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August 21 2012

14:00

At Rural Newspapers, Some Publishers Still Resist Moving Online

In 1968, Dick Graham bought a small weekly newspaper in Ferry County, Wash., one of the most remote and sparsely populated counties in the Pacific Northwest.

Forty-four years later -- give or take a few months -- broadband Internet is arriving.

Graham and his century-old newspaper, The Republic News-Miner, have cast a wary eye toward the web and raised a legitimate question: Should rural newspapers go online?

Graham, now 75, has resisted.

"I'm old-fashioned," he said. "I don't put nothing up for nothing."

Long shielded from the pressure of Internet news competition, as well as classified competitors like Craigslist, rural newspapers have reportedly fared far better than their metropolitan counterparts. While newspapers in population centers saw growing competition from online startups in the past decade, rural newspapers have faced relatively little competition. (So-called hyper-local sites like AOL's Patch are clustered in metropolitan areas and altogether absent from rural areas in the West.)

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As broadband Internet spreads into rural communities -- spurred by a $7 billion federal investment -- rural newspapers are increasingly facing a question encountered by their metropolitan counterparts a decade ago: What information should be offered online?

The considerations aren't solely economic. Rural newspapers that ignore online opportunities may be risking their relevancy -- and losing opportunities -- in their communities, experts say. And rural readers may be missing out as well; a recent survey suggests that rural citizens are going online to look for news but struggle to find local content, especially when compared to more metropolitan citizens. Instead, those readers are finding state or national media outlets that may have little or no "local" content.

That places rural weekly newspapers at a crossroads.

"It's a 24-7 world and they come out 52 times a year," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. "The worst day to die in a rural area is on a Thursday -- your obit won't be printed for a week."

'We need a business-model solution'

Digitally savvy rural journalists can quickly publish breaking community news, making their publications even more relevant to readers. But the web may not work for every rural publication; Cross said some rural papers may jump directly to mobile platforms, as phone technology rapidly evolves and cellular networks continue to spread.

Today, community newspapers are struggling with the same economic worries that larger publications have seen online, according to Bill Will, executive director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents about 130 community newspapers in the state.

"We have lots of business-model questions," Will said at an April roundtable discussion at Washington State University. "We need a business-model solution."

Translating digital readership into advertising dollars may be as perilous for rural news outlets as it has been for larger metros.

"They rightly have been wary of putting information online for free because that cannibalizes their print content," Cross said. "But I think there is a way to go online ... You put things online that you can't put in print."

Federal investment carries broadband to small towns

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In Ferry County, the online debate has been slow to arrive.

For more than a decade, the county's residents relied primarily on dial-up connections or satellite Internet access -- about 80 percent of county residents were unserved by broadband Internet, according to the state's 2012 Annual Report on Broadband in Washington.

Three years ago, the federal government invested more than $7 billion into expanding broadband Internet access to unserved or underserved areas. The money, which was appropriated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has strengthened network capability and expanded infrastructure across the country, including Washington state.

Today, more than 96 percent of the state's households have access to broadband Internet, a network that stretches from the foothills of the Cascade Mountains to rural farmland and tiny mountain towns. But rural communities still lag behind larger cities, which tend to have faster broadband access, digitally literate citizens, and journalists increasingly adept at web and social media tools.

Technology leaders say that these rural residents are on the wrong side of the country's digital divide, and small businesses, rural citizens, and far-flung towns run the risk of falling further behind as cities increasingly become more digitally savvy. Broadband access must be partnered with public education, experts say, so that communities and citizens understand the impact of faster Internet access -- think of it as building a highway system without teaching people how to drive.

Three Initiatives to Help

Participants in the April roundtable, which was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Knight Foundation, recommended three initiatives:

  • A news consortium to facilitate training for community journalists and partnerships with larger media organizations to increase the flow of information.
  • A grassroots campaign to increase digital literacy in rural areas, as well as with state and local policymakers.
  • An annual survey of news awareness among Washington citizens, as well as a measure of the health of the state's media outlets, and the expansion of high-speed broadband.

Obviously, that outreach takes money in a time of strained state and local budgets.

"If communities need to become digitally literate, then how can they accomplish this, given today's economic realities?" Angela Wu, former broadband policy and programs director for Washington state, asked at the April roundtable. (A full report on the roundtable can be viewed here.)

Critics say rural residents choose to live in small towns; many do, of course, but others must be close to jobs or cheaper housing. Others question whether such communities need quicker access to YouTube videos or other web diversions. Those critics fail to realize how video conferencing or a web presence can fundamentally alter rural businesses -- or educate rural citizens.

Research from colleagues at Washington State University suggests that rural residents find it "significantly more difficult" to keep abreast of local news than metropolitan residents. Rural residents are less frequent consumers of news media for local news, even though they appear to be seeking broadcast and online outlets for state and national news, according to the study by Douglas Blanks Hindman and Michael Beam. (Both rural and non-rural residents say it's easier to keep up with local news than it was five years ago, but non-rural residents find it significantly easier than rural residents, according to the survey.)

That gap may be the product of a dearth of local online information in small towns. In many small communities, weekly or monthly publications may be the sole source of news, and that news does not always migrate to the web. But in the Pacific Northwest -- Ferry County -- change is coming.

In Ferry County, competing papers and approaches

In 2009, Greg Sheffield opened another weekly newspaper in Ferry County, creating a new challenge for Graham's News-Miner.

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Sheffield's paper, The Ferry County View, created a competition for the county's 4,000 households. And unlike Graham, he's begun moving content online -- though not all of it.

"I'm just afraid that if we put our content online that if will remove the incentive people have to read the published newspaper," said Sheffield, a former private pilot turned publisher. "I might consider putting it behind a paywall, but it's just not my top priority."

And he's not sure it's a good economic idea.

"I wish there was an old newspaper publisher's club where I could sit down and ask, How do you deal with this?" Sheffield said. "I would love to have that opportunity."

Graham, who has officially retired as publisher of the News-Miner but still owns the publication, said his paper's circulation has dropped from 1,200 to about 900 in recent years.

"I'm no different than a lot of the weekly newspapers. I spent more for computers than I did buying the place," Graham said. "(A web presence) is something that we've had some inquiries about. I'm just not too sure in these small towns how well that goes over."

For Graham, who began working at newspapers at age 12, the arrival of broadband may threaten his readers' habitual perusing of the print paper each week.

"People get their paper early Thursday morning and have their coffee," Graham said, before pausing. "Of course, they're all 80 years old now."

Benjamin Shors teaches journalism at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

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April 01 2011

16:59

Map Mashup Shows Broadband Speeds for Schools in U.S.

The Department of Education (DOE) recently launched Maps.ed.gov/Broadband an interactive map that shows schools and their proximity to broadband Internet access speeds across the country. This is an important story for DOE, an agency that has a stated goal that all students and teachers have access to a sufficient infrastructure for learning -- which nowadays includes a fast Internet connection. The map is based on open data released last month by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). As you can see below, the result is a custom map that shows a unique story -- how schools' Internet access compares across the country.

In addition to being an example of an open data mashup, this map also serves as an example of what can be built with emerging open-source mapping tools. We worked with DOE to process and merge the two data sets, and then generated the new map tiles using Mapnik, an open-source toolkit for rendering map tiles. Then we created the custom overlay of schools and universities using TileMill, our open-source map design studio. Finally, a TileMill layer was added on top of the broadband data.

The Feds' Open-Source Leadership

It is great to see both the DOE and FCC able to leverage open data to make smarter policy decisions. Karen Cator, the director of the office of educational technology at DOE has an awesome blog post about why this mashup matters:

"The Department of Education's National Education Technology Plan sets a goal that all students and teachers will have access to a comprehensive infrastructure for learning, when and where they need it," Cator writes. "Broadband access is a critical part of that infrastructure. This map shows the best data to date and efforts will continue to gather better data and continually refresh the maps."

September 15 2010

19:49

Public Media Corps Takes on Broadband Divide for Minorities

If there was a reality show about the Public Media Corps (PMC), the intro might sound something like this: "Here's the true story of how 15 fellows, five public media institutions, three high schools, three community organizations, a library and a museum collaborate to bridge the broadband divide."

Secretly, I wish there was a reality show about the project because I want to see how they're making it work. Many public media projects claim "community engagement" as a priority, but few make it the centerpiece of their work. For the Public Media Corps, that's never been an issue.


The PMC is a national service program that promotes and extends broadband adoption in underserved communities. It does so by placing technology, media production, and outreach fellows in residencies at underperforming high schools, public broadcast stations, and non-profit community organizations. The PMC evolved out of the New Media Institute, which was founded by National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) in 2006 to train media makers of color in new media technology.

Cool Spots

The NBPC launched the beta of Public Media Corps in Washington, D.C., this June. Since then, the group has worked steadily to collect information from the community to build projects based on the needs of people living in Anacostia (Ward 7 and 8) and in Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant and Shaw (Ward 1) -- neighborhoods that are home to predominantly African American, Latino and immigrant communities.

"The fellows are working in teams and using survey tools to gather more quantitative information about the ways in which people use the Internet and social media and what issues and information sources are important to them," said Jacquie Jones, executive director of the National Black Programming Consortium.

Collecting such data can be challenging in a community where residents have limited Internet access. To encourage wider participation, the fellows created "Cool Spots."

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"Cool Spots are mobile Internet assessment hubs," said Jones. "The fellows set them up at block parties, festivals, and outdoor markets and events where the public uses netbooks onsite to complete the online surveys and learn more about the PMC. The Cool Spots are also 'hot spots' with free Wi-Fi to promote broadband use."

Starting this month, the PMC will begin using the data collected at Cool Spots to select three to four projects for the fellows and community partners to collaborate on and ultimately implement in communities for the final months of the D.C. beta.

Collaborating with a Cast of Dozens

Building trust and establishing communication channels are often the first challenges of any large-scale collaboration. With so many people, organizations and communities involved, I was curious to hear just how the PMC staff, fellows and partners were tackling it.

"PMC staff is in frequent communication with partners, stakeholders and the fellows through electronic means and meetings to discuss progress, performance, resources that can be shared and potential projects for the fall," said Kay Shaw, director of Public Media Corps. "The fellows prepare detailed weekly reports and meet as a cohort every Wednesday to discuss their activities, share insights and challenges, site needs, and how to build more collaboration between partners. The staff and the Fellows look forward to these meetings because of their vibrancy and the information and ideas that are shared."

The PMC experimented with several platforms for sharing information electronically. The two that stuck were Google Docs and Dropbox, a web-based file-hosting service that uses cloud computing to enable users to store and share files. The fellows use Google Docs to collaborate on writing projects. They post their weekly reports and media to Dropbox.

Ashley Mosley, a PMC fellow, video producer and community organizer, offered some perspective on the challenges and rewards of collaborating at this level.

"Collaborating with so many community groups has offered a broader perspective, because the personalities of the wards are so different," said Mosley. "The most challenging aspect of this project is building trust within my organization. However, the challenge has been rewarding. Community members have invited me into their personal circles, hangouts, and meetings and they now feel more comfortable discussing the disconnect that they feel with both public media and digital technology."

Measuring Success

Another hurdle collaborations face is measuring success. When working with multiple stakeholders and communities, priorities have a tendency to become malleable and impact ambiguous. To keep the focus on results, the PMC has placed a high priority on collecting data throughout the six-month beta.

"While there is no dearth of projects or project ideas, how many projects can we definitively say have been successful on a large scale in diverse communities?" said Shaw. "That's why we consciously decided to do the research and collect data first and let that inform the projects we would develop to ensure the best chance of gaining traction and making a significant impact in our focus communities."

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The PMC is measuring levels of community engagement, use of public media resources, technological capacity of partner organizations and broadband adoption and patterns of use within the communities.

In addition to collecting community data, the PMC will seek feedback on the performance of its fellows from a team of technologists and public media stakeholders, who will conduct site visits and one-on-one meetings with the fellows.

"They will offer suggestions or adjustments to the project to improve impact and relevancy," said Jones. "American University's Center for Social Media is taking the lead in assessing the evaluation team's observations and recommendations, analyzing the data from the surveys, evaluating and assessing the impact of the projects, culling and documenting best practices, and producing a written report that will be distributed to the public in 2011."

Lessons Learned

In advance of the official 2011 report, I asked Jones and Shaw what they have learned so far from collaborating with the various community groups, fellows and the public on a project of this scale.

"On the one hand it is exciting and rewarding to work with organizations committed to and excited about the project and ready to learn how to expand their capacity to use and leverage public media assets," said Shaw. "On the other hand, because of the interest and need there are lots of demands on the project and we are constantly adjusting to accommodate new information to ensure relevancy and impact."

"One of the greatest challenges to innovation is the need to be constantly adaptive," said Shaw. "That's why we designed a process with maximum flexibility."


Jones' advice to organizations that want to increase collaboration and community engagement is succinct: "Be prepared to abandon your assumptions and what you think are your best ideas."

As for the fellows, they offered some advice of their own for future PMC participants.

"I would advise future fellows to make sure to engage not only their community organization, but also the surrounding communities," said Mosley. "It's important to establish trust. Oh... and of course, to have fun!"

Olivia Rubagumya, a PMC fellow working with PBS Interactive suggested that it's important to "be a good listener and observer. People's realities are often more complex than we can assume them to be, so remain open and attentive no matter the challenges -- the experience is a two-way street."

A public relations and social media consultant, Katie Kemple works with public media clients to build community, develop strategic partnerships, and create integrated public relations campaigns. Over the past ten years, she has held positions at WGBH, WETA, Capital News Connection, and Public Media's EconomyStory. You can find her every Monday at 8 p.m. ET on Twitter, as a co-host and organizer for #pubmedia chat.

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August 11 2010

16:41

3 Hot Topics at Supernova: Public Policy, Social Media, Privacy

Supernova, an annual technology conference, recently convened for the first time on the East Coast, a change that was evident in the composition of the conference attendees and the direction of the overall conversation. Below are the top three major takeaways from the conference.

Policy matters

Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, earned a place as crowd favorite during a panel about the governmental implications of broadband connectivity. Referencing the FCC's apparent hesitance to pursue regulatory policy, Feld said, "This could end up being the best administration for the tech community or the worst administration for the tech community."

Comcast's Cohen, whose company has an obvious stake in issues like net neutrality and reclassification of broadband, made his point by contextualizing an anecdote conference host Kevin Werbach shared during opening ceremonies.

Werbach had explained that the seats in the lecture hall where the conference took place did not have power outlets because Wharton faculty voted to not have them, fearing students would be overly distracted or some other similar supposition. Cohen thought this was an excellent metaphor for unintended consequences of regulation.

"Our concern about governmental regulation in this space drives directly from that story," he said. "Not that our government is ill-intended or that they would try to do something that would impede innovation; but the unintended consequences of legislation that takes a long time to do and a long time to fix could result in actions that retard innovation."

There was also discussion of how governmental agencies are promoting tech initiatives. Projects in different disciplines, like HealthCare.gov and the FCC's broadband portal, are trying to put data (after it's been properly scrutinized for privacy concerns) online in accessible formats. As Beth Noveck, deputy chief technology officer for the United States, explained it, "open government is a horizontal, not a vertical."

Bottom line: Regulating broadband will continue to be a messy process, but it has to be done.

Social Changes Everything

Social media is changing the dynamics of content creation and distribution. That's hardly a surprise to the average MediaShift reader, but the observation's familiarity is a reflection of its veracity.

sn-logo.jpgSocial media changed conferences, that's for sure. The Twitter backchannel at #sn10 during the conference was nearly as valuable as the sessions themselves. Conference participants (and certain panelists) would share relevant insights and links while the conference was ongoing, which was perfect for information omnivores such as myself.

It's changing civic life, too. The government's strategy is noted above, but initiatives like ThinkUp are trying to improve the process of governance by tapping the wisdom of the crowd.

It's also changing the media, augmenting new and old media's ability alike to connect with consumers. Comcast's Cohen noted that the company no longer sees it as a cable company, but as a technology provider that increasingly experiments with new media delivery technologies such as a Hulu-like online video service. Cohen said the number one reason for Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal is to increase its "ability to accelerate the application of innovation and technology for the delivery of what consumer demand is in this space: anytime, anywhere television." In a word, convergence.

SB Nation CEO Jim Bankoff noted that, "Media does not need to be saved and it is not the responsibility of social to save media." He said he thought user generated content was not as interesting as user generated distribution of content, an insight echoed by other panelists who noted that many companies were experimenting with television and movies to create "multi-platform" experiences that span offline and online spaces.

Blip.TV cofounder Dina Kaplan spoke to the economic power of new media when she revealed that her company had recently compensated the creators of Halo-themed web series Red vs. Blue more than $123,000 as part of their commitment to split profit with content producers.

Bottom line: Having a social media strategy is table stakes.

Screen shot 2010-08-10 at 3.14.29 PM.png

Privacy is hard

The most fascinating conversation of the conference, from my perspective, was between danah boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft Research, and Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at CUNY and author of What Would Google Do?. The rapport between these two new media thinkers was evident throughout their discussion of how technology companies and the government are assessing and responding to online privacy concerns.

Though the two had differing opinions about the definition of privacy, they agreed that the root of privacy concerns was inequity between expectations and outcomes regarding how information flows.

"Privacy is about understanding a social situation and how information will flow, and then making a decision that recognizes this. People scream 'privacy fail!' when they've lost control and found that information flows differently than they expected," Boyd said.

Jarvis used Facebook to illustrate a similar point, referencing ongoing concerns the company faces regarding its approach to personal data. "Facebook created a structure for crafting a public," said Jarvis, "but suddenly people were talking to the public," he said.

The pair also agreed that context has been undervalued as it relates to publicly shared information. "The information itself has value, but so does the interpretation," Boyd said. "We can't divorce the two, interpretations depend on context."

Jarvis essentially agreed with the danger of free-form data being accessed without its necessary context, but also seemed worried that over-compensating for this threat could "risk what makes the Internet powerful."

Bottom line: Defining privacy is just as important a task as protecting it.

Related Links

Have a look at these links to read more about the conference:

Davis Shaver is MediaShift's editorial intern. He is also the founder and publisher of Onward State, an online news organization at Penn State. He studies history and the intersection of science, technology, and society.

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June 15 2010

08:42

Dan Gillmor at Salon: ‘The newspaper industry essentially deserves to die’

I love newspapers. I worked in them for almost 25 years. But I’m not itching to bail out a business that is failing in large part because it was so transcendentally greedy in its monopoly era that it passed on every opportunity to survive against real financial competition. With a few exceptions, the newspaper industry essentially deserves to die at this point.

Dan Gillmor, author of ‘We the Media’ and director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship in the US, argues in this article for Salon that its not journalism that needs to be subsidised – as suggested by the initial findings of the US’ Federal Trade Commission’s research into the state of the industry – but the infrastructure that makes online publishing and distribution possible.

If you want to worry about a threat to the journalism of tomorrow, consider the power being collected by the so-called “broadband” providers right now.

If we’re going to spend taxpayers’ money in ways that could help journalism, let’s make that benefit a byproduct of something much more valuable. Let’s build out our data networks the right way, by installing fibre everywhere we can possibly put it. Then, let private and public enterprises light it up.

Full post at this link…

Similar Posts:



May 07 2010

23:18

4 Minute Roundup: FCC's 'Goldilocks' Approach to Regulating Net

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition I focus on the proposal by the FCC chairman Julius Genachowski to find a "third way" of regulating broadband providers. His "Goldilocks" approach tries to inforce fairness and Net neutrality rules, but not be too heavy-handed by avoiding setting prices for ISPs or forcing them to open up their lines. Reaction was tepid from both sides of the political aisle. I try to explain Genachowski's approach, and talk with the Investigative Reporting Workshop's John Dunbar, who thinks there's little to cheer consumer advocates in this proposal.

Check it out:

4mrbareaudio5710.mp3

>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with John Dunbar:

dunbar full.mp3

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

The FCC's 'Third Way,' Will it Work? at CBSNews

FCC's Genachowski Tries To Carve A 'Third Way' For Regulating ISPs at PaidContent

FCC's Third Way - What You Need to Know at PC Magazine

FCC Chair Cites 'Third Way' For Neutrality at MediaPost

FCC's third way - Regulate Internet access, not Internet content at VentureBeat

How the FCC Plans to Regulate Internet Lines at WSJ Digits

FCC statement - 'Third way' legal framework at CNET

FCC Web Rules Create Pushback at WSJ

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you think the FCC's proposal:




What do you think about the FCC's "third way" of regulating broadband?online survey

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.

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April 09 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: The iPad has landed, WikiLeaks moves toward journalism, and net neutrality is hit

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

The iPad unleashed: If you’ve been anywhere near a computer or TV this week, it’s not hard to determine what this week’s top journalism/new media story is: Apple’s iPad hit stores Saturday, with 450,000 sold as of Thursday. I’ll spare you the scores of reviews, and we’ll jump straight to the bigger-picture and journalism-related stuff. There’s a ton to get to here, so if you’re interested in the bite-sized version, read Cory Doctorow and Howard Weaver on closed media consumption, Kevin Anderson on app pricing, and Alan Mutter and Joshua Benton on news app design.

If you’re looking for the former, The New York Times and the current issue of Wired have thoughts on the iPad and tablets’ technological and cultural impact from a total of 19 people, mostly tech types. We also saw the renewal of several of the discussions that were percolating the weeks before the iPad’s arrival: New media expert Jeff Jarvis and open-web activist Cory Doctorow took up similar arguments that the iPad is a retrograde device because it’s based around media consumption rather than creation, strangling development and making a single company our personal technology gatekeepers. In responses to Jarvis and Doctorow respectively, hyperlocal journalist Howard Owens and former McClatchy exec Howard Weaver defended those “consumers,” countering that not everybody consumes media like tech critics do — most people are primarily consumers, and that’s OK.

Meanwhile, two other writers made, judging from their pieces’ headlines, an almost identical point: The iPad is not going to save the news or publishing industries. Leaning heavily on Jeff Jarvis, The Huffington Post’s Jose Antonio Vargas made the consumption argument, saying that consumers want to tweak, question and pass around their content, not just passively consume it. And Harvard Business Review editor Paul Michelman contended that publishers are trying to retrofit their media onto this new one.

News business expert Alan Mutter and Poynter blogger Damon Kiesow offered some tips for publishers who do want to succeed on the iPad: Mutter wrote a thorough and helpful breakdown of designing for print, the web and mobile media, concluding, “Publishers who want to take full advantage of the iPad will have to do better by creating content that is media-rich, interactive, viral, transactional and mobile.” Kiesow told news orgs to consider what the iPad will be down the road as they design.

There was also quite a bit written about news organizations’ iPad apps, most of it not exactly glowing. Damon Kiesow provided a helpful list of journalism-related apps, finding that not surprisingly, most of the top selling ones are free. The high prices of many news orgs’ apps drew an inspired rant from British journalist Kevin Anderson in which he called the pricing “a last act of insanity by delusional content companies.” Poynter’s Bill Mitchell took a look at early critical comments by users about high prices and concluded that by not explaining themselves, publishers are leaving it to the crowd to make up their own less-than-charitable explanations for their moves.

As for specific apps, Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore was wowed by USA Today’s top-selling app, the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum compared The New York Times’ and Wall Street Journal’s apps, and news industry analyst Ken Doctor looked at the Journal’s iPad strategy. Finally, the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Joshua Benton found three intriguing news-navigation design ideas while browsing news orgs’ iPad apps: Story-to-story navigation, pushing readers straight past headlines, and the “cyberclaustrophobia” of The New York Times’ Editors’ Choice app.

Is WikiLeaks a new form of journalism?: On Monday, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks posted video of civilians being killed by a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad in 2007. In a solid explanation of the situation, The New York Times’ Noam Cohen and Brian Stelter noted that with the video, WikiLeaks is making a major existential shift by “edging closer toward a form of investigative journalism and to advocacy.”

Others noticed the journalistic implications as well, with Jonathan Stray of Foreign Policy wondering whether WikiLeaks is pioneering a new, revolutionary avenue for sourcing outside the confines of traditional media outlets. On Twitter, Dan Gillmor posited that a key part of WikiLeaks’ ascendancy is the fact that unlike traditional news orgs, it doesn’t see itself as a gatekeeper, and C.W. Anderson declared the video and an analysis of it by a former helicopter pilot “networked journalism.” If you want to know more about WikiLeaks itself, Mother Jones has plenty of background in a detailed feature.

Net neutrality takes a hit: In the tech world, the week’s big non-iPad story came on Tuesday, when a federal judge allowed Internet service providers some ability to slow down or regulate traffic on their network. It was a huge blow to proponents of net neutrality, or the belief that all web use should be free of restrictions or institutional control. The FCC has tried for years to impose net neutrality standards on ISPs, so it’s obviously a big setback for them, too.

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and CNET all have solid summaries of the case and its broader meaning, and The Washington Post takes a look at the FCC’s options in the wake of the ruling. I haven’t seen anyone directly tie this case to journalism, though it obviously has major implications for who controls the future of the web, which in turn will influence what news organizations do there. And as Dan Gillmor notes, this isn’t just a free-speech issue; it’s also about the future of widespread broadband, something that has been mentioned in the past (including by Gillmor himself) as a potentially key piece of the future-of-news puzzle.

Murdoch rattles more sabers: As his media holdings continue to prepare to put up paywalls around their online content (The Times of London was the recent announcement), Rupert Murdoch made another public appearance this week in which he bashed search engines, free online news sites and The New York Times. There is one thing he likes about technology, though: The iPad, which he said “may well be the saving of the newspaper industry.” Staci Kramer of paidContent astutely notes that Murdoch’s own statements about charging for content imply that it will only work if virtually every news org does it. Meanwhile, Australian writer Eric Beecher argues that Murdoch’s money-losing newspapers subsidize the power and influence that the rest of his media empire thrives on.

In other paid-content news, the Chicago Reader has an informative profile of the interesting startup Kachingle, which allow users to pay a flat fee to read a number of sites, then designate how much of their money goes where and trumpet to their friends where they’re reading. Also The New Republic put a partial paywall up, and newspaper chain Freedom Communications took its test paywall down.

Reading roundup: I’ve got a pretty large collection of items for you this week, starting with a couple of bits of news and finishing with several interesting pieces to read.

Columbia University announced a new dual-degree master’s program in journalism and computer science. Eliot Van Buskirk of Wired has a deeper look at the program’s plans to produce hacker-journalists who can be pioneers in data visualization and analysis and device-driven design, along with a couple of brutally honest quotes from Columbia faculty about the relative paucity of computing skills among even “tech-savvy journalists.” Just about everybody loved the idea of the program, though journalist/developer Chris Amico cautioned that more than just dual-degree journalists need to be hanging out with the computer scientists.  ”The problem isn’t just a lack of reporters who can code, but a shortage of people in the newsroom who know what’s possible,” he wrote.

Down the road, this may be seen as a turning point: Demand Media, which has been derided lately as a “content farm” will create and run a new travel section for USA Today. As Advertising Age points out, USA Today isn’t the first newspaper to get content from Demand Media — the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gets a travel article a week — but this is collaboration of an entirely new scale.

Now the think pieces: Here at the Lab, former newspaper exec Martin Langeveld updated his year-old post asserting that more than 95 percent of readership of newspaper content is in print rather than online, and while the numbers changed a bit, his general finding did not.

In an interview with Poynter, Newser’s Michael Wolff had some provocative words for news orgs, telling them readers want stories online with less context, not more (as several folks asserted a few weeks ago at SXSW) and saying he would’ve told newspapers way back when not to go on the web at all: “[Online readers'] experiences have changed and their needs have changed, and I just don’t think traditional news companies are in a position to really understand that kind of change or to speak to it or to deliver it.”

At The Atlantic, Lane Wallace wrote that journalists’ (especially veterans’) strongest bias is not political, but is instead an predetermined assumption of a story line that prevents them from seeing the entire picture.

And lastly, two great academically oriented musings on media and society: Memphis j-prof Carrie Brown-Smith wonders if social media furthers our cultural knowledge gap, and University of Southern Denmark professor Thomas Pettitt talks to the Lab’s Megan Garber about the Gutenberg Parenthesis and society’s return to orally based communication with digital media. Both are great food for thought.

March 23 2010

12:33

Post-postal

Imagine an America in which everyone has an internet connection, a device to use it, and a printer.

Ruth Goldway, the chairman of the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission, imagined such a world when the head of the U.K.’s Royal Mail International asked at an industry conference a year ago what Google would do with the Postal Service. Goldway (who hadn’t read my book) replied, “They’d give every household a computer and a printer.” (And I’d add, of course, a broadband connection.)

Goldway was just speculating. As someone who believes in the Postal Service’s universal service obligation, it makes sense that she’d wonder about universal connectivity.

Now — as is my habit — I’ll take it farther — too far — and ask: When we all are connected, do we need a Postal Service? Or what kind of Postal Service do we need? What still needs to be delivered? What are the economics of that delivery — who’s being served and who should pay? Do we still need daily (let alone Saturday) delivery? Do we need to guarantee physical delivery to every address in America? How much could we save? Can the market take over delivery of things while the net takes over delivery of information and communication? What’s the impact on publishing and advertising, on retail, on education?

These are fascinating questions I’ve been tossing back and forth with a new friend, John Callan, a high-level consultant in the delivery industry. He did read my book (and gave Goldway a copy) and came to visit me to talk about the post office in the Google age. Callan, his colleagues, and I are thinking of holding an event to explore these questions and opportunities.

The Postal Service is forecast to lose $7.8 billion in 2010. A USPS presentation here reveals the dynamics: a 17% decline in volume from ‘06-’09; a forecast 37% drop in first class ‘09-’20. With its universal service obligation, the USPS has to deliver to 150 million addresses a day. With its post offices, it has 36,500 retail locations, more than McDonald’s, Starbucks, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart in the U.S. combined — and it’s not allowed to close offices for economic reasons. Its retiree health benefits alone cost $5 billion a year. Dropping Saturday delivery, as has been proposed, would save $3 billion a year — but that doesn’t solve the problem. Federal Times says the USPS is “officially in a panic” (not a bad thing, I’d say) because it could lose $250 billion in a decade.

The US Postal Service as we know it is, in a word, like much of the rest of the economy disrupted (or, if you prefer, doomed). I think it’s time to ask the radical question: Do we need it?

If all of us are connected, we don’t need the USPS to deliver letters; email is precisely the reason that first class mail is already plummeting. We consumers are, in my view, subsidizing the delivery of advertising because 71% of the USPS margin available to cover its costs comes from first class, only 21% from advertising. Yet in 2009, the USPS delivered an equivalent number of ads vs letters and by 2020 it will deliver far more ads (86 billion ads vs. 53 billion letters, according to the USPS projection). Should an ad-delivery service be the province of a government-anointed entity? I don’t think so.

So let’s zero-base the Postal Services’ services: Once more, information and communication can be handled electronically. Commercial delivery should be handled commercially. There will be an increase in parcel delivery as more and more retail moves online; that’s a profitable business the market should take over. Junk mail should pay full freight — if it is still delivered once mobile becomes a better, more targeted, and more efficient delivery mechanism for coupons and such (and if do-not-mail lists threaten to cut their volume). Magazines? Sorry, but I don’t really want to subsidize their businesses — and besides, tablet triumphalists insist we’ll be using iPads before you know it. Do we need six-day-a-week delivery to every one of 150 million addresses in America then? No; delivery of things is made on an as-ordered basis. What about out-of-the-way addresses (see: Sarah Palin)? Maybe that requires some subsidy, but that would be minimal.

What about the post offices? The USPS presentation shows far lower costs if these services were run through partners (e.g., other retailers), online, and self-service machines.

What about delivery of government paperwork? Well, it’s ludicrous that we’re not given the option to fill out the census online. We are shifting our taxes online.

Mind you, I have nothing against mailmen anymore than I have anything against pressmen. It’s just that they work in antiquated industrial structures and we can find not only efficiency but improvement of service thanks to digital — if we are all connected.

That is why I wish the FCC broadband plan went farther faster (as is happening elsewhere in the world), assuring everyone a high-speed connection quickly. This examination of the Postal Service is just one example of the impact universal connectivity would have on the economy. Some of that impact is painful — lost jobs, severance cost, unused real estate, mothballed trucks. But much of that impact is positive — improved service, reduced costs, reduced environmental impact, new opportunities, new entrepreneurship, new innovation. New companies would emerge to take up the opportunities this change presents, creating new jobs and value.

That’s why I was so impressed with Chairman Goldway’s answer to the WWGD? question: Rather than trying to paddle against the flood, she was at least willing to at least wonder about going with the flow.

I’ll ask: What happens if we spend capital not on money-losing, dying institutions (repeat: $250 billion losses over a decade) but on subsidies to get every American connected? If we fully examine the opportunities that presents, it could have a profound impact on policy, budgeting, and many sectors ofsociety. Let’s model that impact on the economy.

So Callan and company and I would like to get together both incumbents and entrepreneurs to imagine the near-future world of delivery after digital ubiquity. I’d like to continue the discussion with other sectors: newspapers and media, obviously, but also education (how would it change if every child were connected and equipped?); retail; real estate (what happens when all that retail leaves its brick-and-mortar stores?); financial services (why the hell are banks still building branches?); government; and on and on. That is what should inform the policy debate over broadband policy: Let’s map out all the opportunities — for entrepreneurial innovation and growth, for savings, for improvements in life, for export value — and let that inform the resources and speed we put into universal broadband.

What do you think?

January 07 2010

20:50

Public Broadcasters Hustle to Fill Infrastructure Gap

In a recent presentation at WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, John Proffitt, who blogs about public media, painted a gloomy picture . In slide after slide, the stats mounted. New gadgets, new social media habits, new channels for distribution and consumption all added up to one conclusion: public TV stations are rapidly losing both value and relevance.

In addition to that, urgent demand for wireless bandwidth -- as demonstrated by the recent woes of AT&T in serving iPhone users -- presents a particular challenge.

"This is a threat to the incumbents that own spectrum and own towers and own all of the infrastructure for creating and distributing television over the air," said Proffitt. "Broadcasters, you can't fight this very well ... when an industry is driving a 5,000 percent growth rate that's driven by consumers, I don't know how you can outlobby it."

Instead, he advised station managers to adopt "a martial arts mindset similar to jujitsu," working with the force of massive change rather than against it.

The Future is Public Service Media from John Proffitt on Vimeo.

But while single stations and independent producers may at times be able to act with such martial agility, the system as a whole can barely make it onto the mat. The problem is an increasingly urgent mismatch between current infrastructure investments, and those needed to keep pace with the volatile digital media ecosystem. While federal dollars are, in large part, mandated to support existing station operations, little money is available for multimedia content creation, innovation in rising areas like mobile apps, or engagement tools for new platforms. There is a critical infrastructure gap.

The stakes are high. As Center for Social Media fellow Ellen Goodman noted in a recent letter submitted to the FCC's docket on a national broadband plan:

The possibilities for transformative investments in education and local journalism
become clear when one considers what public television stations spend in just one day

on broadcast master control. In 2008, daily operation of master control cost the

average small public television station $11,384 and the average large station ...

$72,247. As a point of comparison, the New Haven Independent, a local community

newspaper established to combat diminishing local news coverage, operates for less than $2,000 per day. The award‐winning investigative news site, Voice of San Diego,

operates an eleven person newsroom on a daily budget of less than $4,000. And the

average city hall reporter reportedly makes less than $150 per day.

Broadcasting remains an important transmission technology and, until there is
universal broadband, the only source of universally available electronic media.

However, the broadband future demands a better balance between broadcast

(particularly television) infrastructure investments and investments in public media

content and engagement strategies.

Unless (or until) there's legislative action to reset the funding priorities for public media, organizations are going to have to find ways to fill in this infrastructure -- and innovation -- gap. Here are a few ideas.

Public Broadcasting Infrastructure Projects

Despite limited resources, players within the public broadcasting sector are working on new infrastructure projects that could create common platforms, standards and tools for public media 2.0. These include:

Shared archiving of legacy content: Current reports that a new head will soon be announced for the American Archive project, which will digitize, aggregate and serve up stations' historical video and audio content.

Shared metadata standards: This fall, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting issued an RFP for a program manager to tackle the next phase of the PBCore project, which would standardize and push out protocols for tagging public media content. Establishing such data standards is crucial not only for cataloging and storing media, but for breaking it down into modular pieces that can be easily searched and reaggregated across various screens.

Common distribution tools: Both the NPR API and the PBS COVE Player project provide new pipelines for distributing, sharing and embedding public broadcasting content.

While such projects may not seem like "infrastructure"-- they lack the physicality of wires, transmitters and routers -- they play the same role as previous system investments: establishing connections between local and national programmers in order to more efficiently provide relevant content to publics. What's more, they are crucial pieces in the puzzle of how to create a system-wide portal for public media content, a prospect being discussed by public broadcasting entities.

But Who Will Own the Tubes?

These and related new-era infrastructure projects assume that the future of public media is multiplatform broadband distribution. This raises at least two clear issues: new dollars will be needed to support data storage and transfer costs, and hard questions will need to be asked and answered about how end-users will get access to public media content.

Many hope the FCC's National Broadband Plan will provide at least part of the answer, by underwriting the build-out of a national system that will provide free or subsidized access to the web for members of the public. This would be a boon not only to public broadcasters, but to struggling community media projects and commercial news providers working to find viable online business models.

Another model might be for public broadcasters to buy into their own high-speed, nonprofit network, leapfrogging over current slow transmission speeds. The concept of such a "public interest Internet" is laid out in a whitepaper by the National Public Lightpath project, which provides a compelling vision of a national data autobahn linking schools, government and public broadcasters. With speeds up to 8,000 times faster than the broadband available to consumers, this network would facilitate collaborative production, real-time communication between students and experts, educational gaming, and more.

But while the NPL project could help to underwrite dedicated connections to schools, community centers, and other access points, it wouldn't cover the costs of serving up public media to end users who are on the move or at home. For now, both stations and national public broadcast organizations are stuck negotiating with commercial broadband providers to serve up content, and the public is left paying whatever rates the market will bear for access speeds that fall well below those in other developed countries.

And What About Infrastructure for Engagement?

What's more, many current public broadcasting infrastructure projects are still focused on the old business of moving content around. In order to match the needs of 21st-century users, parallel investment needs to be made in creating vibrant and appealing contexts for public participation -- either through partnerships with existing social media platforms, or the open source development of customized tools and interfaces. Both are already underway in experimental forms at stations and national public media sites, but no clear standards have emerged.

In his presentation, Proffitt described the "new scarcities" emerging in the digital media ecosystem, including trust, the need for community, and user time and attention. He made a distinction between the old, broadcast-driven public broadcasting model, and user-centric, issue-driven "public service media." He lauded projects like the Public Insight Network as inspirational models for more networked public media, but emphasized that new skills, along with new tools, will be needed:

"Building and managing communities really is going to be the new 21st-century skill ... Learning how to convene people, how to host and participate in those communities, how to engage people and get them to engage with the community, how to interact with people -- [these] are incredibly powerful things from a social perspective that we need to understand if we're going to become public service media people."

Calling all FIrst-Class Operators

bole.jpg

For station leaders, navigating this new terrain requires multiple, jarring swerves: not just learning new technologies and skills, but maintaining existing, still-valuable operations while making strategic decisions about which new platforms to invest in.

On his personal blog, Rob Bole, CPB's vice president of digital media strategies, laments the failure to recognize "first-class operators" in public broadcasting. Such leaders, he explains, are just as focused on keeping their outlets functioning efficiently and sustainably as they are on retooling for every new platform that comes along. While innovation is important, he suggests, digital visionaries have their eye on a different ball than station execs:

The risk equation for a Ken Ikeda at Bay Area Video Coalition or Avner Rosen at Boxee looks very different than the one held by a CEO at a public media station. At the moment if BAVC or Boxee craters it would be a shame, but the impact would be limited. If KQED [SF] or WNET [NYC] disappeared there are far deeper consequences beyond the immediate loss of jobs and programming. We are talking the potential loss of spectrum, the livelihoods of hordes of independent producers and, while depreciated, a couple of hundred of millions of dollars of assets.

Instead of rushing headlong into the future, Bole called for "a bit of guts" to take new risks, a bit of "new blood" among managers, and "a bit of sense" among funders, allowing them to develop measured, strategic responses to change.

In other words, jujitsu may just be a bit too dramatic -- perhaps some Tai Chi is in order.

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media project at American University's Center for Social Media. There, she conducts and commissions research on media for public knowledge and action, and organizes related events like the Beyond Broadcast conference. She is also the co-author of a forthcoming book, "Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media," due out from the New Press in February.

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December 22 2009

15:44

Literacy, mobile use highlight Pew “Latinos Online” study

One of the most interesting aspects of Facebook’s recent demographic study was the finding that Latinos were joining the service in considerable numbers. There wasn’t much analysis around this point — which was a shame — but a just-released report from the Pew Hispanic Center picks up a lot of the slack. “Latinos Online, 2006-2008: Narrowing the Gap” looks at how Internet use among Latinos changed between 2006 and 2008. The full report is available here. It’s a quick and recommended read for any news organization — English- or Spanish-language — interested in understanding its Latino readers. Here’s a couple findings that caught my attention as I dug into the study.

English literacy = more Internet use — Most Internet content is in English; some say 80 percent, others say less. Whatever the number, there appears to be a direct connection between knowledge of English and Internet use. The usage gap between Latinos who are fluent English speakers and those who can’t speak English at all is a whopping 57 percentage points. Spanish fluency doesn’t appear to affect Internet use among those surveyed.

Growth among less educated and lower earners — Internet use was generally flat between 2006 and 2008 for Latinos with at least a high school degree and those who make more than $30,000 annually. The big changes came from groups below these thresholds. In 2006, 31 percent of Latinos without a high school degree went online. That increased to 41 percent in 2008. Similarly, 39 percent of Latinos who make less than $30,000 per year went online in ‘06, and that increased to 56 percent in ‘08.

The role of mobile Internet access — A Pew study from April ‘09 found that English-speaking Latinos are the “heaviest users of wireless onramps to the Internet.” That finding appears to dovetail with this latest report, which notes that at-home Internet use among Latinos only increased slightly, from 79% in 2006 to 81% in 2008 — lower than numbers for blacks and whites. The report suggests heavier Internet usage from cell phones as a likely explanation for the gap.

Increasing broadband usage — While a lot of political attention is directed at increasing broadband access, the Pew study finds Latinos (and others) are signing up on their own. Latinos with broadband at home increased from 63 percent in 2006 to 76 percent in 2008. Blacks went from 63 percent in ‘06 to 82 percent in ‘08. And whites grew from 65 percent to 82 percent. It’ll be interesting to see if the current broadband push influences the adoption pattern in years to come.

November 26 2009

13:29

Dear Mandy … An Open Letter to Peter Mandelson from Dan Bull

Dan Bull is clearly a star in the making…

An open letter to Peter Mandelson regarding the newly announced Digital Economy Bill.

And an interesting use of video, whatever your view.

If you disapprove of the Bill, sign the petition at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/dont

Write your own message to Lord Mandelson at http://threestrikes.openrightsgroup.org/

Dan Bull’s home page: http://www.myspace.com/danbull

Follow Dan on Twitter @itsDanBull – share the message with the #dearmandy tag.

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