone my interview guide. One of my key informants urged me to ask questions about sources not cited as well as those cited, leading me to one of the key findings of the report (that the citation is often not the actual source of information and is often provided in order to appease editors who may complain about sources located outside the accepted Western media sphere). But I soon realized that the editors with whom I spoke came from such a wide variety of experience, work areas and subjects that I needed to restrict my focus to a particular article in order to get a comprehensive picture of how editors were working. I chose a 2011 Egyptian revolution article on Wikipedia because I wanted a globally relevant breaking news event that would have editors from different parts of the world working together on an issue with local expertise located in a language other than English.

Using Kathy Charmaz's grounded theory method, I chose to focus editing activity (in the form of talk pages, edits, statistics and interviews with editors) from January 25, 2011 when the article was first created (within hours of the first protests in Tahrir Square), to February 12 when Mubarak resigned and the article changed its name from "2011 Egyptian protests" to "2011 Egyptian revolution." After reviewing the big-picture analyses of the article using Wikipedia statistics of top editors, and locations of anonymous editors, etc., I started work with an initial coding of the actions taking place in the text, asking the question, "What is happening here?"

I then developed a more limited codebook using the most frequent/significant codes and proceeded to compare different events with the same code (looking up relevant edits of the article in order to get the full story), and to look for tacit assumptions that the actions left out. I did all of this coding in Evernote because it seemed the easiest (and cheapest) way of importing large amounts of textual and multimedia data from the web, but it wasn't ideal because talk pages, when imported, need to be re-formatted, and I ended up using a single column to code data in the first column since putting each conversation on the talk page in a cell would be too time-consuming.

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I then moved to writing a series of thematic notes on what I was seeing, trying to understand, through writing, what the common actions might mean. I finally moved to the report writing, bringing together what I believed were the most salient themes into a description and analysis of what was happening according to the two key questions that the study was trying to ask: How do Wikipedia editors, working together, often geographically distributed and far from where an event is taking place, piece together what is happening on the ground and then present it in a reliable way? And how could this process be improved?

Key variables

Ethnography Matters has a great post by Tricia Wang that talks about how ethnographers contribute (often invisible) value to organizations by showing what shouldn't be built, rather than necessarily improving a product that already has a host of assumptions built into it.

And so it was with this research project that I realized early on that a ranking system conceptualized this way would be inappropriate -- for the single reason that along with characteristics for determining whether a source is accurate or not (such as whether the author has a history of presenting accurate news article), a number of important variables are independent of the source itself. On Wikipedia, these include variables such as the number of secondary sources in the article (Wikipedia policy calls for editors to use a majority of secondary sources), whether the article is based on a breaking news story (in which case the majority of sources might have to be primary, eyewitness sources), or whether the source is notable in the context of the article. (Misinformation can also be relevant if it is widely reported and significant to the course of events as Judith Miller's New York Times stories were for the Iraq War.)

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This means that you could have an algorithm for determining how accurate the source has been in the past, but whether you make use of the source or not depends on factors relevant to the context of the article that have little to do with the reliability of the source itself.

Another key finding recommending against source ranking is that Wikipedia's authority originates from its requirement that each potentially disputed phrase is backed up by reliable sources that can be checked by readers, whereas source ranking necessarily requires that the calculation be invisible in order to prevent gaming. It is already a source of potential weakness that Wikipedia citations are not the original source of information (since editors often choose citations that will be deemed more acceptable to other editors) so further hiding how sources are chosen would disrupt this important value.

On the other hand, having editors provide a rationale behind the choice of particular sources, as well as showing the variety of sources rather than those chosen because of loading time constraints may be useful -- especially since these discussions do often take place on talk pages but are practically invisible because they are difficult to find.

Wikipedians' editorial methods

Analyzing the talk pages of the 2011 Egyptian revolution article case study enabled me to understand how Wikipedia editors set about the task of discovering, choosing, verifying, summarizing, adding information and editing the article. It became clear through the rather painstaking study of hundreds of talk pages that editors were:

  1. storing discovered articles either using their own editor domains by putting relevant articles into categories or by alerting other editors to breaking news on the talk page,
  2. choosing sources by finding at least two independent sources that corroborated what was being reported but then removing some of the citations as the page became too heavy to load,
  3. verifying sources by finding sources to corroborate what was being reported, by checking what the summarized sources contained, and/or by waiting to see whether other sources corroborated what was being reported,
  4. summarizing by taking screenshots of videos and inserting captions (for multimedia) or by choosing the most important events of each day for a growing timeline (for text),
  5. adding text to the article by choosing how to reflect the source within the article's categories and providing citation information, and
  6. editing disputing the way that editors reflected information from various sources and replacing primary sources with secondary sources over time.

It was important to discover the work process that editors were following because any tool that assisted with source management would have to accord as closely as possible with the way that editors like to do things on Wikipedia. Since the process is managed by volunteers and because volunteers decide which tools to use, this becomes really critical to the acceptance of new tools.

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Recommendations

After developing a typology of sources and isolating different types of Wikipedia source work, I made two sets of recommendations as follows:

  1. The first would be for designers to experiment with exposing variables that are important for determining the relevance and reliability of individual sources as well as the reliability of the article as a whole.
  2. The second would be to provide a trail of documentation by replicating the work process that editors follow (somewhat haphazardly at the moment) so that each source is provided with an independent space for exposition and verification, and so that editors can collect breaking news sources collectively.

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Regarding a ranking system for sources, I'd argue that a descriptive repository of major media sources from different countries would be incredibly beneficial, but that a system for determining which sources are ranked highest according to usage would yield really limited results. (We know, for example, that the BBC is the most used source on Wikipedia by a high margin, but that doesn't necessarily help editors in choosing a source for a breaking news story.) Exposing the variables used to determine relevancy (rather than adding them up in invisible amounts to come up with a magical number) and showing the progression of sources over time offers some opportunities for innovation. But this requires developers to think out of the box in terms of what sources (beyond static texts) look like, where such sources and expertise are located, and how trust is garnered in the age of Twitter. The full report provides details of the recommendations and the findings and will be available soon.

Just the beginning

This is my first comprehensive ethnographic project, and one of the things I've noticed when doing other design and research projects using different methodologies is that, although the process can seem painstaking and it can prove difficult to articulate the hundreds of small observations into findings that are actionable and meaningful to designers, getting close to the experience of editors is extremely valuable work that is rare in Wikipedia research. I realize now that in the past when I actually studied an article in detail, I knew very little about how Wikipedia works in practice. And this is only the beginning!

Heather Ford is a budding ethnographer who studies how online communities get together to learn, play and deliberate. She currently works for Ushahidi and is studying how online communities like Wikipedia work together to verify information collected from the web and how new technology might be designed to help them do this better. Heather recently graduated from the UC Berkeley iSchool where she studied the social life of information in schools, educational privacy and Africans on Wikipedia. She is a former Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board member and the former Executive Director of iCommons - an international organization started by Creative Commons to connect the open education, access to knowledge, free software, open access publishing and free culture communities around the world. She was a co-founder of Creative Commons South Africa and of the South African nonprofit, The African Commons Project as well as a community-building initiative called the GeekRetreat - bringing together South Africa's top web entrepreneurs to talk about how to make the local Internet better. At night she dreams about writing books and finding time to draw.

This article also appeared at Ushahidi.com and Ethnography Matters. Get the full report at Scribd.com.

July 26 2012

16:43

How Buzzfeed wants to reinvent wire stories for social media

The wire story is an atomic element of news: It’s the basic material upon which more journalism can be built. But wire stories, as a compact unit for getting out the basics of an updating story, are also a commodity. Thanks to the speed of information and the glut of channels we can access it on, it’s not uncommon to get flooded with the same story when major news breaks. If you were on Twitter or Facebook the day the Supreme Court issued its decision on the Affordable Care Act, you know the signal-to-noise ratio was high on the noise side.

A torrent of repetitive news updates is a problem for readers, and for editors, like BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, it’s a frustration. Smith was brought on in late 2011 as editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed to develop the company’s journalistic side and has since hired a staff of reporters and built out more news-esque sections for the site. The challenge in all of this is finding a way to graft the sensibilities of a news organization onto BuzzFeed’s fabulous Internet harnessing machine. The principle here is to take whatever it is that makes things like 14 First World Problems From the 90s popular and apply it to stories about Mitt Romney and SEC filings.

One place Smith wants to experiment now: The wire story. When I talked with Smith, he said the idea of the wire story needs to be reworked in the era of social media. This week they took a step towards that goal by hiring a new breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed. Jessica Testa, who previously wrote for BuzzFeed Shift, will be stepping into the breaking news job. Part of her work, as the posting for the job advertised, will be “Creating posts on the stories that are just starting to take off on the social web, with the goal of reinventing the wire story for the social web.”

The old model, where wire stories run 2-8 paragraphs with varying degrees of fresh reporting, doesn’t work when people are exposed to so much information on a continued basis, Smith said. “There’s no audience for ‘Here’s this thing you just heard and I’m going to say again,’” he said.

Journalism has always been about speed and precision, but as the place for that has shifted from stories to blog posts and now social media, Smith said journalists have to be more creative in the ways they deliver vital information. They also have to make better decisions. Living and writing in the current news environment means calculating the costs and benefits of working on a “second-rate aggregated version of what someone wrote 20 minutes ago,” versus pursuing an original story, Smith said.

“I feel in general the 800-1,200 word form of the news article is broken,” he said. “You don’t see people sharing those kind of stories.” Smith’s talking about those daily stories that only seem to provide two paragraphs of new information layered on top of several inches of context. Nothing wrong with context, but explanatory journalism now comes in different forms, not just at the tail end of a story.

The problem lies with the delivery, design, and presentation of stories, he said. Think about the structure of wire stories. Most reporters are taught to put old information, the background stuff, at the bottom of stories, thus leaving room for copy editors to lop things off if necessary. But that assumes two things: The value of longer stories and readers ability to keep reading something once they get past new information.

So instead of pushing out a developing story and leading with headline in a Facebook or Twitter post, Smith wants BuzzFeed to experiment. One example he pointed to was the news North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had been promoted to the highest military rank in the country. Instead of an AP-style news update, BuzzFeed took the vital parts of the story and made it a little more shareable via animated GIFs with “Kim Jong Un Gets A Promotion.”

Smith thinks BuzzFeed is well suited to rework the wire story because it’s a company that is deeply web native. The way BuzzFeed works is by trying to pinpoint what web phenomenon will explode next, whether it’s photos, gifs, or news stories. BuzzFeed staff have to have knowledge of sources, but also of different forms of media, Smith said. That means on any given day news on the site doesn’t have to take a predictable shape. It could be a collection of photos, a dominant photo with links, or a collection of quotes.

“It’s something that does the work of a wire story and informs people about this very important piece of international news in this way that was authentically in the language of the social web,” Smith said.

While Smith wants BuzzFeed to tinker with wire stories and try new ideas, that doesn’t mean the site won’t be producing more traditional looking stories. He told me one reason he wants his reporters to think smarter about wire stories is to free them up for original reporting. But it’s worth noting that when news broke of the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colo., Testa led BuzzFeed’s coverage with a curated mix of text, images and tweets.

Smith expects there will be a period of trial and error as they see how different ways of delivering wire stories that connect with readers. “We’re trying to find ways to tell (stories) that are more visual and more emotionally direct,” he said.

April 22 2012

19:37

Cable TV and the Internet have destroyed the meaning of “breaking news”

Slate :: TMZ got the news up first, 3:30 p.m. ET. Dick Clark was dead at 82, felled by a “massive heart attack.” Because I follow TMZ on Twitter, I got the newsbreak at 3:31. Because a lot of the people I follow also follow TMZ, Clark’s death was announced, analyzed, and (sorry, this is Twitter) joked about for 20 minutes. At 3:52 pm, the CNN app on my iPhone blurped and announced a message: Television personality Dick Clark, the longtime host of “American Bandstand,” has died, a publicist says. Two minutes later my phone shook again, startled by an alert from USA Today: "BREAKING NEWS: Dick Clark legendary TV entertainer, dies at 82."

[David Weigel:] Twenty-four minutes after the TMZ scoop, and this was breaking? How’s that supposed to work? Does “breaking news” have any meaning anymore?

Continue to read David Weigel, www.slate.com

February 10 2012

15:00

This Week in Review: Facebook’s future and the open web, and finding balance on breaking news

Is Facebook a threat to the open web?: There was still a lot of smart commentary on Facebook’s filing for a public stock offering rolling in last late week, so I’ll start with a couple pieces I missed in last week’s review: Both The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal and Slate’s Farhad Manjoo were skeptical of Facebook’s ability to stay so financially successful. Madrigal said it’s going to have to get a lot more than the $4.39 in revenue per user it’s currently getting, and Manjoo wondered about what happens after the social gaming craze that’s been providing so much of Facebook’s revenue passes.

How to supplement those revenue streams? A lot of the answer’s going to come from personal data aggregation, and law professor Lori Andrews wrote in The New York Times about some of the dark sides of that practice, including stereotyping and discrimination. Facebook also needs to move more deeply into mobile, and Wired’s Tim Carmody documented its struggles in that area. On the bright side, Wired’s Steven Levy approved of Mark Zuckerberg’s letter to shareholders and his articulation of The Hacker Way.

Facebook’s filing also spurred an intriguing discussion of the relationship between it, Google, and the open web. As web pioneer John Battelle said best and The Atlantic’s James Fallows summarized aptly, several observers were concerned that Facebook’s rise and Google’s potential decline is a loss for the open web, because Google built its financial success on the success of the open web while Facebook’s success depends on increased sharing inside its own private channels. As Battelle argued, this private orientation threatens the core values that should drive the Internet: decentralization, a commons-based ethos, neutrality, interoperability, and data openness. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM countered that users don’t care so much about openness as usefulness, and that’s what could eventually do Facebook in.

Another Facebook-related discussion sprung up around Evgeny Morozov’s piece for The New York Times lamenting the death of cyberflânerie — the practice of strolling through the streets of the web alone, taking in and reflecting on its sights and sounds. Among other factors, he pinpointed Facebook’s “frictionless sharing” as the culprit, by mandating that all experiences be shared and tailored to our narrow interests. Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci pushed back against Morozov’s argument, countering that there’s still plenty of room for sharing-based serendipity because our friends’ interests don’t exactly line up with our own. And journalist Dana Goldstein argued that a lot of what yesterday’s flâneurs did is still echoed in the web today, for better or worse — cyberstalking, trying out new identities, and presenting our ideal selves to the public.

The clampdown on breaking news via Twitter: One of international journalism’s leaders in social media innovation, News Corp.’s Sky News, issued a surprisingly stern crackdown on its journalists’ Twitter practices, banning them from retweeting information from any other journalists without clearing it past the news desk and from tweeting about anything outside their beats.

There were a few people in favor of the new policy — Forbes’ Ewan Spence applauded the ‘better right than first’ approach, and Fleet Street Blues rather headscratchingly asserted that “it makes no sense for them to pay journalists to report through a medium outside its own editorial controls.” But far more people were crying out in opposition.

Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa reiterated that argument that a retweet is simply a quote, rather than an endorsement, and Breaking News’ Cory Bergman said not all the broadcast rules apply to Twitter — it’s okay to be human there. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and POLIS’ Charlie Beckett made the point that Sky should want its reporters to be seen as go-to information sources, period — no matter where the information comes from. As Beckett put it: “We the audience now privilege interactivity and added value over conformity. We trust you because you share, not because you have hierarchical structures.”

The BBC also updated its social media guidelines to urge reporters not to break news on Twitter before they file it to the BBC’s internal systems. BBC social media editor Chris Hamilton quickly clarified that the policy wasn’t as restrictive as it sounded: The BBC’s tech allows its journalists to file simultaneously to Twitter and to its newsroom CMS (an impressive feat in itself), and when that tech isn’t available, they want their journalists to file to the newsroom first — “a difference of a few seconds.”

J-prof Alfred Hermida said the idea that journalists shouldn’t break news on Twitter rests on the flawed assumption that journalists have a monopoly on breaking the news. And on Twitter, fellow media prof C.W. Anderson asserted that the chief problem lies in the idea that breaking news adds significant value to a story. “The debate over “breaking news on Twitter” is a perfect example of mistaking professional values for public / financial / ‘rational’ ones,” he wrote. Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman, meanwhile, praised the BBC for putting some real thought into how to fit Twitter into the breaking news workflow.

An unclear picture of the Times’ paywall: The New York Times released its fourth-quarter results late last week, and, as usual with their recent announcements, it proved something of a media business Rorschach test. The company reported a loss of $39.7 million for the year, thanks in large part to declines in advertising revenue — though most of that was due to About.com, as revenue in its news division was slightly up for the quarter.

As for the paywall, media analyst Ken Doctor reported 390,000 digital subscribers and estimated the Times’ paywall revenue at $86 million and said the paper has climbed a big mountain in getting more than 70 percent of its print subscribers to sign up for online access. Reuters’ Felix Salmon saw the paywall numbers as “unamiguously good news” and said it shows the paywall hasn’t eaten into ad revenues as much as it was expected to.

Others were a bit less optimistic. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram said the Times’ new paywall revenue still isn’t enough to make up for its ad revenue declines, and urged the times to go beyond the paywall in hunting for digital revenue. Media analyst Greg Satell made a similar point, arguing that the paywall is a false hope and calling for the Times build up more “satellite” brands online, like the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital. Henry Blodget of Business Insider had a different solution: Keep cutting costs until the newsroom is down to a size that can be supported by a digital operation.

A nonprofit journalism merger: After a few weeks of speculation, two of the U.S.’ more prominent nonprofit news operations, the Bay Citizen and the Center for Investigative Reporting, have announced their intent to merge. Both groups are based in California’s Bay Area, and the CIR runs the statewide news org California Watch. The executive director of the new organization would be Phil Bronstein, the CIR board chairman and former San Francisco Chronicle editor.

Opinions on the move were mixed: Oakland Local founder (and former California Watch consultant) Susan Mernit thought it would make a lot of sense, combining the Bay Citizen’s strengths in funding and distribution with California Watch’s strengths in editorial content. Likewise, the Lab’s Ken Doctor saw it as an opportunity to make local nonprofit journalism work at an unprecedented scale.

There are reasons for caution, though. As Jim Romenesko noted, the Bay Citizen has recently gone through several key departures and the unexpected death of its co-founder and main benefactor, Warren Hellman (and even forgot to renew its web domain for a bit). And California Watch pointed out some of the potential conflicts between the two newsrooms — California Watch has a partnership with the Chronicle, whom the Bay Citizen considers a competitor. And the Bay Citizen has its own partnership with The New York Times for its regional edition, something PBS MediaShift’s Ashwin Seshagiri said could now prove as much a hindrance as an advantage.

J-prof Jay Rosen said the two orgs aren’t a good fit because of their differing institutional bases — the CIR is more established and has been on a steady build, while the Bay Citizen’s short history is full of turmoil. And the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Steven Jones argued that Bronstein’s rationale for the merger is misrepresenting Hellman’s wishes.

Reading roundup: Lots of other stuff going on this week, too. Here’s a quick rundown:

— Another week, another few new angles to the already enormous News Corp. phone hacking scandal: The FBI is investigating the company for illegal payments of as much £100,000 to foreign officials such as police officers, a political blogger told British officials that the Sunday Mirror’s top editor personally authorized hacking, and The Times of London admitted it hacked into a police officer’s email to out him as the author of an anonymous blog. How much is this whole mess costing News Corp.? $87 million for the investigation alone last quarter.

— News Corp.’s tablet news publication The Daily got the one-year treatment with an update on its so-so progress in The New York Times. News business analyst Alan Mutter also gave a pretty rough review of the status of tablet news apps as a whole.

— A couple of other news developments of interest to folks in our little niche: The tech news site GigaOM announced it was buying paidContent from the Guardian (PBS MediaShift’s Dorian Benkoil loved the move, and the Knight Foundation announced the first of its new News Challenge competitions, this one oriented around networks.

— A couple of cool studies released this week: One from HP Labs on predicting the spread of news on Twitter, and another from USC on ways in which the Internet is changing us.

— Finally, for those of us among the digitally hyper-connected, The New York Times’ David Carr wrote a poignant piece on the enduring value of in-person connections, and sociologist Zeynep Tufekci offered a thoughtful response.

Original Twitter bird by Matt Hamm used under a Creative Commons license.

August 26 2011

22:00

The NYT launches a Twitter feed for live coverage of breaking news

As Hurricane Irene storms its way toward the Eastern seaboard — and as news organizations scramble to cover it — The New York Times has launched @NYTLive, a Times-run account featuring “in-depth Twitter curation of major news stories by New York Times editors.”

In the hour since the feed’s been live, it’s served as a hurricane-tweet clearinghouse, sharing tweets from the Times’ Metro desk, @NYTMetro, as well as — quite interesting from the whole individual-vs.-institutional-brand perspective — Times reporters Thomas Kaplan and Brian Stelter. (The latter, who’s currently in North Carolina covering the storm, also had a link to his Twitter feed featured on the Times’ homepage earlier today.)

The paper’s main account, @NYTimes, has over 3.6 million followers; the brand new @NYTLive has only 2,200. Not at all shabby for an hour-old account, but why wouldn’t the Times use its biggest Twitter megaphone? First, it solves a problem faced by many news organizations, the small and especially the big, that use Twitter to share stories across several topics and coverage areas. By breaking out the breaking news from the everyday news — the you-care-about-it-now from the comparatively evergreen — @NYTLive gives the Times the flexibility to live-tweet big stories without flooding its main account and overwhelming the other stories that are sent out on its feed. You may recall that Andy Carvin recently met some criticism for over-tweeting, the main complaint being that his uber-curation drowns out the other Twitter feeds users follow; to the extent that Andy Carvin is a one-man news organization, he’s dealing with the same problem. Stelter himself used a separate account, @brianstelternyt, to livetweet a tech conference earlier this year, but the account seems to have gone dormant.

@NYTLive is also interesting, though, because it allows the Times to be much more cavalier — in the best sense of the term — about including conversation in its Twitter feed. While @NYTLive still very much lives under the umbrella of the Times, it’s not the outlet’s grand, uber-branded, multi-million-follower-strong feed. (Again, its current follower count: 2,000+.) The fact that it’s a subsidiary account gives @NYTLive more freedom to be experimental and responsive. (“This feed is not active every day,” @NYTLive’s intro text notes. “Follow it as a supplement to @nytimes.”) And it’s also interesting to note, along those lines, that the feed’s tweets so far seem to have been sent from Tweetdeck, a publishing tool that lends itself especially well to conversation and social interaction, rather than to the simple publishing of links, on Twitter. (Tweets posted to @NYTimes, on the other hand, are sent “via The New York Times.”) And @NYTLive tweets (again, so far) seem to be more invested in using hashtags like #irene and #ireneqanda than the Times’ big account is — another indication of conversation.

July 30 2011

19:18

Citizen photographers app…

Can you say “Citizen Journalist”? That phrase harkens back seven or eight years when everyone it seems wanted to become a journalist. It had its good and bad points and never really seemed to take off. Kind of floundered and dropped out of sight.

Well, now someone has developed an app titled “Tapln” that encourages citizens to shoot photos to be submitted to their local rag.

Participating newspapers would ask their readers to pull out a phone and snap pictures if they are on scene of an event…even to the point of shooting breaking news.

We all know the dangers inherent in having untrained civilians running amuck thinking they can do a pro’s job. I won’t list them. Why don’t you? Feel free to make a comment below and let the world know what YOU think of this marvelous new app.

(Thanks to Mickey Osterreicher with the NPPA facebook group.)


July 21 2011

14:04

Associated Press will link back to newspapers who get scoops

Niemanlab :: News organizations that break big stories will soon get a little more credit — and maybe even a little traffic — from The Associated Press. Beginning Aug. 1, whenever the AP picks up a local story from a member for rewriting and distribution, the text of AP’s story will include a link back to the original report.

Continue to read Andrew Phelps, www.niemanlab.org

June 02 2011

15:50

The news article no longer make sense to mobile users for consuming news

Business Insider :: Mobile technology is pulling apart the centuries-old format of the article. News and analysis are getting a divorce. There is nothing sacred about the article for the transmission of news. It is a logical way of packaging information for a daily print run of a newspaper and a useful format around which to sell display advertising. It has survived into the Internet age for reasons of tradition and the absence of better formats. We have come to accept it as a fundamental atom of news communication, but it's not.

[Jonathan Glick:] Given faster, easier alternatives, the article no longer makes sense to mobile users for consuming news.

Continue to read Jonathan Glick, www.businessinsider.com

09:11

You can only really follow 150 people on Twitter? Yes, if you "listen" to the newsstream

Time :: A team of researchers at Indiana University took a look at over 380 million tweets to find patterns in user behavior, the researchers concluded that there was a finite limit to the number of other Twitter users we could follow before becoming overwhelmed: somewhere between 100 and 200.

Does that makes sense? - Seems that even Facebook recently adopted similar findings, limiting your newsfeed to a more manageable 250 friends.

"You can only really follow 150 people on Twitter" - I disagree to some degree. It is possible to follow a much higher number of people if you use Twitter as a newsstream and not for point-to-point communication. For sure it is not possible to maintain quality relationships with all of them (and all my followers as well). But the more fascinating idea for me and the Liquid Newsroom research is, how we can filter the information stream to find the most relevant. I'm searching for a "breaking news" pattern, an identification signal long before a tweet is recognized as breaking by mainstream media. I call it "weak signals" theory.

Continue to read Chris Gayomali, techland.time.com

May 13 2011

14:00

This Week in Review: New business models and traffic drivers in online news, and wrangling over app ads

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

Leaving the old ad model behind: Much of the commentary about digital news this week was generated by two big reports, one on the business of digital journalism and the other on its consumption. We’ll start on the business side, with the Columbia j-school’s study on what we know so far about the viability of various digital journalism business models. As Poynter’s Bill Mitchell suggested, the best entry point into the 146-page report might be the nine recommendations that form its conclusion.

Mitchell summed the report up in three themes: The audience for journalism is growing, though translating that into revenue is a challenge; the old model of banner ads isn’t cutting it, and news orgs need to look for new forms of advertising; and news orgs need to play better with aggregators and sharpen their own aggregation skills. In his response to the study, Reuters’ Felix Salmon focused on the advertising angle, arguing that journalism and advertising have too long been linked by mere adjacency and that “when you move away from the ad-adjacency model, however, things get a lot more interesting and exciting.”

The New York Times’ story on the report centered on advertising, too, particularly the growing need for journalists to learn about the business side of their products. (That was media consultant Mark Potts’ main takeaway, too.) Emily Bell, a scholar at the center that released the study, said that while journalists need to understand the business of their industry, integrating news and sales staffs isn’t necessarily the way to go.

The J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer recommended that news orgs respond to their business problems by learning from smaller startups and incorporating them more thoroughly into the journalism ecosystem. And paidContent’s Staci Kramer advised news orgs to focus on regular audiences rather than fly-by visitors: “Outwardly we like to complain about content farms; in reality, a lot of what news outlets are doing to the side of those front-page stories isn’t very different.”

Facebook’s growth as news driver: The other major report was released by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and looked at how people access news on the web. This study, too, found that despite a small core of frequent users, news sites are dependent on casual users who visit sites infrequently and don’t stay long when they’re there. Poynter’s Rick Edmonds conveniently distilled the study into five big takeaways.

The study also found that while Google is still the top referrer to major news sites, Facebook is quickly emerging as a significant news driver, too. University of British Columbia j-prof Alfred Hermida said this lines up with recent research he’s done among Canadians, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram said it showed that while Google is a dominant source for online news now, Facebook is primed to succeed it.

Meanwhile, the study also found that surprisingly little traffic to news sites is driven by Twitter. Lauren Dugan of All Twitter said this finding casts some doubt on the idea that Twitter is “a huge link-sharing playground,” though the Wall Street Journal’s Zach Seward said the study misses that Twitter referrals are undercounted.

The Twitter undercounting was one of several problems that TBD’s Steve Buttry had about the study, including inconsistent language to characterize findings and a bias toward large news organizations. “This study probably has some helpful data. But it has too many huge holes and indications of bias to have much value,” Buttry wrote.

Pricing ads and subscriptions on tablets: Condé Nast became the third major magazine publisher to reach an agreement with Apple on app subscriptions, and one of the first to offer an in-app subscription, with The New Yorker available now. (Wired subscriptions are coming next month.) Time Inc., which reached a deal with Apple last week, clarified that it won’t include in-app subscriptions, which would be where Apple takes that now-infamous 30% cut. The Financial Times, meanwhile, is still negotiating with Apple.

Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici explained why publishers may be warming to Apple’s deal: Turns out, more people are willing to share their personal data with publishers feared. Still, Mathew Ingram of GigaOM used iFlowReader’s bad Apple experience as a warning to other companies about the dangers of getting into bed with Apple.

Now that Apple-publisher relations have thawed, the New York Times’ David Carr moved to the next issue: Negotiations between publishers and advertisers over how valuable in-app ads are, and how much those ads should cost. Time.com’s Chris Gayomali wondered why magazines are more than giving away app subscriptions with print subscriptions, and concluded that it’s about getting more eyeballs on the print product, not the app, in order to maintain the all-important ad rate base.

In other words, Carr said in another post, publishers are following the old magazine model, where the product is priced below cost and the money is made off advertising instead. He questioned the wisdom of applying that strategy to tablets: “the rich advertising opportunity that will produce may be a less durable and less stable business than grinding out highly profitable circulation over the long haul.”

A postmortem on Bin Laden coverage: It’s now been close to two weeks since the news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke on Twitter, but plenty of folks were still discussing how the story was broken and covered. Gilad Lotan and Devin Gaffney of SocialFlow put together some fascinating visualizations of how the news spread on Twitter, especially the central roles of Donald Rumsfeld staffer Keith Urbahn and New York Times reporter Brian Stelter. Mashable’s Chris Taylor concluded from the data that trustworthiness and having active followers (as opposed to just lots of followers) are more important than ever on Twitter.

Media consultant Frederic Filloux was mostly reassured by the way the traditional news outlets handled the story online: “For once, editorial seems to evolve at a faster pace than the business side.” There were still folks cautioning against going overboard on Twitter-as-news hype, while the Telegraph’s Emma Barnett wondered why pundits are still so surprised at the significant role Twitter and Facebook play in breaking news. (“It’s exactly what they were designed for.”)

New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane gave the blow-by-blow of how his paper responded to the story, highlighting a few tweets by Times reporters and editors. Reuters’ Felix Salmon chastised Brisbane for not including Brian Stelter’s tweets, which were posted a good 15 minutes before the ones he included. The exclusion, Salmon surmised, might indicate that the Times doesn’t see what Stelter did on Twitter as reporting.

Google News founder Krishna Bharat compared the way Google handled 9/11 and Bin Laden’s death, marveling at how much more breaking-news coverage is available on the web now. The Lab’s Megan Garber used the occasion to glean some insights from Bharat about trusting the authority of the algorithm to provide a rich palette of news, but at Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan used the Bin Laden coverage to point out some flaws in Google News’ algorithm.

Reading roundup: Lots of interesting little rabbit trails to choose from this week. Here are a few:

— ComScore’s April traffic numbers are out, and there were a number of storylines flowing out of them: Cable news sources are beating print ones in web traffic, the New York Times’ numbers are down (as expected) after implementation of its paywall, and Gawker’s numbers are starting to come back after dropping last year with its redesign.

— Last week, ESPN columnist Rick Reilly told graduating students at the University of Colorado’s j-school to never write for free. That prompted Jason Fry of the National Sports Journalism Center and Craig Calcaterra of MSNBC.com’s Hardball Talk to expound on the virtues of writing for free, though Slate’s Tom Scocca took Reilly’s side.

— Late last week, Google lost an appeal to a 2007 Belgian ruling forcing it to pay newspapers for gaining revenue for linking to their stories on Google News.

— Finally, two thoughtful pieces on brands and journalism: Jason Fry at Poynter on assessing the value of organizational and personal brands, and Vadim Lavrusik at the Lab on journalists building their brands via Facebook.

May 12 2011

16:00

Vadim Lavrusik: How journalists can make use of Facebook Pages

Editor’s Note: Late last month, Vadim Lavrusik moved from his role as the community manager and social media strategist at Mashable to become Facebook’s first Journalist Program Manager. In his new position, Vadim is now responsible for building and managing programs that help journalists, in various ways, make use of Facebook in their work. Below, he shares some ways that journalists have been taking advantage of one of the site’s newest features: Facebook Pages.

The Facebook News Feed is essentially a social newspaper. With it, you’re able to read and discover news shared by your friends, journalists, and media organizations you like. The personalized news stream includes everything from news about your friends’ lives to their reactions to a news article. It’s not only what is being shared, but who is sharing it that’s important.

Journalists can be an even more active part of that conversation. Though many journalists already have personal profiles on Facebook, public Pages enable them to build a professional presence, opening them up to readers beyond Facebook’s 5,000 friend limit and, importantly, helping them to separate their professional presence from their personal on the site.

With that in mind, below are some ways journalists have been using Pages for their reporting and storytelling.

Distribution

Many news organizations and journalists with Facebook Pages use their presence to distribute content. This, of course, not only enables readers to engage with the content on Facebook, but it also drives traffic back to the reporter’s site. (The average news site saw Facebook referrals increase by more than 300 percent since the beginning of 2010.)

By distributing content on Pages, reporters are able to showcase the journalism they produce to the public beyond their friends. And for the members of that public, the ability to get content directly from journalists, rather than just news organizations, creates a richer news consumption experience. It’s no longer just about the story being shared, but about what the person sharing it has to say about it. So when you “like” Christiane Amanpour, it’s likely because you’re interested not just in the news she delivers — but in the way she delivers it.

Social storytelling

Great journalism deserves to be showcased. From short updates on-the-go, to videos, photo albums, or a more in-depth pieces using the Notes feature, Pages enable journalists to produce and showcase various types of content for readers. Journalists such as Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times have used their Pages to post regular updates while they’ve been reporting abroad. Sometimes Kristof’s updates have been a mere behind-the-scenes window into his reporting, while others he has posted detailed descriptions and short stories while reporting from the likes of the Bahrain. And those updates spread to the News Feeds of the more than 200,000 people who “like” his page. The content is social, and, as such, it spreads throughout the network.

Personal vs. professional

Facebook Pages enable journalists to have a professional presence on Facebook, giving readers a chance to connect with their professional identity instead of having only the option to be their friends. And that can be especially useful when it comes to the journalists’ relationship with their sources. If sources want to connect with a journalist on the platform, Pages provide an option in which journalists don’t have to worry (as much) about the content of their personal profiles, or, for example, the ethical implications of accepting a source’s friend request. (It’s also worth noting that many sources probably feel uncomfortable “friending” a journalist.) Now, when someone searches for a journalist’s name, they will see the Page as an option to connect.

Another bonus: While personal profiles have a 5,000 “friend” limit, Pages have no limit.

Building your journalistic brand

As journalists, we often squirm at phrases like “personal branding.” But the reality is that social media, and the social web in general, have created a shift from the institutional news brand to journalists’ personal brands. Prior to the web, the journalistic personal brand was mostly limited to columnists and the TV anchors who enjoyed lots of face time. The rest of us were shrouded in mystery behind our bylines.

But as a result of the proliferation of personal blogs and social profiles — not to mention web search — readers can now find information about a journalist instantly. And journalists themselves have a bigger platform than ever before to interact with their readers, one that allows them more freedom with tone and voice. The bigger platform, of course, has not been limited to journalists alone, and that has resulted in many more voices, and also more noise. But that makes a journalist’s personal brand even more important. If you write it, they will not necessarily come.

Sure, the institutional brand and the credibility attached to it should not be de-emphasized; but the social web has created a consumption environment that encourages conversation as much as content, and the personal as much as the professional. It’s a shift from the logo to the face. A professional Page is a way to grow your personal brand, and develop your audience and community. It’s part of your professional social identity. Though your work and your craft can certainly speak for themselves, the pieces that make up your personal brand online can affect reader perception of your credibility, and your identity, as a journalist.

Showcasing multimedia

With more than 100 million photos uploaded daily, Facebook is the web’s most popular photo-sharing site. And the popularity of video on the site continues to grow. As such, it’s a big platform for photojournalists and videographers to showcase their work.

Take the columnist Deb Petersen of the San Jose Mercury News, who posts photos on her Page as an album that tells a broader story. Or Diane Sawyer, whose Page includes behind-the-scenes videos of her meetings and interviews. Or the TV station in Tallahassee that used its Page to post its newscast after having technical difficulties that prevented it from broadcasting. The station was still able to deliver its nightly newscast to its viewers on Facebook — and users were able to share that newscast with friends, and comment on it.

Breaking news

The News Feed gives users flexibility to adjust their options and filter based on what they want to see. The two prominent options are Top Stories and Most Recent. And Most Recent, in particular, enables users to see content being posted in real-time. This enables journalists and news organizations to keep its readers updated when news breaks.

In April, for example, after the St. Louis Airport was hit with a tornado, KMOV, the local TV station, kicked up the frequency of its updates to real-time. It used its Page to post warnings to its readers, photos and videos of damage, and prompts soliciting content and updates from readers. Journalists posting to the TV station’s Page would status tag their own journalist pages so that readers would know who was posting the reports, adding a layer of transparency and accountability — and enabling readers to connect with them.

Community-sourced content

The more people who participate in the journalism process, the better informed we are as a result. This is something that Jay Rosen recently emphasized in his reflection after 25 years of teaching journalism, and echoed by Mathew Ingram of GigaOM.

In its tornado coverage, KMOV-TV was able to community-source photos and videos of storm damage using its Facebook Page, many of which were used on TV to enhance its broadcast coverage. Individual journalists, of course, are not exempt. Fareed Zakaria uses his Facebook Page to solicit questions from his viewers for interviews he’s preparing for. He also uses Facebook Questions to poll his audience on issues he’s covering.

Cultivating an active and engaged community

Because Facebook Page owners can be logged in as the page itself, it gives them a customized experience and enables them to engage as their Page, and not their personal profile. You also receive notifications for when readers engage on your Page. Though using Pages can be a great tool in building an audience that helps you in your reporting, it also enables journalists to cultivate an active community of readers. The conversation around a story is just as important as the story itself. It usually enhances the story and better informs its readers.

Curating a news stream

Pages also enable journalists to “like” other Pages to create a personalized News Feed. Journalists can use the Page to keep up with top officials or organizations that have Pages set up without having to use their personal profiles and worry as much about the perception of a conflict of interest or an endorsement of an organization.

This is especially applicable to political reporters, who may want to keep up with candidates from multiple parties, but are worried about “liking” those candidates’ Pages using their personal profile. “Liking” content from your public Page means you can more clearly separate your personal identity from your professional one, helping other users to understand that the action is part of your work — not a personal endorsement.

Mobile

A lot of news reporting happens on-the-go, with production taking place not on a computer, but on a mobile phone. Pages can be synced with your mobile device, so it’s easy to post to your Page by using the mobile site or the iPhone application. You can also post photos via e-mail or status updates through text messages by texting “f” to 32665. After the Page is linked with your mobile number, you can send status updates to 32665, and those will post to your Wall.

A richer experience through applications

Pages offer a plethora of custom applications that you can employ to enhance the user experience on your Page. Features such as a custom Contact Form can easily be added as a tab to your page — an option for readers or sources to contact you privately with questions or news tips. Depending on your needs, you can typically find the right application by searching through the Applications Directory.

News organizations and journalist Pages alike have used various applications, from those that enable unique content such as a video livestream integration, to ones that enable you to build a Welcome page for readers who land on your Page. These can be effective in improving the rates of “like” conversions; a simple welcome prompt to “like” the page or directions of how to connect with the page can do the trick. CNN’s Carol Costello, for example, has a tab for Livestream, which enables her viewers to watch her livestreams right on her Facebook Page. And news organizations like Al-Jazeera English have used custom tabs to stream live video on their Page after their site crashed.

Insights into readers

Journalists with public Pages also have access to Facebook Insights, which provides them with exactly that: insights into the activity and demographics of their readers. As journalists, we’ve often had to make assumptions about who our readers are, or rely on imprecise reader surveys for insight into our audiences. For example, a journalist may think her readers are mostly middle-aged Americans, only to find in Insights that her Page community consists of a young, international demographic.

Insights enables journalists to learn more about who their audiences and communities are — not necessarily to produce content based on what performs, but to be better able to consider their communities’ needs, and perhaps to discover where the holes in demographics might be. That said, however, understanding how, and what type of, content is performing well online is crucial. Journalists, after all, are no longer responsible for the production of content alone, but also for distributing that content — and maximizing its impact.

May 11 2011

15:40

Much Ado About Obama's Birth Certificate on DocumentCloud

As we watched traffic stats skyrocket last month as newsroom after newsroom uploaded President Obama's birth certificate to DocumentCloud and then embedded it, my reaction was hardly one of joy.

Why on Earth is a birth certificate more interesting than, say, the pages and pages of receipts documenting some outrageous meals (15 steaks, two orders of fish and a lamb chop -- for five people submitted by National Grid to the Long Island Power Authority after their Hurricane Earl cleanup)?

I like to think these are the documents we built DocumentCloud for -- that we're here to give a leg up to reporters scrutinizing spurious spending reports (reporting that prompted a formal state investigation) or documenting patent dishonesty and the unusual lengths one California town went to in order to conceal extraordinary salaries paid to city officials.

Vote of Confidence

obama birth certificate.jpg

Forgive me if I was underwhelmed by all the attention that the birth certificate got. My esteemed colleagues, however, helped me see the bright side of the flurry. For one thing, it was fast. Within minutes, 10 different newsrooms had uploaded the birth certificate and embedded it.

That says a lot: It says that when they have something they know their readers want to see, reporters turn to DocumentCloud. That's a huge vote of confidence in us. Plus, we didn't falter under the weight of the tenfold increase in traffic -- that's solid architecture for you. We built DocumentCloud with the hope that we could improve the way newsrooms share source documents with their readers, and at that, we're thrilled to be succeeding.

Increasingly, DocumentCloud is a resource for breaking news. When the news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a town called Abbottabad, a search for "Abbottabad" turned up some pretty rich stuff, most notably that a former Gitmo detainee led U.S. authorities to the Pakistani town back in 2008.

New Feature Roundup

Meanwhile, we're still listening to our users and looking for more ways to make DocumentCloud easier to use and to help reporters give their readers the documents behind the story.

We're looking forward to seeing what our users do with our new tool that lets you embed a single annotation, and we're excited to watch the great uses newsrooms have put document sets to.

From embedding documents accumulated over two decades spent covering an Oregon commune where things went horribly awry to sharing the documents detailing the Federal Reserve's support for ailing financial institutions, or the background material from coverage of a profoundly embarrassed local philanthropist, reporters seem to be getting the hang of embedding document sets.

So we have a question for the reporters who have been using DocumentCloud already: What would have made this even easier for you?

May 05 2011

12:49

May 02 2011

21:36

A Twitter Timeline on the Killing of Osama Bin Laden

[View the story "Timeline of Tweets Around Death of Osama Bin Laden" on Storify]

Did you see any other key tweets around the news of Bin Laden's killing? Share them in the comments below and I'll add them to the timeline above.

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.

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

21:18

The Bin Laden story and real-time engagement

Please allow me to think aloud on the past 15 hours.

We all acknowledge that the news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke on social media. We’ve all got stories about Twitter’s impact, roundups of Twitter reactions, tweet timelines and Storification galore – but did anyone in the heat of the developing news last night start engaging readers on [...]

19:20

At the NYT, no paywall exemption for Bin Laden

When The New York Times announced its pay meter back in March, publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. also announced that — along with the many, many other pores and passages the paper had built into its gate — the Times had built into its new system the ability to open the gate for breaking-news stories that were, essentially, must-reads. “Mr. Sulzberger wanted a flexible system,” the paper reported at the time, “one that would allow the company to adjust the limit on the number of free articles as needed — in the case of a big breaking news event, for example.”

Or, as Sulzberger told Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters:

“Let’s imagine there’s a horrifying story like 9/11 again,” [Sulzberger] said in an interview. “We can — with one hit of a button — turn that meter to zero to allow everyone to read everything they want,” he said. “We’re going to learn. We built a system that is flexible.”

Last night’s news about the death of Osama bin Laden would seem to qualify as one of those big must-read stories. So it’s interesting to note that the Times’ coverage of the news — all of its articles and blog posts — remained behind the paper’s gate last night. And they’ll remain there. “There are no current plans to open up the news and features about Bin Laden for free on NYTimes.com,” a Times spokesperson told me. “As you know, readers get 20 articles free each month, and they can access Times content through other means, such as blogs, social media and search.”

The Bin Laden story broke on May 1, just a few hours after all non-subscribing Times readers had seen their monthly 20-article count reset to zero. Barring a big Sunday-morning reading binge, most were probably still at the very beginnings of their monthly allotments. And while “any decision to make any content free on NYTimes.com will be made on a case by case basis,” the spokesperson notes, “in this case in particular, the fact that the story broke on May 1 was certainly a factor.”

The Times’ pay meter is probably the most analyzed edifice in the news industry at the moment. And it’s not as if there were nowhere else online (or on television, or in print) to learn about the bin Laden raid.

Still, it’s remarkable how little we know about how the paywall’s breaking-news caveat works. The notion of stories that are so big that they shouldn’t be paid for — or, more accurately, so big that the Times shouldn’t require people to pay for them — is a complicated, but also crucial, one, particularly considering the careful balance the Times has struck between business interest and public interest in its rhetoric about its pay scheme.

If and when a story is taken from outside the wall, who makes the decision about the exemption? Is it someone on the business side or the editorial side— or a collaboration between both? Is the exemption something that the Times will announce publicly, or something it will simply enact, without comment? And if the day of the month on which a story breaks is a factor, as it was in this case…on what day would a big story become exemption-worthy?

The biggest question, though: If Osama’s demise didn’t make the cut, what story would?

14:13

April 29 2011

18:00

MSNBC.com’s Breaking News traces info to its source

There are some news events whose coverage is planned far — far, far — in advance of the events themselves. Those are exceptions, though: Most of the time, news is unscripted and unpredictable — breaking, appropriately enough, through the fabric of daily routine.

The tornado-laden storms that ravaged the South this week were some of those breaking news events. So were last month’s earthquake, and resulting tsunami, in northern Japan. For occurrences like those, as we know all too well, up-to-the-minute news can be especially hard to come by, since we don’t (yet) have a mechanism that connects sudden eyewitnesses of news events to the people who suddenly want to learn about those events.

MSNBC.com, though, is trying to provide that kind of connection through its Breaking News trifecta — a branded web domain, Twitter feed, and Facebook page, complemented by three mobile apps — that aims to be a curation engine for breaking news. The idea is to collect the biggest stories of the moment, in near real-time, from hundreds of news sources worldwide — including, often, eyewitness accounts shared on social media from people at the scene of breaking-news events. Google News-style, the feature aggregates stories from around the web and links out, when possible, to their full versions. River-of-news-style, it strips stories of their narrative and context, honing them down to their headlines.

“Our goal is to empower the moment of discovery,” says Cory Bergman, who helps run the project for MSNBC.com. Breaking News’ editors — “a small, caffeinated team of news junkies embedded inside msnbc.com’s newsroom” — scan wire services, Twitter, RSS feeds, live video feeds, YouTube, and even email alerts to hunt for breaking news, (ideally) immediately after it breaks. Their goal in that, Bergman told me, is “to discover the first instance of a breaking update in real time.” That instance could come from an Alabama paper or a person in Sendai, or anything (or anyone) in between. And it can come via users themselves, who, increasingly, are helping Breaking News editors flag noteworthy events that are bubbling up among social and local media. And “as we find stories and eyewitness accounts,” Bergman says, “we link to the originator directly, and credit them, and send them a short burst of traffic.”

To do all that, the team relies on a range of social networks, but focuses most squarely on Twitter. “Twitter is the real-time news distribution platform, quite frankly,” Bergman puts it. And, as such, “the twitter lexicon is infused in how we work and how we think.”

The main point, though, is…the pointing. Breaking News provides the raw material of the news — the quick-hit updates, in real-time — but it’s not trying to provide, in any strict sense, stories. Though the way that breaking news events are presented and contextualized is, clearly, crucial, Bergman notes, “in many ways, we’re a breaking-news discovery service that’s completely agnostic of source.” Which means: “We don’t want to own the news; we just want to point to it.”

That attitude isn’t unusual — do what you do best, link to the rest, etc. — but it’s noteworthy considering that it’s coming from a major media organization. (Breaking News is something of a skunkworks project at MSNBC.com: In 2010, Charlie Tillinghast, MSNBC.com’s general manager and publisher, appointed Bergman, along with Tom Brew and Ben Tesch, to do something interesting with breakingnews.com, which MSNBC.com had just acquired. The curation project is the result of that charge.) Every once in a while, the Breaking News team “might skew toward NBC” in the stories it promotes, Bergman acknowledges. Overall, though, “we are very, very passionate about keeping an even line and linking the first iteration — the first instance of breaking news — regardless of where it comes from.”

And the team is hoping that user contributions will help scale that idea. Last month, Breaking News launched a new set of features that allows users themselves curate information — providing, essentially, the same tools that the editors themselves use to discover and share breaking news. Those tools allow users to scan live updates from dozens of news organizations; to comb video and images — from (currently) YouTube, Twitpic, yFrog, and Plixi — for eyewitness accounts of events; or simply to share links to breaking news stories, tweets, images, and videos that the users have already come across. “If we can grow a community of spotters,” Bergman notes, that alone “would have an amazing impact on the breaking news that we discover.”

The idea — and the hope — is to provide a link between breaking news and the news more broadly. “Hard and fast breaking news is currently an underserved market,” Tillinghast noted last year; the Breaking News project is hoping to change that.

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