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August 02 2012

17:00

You can thank Ralph Lauren for free access to The New York Times’ iPad app (well, some of it)

Good news for Olympics fans and New York Times readers: Much of the Times’ iPad app will be free to access for almost two weeks. For the second year in a row, Ralph Lauren is doing an ad takeover of the app. Just like last time, the free access it provides will be to some of the sections you might imagine the makers of Polo to be interested in: Sports, Fashion, Travel, Home & Garden, and T Magazine. The sponsorship is tied to the Olympics and will feature ads with U.S. Olympians, which will partner well with the Times’ special Olympics section. (Sorry, readers of in-depth national, international, or political news — that’ll still cost you.)

Along with some extra revenue, the deal gives the Times a new way to let readers sample their wares in the hopes of upselling them to a digital subscription. On the web, that sampling takes the form of the 10 free articles readers are allowed each month; in the Times’ iPhone and iPad apps, readers only get to sample an editor-selected group of top stories, with the rest locked behind the paywall. For iPad users, the Ralph Lauren deal gives them a new taste of some of the softer sections they might find appealing.

“It’s an opportunity for us to open up additional sections of content for people who have the app,” said Todd Haskell, group advertising director for the Times. According to a spokeswoman, the Times iPad app, which ranks in the top 5 free iPad apps for news, has seen more than 5 million downloads. The Times’ digital subscribers total only about one-tenth of that number, and many of those don’t have access to the iPad app, which costs more. That suggests there are plenty of people left to upsell.

The trade off for free access, in this case, is a selection of Ralph Lauren ads seeded throughout the app, on section fronts, in between article pages, and whenever the app is opened. But the ads in this case will be more sophisticated than a static image: The package includes video, features on Olympic athletes, and an e-commerce option should you find yourself interested in a $145 Team USA polo (er, Polo).

“When someone is in engaged in our Olympic content, they’ll be able to see our slideshow of the opening ceremonies and go into the Ralph Lauren environment in the app and purchase some of the apparel worn by athletes in the opening ceremonies,” Haskell said. “I think that’s a great advertising experience, I think that’s a great reading experience.”

Haskell said the results of the first ad sponsorship with Ralph Lauren last fall received good feedback from readers. “What we have seen is ads that do have immersive content, whether it’s a gaming element or additional slideshows or videos, they perform very well,” he said.

What the Times wants people to do is get to know the iPad app a little better by spending lots of time with it. The feature-y content in many of the newly free sections fits in well with the iPad’s lean-back environment. And by tying in the Olympics, the Times can also try to get in on some second-screen action as people watch events taking place in London.

The Times produces a lot of work on a daily basis and that leaves lots of entry points for new readers. Haskell said part of the idea behind the promotion is to expose people to parts of the Times they may be less familiar with. “When someone has the opportunity to read more, it emphasizes the fact we produce an enormous amount of content they may be interested in and might be worth their while to access all the time,” he said.

April 23 2012

15:41

August 01 2011

15:00

The Atlantic unifies its brand and diversifies its subscription strategy in its newly relaunched iPad app

When you’re The Atlantic, it takes a tricky bit of magic to cram everything you are into an app. You’re a magazine with a rich history, and a multifaceted web destination touching on policy, art and technology — and, oh, and you’re also a minute-to-minute feed of the day’s news. It’s a bit schizophrenic, but necessarily so, because The Atlantic, like so many media outlets today, has realized that it has an ability to be many things to many people.

And now all of that changes, if only slightly, in the updated Atlantic iPad app, which now encompasses the magazine, theatlantic.com, and The Atlantic Wire, all in one tidy package. The previous app, which was little more than a digital version of the magazine, is being replaced with a streamlined, unified look, where the breaking dispatches from the Wire, the breadth of voices from the website, and the depth of reporting in the magazine are all just, The Atlantic. And it’s free.

This isn’t the simple act of a branding agent’s dream; it’s an attempt to reconcile, and reintroduce, what The Atlantic is to its many audiences. The publication is aided in this by a new subscription strategy that bundles the app with the magazine while also allowing digital-only access to The Atlantic’s online product. Basically it’ll break down to three tiers: Nonpaying users, who’ll get all the web stories plus access to one magazine story a month; print subscribers (who are currently paying $24.50) with the app bundled in; and the digital-only subscription through the app, which gets you all the magazine content on The Atlantic’s site for $21.99 a year. (In our tradition of naming digital deals after columnists, can we call it the Alexis Madrigal discount?)

“We have a philosophy here where we like our readers to pay once and have access across multiple platforms,” said M. Scott Havens, vice president of digital strategy and operations for The Atlantic Media Company.

It’s a pretty good time to be The Atlantic. Circulation for the magazine was over 480,000 in 2010, an Atlantic communications staffer told me, and online traffic hit a record in May at 10 million uniques across theatlantic.com and theatlanticwire.com. Just last week, the company announced a 42-percent increase in digital advertising revenue from last year. All indications are good for The Atlantic, which is why, Havens told me, it wanted to push ahead with re-inventing the app. As he indicated in our interview about The Atlantic partnering with Pulse, one thing he and his staff are curious about is how people are consuming magazines and stories on tablets. The iPad app is a continuation of that, but folding in the many parts of The Atlantic empire. It’s a realization, he said, that the publication needs to take all the work it’s doing and put it in front of readers, no matter how they read it. “Look,” he said, “if people want to read The Atlantic on the iPad and don’t want print anymore — they don’t want the clutter, it’s for environment reasons, whatever the rationale — we need to be there.”

The app is a break from the compartmentalized strategy The Atlantic has relied on for its growing properties, where The Atlantic Wire has come to focus on breaking news and analysis, and the website — and, by extension, the magazine — is a collection of personalities and reporting. One of the few carry-overs from the website is the use of “channels” for navigation through the app, from politics and business to technology, entertainment, and more. The only branding that follows from other parts of The Atlantic universe gets prominent placement on the app’s homepage, Alan Taylor’s In Focus feature and a dedicated slot for magazine pieces. Everything else gets divvied up into channels, with In Focus effectively becoming its own channel, its photos blown out to take advantage of the iPad’s screen size.

Another interesting addition is the inclusion of Disqus comments, which will be synced from stories between the sites and the app. Which means that the next time I get into a nerd fight on a Ta-Nehisi Coates post, I can follow it from one screen to another.

The idea of putting everything back under one roof (or app, in this case), is interesting because it breaks with two assumptions: not only about how content is sorted online, but also the conventional wisdom that says seasonal and topical material should be spun into its own franchise. Think entertainment/nightlife, fashion or food apps, or even The Atlantic Wire’s app, which launched a few years ago. Bob Cohn, editorial director of Atlantic Digital, said that he and his staff wanted the focus to be on what they produce as one complete package.

“We thought the most useful thing we could do for readers is take all our sprawling content and create a unified app and put all The Atlantic content in one app,” Cohn said. From their own research, they know there is only minimal overlap in the audiences between the magazine, theatlantic.com and The Atlantic Wire. Which on its face looks like a big opportunity to literally upsell to people already familiar with your work: They’ll sell single issues for $4.99 within the app. So instead of trying to coax readers from one medium to another, the hope is to capture them all in one place.

What they’re shooting for is something of what you could call a “porridge zone,” something that fits just right for all the readers (as long as they have an iPad, of course). Cohn knows readers come to The Atlantic with different needs, as much for long-form stories as for quick hits and blog posts. “People love their iPads and want to experience journalism through the iPad,” he said. “If that’s the way they want it, we’re going to make it as seamless and wonderful as we can.”

July 28 2011

16:30

Why The Atlantic joined up with Pulse — and what the app’s usage stats can tell data-hungry publishers

Let’s face some facts: Media companies aren’t entirely sure what to do with the new crop of news reading apps that are springing up at the moment. Technology like Flipboard, Zite, or Pulse could either be a thief, a new revenue stream, or an inexpensive test bed for finding new ways to get your content in front of people. For the moment, these deals, if they are drawn up between a publisher and an app maker, typically get thrown into the category of “partnerships,” like the kind of reading app Pulse has been brokering with media companies like CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Time, and MSNBC.

Just last week Pulse struck a new partnership agreement, adding The Atlantic, The Atlantic Wire, and The National Journal to its list of featured content providers. So far, the deals between Pulse and news organizations haven’t been monetary; if anything, they’re more exploratory in nature, determining whether a third party can deliver substantial traffic to news sites (and eyes to their ads). But it can also be instructive on how audiences’ appetites for reading has changed, and give us an idea why places like The Atlantic want in with Pulse.

M. Scott Havens, vice president of digital strategy and operations for The Atlantic, told me the new wave of display apps are offering experiments in how the reading experience has changed, which is of no small interest to publishers. “Hopefully people will find us, discover us on Pulse, and might actually become a subscriber to our brands,” Havens said. The Atlantic can reach new audiences while also studying how users read, Havens said.

Essentially it’s a win-win for the moment: “Since we don’t spend money on advertising and let the editorial be our branding arm, we’d like to get out to these applications where other readers are, who aren’t familiar with our brand,” he said.

This all works perfectly for Pulse, says Akshay Kothari, the company’s CEO, because their broad goal at the moment is gathering more content to spotlight within the app and developing fruitful relationships with publishers. One of the critical bits of information Pulse holds is data on usage patterns for readers within the app, both on the iPad and iPhone.

Though Kothari would not offer up specific data, he told me one clear trend is the difference in the reading patterns on the iPhone vs. the iPad. On any given week, Pulse users on smartphones open the app twice as often as people on the tablet version. But all told, tablet users spend more time on Pulse, and their sessions are twice as long as those of iPhone users. What’s also interesting is that in some cases one platform feeds into another: “If you look at usage patterns, [users] will come in small bursts to look at news, and if they like it — long-form articles or something from The Economist — they’ll save them and read them on other devices,” he said.

So in a typical day a Pulse reader may drop in more than 3 times to check the news, but only spend 5-10 minutes scanning, Kothari said. From what they’re seeing, a good chunk of Pulse’s audience falls somewhere into this category of heavy-ish users who subscribe to multiple sources, as opposed to those who scan stories and headlines on Pulse with less frequency.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Pulse tracks with patterns we’ve been seeing emerge in the ways people read on new devices. In terms of the iPad, Pulse seems to mirror similar evidence we’ve seen suggesting that people look for a comfy spot to do serious reading on their tablets. “The consumption pattern on the tablet is slightly different, spending longer time,” Kothari said. “The use-case is kind of like sitting in home, maybe lounging with the iPad and consuming lots of time and news stories.”

Another trend they saw was an increase in delayed reading. Not long after launching, it became clear readers were using Pulse to dip into and out of the day’s news and emailing stories to themselves. “We realized that a good majority of people want something to save (stories) and go back to it later, simple functionality to save from Pulse and synch with other devices,” he said. (They’ve since added Instapaper and Read It Later buttons.)

Pulse uses all this information in refining its product, adding features when necessary and responding to feedback from users. But it’s clear that this is also intel that could be of interest to news organizations trying to reconcile their digital media plans with those of third-party app companies. As part of the partnership, news organizations will get their hands on data from Pulse on how many users subscribe to their content, as well as social sharing stats and click-through rates, Kothari said.

Pulse can be an app for news discovery as much as presentation, meaning it can be a gateway for introducing people to news sources they would otherwise not know. Which is one of the reasons they’re eager to buddy-up with media companies like The Atlantic, Kothari said. One of the things they learned early was that there’s no predicting what readers will find interesting. Of all the pre-loaded news sources they had at launch, which included RSS feeds from mainstream organizations, one that was apparently most interesting to readers was from Cool Hunting, the design and culture blog. One of Pulse’s goals going forward, Kothari said, is to create an opportunity for a “Cool Hunting moment” for more publishers.

“We’re very, very excited to work on this,” he said. “The team assembled are all great developers and designers, but also people who want to see great journalism survive.”

July 05 2011

18:06

Golf Digest Adds Interaction, Depth, E-Commerce to iPad App

It seemed like the first-delivered iPad was hardly unsheathed from its box before News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, apparently unfazed by a rich past of misguided forays into Internet ventures, announced the launch of The Daily, which was immediately labeled the first tablet-only newspaper.

And it was mere weeks -- if not days -- after its debut when media critics began declaring it a failure, often pointing to a sense of wandering malleability as The Daily's staff grappled with the dilemma of where a news app fits in a world of near-instantaneous news. Gawker readers guffawed at a leaked memo from editor in chief Jesse Angelo instructing his staff that they were to find, among other things, the "oldest dog in America, or the richest man in South Dakota." Hilarious comments like these reveal an oft-repeated lack of vision that nearly always plagues the first pioneers of a new medium.

In its early days, the radio industry remained a meandering platform thought to be utterly useless to advertisers and entertainers until Albert Lasker, considered by many the founder of modern advertising, discovered comedic actors like Bob Hope and used them to promote Palmolive soap, Pepsodent toothpaste, and Lucky Strike cigarettes to millions of listeners. With mobile and tablet apps, content producers must weigh their offerings in print and on the web and determine what more, if anything, they have to furnish on an app.

Despite such still-lingering questions, Conde Nast has thrown its hat into the ring, launching iPad apps for several magazine titles. It led with an app for the venerable New Yorker and a much-touted, widely praised one for Wired, and it began expanding into the app sphere even more when Apple launched magazine subscriptions on its tablet device.

golfdigestbutton.jpg

Though it's still too early to be considered a "veteran" of the mobile app, Golf Digest wasn't exactly a novice to the medium when it joined its sister publications with a new subscription offering. It had already been publishing a mobile phone app and, earlier this year, had spun off one of the magazine's annual features -- the Hot List -- into its own iPad app. The monthly iPad magazine subscription, Conde Nast announced, would be $1.99 per issue or $19.99 per year.

So how did Golf Digest determine what kind of content would be ideal for not only driving its print and web readers to the app, but new users as well?

The rule is to read the reader

Bob Carney, the magazine's brand editor, is someone who grappled with this question in the months leading up to the subscription's launch.

"For Golf Digest, I think at the very beginning we thought we'd add every kind of bell and whistle we can," he told me in a phone interview. "And we found out that not only is that costly, but really for someone coming to Golf Digest, what they want is more of what they get in the magazine. So for the magazine, instruction and service information about the equipment are the most important things, and the iPad app ought to take that and extend it, not go somewhere else."

Case in point: the publication's swing sequences. Flip through any issue and you're apt to come across them -- the arc of a golfer's swing spread out across several images. The digital editor's natural inclination is to dispel of the still images completely and upgrade to video, perhaps even making it embeddable for wider distribution. Carney and his team, when making the iPad app, opted for an even more granular level. Taking advantage of the tablet's high-resolution screen and interactive features, they designed the swing sequences so the user can control every facet of the swing, jumping forward and back, pausing at the moment of impact. By handing over this control to the user, Carney said, it allows him to learn at his own pace.

This isn't to say video doesn't have its place within the iPad. Sometimes, the magazine will take a swing sequence by, say, Adam Scott, whose swing Carney characterized as "beautiful," and then shoot video of other golfers offering audio commentary, analyzing the minute details of Scott's technique in a way that sheds light on the methodology of a truly superior golfer.

"What we learned is to not try to reinvent the wheel," Carney said. "You try to take what you have and move it to the next level so that the user gets more information and control and you're using all the audio, video, and other tools available. The web is nice, but the web is usually 'lean forward,' where somebody says, 'You should see the Adam Scott swing sequence,' and you have two minutes before your next call and you look at it and you think it's cool and a great swing and now you're back to work. When you're playing on the iPad and you have the time to listen to those guys and move that swing back and forth, it's a different experience, and it's very cool."

Like the web, an iPad app is devoid of the distribution costs that hinder print, allowing the editorial team to vastly expand on something that might take up only a few pages in the print magazine. But of course most of the stuff that ends up in the app must be directly correlated with that month's print issue, necessitating constant overlap between the print and digital teams as the magazine is put together. Carney estimated that it takes three weeks to compile the print issue and three weeks for the app, with a two-week overlap in between. "We have a wall where every page is put out, and I noticed recently they have a layout of the July issue for every iPad screen as well."

hotlistappss.jpg

Expanding the Hot List

Like other publications, Golf Digest is experimenting with rolling out individual apps and products centered around its annual lists. Its Hot List, a yearly ranking of the best golf equipment, was spun off into an iPad app before the magazine itself was even offered on the device.

Craig Bestrom, the magazine's editorial development director, told me in a phone interview that the app allowed his team to expand the list beyond the realms previously employed in the print product.

"The equipment portion of the magazine that was devoted to the Hot List was probably 60 pages," he said. "And this app had close to a thousand screens. That's probably the greatest comparison that you can make, that suddenly we're able to devote a lot more photographs and information. This is a far more comprehensive guide compared to what you get in the magazine. It's not only drivers, but all the new sets of irons, all the new wedges, all the new putters. It's all the club gear for 2011."

In the print version of the Hot List, for instance, the magazine featured about 14 drivers, and each driver was assigned a quarter of a page. But with the iPad app, Bestrom said, you get "multiple images of the driver, you get the sound the driver makes at impact, you have the ability to share on Facebook or on Twitter to your friends about a particular club or clubs that you liked and why you liked them."

The opportunity for e-commerce

The app allows for an e-commerce opportunity as well, enabling its designers to offer the clubs featured in the list up for sale with a simple click. Through a program called Golf Digest Rewards, a user is able to sort through the best prices for a club and purchase it via the app. Bestrom didn't have ready sales figures for me, but the e-commerce component indicated an opportunity for a diversification of revenue that may be necessary as print advertising revenues decline.

Ultimately, it seems the iPad app fits in between the stodgy formality of a print product and the open flexibility of the web. For Carney, it's the removal from the immediacy of the Internet that allows the magazine to flourish within this new medium.

"It works much more like a magazine, in that you really have to make it an experience in itself," he said.

And according to a recent survey, the consumers most coveted by high-end advertisers may agree. As Business Insider's Noah Davis put it, "The average user is roughly $60,000 richer and eight years younger than the typical Golf Digest reader, with an annual household income of $279,600."

Perhaps Golf Digest, the magazine for a sport thought to be played mainly by the affluent, is the perfect publication for a device often associated with that same demographic.

Simon Owens is the director of PR at JESS3, a design agency in Washington, D.C. You can read his blog or follow him on Twitter

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16:00

Condé Nast’s Scott Dadich on reinventing mags for the iPad and why partnering with Apple matters

As the man tasked with giving new life to magazines on new platforms for Condé Nast, Scott Dadich says there are some things, old-school things, that don’t change whether you’re dealing with print or tablets.

“The cover. As magazine makers, we see the cover as the one and only ad we have for your purchase and your time,” said Dadich, Condé’s vice president of digital magazine development. “It’s an inducement to pick it up and give us your time.”

The magazine cover may be ascendant once again thanks in part to the debut of Apple’s Newsstand for iPad and iPhone. Combined with Apple’s subscription policy, the Newsstand could potentially be the bridge to the wider adoption of magazines on the iPad that publishers have been hoping for.

“To have a dedicated container on a tablet device, the iPad, where covers are the primary means of purchase and browsing is something we’ve been looking for for a long time,” Dadich told me.

But the future still remains imperfect for publishers, some reluctant to give Apple its 30-percent cut, others wanting to get their hands on precious customer data without interference from Apple. Condé Nast is already onboard with Apple, though, with more than 30 apps and almost 10 magazine editions on the iPad and digital subscriptions available for the big titles. Dadich is a true believer in tablets: He lead the team responsible for Wired’s first iPad app. Still, he hedges that idealism with heavy doses of pragmatism. In an interview that covered everything from publishers’ relationship with Apple to developing a new design guide for the tablet, Dadich outlined a future that will find magazines thriving again.

“It’s not that far-fetched to imagine 20 to 25 percent of magazines’ readership existing in a digital platform three to four years from now,” he said.

Apple: “They have the marketplace, they built the store”

Partnering with Apple is a necessary element of experimentation right now, Dadich said. Instead of getting hung up on debates over divvying up revenue and ownership of data, companies could be spending that time trying to reinvent themselves. Besides, as Dadich sees it, media companies have always had to make friends in order to deliver their products on time. Apple’s just the next step in that.

“Look, they have the marketplace, they built the store, they have the credit cards and the eyeballs,” Dadich said. “We definitely want to be in front of those folks.”

Apple, he said, offers a new kind of delivery and distribution chain, one that could eventually cost publishers less than the analog model of printing press/delivery truck/mail box/newsstand. And the benefits extend to consumers, he pointed out: With Newsstand, in the same way you can be confident that your copy of GQ will arrive in the mail the second Monday of the month, iPad editions deliver content on time, every time. Instead of having to rush to download the latest New Yorker before a flight, it’ll just be there.

The “Design Fidelity Spectrum” for news apps

The idea of a world where everyone’s favorite magazines are delivered seamlessly is great, but not a reality yet. Tablet adoption remains far from universal, and converting readers, even the faithful ones, can be a complicated dance. Or, maybe, a game of whack-a-mole. Even with lower pricing on digital editions, a better subscription system in place, and improvements to file size and downloading (Dadich told me Condé’s digital editions now have a progressive download, which allows subscribers to read part of an issue as the rest downloads), there’s still a raft of readers not using the iPad. “One hundred and ninety million people read magazines in this country,” while “there’s 25 to 30 million iPads out there,” Dadich said. The goal is convincing people “that these magazines they love are just as good or better under a piece of glass.”

Which is where the design element comes in. As we already know, taking one form of media (newspapers and magazines) and trying to graft it wholesale onto another (the Internet, mobile devices, tablets) doesn’t generally work. But even within magazines, there’s no one right answer. While Dadich and the team at Wired were lauded for their success with launching Wired’s app, the same principles wouldn’t apply to, let’s say, The New Yorker. Different publications, different design needs.

For a company like Condé Nast, differentiating its titles on tablets is as much about the brand as it is about the reader — which is why Dadich relies on something he calls the “design fidelity spectrum,” a concept that slides from rigid faithfulness to the original product on one end to a completely new and unique look on the other. Most newspaper and magazine websites, and to an extent mobile apps, have little in common with their print counterparts. Conversely, The New Yorker and GQ, even with the addition of audio, video, and animation, still track fairly closely to their origins. Finding the right spot for your title, and determining how it meets up with your readers’ needs, is the big question, Dadich said.

“To say we have the answers would be lying. We don’t,” he said. “Apps like Flipboard and Zite, the feed-based apps, allow users to shape the news and reading they do. But I feel like, and numbers confirm, there is a place for editors still.”

Attacking on multiple fronts

Because media apps now compete not only with each other, but also with aggregation, reading, or social news apps, Dadich said it’s become more important to experiment with the way you package your content. While the iPad offers the opportunity for magazines to recreate an immersive, intimate reading experience, the iPhone can offer a different scale of opportunities, he said. “The completeness of an entire issue isn’t the attraction on the phone, but the service-oriented content is,” he said.


Gourmet Live, the departed magazine reinvented in app form, is one example, placing an emphasis on recipes and curated meal ideas. Dadich said he could easily see similar spinoff apps, things like a branded New Yorker listings app, which would take all the front-of-the-book material on goings-on around town and repackage it. Dadich’s strategy is one that calls for an attack on multiple fronts, a reinvention (and reclamation) of what it means to read a magazine. “Ultimately, a subscription to a magazine is about the relationship you have with it,” Dadich said. “If we can transform that into something that lives with you in your pocket all the time, we’re going to try that.”

Image by John Federico used under a Creative Commons license.

May 27 2011

14:30

This Week in Review: Confounding censors with Twitter, and space for big and small media on the iPad

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

Censorship, the law, and Twitter: If we hadn’t already learned how social media are opening the traditional media’s gatekeeping role to the masses, we got a pretty good object lesson this week in Britain. Here’s what happened: To keep the British tabloids from digging into an alleged affair with a reality TV star, Manchester United soccer star Ryan Giggs took out a British court provision called a super-injunction that prohibits media from identifying him and reporting on both the story and the very fact that a super-injunction exists.

But the super-injunction was no match for Facebook, Twitter, and soccer forums, where thousands of people talked about Giggs and the affair in spite of (and because of) the order. Since then, a Scottish newspaper and a member of Parliament have both named Giggs, rendering the super-injunction essentially ineffective and causing quite a bit of handwringing over whether gag orders are a lost cause in the Twitter age, and whether or not that’s a good thing.

Giggs sued Twitter for the breach, and some members of Parliament started looking for ways to control the site. Prime Minister David Cameron said Twitter made Britain’s injunctions “unfair” and “unsustainable” for traditional media and urged Parliament to change them. Some people, including World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee and the Guardian’s Richard Hillgrove, said the problem lies with Twitter, not the law, with Hillgrove (rather absurdly) suggesting a delay mechanism to monitor posts before they go up: “Twitter and Facebook are not blank sheets of paper. They are media publishers like any other.”

Others faulted the law instead: At the Guardian, Dan Gillmor said it allows the wealthy to play by different rules, and the Telegraph’s Harry Mount said that thanks to the web, “a form of people power has been effectively absorbed into that new body of privacy law.” The Vancouver Sun’s Mario Canseco documented the failure of gag orders in the Internet age in Canada, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM advised courts and governments to quit trying to enforce antiquated laws, saying they “may not like the implications of a totally distributed real-time information network, but they are going to have to start living with it sooner rather than later.”

Then, of course, there’s the question of whether the anonymous online super-injunction violators have any legal repercussions to worry about. As the New York Times noted, Twitter has been resistant to turning over its users’ identities in the past, though a Twitter official said this week it will hand over user info to the authorities if it’s legally required to. But even with Twitter’s compliance, there would still be hurdles to clear in identifying users, the Telegraph explained.

iPad channels for big and small media: Several big-media publications neared or hit iPad milestones this week: On stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, The Daily’s Greg Clayman said it’s nearing a million downloads since it was launched in January. Clayman wouldn’t say how many paid subscribers the News Corp. iPad-only publication has (a far more interesting figure in determining The Daily’s viability), but Adweek’s Lucia Moses said The Daily will announce its number of paid downloads — it only started charging in March — once it hits a “target level.”

Meanwhile, Wired and GQ were made available for in-app subscriptions through Apple App Store this week, after their owner, Condé Nast, became one of the first major publishers to strike a deal with Apple for in-app subscriptions earlier this month. Another major publication, Playboy, launched an iPad subscription outside the App Store, because it obviously has some difficulty complying with Apple’s “no nudity” policy.

Playboy’s app is essentially an iPad-optimized website, which might seem like a tempting option for publishers who don’t want to deal with Apple’s restrictions, but as Mashable and GigaOM explained, Playboy might be uniquely positioned to pull this off where others can’t. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram looked at those cases and weighed the pluses and minuses for publishers of getting into bed with Apple.

Of course, big publishers aren’t the only ones getting into the iPad game: At paidContent, Ashley Norris, CEO of a small publishing company that just released an iPad app, argued that indie publishers could play a key role in developing the tablet magazine. Flipboard is a pretty ideal model for those publishers: It’s valued at $200 million, and SiliconAngle’s Tom Foremski said it exemplifies the current en vogue tech-bubble business plan: “find free content and organize it into a useful interface.” That niche might not play as big of a part in the iPad market as we think, though: As Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman noted via ReadWriteWeb, news apps make up only 3% of all the apps in the App Store.

Driving more traffic from Facebook: Facebook has been working hard lately to cozy up to news organizations, and this week it provided some statistics that may have some of those organizations looking more closely at integrating Facebook into their sites. According to stats Search Engine Land got from Facebook (so grain of salt, etc.), the average media site integrated with Facebook has gotten a 300% jump in Facebook referral traffic, and ABC News, the Washington Post, and the Huffington Post have all reportedly doubled their traffic from Facebook since adding social plugins. Meanwhile, Fortune’s Peter Lauria talked to Facebook’s Vadim Lavrusik about the possibility of news orgs charging on Facebook using Facebook credits, like some Facebook games do now.

As it’s been known to do, Facebook played a big role in the aftermath of another natural disaster this week when a tornado hit Joplin, Missouri. The local newspaper, the Joplin Globe, told Poynter about how they set up a Facebook page to help people find family and friends in the tornado’s wake, and KOMU’s Jen Lee Reeves wrote about her station’s Facebook efforts at PBS MediaShift.

Elsewhere in social media and news, the New York Times experimented this week with a human-powered Twitter feed, as opposed to its usual mostly automatically driven style. The Times’ Liz Heron (and a couple of other newspaper social media editors) talked to Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman about their Twitter strategies, and Jessica Roy of 10,000 Words looked at how the experiment changed the Times’ Twitter feed. Heron also revealed the Times’ informal social media guidelines at the BBC’s Social Media Summit: “Use common sense and don’t be stupid.”

Reading roundup: Not a lot of big future-of-news stories this week, a several smaller things worth keeping an eye on:

— Google notified publishers late last week that it’s abandoning its project to scan and archive hundreds of years of old newspapers. The Atlantic’s Adam Clark Estes lamented the decision, and Paul Balcerak urged newspapers to pick up where Google left off.

— This week’s AOL/Huffington Post bits and pieces: Huffington Post Canada has been launched, AOL’s Daily Finance has been made over, and some HuffPo staff are reportedly leaving because they’re upset with how the AOL/HuffPo marriage has gone so far. Meanwhile, even though AOL’s content is free, CEO Tim Armstrong expressed his general belief in paid content online.

— Ben Huh of the Cheezburger network of comedy sites announced he’s working on what he’s calling the Moby Dick Project — an effort to reform the way news is presented and consumed online. ReadWriteWeb gave more details of the type of software he’s developing.

— A couple of addenda to last week’s linking discussion: Former Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Fry wrote about solving the workflow issue at newspapers, and at the Guardian, Dan Gillmor called out lazy linking — linking to a summary, rather than the original piece — in online aggregation.

— CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis made a case for news as conversation and the value of comments, and at 10,000 Words, Alex Schmidt wrote about the way poisonous online comments can affect reporters.

— Finally, Canadian media consultant Ken Goldstein issued a paper looking at decline circulation of newspapers in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. He included a possibly remarkably prescient 1964 quotation by media theorist Marshall McLuhan: “The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.”

January 06 2011

19:00

Dallas Morning News publisher on paywall plans: “This is a big risk”

In talking about the Dallas Morning News’ plans to begin charging for digital content next month, Jim Moroney is surprisingly candid about the decision and the economics of the industry. When the publisher of the News told his staff about the decision, he said they must be prepared to be ridiculed and vilified for putting their content behind a paywall.

“This is a big risk — I’m not confident we’re going to succeed,” Moroney told me. “But we’ve got to try something. We’ve got to try different things.”

Beginning February 15, the News will beginning charging for a majority of its content across its soon-to-be-redesigned website, its iPhone app, and a forthcoming iPad app. Print subscribers will get full access to everything for $33.95 a month, while those who eschew the paper can buy a subscription to the website and apps for $16.95. What’s unclear at the moment is how exactly the digital subscription will work given that Apple’s app store doesn’t allow for subscriptions (at least not yet, but that could be changing soon).

The move is not entirely a surprise given that other large metro papers, The New York Times and the Boston Globe, are developing paywalls. It’s also less of a surprise since A.H. Belo, parent company of the News, said in 2009 that it was considering switching some of its papers to paid sites. (A plan for the Providence Journal to go all-pay appears to have been changed or pushed back.)

What will readers have to pay for? Dallasnews.com exclusive reporting, for one thing, including its scoops on the biggest show around, Dallas Cowboys football. Free stuff will include breaking news, wire stories, obits, and blogs (which, curiously, could include sports coverage of the Cowboys).

Moroney is pragmatic about the paper going to a paid model. “It’s not an over-the-cliff strategy,” he said. “If this works, great, it’ll be fantastic. If it doesn’t, we can go back to providing access at a lower price or free.”

It’s an experimental approach that marks a shifted attitude toward paid content. In 2009, Moroney was one of several newspaper executives to testify at a Senate hearing on the future of newspapers. As he put it at the time, “If The Dallas Morning News today put up a paywall over its content, people would go to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.”

Now, though, as he sees it, the News and other papers have no choice but to change. “I don’t see impression-based advertising, the thing that paid bills for newspapers for so long, as supportable in the long run for a newspaper,” he said in our phone conversation. Moroney said he expects that pageviews will drop by half once the paywall is up, which is no small consideration given that the News has roughly 40 million pageviews a month. But even with growing pageviews and modest gains in online ad revenue in the industry, CPM prices are still low and ad inventory is up, Moroney said. And as he told Ken Doctor in a Newsonomics post last August, the days of newspapers living off the old “80/20″ rule are long gone.

Over the last few years, the News has reined in its circulation from far-flung areas (sorry, readers in Arkansas and Oklahoma), cut back third party copy sales, and increased its home delivery price, all with the idea of turning the Dallas Morning News (in all of its forms) into a product that makes money off specific, targeted audiences — rather than one that makes money on volume, Moroney said.

What the paper hopes will make the difference is a tiered system of access, from individual apps to the digital-only bundle and the full-blown subscription. In debuting an iPad app, it made sense to make all the paper’s digital offerings paid, Moroney said — otherwise, why would someone pay for an app when they can access DallasNews.com on a smartphone or tablet’s web browser? That becomes especially true as more publishers build HTML5 sites that can offer an engaging app-esque experience. “You have a website you can access with a browser that has the same look and feel of an app. How can you expect people to pay for one,” he noted, and not the other?

In its research to prepare for the site, the News found that there was willingness to pay for access to the site or various apps. While, because of the relative newness of the iPad, Moroney said he takes the data with a grain of salt, it was still positive enough to encourage the paper to create a paid strategy for its digital products.

“I don’t think we can wait,” Moroney said. “The business has enough uncertainty around it.”

December 22 2010

15:00

Amy Webb: The IPv4 problem, geofencing, and lots of hyperlocal

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

Here’s digital media consultant Amy Webb of Webbmedia Group, on hyperlocal startups, tablets, geofencing, and more.

Every device that connects to the Internet, from mobile phones to MiFis to computers to TiVOs, needs a unique ID number (also called an IP address) in order to make contact with other devices on the network. The world will run out of addresses by March 2011. This means that for those in developing areas like China and India who finally have access to technology, they won’t be able to get online. But it also means that large-scale U.S. providers such as Comcast won’t be able to support new customers as they have in the past. Why? Our current standard, IPv4, is the Internet Protocol developed in 1981. It’s been 30 years, and we’re out of numbers. The next iteration is IPv6, which is ultimately more secure and is much more extensible. Eventually, ISPs will have to make the switch and migrate all of their customers. However, those people connecting via IPv6 won’t be able to access content that’s being housed on IPv4. The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NPR, local blogs — basically any content producer who hopes to continue reaching a worldwide audience — will either have to start migration now or will face losing millions of visitors starting Q3 next year.

Lots of new hyperlocal initiatives will launch before summer 2011 by a vast number of traditional media organizations. Millions and millions of dollars will be spent recreating templated sites based on zip code or geography alone. All of the local ad dollars being counted on will instead shift towards social commerce sites like LivingSocial and Groupon, which have started to include compelling editorial content. Interest among journalists will grow, while consumer interest continues to stagnate. Only the hyper-personal sites that focus on niche content and geography rather than neighborhoods alone will succeed.

2011 will be the year of the tablet. We’ll see close to two dozen tablets come to market, most running some version of Android. Consumers will continue to love the iPad, while publishers will continue developing what is essentially a web-centric experience for a device that does much, much more. Smart entrepreneurs will leapfrog traditional news organizations by focusing on dynamic content curation via algorithm. Think Pulse 2.0, Flipboard, Wavii — but even more engaging.

Geofencing will become an integral part of the checkin experience in 2011. Right now, many mobile social networks use a fuzzy radius to locate members, and it’s easy to game the system. But it’s also harder for retailers and others interested in social commerce to effectively use networks like Foursquare and Gowalla because it’s difficult to verify that a user is actually inside of a store or at a specific location. For news orgs trying to syndicate content, the best many can do now is to leave vague tips around town. Geofencing technology requires very strict location parameters, allowing a number of interesting possibilities. For example, check-ins can be triggered automatically, expiring assets (such as event tickets or breaking news alerts) can be pushed to users, and a moving target — like a parade or car chase — can be tracked or commented on. And with geofencing, someone can’t check into his favorite restaurant repeatedly while driving past it his way to work.

Data-filled firehoses will spring leaks everywhere in 2011. And not just WikiLeaks. Twitter is releasing a personal metrics dashboard soon. Other social networks are discussing how to release data streams about and for their users and the content being discussed. News organizations will soon find a fantastic opportunity to harness all of that data, to parse it, and to develop stories about everything from the U.S. government to our cultural zeitgeist. DocumentCloud is a breakthrough, an essential tool developed by journalists for journalists. I hope to see more of its ilk released in 2011.

December 17 2010

19:30

This Week in Review: Taking sides on WikiLeaks, the iPad/print dilemma, and the new syndication

[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 media and WikiLeaks’ uneasy coexistence: The current iteration of the WikiLeaks story is about to move into its fourth week, and it continues to swallow up most future-of-journalism news in its path. By now, it’s branched out into several distinct facets, and we’ll briefly track down each of those, but here are the essentials this week: If you want the basics, Gawker has put together a wonderful explainer for you. If you want to dive deep into the minutiae, there’s no better way than Dave Winer’s wikiriver of relevant news feeds. Other good background info is this Swedish documentary on WikiLeaks, posted here in YouTube form.

The big news development this week was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s release from British jail on bail Thursday. As blow-by-blow accounts of the legal situation go, you can’t beat The Guardian’s. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is trying to build a conspiracy case against Assange by connecting him more explicitly to Bradley Manning’s leak, and Congress heard testimony on the subject Thursday.

— The first WikiLeaks substory is the ongoing discussion about the actions of the legions of web-based “hacktivists,” led by Anonymous, making counterattacks on WikiLeaks’ behalf. Having gone after several sites last week (including one mistakenly), some activists began talking in terms of “cyber-war” — though GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram cautioned against that type of language from all sides — and were urged on from jail by Assange. NYU professor Gabriella Coleman gave a glimpse into the inner workings of Anonymous, and they also drew plenty of criticism, too, from thinkers like British author Andrew Keen. Media consultant Deanna Zandt offered a thoughtful take on the ethics of cyber-activism.

— The second facet here is the emergence of Openleaks, a leaking organization formally launched this week by WikiLeaks defector Daniel Domscheit-Berg as an alternative to Assange’s group. As Domscheit-Berg explained to several outlets including Forbes, Openleaks will act as a more neutral conduit to leaks than WikiLeaks, which ended up publishing its leaks, something Openleaks won’t do. Wired compared it with WikiLeaks’ rejected 2009 Knight News Challenge proposal, in which it would have functioned primarily as an anonymous submission system for leaks to local news organizations. Openleaks won’t be the last, either: As The Economist noted, if file-sharing is any guide, we’ll see scores of rivals (or comrades).

— The third story is the reaction of various branches of the traditional media, which have been decidedly mixed. WikiLeaks has gotten some support from several corners of the industry, including the faculty of the venerable Columbia School of Journalism, the press in Assange’s native Australia, and Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy and numerous other British and American professors and journalists, both in The Guardian. But it’s also been tweaked by others — at the Nieman Foundation Thursday, New York Times editor Bill Keller said that if Assange is a journalist, “he’s not the kind of journalist that I am.”

Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald ripped what he called the mainstream media’s “servile role” to the government in parroting its attitudes toward WikiLeaks, then later argued that the government’s prosecution of WikiLeaks would be a prosecution of investigative journalism in general. Arianna Huffington also chastised the establishment media, arguing that they’re just as much establishment as media. Likewise, Morris’ Steve Yelvington listed five reasons the media hasn’t shown outrage about the government’s backlash against WikiLeaks, including the point that the segment of the American mainstream media concerned about national issues is a shell of its former self.

— All of this provided plenty of fodder for a couple of conferences on WikiLeaks, Internet freedom, and secrecy. Last weekend, the Personal Democracy Forum held a symposium on the subject — you can watch a replay here, as well as a good summary by GRITtv and additional videos on the state of the Internet and online civil disobedience. Micah Sifry offered a thoughtful take on the event afterwards, saying that longings for a “more responsible” version of WikiLeaks might be naive: It’s “far more likely that something far more disruptive to the current order — a distributed and unstoppable system for spreading information — is what is coming next,” he wrote.

And on Thursday, the Nieman Foundation held its own one-day conference on journalism and secrecy that included keynotes by the AP’s Kathleen Carroll and Keller (who distanced himself from Assange but defended The Times’ decision to publish). If you want to go deeper into the conversation at the conference, the #niemanleaks hashtag on Twitter is a good place to start.

Will the iPad eat into print?: The iPad news this week starts with the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute, which released a study that suggests, based on survey data, that iPad news apps may cut into newspaper subscriptions by next year. There’s a ton of other interesting data on how iPads are being used and how users are comparing them to print newspapers and newspaper websites, but one statistic — 58 percent of those who subscribe to a print newspaper and use their iPad for more than an hour a day planned to cancel their print subscription within six months — was what drew the headlines. Alan Mutter said publishers have to like the demographics of the iPad’s prime users, but have to wonder whether developing print-like iPad apps is worth it.

Several news organizations introduced new iPad apps this week, led by CNN. Poynter’s Damon Kiesow talked to CNN about the rationale behind its photo-oriented multitouch design, and MocoNews’ Ingrid Lunden looked at why CNN might have made their app free. Steve Safran of Lost Remote liked the app’s design and sociability. Also, the New York Daily News launched a paid (though cheaper than the New York Post) app, and Harper’s added its own iPad offering as well.

Meanwhile, Flipboard, the inaugural iPad app of the year, launched a new version this week. Forbes’ Quentin Hardy talked to Flipboard’s CEO about the vision behind the new app, and The Wall Street Journal wrote about innovative iPad news apps in general. The Washington Post’s Justin Ferrell talked to the Lab’s Justin Ellis about how to design news apps for the iPad. In advertising, Apple launched its first iPad iAd, which seems to be essentially a fully formed advertisement app. One iPad app that’s not coming out this week: Rupert Murdoch’s “tablet newspaper” The Daily, whose launch has reportedly been postponed until next year.

Looking ahead to 2011: We’re nearing the end of the December, which means we’re about to see the year-end reviews and previews start to roll in. The Lab got them kicked off this week by asking its readers for predictions of what 2011 will bring in the journalism world, then publishing the predictions of some of the smartest future-of-news folks in the room.

All of the posts are worth checking out, but there are a few I want to note in particular — The AP’s Jonathan Stray on moving beyond content tribalism (“a news product that refuses to provide me with high-quality filtering and curation of the rest of the world’s information will only ever be an endpoint”), NPR’s Matt Thompson on instant speech transcription (“the Speakularity”), tech pioneer Dave Winer on adjusting to the new news distribution system (“That’s the question news people never seem to ask. How can we create something that has a market?”), and a couple of paid-content predictions on The New York Times and by Steven Brill (who has skin in the game).

The prediction post that generated the most discussion was NYU professor Clay Shirky’s piece on the dismantling of the old-media syndication system. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram expanded on the idea, connecting it explicitly to Google News and the Associated Press, and asking, “In a world where the power to syndicate is available to all, does anyone want what AP is selling?” USC’s Pekka Pekkala explained why he sees this as a positive development for journalists and niche content producers.

As if on cue, Thomson Reuters announced the launch of its new American news service, one that seems as though it might combine traditional news syndication with some elements of modern aggregation. Media analyst Ken Doctor gave some more details about the new service and its deal with the Tribune Co., and Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan was skeptical of this potential new direction for newswires.

Reading roundup: A few good pieces before I send you on your way:

— First, one quick bit of news: The social bookmarking service Delicious was reportedly shutting down, but a Friday blog post seemed to indicate it may live on outside of Yahoo. Here’s a short ode from Mark Luckie at 10,000 Words and a list of alternatives from Search Engine Land.

— At the London Review of Books, British journalist John Lanchester has written an essay making a case for why and how the newspaper industry needs to charge for news online. Anti-paywall folks aren’t going to be crazy about it, but it’s far from the stereotypical revanchist “Make ‘em pay, just ’cause they should” pro-pay argument: “Make the process as easy as possible. Make it invisible and transparent. Make us register once and once only. Walls are not the way forward, but walls are not the same thing as payment, and without some form of payment, the press will not be here in five years’ time.”

— A couple of close looks at what news organizations are doing right: The Atlantic’s web transformation and tips on multimedia storytelling from NPR’s acclaimed Planet Money.

— A North Carolina j-prof and Duke grad student came together (!) to urge news organizations to incorporate more of the tenets of citizen journalism. They have a few specific, practical suggestions, too.

— British journalist Adam Westbrook gave his goodbye to mainstream media, making a smart case that the future lies outside its gates.

— Finally, Jonathan Stray, an AP editor and Lab contributor, has a brilliant essay challenging journalists and news organizations to develop a richer, more fully formed idea of what journalism is for. It may be a convicting piece, but it offers an encouraging vision for the future — and the opportunity for reform — too.

December 10 2010

17:00

WaPo’s Justin Ferrell on designing “a user experience that really adds value to people’s lives” on the iPad

We all chuckled at The Washington Post’s commercial for its new iPad app, and why not, with Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee, two guys who epitomize the best of old-school journalism, playing around on a device that many peg as the future of media. The commercial is slick, well produced and well thought out, not unlike the Post’s app itself.

They’re both the product of lots of planning, which is what Justin Ferrell, the director of digital, mobile & new product design for the Post, talked with me about a few days ago at the INMA Transformation of News Summit that took place here in Cambridge. Ferrell delivered a insightful presentation on the Post’s iPad app, saying the paper avoided rushing an app to market for the iPad because they “wanted to leapfrog, not just put the Washington Post newspaper on the device.”

The app combines a touch-friendly design that also goes farther than other newspaper apps have in incorporating social media, to allow users to share stories as well as see what others are discussing in connection to news. Ferrell said they know the Post’s brand will bring a built in audience to everything they publish, but “over time, that’s only an incremental audience and it’s going to diminish.” Hence the need to reach new readers. I spoke to Ferrell following his talk about developing the iPad app, the competition for design and user-experience talent in journalism, and how they produced that commercial. We started off talking about frustrations in developing an app and reconciling that with what’s “good enough” for the public. Check out the video or read the transcript below. (And let me apologize now for the at times shaky camera work.)

Justin Ellis: You said sort of two things that to me were interesting. One is that it’s okay to be sort of questioning how good it is, but at the same time kind of mindful of the fact that some of these things aren’t considerations that users might have.

Justin Ferrell: Right, right.

Ellis: So how do those two things work when you’re developing something?

Ferrell: So I’ll give you a real live example. You know, our app is based on a lot of feeds. You know, it’s a feed-based app, rather than like the magazine apps that are designed — you know, heavily designed and then put into the device.

So when we were talking about how to get the correct photo feeds for the sizing and everything that we wanted, it was a lot of discussion with our tech group. And there were a lot of things with the way it works currently with the site. So we were trying to take the photos that we used for the site and size and stuff for that, and use it on this smaller device. So we wanted them to be resized in some ways, which adds to the amount of volume of photos that are gonna go through and all that.

And it became apparent during the discussion that, in order to do that, we would need to buy a new server that would be able to host all these images. And short of buying a new server, we could do it the way that we did it currently, but some of the photos would not fill the frame on the app. So there would be some grey space around it or something like that.

So that’s a situation where we basically then, the editorial design team basically said, you know, no one that downloads the app is gonna understand that the reason why there’s grey around those photos is because we don’t have another server, right? They don’t care about that. They care about what do the photos look like. And so in the end, we bought the new server so that we could preserve the experience.

And that’s just like one example of the kind of thing companies go through internally when they’re creating products like this. They’re like all right, here’s the problem. How are we gonna solve the problem? We can do it existing ways. Obviously, we had pressure with — what does it cost for that new server, all those kinds of things. You have to make your choices based on the priorities of what you want the experience to end up being.

But you know, being from the design side, we espouse the user all the time. It’s sort of our job to do that and say look, what’s the experience gonna be? We have to overcome this hurdle because the users aren’t gonna care. All they’re gonna care about is what it looks like to them.

Ellis: One of the things that seems very novel about the app and something you touched on in your presentation was the inclusion of feeds and sort of the piece about engagement. Talk to us about that and why that was important. I mean, obviously you guys have a lot of content that you produce that could’ve been used in a number of ways, but it’s very important for you guys to have that social media piece, not just where people can share things, but also pulling in almost third parties, like experts around stories and topics.

Ferrell: Right. Sure. So I focused today on that part of it, and I mean the app has everything else that we do, the writing, the photography that we do, video plays right there in the app. And all that is very cool. But we’ve made a real commitment to move into what we can do with social media and journalism.

And it’s not my department, but it’s a colleague of mine who runs it, Katharine Zaleski, who I mentioned came from Huffington Post, and has a lot of great ideas about how we can increase engagement using social media.

And so that was the piece of this that we really wanted to push beyond just having Washington Post content be on the app. And so, you know, the idea there is that it’s fun for us to think sort of philosophically — the question we were thinking with the Twitter piece of it was you know, what does a Twitter publication look like? And you know, that’s not a unique question anymore.

I was just reading that article in Fast Company about Chloe Sladden, and they’re doing a lot with TV networks now too. And you know, you’ve seen in big news events with the earthquake in Haiti that people are using social media to give you real-time reporting from the ground from citizens, especially for breaking news.

And so, I think it’s more than that. And what Katharine sort of came up with that really crystalized the concept was that we want to give you all of the Post content — we want to give you the value that that provides — but we also want to give you the conversation that it inspires, and that’s where the social media component comes in, and so that that was the original idea.

Ellis: At this point in terms of tablets and tablet apps for newspapers, do you believe that the focus should be on experimentation, should it be monetization? Where do you think things should be going at this point? What should be the idea?

Ferrell: Yeah so, you know, I have a lot of thoughts about the big picture. I’m kind of a big picture person, and I lead a team of specialists. But that said, you know, I am also very aware that, you know, we’re the design group and our primary focus should be creating novel interesting experiences, right? If the design group is not doing that, which group is going to do that, right? So, you know, what the Post ultimately decides about how you are going to monetize things and all of that is not specifically in my realm. I have opinions about that. But my focus is really on, if we create a user experience that really adds value to people’s lives, surely we’ll be able to sell that in someway, right? And so, you know, my focus is on the front end of that, very much like what the startups do, you know, I mean what the Flipboards and the Pulses do. I mean, Pulse charged when they first came out, but now they don’t and, you know, they’re building a following. And if you have a following, you create a market for what it is that you provide, then you’ll be able to figure out, you know, what you’re going to do with that information.

Ellis: Do you think that there is a race now for talent in finding the people who can help develop these types of apps? That’s one of the things that you talked about obviously trying to find talent from within journalism but also outside of it.

Ferrell: Yeah, you know because it is such a new medium and because most of the decision makers of big media companies have been there for a long time. You know, you’re looking for young people that don’t have a lot of experience but that you can, you know, sort of guide and also trust their ideas, and I think that’s a real culture change for a lot of newsrooms. But yeah, it’s difficult. You know, we have a lot of good relationships with schools, you know — we have a lot of people from Chapel Hill in our design and graphics department because the multimedia program there is so good. So I generally reach out to schools first and then also try to find people who, you know, have already done really interesting work, but maybe that’s the only thing they have in their portfolio and try to see what the potential is.

But I absolutely think you have to go looking for these people, and then you have to figure out that whatever hire you make, you know, you prioritize the skill set that you are looking for, but there is always something that like you as a manager will have to fill in the gap for. And so I feel pretty confident, because I am the type of manager that can help my people build relationships in the newsroom — put them with the right people in order to create interesting ideas, you know whether they are reporters or editors or photographers or whatever, because that’s the way I always was as a designer, and I have those relationships at the Post, you know, and it can be difficult for someone to come in — it’s a big place — and not know who to talk to and how to get it done. And that’s actually one of the great things about being in a place like The Post is that you can always, you know, if you have a great idea, you can always find experts who can add to that idea, make it better, and help execute it in their particular expertise.

So anyway, yeah, it’s hard to find right people and even trickier than finding like you know, recent graduates or young journalists is — you know, I think we need people who are not in journalism. And I’ll give you an example: We were looking for a UX designer right now. We never had anyone who has expertise in training specifically in UX. We’ve always had, you know sort of generalists as web designers, and a lot of them have created their own sites from scratch when they do freelance or whatever, and so UX is part of that. But I really want someone who has like a master’s degree in human computer interaction. And so I contacted a professor at IU because they have a degree program in that, and it’s well known. And so he’s reaching out to his students. And these are folks that are not journalists by in large, right? And in some of the conversations I’ve had with those people it’s really sort of selling — from my end to get them interested — it’s really sort of selling the public service that we do.

I mean, there’s so much that you can do in web design right now. And you might go to a commercial site that you know, sells clothes or shoes, or whatever it is that they sell, and it’s the coolest site you’ve ever seen. But there are people who don’t want to sell a product, who want to contribute to the public service of journalism. And I think we have an opportunity to bring on people who are interested in that value system. And so that’s one of the things I try to do.

Ellis: Finally, let’s talk quickly about the ad or the commercial I guess, for the iPad app. That made a big splash and seemed to be floating around on the Internet for a while — people were very amused by it. Two things that struck me: one, that it’s funny, and two, that you guys wrapped in a lot of the personalities and people that are known from The Post, and folks that probably might be more known in journalism circles. How do you think those two things helped to sort of guide people, walk them through what the app offers and also what kind of Washington Post content that you get with it?

Ferrell: Yeah. You know, that was another thing that Katherine really managed and got together. And the director of that project, we hired him as a freelancer — Rufus Lusk is a friend of The Post and a really talented guy. He brought in his team and they did it in the newsroom — really from the idea we had, to do it was sort of at the end when we were about to launch, and got the whole thing done in about a week and a half.

She tells a funny story, Katherine, that when she first emailed Bob Woodward about it she said is it possible on Monday that I could have four hours of your time to do this, you know, in the course of their conversation. And he emailed back and said I thought that was a typo — four hours? Because it’s not like he just gives up four hours of time. But what ended up happening was they really got into it and he spent all day there in the end, filming it.

The idea was to show people that yeah, these are the people that you know from the Post because everybody, most people know the Post for Watergate. You know, Bob still works with the Post, Ben still comes to work every day. He’s part of the corporate office now, but he’s still there, he eats in the cafeteria, he’s around. And we wanted to show you that the Post that you know of old can also be new. And that we’re doing this new thing. And we’re on board with it. And it’s not sort of stodgy old media. And so it was funny to have Ben be the one who’s showing Bob how to do it.

And then we were pretty — you know, we went through it scene by scene and figured out what we wanted to say about it in the course of Bob walking through the newsroom. And you’re right, there are some jokes in there that are really funny to us that other people might not know, like when the one that says was that Robert Redford? You know, because of the movie. And those two women who are sitting there who say that are our celebritologists, so they’re the ones who cover celebrity and everyone doesn’t know that, obviously.

And Dana Priest is the one who’s sitting there and says “it’s about bringing them into the newsroom” And of course Dana’s won two Pulitzers, but people outside of journalism don’t know who Dana Priest is necessarily. So yeah, we tried to bring in our big personalities — Chris Cillizza is in it and Dana Milbank, and some of our well-known individual personalities.

But each little scene shows something they can do with it. And even you know, the sports folks who are talking, they’re showing the clarity and the sharpness of what photos look like on there and things like that. So yeah, I thought it ended up really great. It totally accomplished what we wanted it to, which was we wanted people to pick it up, and send it around. And so it was good for saying that our app’s out there. But I think it’s also really good for showing people that hey, you know, the Post is a pretty cool place and it’s not just a big media, big old dinosaur media or whatever people like to say about us, so. It was a lot of fun.

December 03 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: Making sense of WikiLeaks, a Daily tablet paper, and Gawker leaves blogging behind

[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]

We’re covering two weeks instead of the usual one in this review, so there’s a ton to pack in here. I’ll try to zip through it a little more quickly than usual.

What to make of WikiLeaks: WikiLeaks made its third big document drop since this summer this week, releasing about 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables. Here’s coverage by The New York TimesThe GuardianDer Spiegel, and a roundup by The Columbia Journalism Review. Time talked to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange about the leak, and Forbes published an interview and long piece about Assange’s next target — corporate America.

As for the leak itself, The Guardian detailed the documents’ path from the alleged leaker, U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, to Assange, to a Guardian reporter. Yahoo’s Michael Calderone looked at The Times’ editorial process with the cables, including the revelation that they got them from The Guardian, not WikiLeaks. The Wall Street Journal and CNN both declined to sign agreements with WikiLeaks to see the documents in advance, and The Journal examined news orgs’ decisions on whether or not to publish. The Times explained its own publishing decision, then (quite eloquently) responded to readers’ objections.

The reaction against WikiLeaks was quicker and harsher than those following each of its last two leaks. Before the documents were released, its site was hacked, the U.S. and British governments issued pre-emptive condemnations, and senators called for WikiLeaks to be prosecuted. After the release, the Obama administration said it was indeed pursuing a criminal investigation, Interpol revealed it has put out a call for Assange’s arrest (ostensibly for his rape accusations), and Amazon booted WikiLeaks from its servers under pressure from U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.

WikiLeaks’ actions left many journalists and media observers divided: An Economist blogger accused WikiLeaks of degenerating into gossip, and Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger called them enemies of the American people. Assange and WikiLeaks had their defenders, too: Slate’s Jack Shafer praised them for puncturing “the prerogative of secrecy,” and another Economist blogger made a similar argument. The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins noted that “the job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment.” Meanwhile, Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy wrestled with the balance between transparency and secrecy.

Others’ primary concern was not value judgments, but classification. Is WikiLeaks espionage? Journalism? Radically open government? Or, as Lab contributor C.W. Anderson argued, is it a facilitator of real-time history documentation? NYU j-prof Jay Rosen hashed out his thoughts on WikiLeaks as a stateless news organization on video, concluding, “The watchdog press died, and what we have is WikiLeaks instead.” Paul Balcerak wondered why WikiLeaks gets so much more attention than the press’s own reporting.

If you really want to spend the weekend pondering the meaning of WikiLeaks, it’s best to start with two posts: Some incisive questions by Salon’s Dan Gillmor, and a brilliant post by Aaron Bady sifting through Assange’s own words to determine his motivations behind WikiLeaks’ radical transparency.

Rupert’s big tablet splash: We’ve heard bits and pieces about Rupert Murdoch’s planned tablet-based national news publication, but we got the first substantive report on the subject two weeks ago from Women’s Wear Daily. Among the key details: It’s going by The Daily, it has a staff of 100, it’ll cost 99 cents a week, and it’ll come out once a day. The New York Observer gave us some more information about the publication’s design (it’s text-first and will be published overnight, but apparently looks pretty cool). Other tidbits: John Gruber at Daring Fireball heard that it’ll pioneer a new app subscription API from Apple, and New York’s Gabriel Snyder said it will have a centrist editorial outlook.

The reasons why this project is getting so much pre-launch attention seem pretty readily evident: Murdoch, original tablet news org, iPad news subscriptions, you know the rest. As The Columbia Journalism Review noted, what’s new about this publication is that it won’t even have a website. The initial response from the media-watching world was predominantly negative, with skepticism coming from The New York Times’ David Carr, Gawker’s Ryan Tate, Scott Rosenberg, Sam Diaz of ZDNet, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, Fast Company’s Kit Eaton, The Guardian’s Emily Bell, and paidContent’s Andrew Wallenstein.

Many of those critics made similar points, so here’s a roundup of the main ones: 1) It’s trying to impose slow print-think onto the speed-oriented world of mobile media (this is Rosenberg’s main point); 2) The fact that it won’t have inbound or outbound links means it can’t share in the virality that makes news on the Web work; 3) The folks on board don’t exactly seem like the tech revolutionaries they might need to be (Wallenstein’s main point); and 4) How many people are actually going to pay for this, and can it really cover The Daily’s costs? (Carr’s main objection)

Several of those people also noted a few factors in Murdoch’s favor: Carr argued that people will be more likely to pay for news in an app world than on the web, and both Tate and Eaton noted that Apple’s Steve Jobs (who is reported to be tied to the project) is a pretty powerful guy with a history of success in ventures like these. We got a few good suggestions for Murdoch’s project, too: TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld said to make it local, real-time, and social; Frederic Filloux wanted it speedy, simple, beyond Apple, and with adjustable pricing; and at paidContent, Nic Newman wanted to see a mixture of free and paid content.

Designing apps for tablets and mobile media: Murdoch isn’t the only one with a big new tablet app to unveil: Yahoo’s Joe Pompeo summarized two others — mini-magazines called Nomad Editions and a new iPad magazine by Virgin called Project. Of those, Project, announced Tuesday, got a bit more attention. PaidContent had some details about its video cover and “living magazine” mindset, and All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka pointed out the magazine’s rather intimidating instruction page, though David Carr told NPR it’s still pretty magazine-like.

Also in the process of launching: Next Issue Media, a joint venture by several magazine magnates, will launch its digital newsstand early next year and gave some details to MediaWeek, and Swedish publisher Bonnier, whose Mag+ everyone loved, is expanding into News+. Meanwhile, the Financial Times’ iPad app is doing well, but The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh remained skeptical that most newspapers’ iPad apps will be able to stand out among the sea of more enjoyable apps.

A couple more smart thoughts on mobile media: PaidContent founder Rafat Ali talked about designing for touchscreens, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow argued that smartphones are fundamentally a mobile device, while the iPad is a leisure device, so their apps can’t be imposed onto each other: “To fully serve and engage an audience, an app needs to target one distinctive strength — either location or leisure — and make the content and experience fit that use.”

Gawker grows beyond the blog: In advance of its coming overhaul early next year, Gawker head Nick Denton wrote a manifesto explaining why the network of sites is going beyond the blog format (his post at the previous link is in the sites’ new design). Denton said he’s discovered the new formula for online media success: Not so much Gawker’s former trademark snarky meta-analysis, but a few huge juicy scoops accompanied by a steady stream of aggregation, all with a visual bent. He extended the model to include advertising and branding as well.

Reuters’ Felix Salmon responded with a meticulous analysis of Gawker’s new direction, noting that while Denton was the first person to make blogging into “a large-scale commercial venture,” he’s now aggressively dumping blogging’s defining reverse-chronological format. Ron Mwangaguhunga of eMedia Vitals compared Gawker’s new model with a TV business model, and Anil Dash said that while Gawker is still a blog, it’s borrowing Twitter’s design that emphasizes both content and the stream of news. “By allowing that flow to continue regardless of which particular piece of embedded content has caught your eye, Gawker and Twitter are just showing the vibrancy and resilience of the format.” Terry Heaton didn’t like the change, arguing that it’s a statement that Denton doesn’t trust his readers enough to find their way to the best material.

Why Twitter matters: Speaking of Twitter, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger offered a stirring defense of Twitter’s meaning for journalism as part of a lecture on the state of the Fourth Estate. His list of 15 reasons Twitter matters covers most everything: Reporting, conversation, aggregation, search, marketing, authority, writing. Likewise, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram argued that Twitter’s real cultural power “could well be that it is the simplest, the easiest and arguably one of the most efficient forms of mass publishing — or at least micro-publishing — ever invented.”

Later, Ingram took Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s apparently off-the-cuff statement that Twitter could develop a news network as an opportunity to think about how news orgs could filter Twitter into a usable crowdsourced newswire. And MediaBistro talked with Canada’s National Post to get a sense of how one major newspaper uses Twitter.

Business-model developments and discussion: A few notes on the ever-evolving paid-content front: At least two more news organizations are using the Press+ system of Steve Brill’s Journalism Online for their online revenue goals — ProPublica, which is using it to solicit donations online, and Oklahoma State’s Daily O’Collegian, which will charge outside-the-area readers. Over at The Guardian, Cory Doctorow examined The Times of London’s paywall numbers, and CrunchGear’s Devin Coldewey thought out loud about a possible online paid-content system.

Meanwhile, British journalist Kevin Anderson wrote a post arguing that value-added journalism has to be developed with specific revenue streams in mind. Howard Owens of The Batavian countered that would-be entrepreneurial journalists need to focus more on basic local events journalism than “adding value” or analytical journalism, and TBD’s Steve Buttry tried to bring the two perspectives together.

Reading roundup: Here’s what else you should see this week, in the quickest-hit form I can give it to you:

— A British court upheld a stipulation that news organizations can charge paid online news monitoring agencies for using their content. The Telegraph, TechCrunch Europe, and the Press Gazette explain why it’s bad news for aggregators.

— No less an authority than World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee joined the chorus of people extolling the value of data journalism during a panel. A somewhat related debate broke out when Mark Luckie opined on the myths about digital journalism skills. Journalist Andy Boyle disputed Luckie’s claims about what new-media skills journalists need (and don’t need) to know, and j-prof Mindy McAdams and journalist Brian Manzullo chimed in. Anthony DeBarros and Robert Hernandez turned the discussion toward data journalism, with Hernandez asserting that programming doesn’t replace the story. That got Michelle Minkoff kind of riled up.

— The New York Times ran an article looking at the ways technology is creating increased distractions for young people, which was met by smart rebuttals by Duke prof Cathy Davidson and the Lab’s own Megan Garber.

— Also at the Lab: USC prof Henry Jenkins on his concept of “spreadable” media.

— Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik wrote a great roundup of what’s going on at the intersection of investigative journalism and social media.

— Finally, if you’re looking for a single document to answer the question, “How should newspapers adapt to this new media environment?” you can’t do much better than John Paton’s presentation on how he’s turned around the Journal Register Co. It’s brilliant.

November 19 2010

15:00

November 15 2010

19:07

City Magazines Expand Audience and Revenues with Web, Apps

Even back in 1888, King Kalakaua of Hawaii recognized the power of city and regional magazines. His royal charter led to the creation of the magazine Paradise of the Pacific, whose goal was to display the civilization of the islands and to draw tourists and business.

Kalakaua would be amazed by the transformation of the publication now called Honolulu Magazine. Today, the king could follow the magazine on Twitter, watch its web videos, receive email newsletters and read it in print or multiple digital formats.

Though not every city or regional magazine has such a long history, many of them are today drawing on their established credibility and brand recognition to support new digital experiments. Many have crafted sophisticated websites, creative mobile apps, and innovative advertising strategies. These experiments may help the magazines remain definitive resources for information about their places, even as they are challenged by new, online local media outlets.

Reaching Readers Often

Like other magazines, city and regional publications have had to find ways to provide timely, interesting web content that can draw audiences between print issues. One method has been to create locally oriented blogs on their sites, sometimes maintained by existing editorial staff and sometimes by paid part- or full-time bloggers. The magazines have also linked to external local blogs to curate quality content.

Honolulu Magazine has an online real estate column updated almost every weekday, in addition to new online posts on other topics and web-exclusive content.

"A monthly magazine has traditionally lived in its own time zone, a month or two removed from what's going on in our community," says A. Kam Napier, the magazine's editor. "It's fun to react to news and what's going on around town."

honolulu-shot.jpg

Opt-in email newsletters about dining, shopping and local events have been valuable for local magazines. Many of the local magazines owned by Today Media have associated e-newsletters, including Delaware Today and Westchester Magazine.

Chris Calloway, digital media project manager for Today, said both advertisers and readers like the e-newsletters. In all the digital formats the magazine uses, Calloway said, the ability to analyze readers' interests has helped the magazine and its advertisers.

"It's a very important tool to find out what interests the consumers," he said. "We're sifting through the data to find ways to organically make changes."

Readers Near and Far

For city and regional magazines, there are unique advantages to offering digital editions and mobile apps.

Thanks to the immediate delivery and easy accessibility of digital editions, local magazines no longer have to rely solely on distributing print editions nearby. Apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android are increasingly making these magazines available wherever interested readers might be -- even far away.

"I've noticed an increase in international sales," says Calloway of Today Media. "The digital edition has reached a whole new audience overseas, including people who used to live in the area and want to learn about it."

Local audiences also enjoy the benefits of mobile apps. New York Magazine has a truly nationwide audience, but it's also providing the local audience a variety of focused apps. It bought the website MenuPages two years ago and now offers an iPhone app that provides menus and reader reviews for 30,000 restaurants in eight market areas. There's also an Android app for reading the magazine's blogs.

"There are some other kinds of category-specific mobile apps for the iPad, iPhone, and Android that we're working on," said Michael Silberman, general manager for digital media at the magazine's parent company New York Media. These will probably include a fashion app and an app for Vulture, the magazine's highly successful entertainment and culture blog. Eventually, Silberman hopes to develop a variety of apps to help users "navigate New York."


h2. New Revenue Streams

New York has also found new revenue opportunities through its mobile and web presences. For example, in the MenuPages app and in the magazine website's restaurant listings, users can click through to make a restaurant reservation using the OpenTable service. Some restaurants also permit online ordering through SeamlessWeb.

"We have some little experiments going with click-to-buy theater tickets or movie tickets, or stuff from Amazon or iTunes," Silberman said. "The stuff that's really firmly in our wheelhouse like restaurant reservations and online ordering -- that's pretty interesting from a revenue point of view."

Other types of retail connections have not yet been as profitable. "People don't come to a news site to download music or buy DVDs or books. They may read about it on our site, but they're unlikely to do it there," he said.

New York magazine has also worked with Foursquare, the popular location-based social app, to offer restaurant, bar and shopping information and deals to its followers on that site.

"We're still one of the top 15 media brands on Foursquare as far as the number of followers, and we update that every week with new tips," Silberman said. This type of location-based activity seems like a promising growth area for other local magazines as well, offering opportunities for brand development, advertising and coupons.

The Challenge of Being Local

One of the challenges for city and regional magazines -- those much smaller than New York -- is that they typically don't draw enough of an online audience for advertisers to be interested in making online buys.

"We have a real hard time in our meetings bringing in any national expert on anything electronic. It doesn't translate," said Jim Dowden, executive director of the City and Regional Magazine Association. "You can't get millions of hits in Des Moines when you're writing about Des Moines. You're not going to generate money from hits on a website about Des Moines if what you're relying on is pennies per hit."

A new enterprise called the Community Magazine Network, launching later this month, is trying to unify these smaller publishers to help them generate additional ad revenue and develop their online offerings. Brian Ostrovsky, CMN's founder and CEO, compares his company to a national television network that provides assistance with ad sales, technology and best practices, with the goal of getting smaller publishers -- especially those in suburban and rural areas -- into the digital game.

"Community magazines have struggled online because they're simply not staffed to have fresh content, and to provide the kinds of web content people expect for a compelling experience," said Ostrovsky.

CMN aims to build upon participating magazines' community relationships and existing content by integrating curated and social content online, while also helping construct print and online advertising deals with regional and national advertisers who might not otherwise be interested in smaller publications.

City and regional magazines, no matter the size, are doing fairly well in maintaining their print circulation, said Dowden, because there are few quality local media left in many areas -- especially as newspapers downsize and lose local content. However, local magazines have to diversify their revenue sources and begin moving into digital while maintaining the integrity of their existing product.

With all of these new opportunities, publishers will have to get used to making money not just from print, but also to "getting money back in 10 different pots, instead of just the Internet or just the website," according to Dowden.

Maintaining Identity and Credibility

nymag-vulture-conversations.jpg

Wherever the money comes from, city and regional magazines' greatest asset appears to be their brand recognition and editorial integrity. Though it might seem that sites that offer user-generated, local restaurant and shopping information, such as Yelp, might challenge these publications, the magazines I talked to unanimously argued that their recognized credibility on such topics will sustain readers' loyalty. Sites like Yelp are also less useful in smaller communities.

"Where we stand apart has been in offering expertise, analysis, historical perspective, and editing," said Napier of Honolulu Magazine. "We narrow down their options to things we know they'd like because we know our audience. We focus on trying to bring that expertise."

For example, the magazines emphasize that they use critics who visit restaurants repeatedly and then write quality reviews, overriding the widely varying quality and tastes of users at crowdsourced websites.

The magazines are, however, interested in integrating user-generated content with their sites. New York uses reader reviews in its restaurant section of its website and on MenuPages. Calloway of Today Media said, "These could be ways to engage with the consumer about the types of restaurants they like to go to. We can do polls of our readers about the best places to eat and shop and include those on the Today websites."

Though the city and regional magazines' formats may change, their continuing goal is to engage area readers in unique ways that other local media can't offer.

"Magazines are uniquely positioned to make local lifestyle content compelling and relevant," said Ostrovsky. "These magazines have established relationships. They are a part of the community."

The experiments in new ways of developing, delivering, and selling advertisers on the power of that content are just beginning.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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November 12 2010

16:00

This Week in Review: An objectivity object lesson, a paywall is panned, and finding the blogger’s voice

[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]

Olbermann and objectivity: Another week, another journalist or pundit disciplined for violating a news organization’s codes against appearances of bias: This week (actually, late last week) it was Keith Olbermann, liberal anchor and commentator for the cable news channel MSNBC, suspended for donating money to Democratic congressional candidates, in violation of NBC News policy. Olbermann issued an apology (though, as Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici noted, it was laced with animus toward MSNBC), and returned to the air Tuesday. There were several pertinent peripheral bits to this story — Olbermann was reportedly suspended for his refusal to apologize on air, it’s unclear whether NBC News’ rules have actually applied to MSNBC, numerous other journalists have done just what Olbermann did — but that’s the gist of it.

By now, we’ve all figured out what happens next: Scores of commentators weighed in on the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of Olbermann’s suspension and NBC’s ban on political contributions. The primary arguments boiled down to the ones expressed by Poynter’s Bob Steele and NYU’s Jay Rosen in this Los Angeles Times piece: On one side, donating to candidates means journalists are acting as political activists, which corrodes their role as fair, independent reporters in the public interest. On the other, being transparent is a better way for journalists to establish trust with audiences than putting on a mask of objectivity.

Generally falling in the first camp are fellow MSNBC host Rachel Maddow (“We’re a news operation. The rules around here are part of how you know that.”), Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy (though he tempered his criticism of Olbermann in a second post), and The New York Times’ David Carr (“Why merely annotate events when you can tilt the playing field?”). The Columbia Journalism Review was somewhere in the middle, saying Olbermann shouldn’t be above the rules, but wondering if those rules need to change.

There were plenty of voices in the second camp, including the American Journalism Review’s Rem RiederMichael Kinsley at Politico, and Lehigh j-prof Jeremy Littau all arguing for transparency.

Slate media critic Jack Shafer used the flap to urge MSNBC to let Olbermann and Maddow fly free as well-reported, openly partisan shows in the vein of respected liberal and conservative political journals. Jay Rosen took the opportunity to explain his phrase “the view from nowhere,” which tweaks traditional journalism’s efforts to “advertise the viewlessness of the news producer” as a means of gaining trust. He advocates transparency instead, and Terry Heaton provided statistics showing that the majority of young adults don’t mind journalists’ bias, as long as they’re upfront about it.

On The Media’s Brooke Gladstone summed up the issue well: “Ultimately, it’s the reporting that matters, reporting that is undistorted by attempts to appear objective, reporting that calls a lie a lie right after the lie, not in a box labeled “analysis,” reporting that doesn’t distort truth by treating unequal arguments equally.”

Commodify your paywall: We talked quite a bit last week about the new numbers on the paywall at Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London, and new items in that discussion kept popping up this week. The Times released a few more details (flattering ones, naturally) about its post-paywall web audience. Among the most interesting figures is that the percentage of U.K.-based visitors to The Times’ site has more than doubled since February, rising to 75 percent. Post-paywall visitors are also visiting the website more frequently and are wealthier, according to News Corp.

Of course, the overall number of visitors is still way down, and the plan continued to draw heat. In a wide-ranging interview on Australian radio, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger expressed surprise at the fact that The Times’ print circulation dropped as their print-protectionist paywall went up. That, he said, “suggests to me that we overlook the degree to which the digital forms of our journalism act as a kind of sort of marketing device for the newspapers.” ResourceWebs’ Evan Britton gave five reasons why news paywalls won’t work, and Kachingle founder Cynthia Typaldos argued that future news paywalls will be tapping into a limited pool of people willing to pay for news on the web, squeezing each other out of the same small market.

Clay Shirky used The Times’ paywall as a basis for some smart thoughts about why newspaper paywalls don’t work in general. The Times’ paywall represents old thinking, Shirky wrote (and the standard argument against it has been around just as long), but The Times’ paywall feels differently because it’s being taken as a “referendum on the future.” Shirky said The Times is turning itself into a newsletter, without making any fundamental modifications to its product or the basic economics of the web. “Paywalls do indeed help newspapers escape commodification, but only by ejecting the readers who think of the product as a commodity. This is, invariably, most of them,” he wrote.

A conversation about blogging, voice, and ego: A singularly insightful conversation about blogging was sparked this week by Marc Ambinder, who wrote a thoughtful goodbye post at his long-running blog at The Atlantic. In it, Ambinder parsed out differences between good print journalism (ego-free, reliant on the unadorned facts for authority) and blogging (ego-intensive, requires the writer to inject himself into the narrative). With the switch from blogging to traditional reporting, Ambinder said, ”I will no longer be compelled to turn every piece of prose into a personal, conclusive argument, to try and fit it into a coherent framework that belongs to a web-based personality called ‘Marc Ambinder’ that people read because it’s ‘Marc Ambinder,’ rather than because it’s good or interesting.”

The folks at the fantastically written blog Snarkmarket used the post as a launching point for their own thoughts about the nature of blogging. Matt Thompson countered that Ambinder was reducing an incredibly diverse form into a single set of characteristics, taking particular exception to Ambinder’s ego dichotomy. Tim Carmody mused on blogging, voice, and authorship; and Robin Sloan defended Ambinder’s decision to leave the “Thunderdome of criticism” that is political blogging. If you care at all about blogging or writing for the web in general, make sure to give all four posts a thorough read.

TBD’s (possible) content/aggregation conflict: The new Washington-based local news site TBD has been very closely watched since it was launched in August, and it hit its first big bump in the road late last week, as founding general manager Jim Brady resigned in quite a surprising move. In a memo to TBD employees, TBD owner Robert Allbritton (who also launched Politico) said Brady left because of “stylistic differences” with Allbritton. Despite the falling-out, Brady, a washingtonpost.com veteran, spoke highly of where TBD is headed in an email to staff and a few tweets.

But the immediate questions centered on the nature of those differences between Allbritton and Brady. FishbowlDC reported and Business Insider’s Henry Blodget inferred from Allbritton’s memo that the conflict came down to an original-content-centric model (Allbritton) and a more aggregation-based model (Brady). Brady declared his affirmation of both pieces — he told Poynter’s Steve Myers he’s pro-original content and the conflict wasn’t old media/new media, but didn’t go into many more details — but that didn’t keep Blodget from taking the aggregation side: The web, he said, “has turned aggregation into a form of content–and a very valuable one at that.” Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman, meanwhile, noted that while creating content is expensive, Allbritton’s made the necessary investments and made it profitable before with Politico.

A new iPad app and competitor: There were two substantive pieces of tablet-related news this week: First, The Washington Post released its iPad app, accompanying its launch with a fun ad most everyone seemed to enjoy. Poynter’s Damon Kiesow wrote a quick summary of the app, which got a decent review from The Post’s Rob Pegoraro. For you design geeks, Sarah Sampsel wrote two good posts about the app design process.

The other tablet tidbit was the release of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, which runs on Google’s Android system. Kiesow rounded up a few of the initial reviews from All Things Digital (a real iPad competitor, though the iPad is better), The New York Times (beautiful with some frustrations), Wired (more convenient than the iPad, but has stability problems) and Gizmodo (“a grab bag of neglect, good intentions and poor execution”). Kiesow also added a few initial impressions of the Galaxy’s implications for publishers, predicting that as it takes off, it will put pressure on publishers to move to HTML5 mobile websites, rather than developing native apps.

In other tablet news, MediaWeek looked at the excitement the iPad is generating within the media industry, but ESPN exec John Skipper isn’t buying the hype, telling MarketWatch’s Jon Friedman, ”Whenever a new platform comes up, people want to take the old platform and transport it to the new platform.” It didn’t work on the Internet, Skipper said, it won’t work on the iPad either.

Reading roundup: More thoughtful stuff about news and the web was written this week than most normal people have time to get to. Here’s a sample:

— First, two pieces of news: First, word broke last night that Newsweek and The Daily Beast will be undergoing a 50-50 merger, with the Beast’s Tina Brown taking over editorship of the new news org. The initial news accounts started to roll out late last night and into this morning at The New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR, who posted an interview with Brown. Obviously, this is a big, big story, and I’m sure I’ll have much more commentary on it next week.

— Second, U.S. News & World Report announced last week that it’s dropping its regular print edition and going essentially online-only, only printing single-topic special issues for newsstand sales. The best analysis on the move was at Advertising Age.

— Two great pieces on journalism’s collaborative future: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in essay form, and UBC j-prof Alfred Hermida in audio and slide form.

— Poynter published an essay by NYU professor Clay Shirky on “the shock of inclusion” in journalism and the obsolescence of the term “consumer.” Techdirt’s Mike Masnick added a few quick thoughts of his own.

— Two cool posts on data journalism — an overview on its rise by The Columbia Journalism Review’s Janet Paskin, and a list of great tools by Michelle Minkoff.

— Finally, two long thinkpieces on Facebook that, quite honestly, I haven’t gotten to read yet — one by Zadie Smith at The New York Review of Books, and the other by The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal. I’m going to spend some time with them this weekend, and I have a feeling you probably should, too.

Olbermann photo by Kirsten used under a Creative Commons license.

October 08 2010

16:00

Twitter data lets NPR glimpse a future of app-loving news junkies

Conventional wisdom tells us that if you hook up your website to Twitter and/or Facebook you should see some increase in online traffic.

But beyond more eyeballs and pageviews, what’s the value of all those followers and “likes” to a media organization? Particularly if you’re a giant like NPR?

In surveying their Twitter followers (and previously Facebook fans), NPR got more than just handy metrics to let them know they’ve got a good grasp on social media: They got a glimpse at their future, a population of news junkies who live in a world of apps that allow them to consume, share and interact with information.

“Gadgets and news consumption are a major part of Twitter in general, so it makes sense we’re a subset of those activities,” said Andy Carvin, NPR’s senior strategist for social media.

It also makes sense that NPR wants to monitor its emerging platforms as they try to transform into a digital media company. Facebook and Twitter combined now account for 7-8 percent of traffic to NPR.org, an amount that has doubled in the last year. The survey provides a measure of context to those traffic numbers. Carvin said Twitter links on average account for 500,000 pageviews per month, while Facebook averages closer to 3 million.

Here’s what we know from the numbers: People who follow NPR are bullish on social media (they follow more than one account connected to the company); they want live or breaking news delivered to them; they primarily get their news online. Anecdotally all of this may seem unsurprising — if you’re on Twitter there’s a strong likelihood you know your way around an iPhone and/or the Internet.

But the value here is that NPR now knows what its audience of the future looks like. While average public radio listeners are well into their 50s and tune in to NPR four hours a week, NPR’s typical Twitter and Facebook fans are in their 30s and listen on average two hours a day, Carvin said. “This gives us a great opportunity to reach out to audiences that are younger than our radio audience and hopefully retain them over the next several decades,” Carvin said.

By breaking down the data, they’ll be able to fine tune how they use Twitter and Facebook — from choosing which types of stories to post (breaking or topical news for Twitter vs. features and conversations starters on Facebook), to when to post content, to how much to encourage the staff to keep at it.

This all comes at a time when some say NPR is awakening the sleeping giant by becoming a cross-platform company that reaches from radio, to mobile devices and online media. In 2008 NPR received grant funding from the Knight Foundation for the specific purpose of bringing the staff up to speed on new media, including blogging, multimedia storytelling, and social networking. “Having data like this along with encouragement from peers who use social media will help us move forward and expand social media literacy in our reporting capacity,” he said.

Though NPR has been prolific in its creation of Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, Carvin said the reporters, producers and hosts behind the scenes need some confirmation that what they’re doing is paying off. “It certainly didn’t hurt that Scott Simon zoomed to have 1 million fans on Twitter,” he said.

And don’t expect the number crunching to stop here. Thanks to NPR’s Audience Insight and Research team, the company studies everything from the wants of mobile users to comparing hour-by-hour visitors to NPR.org and radio listeners. Though it may not be unusual for a media organization to do research on news coverage or design factors, fielding responses on how you and your audience use Twitter is fairly new.

“I feel that being open represents the mission and values of NPR,” Carvin said. “Literally, if you look at our mission statement, it says we exist to create a more informed public.”

October 04 2010

19:09

Narrative Magazine Takes the Literary World Digital

Poetry on your iPhone. Short stories on your Kindle. Or, if you're not yet into e-reading, how about a complete print-on-demand literary magazine? However you like your literature, Narrative Magazine has you covered.

Literary magazines aren't exactly known yet for their digital expertise. This genre of magazines has moved slowly into the online realm, mainly publishing limited web content. But Narrative Magazine, a non-profit, innovative publisher, has fearlessly experimented with just about every method of digitally distributing its high-quality content, which has included writers like Saul Bellow, Amy Tan, and Jane Smiley. The magazine's diverse array of creative approaches has established a variety of revenue sources and publicity strategies for the magazine and its writers.

Advocating for Literature in a Digital World

Narrative Magazine is a primarily online literary magazine founded in 2003 by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, who are also its co-editors. At the time, Jenks said, there were few publishers providing high-quality literary work online.

"We had been concerned for some time that writers and good writing were going to be marginalized on the Internet," Jenks said. "We were attracted to the fact that the Internet was free and it was open. We wanted to perpetuate that sense with literary material."

The editors sent requests to six writers they knew, asking for material to use on the web. Within a week, they had six manuscripts in hand, and published the first issue of Narrative online. They emailed about 1,200 contacts about the new magazine. Soon, the magazine was up to three issues per year and, according to Jenks, it is now likely to reach a consistent audience of 100,000 readers by the end of 2010.

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Narrative is a non-profit and has received consistent support from a "fairly small group of dedicated donors," Jenks said. According to its 2008 IRS filing, the magazine received just over $410,000 in donations that year, a remarkable amount during difficult economic times. Jenks said there was even a slight increase in 2009. One challenge in finding new donors, though, has been in convincing individuals and grantors about the value of a digital literary magazine.

"When people think of funding the arts, they usually think locally," Jenks said. "As soon as you say it's a digital publication, people kind of say, 'Huh?' "

Narrative also received $10,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts this year after "quite a few years of conversation with them," Jenks said. "They gradually came to see what we were doing. Two years ago, people had very little sense of what digital book publishing meant, and now everyone's scrambling ...You have to have a little faith and keep moving forward."

Strangely enough, designing a good website and having other digital features have at times worked against Narrative's fundraising. "A lot of people look at Narrative and they don't see it as the struggling non-profit that it is because it looks pretty slick online," Jenks said.

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Narrative also charges writers fees for submitting unsolicited manuscripts. Writers pay $20 for prose submissions and $15 for up to five poems, unless they submit during an annual free period held the first two weeks of April.

Though the practice is not uncommon, some writers feel that submission fees at literary magazines are unnecessary, and that these fees are a burden for new writers. According to Narrative, the fees help cover the administrative expenses related to handling submissions and also support the free digital distribution of the non-profit magazine, as well as fund the annual $5,000 Narrative Prize. All paid submissions are entered into the prize competition. Additionally, published authors are paid relatively well for their work, which is also somewhat unusual in the literary magazine world.

Incentives for Readers

Narrative has gone beyond standard social media to develop participatory opportunities for readers, one of which is tied to donations. The magazine's primary goal is to support literature and its digital format means the editors have great flexibility to publish both long and short works. However, they acknowledge that other kinds of content helps attract readers, so they also now include puzzles, audio/visual content, cartoons, and graphic stories in the magazine.

The Narrative site, apps, and email blasts offer easy access to all of the magazine's content. More participatory options are also in the works. "Before too long, you'll also see us do something else -- not social networking, but something to give our readers an opportunity to customize Narrative for themselves," Jenks said. "They can see things they most want to have immediate contact with, and connect with other people on the site."

Another strategy for increasing readers' involvement with the magazine is Narrative's Backstage section. Donations of $50 or more are rewarded with a "Backstage Pass," which allows these donors to view special content early, before it's made accessible to all readers. Jenks said this approach has been a "modest success."

"We wanted to create an encouragement for anyone who might want to give a small amount of money to have occasion to do that," he said.

Print-on-demand copies of the magazine are another revenue source, though smaller. Much of Narrative's content is downloadable as PDFs, and until recently, every issue could be ordered in a fully designed print format. The demand for the print-on-demand edition is diminishing, however, and so now just one issue a year will be available in this format, according to Jenks. The magazine has found new opportunities, though, through mobile apps.

Making Literature Mobile

Narrative currently offers free apps for the iPhone and iPad that offer access to most of the magazine's web content, and they might develop an Android app as well. The magazine was also one of the first literary publications available on the Amazon Kindle, currently selling at $3.49 an issue. Jenks said the apps bring in about 30 new readers per day, and though the Kindle audience is not as large and is not growing quickly, he says it is "meaningful to the writers to be there."

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Narrative's effort to keep up with changing technology is partly designed to help writers transition into the digital era.

"It will probably be a decade or so before there's a clearly recognized model for literary publishing the way there used to be. Conventional publishers in New York are just now catching on to things," Jenks said. "In the meantime, there's a whole lot of anxiety and despair, especially among writers."

For Narrative, another major reason for making its content digital and mobile is to attract new readers at a time when there seems to be diminishing interest in reading literature.

"We wanted to attract younger readers who might not otherwise be catching on to literary work," Jenks said. "We wanted to create something -- without diluting what we think of as quality -- that would have the potential to attract readers who might be interested if we could just get them to see it."

The magazine is also exploring possibilities for reaching out into schools to get students more involved with literature. When younger readers get excited about reading literature electronically, Narrative will be ready for them.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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September 29 2010

19:53

How Journalism Teachers are Failing, and How to Stop It

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

I am writing this article on an iPad which is tapped wirelessly into a coffee shop's WiFi. The device knows where it is in space and, if I allow it, will broadcast that information to any application I choose. Nearby, a young man browses the web on his iPhone. A woman is using a Blackberry. We are all online, all wireless and all capable of sending video, audio or text anywhere in the world.

In an instant, I could convert my iPad into a magazine-style newsreader using one of a dozen applications such as Flipboard, River of News, Early Edition or FLUD. Beautifully formatted pages, filled with images and videos which my social media friends have flagged, will flow and slide across the screen.

The young man could do the same using applications like Reeder or The Pulse on his mobile phone. Our news packages would be culled, collated and laid out not by editors and graphic designers, but by crowds and CPUs.

This is neither new nor uncommon. It is becoming the norm as millions of people snap up iPads and smartphones and a dozen new tablets wait in the wings -- a new one from RIM being just the latest offering.

But, despite that, much of the fundamental (and sometimes final) training we offer journalism students is dished out as if none of it were happening. As if the boulder-sized granularity of the news cycle had not melted in a quicksilver stream. As if the line between author and audience has not been smudged to grey and as if, really, nothing much had changed about the fundamentals of journalistic narrative, despite a wholesale remaking of the information landscape.

They Know What They've Been Taught

Many journalism profs, I'd wager, have never used Flipboard, done a podcast, played with Foursquare or Gowalla or have really seriously engaged in an online social community. Nor have they paid attention to the video blogs and online networks that bear as much resemblance to a traditional television studio as a unicycle does to a Hummer.

How do I know this? I teach third and fourth year and post-grad level online journalism courses at two universities in Ontario, Canada. Over the course of the past 15 years, I've done the same at a handful more.

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I have seen fourth year students who, when I show them examples from the This Week in Tech Network, Rocketboom or Buzz Out Loud, say they've never seen them before.

I have third year students who have never edited digital audio. Who write heads and leads with no thought to how they will be atomized and abstracted in RSS feeds and on the screens of mobile phones and tablets. I have a class of MA journalism students, the majority of whom don't even know what an RSS feed is.

And, I have to ask: How can that be? How can intelligent students go through semester after semester or even year after year of modern journalistic training and be so ignorant of some of the fundamental concepts, tools and shows that are shaping the way
citizens ingest and participate in journalism and content? How can it be that they only seem to (maybe) know the basics of radio, television, magazine and newspapers? How can it be that they often treat online with some derision and fear, and as if it were

nothing more than a place to shovel, unaltered, the products of other media?

Rhetorical questions. They know and repeat what they have been taught. And their basic training, in my experience, does not have folded into its DNA an understanding that not all audio ends up on time-constrained, broadcast, appointment radio.

That not all news has to be produced in cumbersome, equipment-laden studios with business-suited and scripted anchors.

That not all words will wind up on paper first, nestled luxuriously in a contextual bed of carefully laid-out cousin stories on crafted, immutable pages.

That not all acts of journalism have to be committed by journalists. And that not all audiences are passive.

That not all video needs to be shot with unwieldy, obtrusive cameras. Nor with cameras at all, but rather with smartphones tethered timelessly to social networks and embedded players.

No. The students I see know little if anything of the online world or of emerging media. Their own personal experience extends to Facebook and texting, for the most part. And their journalistic training reaches only a tentative few feet beyond the same traditional media and means it always has. What little exposure they do get is often provided by itinerant lecturers or faculty with little real practical experience who have to rely on technical teaching assistants to show students fundamentals.

Basic online training often extends only as far as how to use content management systems (CMS) that treat online only as digital Tupperware for other more traditional forms. The argument for this is that these are systems that are used in newsrooms today. But learning a CMS isn't a course; it's an uninteresting class. And, frankly, looking to most newsrooms for best online practice is like visiting a glue factory to learn about race horses.

A Different Approach

All this needs to change now, and in first year. Why? Because the nature of story and storytelling has been altered forever. Instructors who teach basic print need to acknowledge that not only will headlines, subheads and other microcontent be torn apart and scattered to tiny screens and tablets; but it must also survive the dissection and distribution of Twitter and other microblogging services.

More importantly, they need to acknowledge and explore how the very nature of an ongoing narrative -- which is at the core of much news reporting -- changes when you factor in real-time audience participation, distribution and creation. They need to discuss layout, not as static (print) nor somewhat unpredictable (web) processes, but rather as a user or CPU choice. Witness apps like Flipboard that seize and transform feeds, text and graphics on the fly.

Instructors need, in my opinion, to reconsider how stories are brainstormed, sourced, researched and even edited, given a public with an increasing desire and ability to be talked to, engaged with, crowdsourced and mined in a collaborative dance of narrative creation.

Acting as if nothing has changed, or, that what has changed can be layered on like a parka in the winter season of a student's learning doesn't work anymore. I see the fruits of that kind of thinking term after term. It breeds scared students who feel unprepared for the
emerging world and resentful of educational opportunities missed.

"Fine, great," I hear critics say. "That's all well and good in theory, but we have students who come to us knowing nothing about the craft. How can we possibly teach them more stuff?"

But I'm not advocating for more. I'm advocating for acknowledgement and change. And, a second note: Along with that honest concern I hear an undertone, a dark counterpoint that thrums, "I fear, I fear, I fear." Many instructors don't teach differently because they don't
know what is different. They know something has shifted, some foreign refraction by an unseen lens, but its nature eludes them, scares them or leaves them cold. Or all three. They resist changing because they have so little experience of the changed world.

Radio instructors, from day one, need to consider that the idea of appointment radio is becoming quaint. Students who listen to podcasts or have downloaded the NPR, BBC or CBC app to their mobile device don't really understand that there was a time when you Screen shot 2010-09-28 at 10.40.37 PM.pngheard a show once and once only. They have unpinned audio from time. Surely the
teaching of even the basics has to account for that. Surely the inexorable shift from broadcast to IP delivery of audio alters how we think about story telling for the ear and mind's eye. After all, our audiences are now traversing our acoustic work more like Doctor Who than like a steadfast hiker.

Television instructors must show students not just the evening news and documentaries, but also the small, entrepreneurial, web-based news and entertainment productions that fill Vimeo, You Tube, Daily Motion and set top box offerings. Surely the TWiT Network, which produces over a dozen high quality, and extremely profitable, videocasts a week is a model worthy of consideration when larger, more traditional television newsrooms are folding in on themselves.

Surely webisode entrepreneurs like the highly articulate Amber MacArthur are equally if not more valid role models for young men and women than vapid weather people, boisterous sports hosts and always-standing television personalities and reporters who ask silly questions of ignorant people on busy street corners.

Surely smartphones and streaming applications are viable tools that have a place beside larger and more labour intensive processes and hardware.

And, surely, we need to step back even further than that and consider what we must bake into our most basic instruction when our audience members are geo-locatable with breathtaking precision; and when they can share what they see, hear and think with the facility that, ten years ago, was only afforded a remote van or a satellite uplink.

We need to understand how our audiences relate to and use news when they are not reading it on paper, but instead, multitouching it, exploring it with their hands and playing with media as if it were so much fingerpaint just below the surface of their portable glass
tablets. Touch is the new click. The hand is the new desk. Where is the new when and glass is rapidly becoming the new paper. They have to change how we teach our news. From the beginning, from the core. From now on.

Time to Play, To Experiment

But, how do we do that? By playing. By living in the present, if not the future. If you teach magazines and haven't used Flipboard on a tablet, you don't really know what's going to happen to your industry. If you teach television and haven't shot, edited and published a news item from your smartphone, you're missing an important part of on-the-ground news coverage by journalists and citizens. And, more importantly, you're unable to think creatively about how to use that skill to tell great stories new ways and how to weave that
understanding into what you teach every day. We can't teach skills we lack, offer wisdom about tools we've never used nor provide even the most rudimentary opinions of social media experiences we've never had.

And we can't think creatively, generatively, about how to weave online journalism into the fabric we cloak our students with from the first day they fall to our care. They expect that of us, and they are right to do so.

Wayne MacPhail began in the industry as a magazine photographer, feature writer and editor. In 1983, he moved to the Hamilton Spectator where was a health, science and social services columnist, feature writer and editor. In 1991, he founded Southam InfoLab, a research and development lablooking into future information products for this Canadian national newspaper chain. After leaving Southam, he developed online content for most Canadian online networks. Wayne now heads up w8nc inc., helping non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, charitable organizations and associations develop and implement technology-based, marketing driven communications strategies. He also teaches online journalism at the University of Western Ontario and Ryerson University. He serves on the board of rabble.ca where he founded the rabble podcast network and rabbletv. He's a regular tech columnist for the website and for mondoville.com.

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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This article was originally published on J-Source. J-Source and MediaShift have a content-sharing arrangement to broaden the audience of both sites.

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September 24 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: Apple’s subscription plan, the exodus from objectivity, and startup guides galore

[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]

Is Apple giving publishers a raw deal?: The San Jose Mercury News’ report that Apple is moving toward a newspaper and magazine subscription plan via its App Store didn’t immediately generate much talk when it was published last week, but the story picked up quite a bit of steam this week. Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal both confirmed the story over the weekend, reporting that Apple may introduce the service early next year along with a new iPad. The service, they said, will be similar to Apple’s iBook store, and Bloomberg reported that it will be separate from the App Store.

Those reports were met with near-universal skepticism — not of their accuracy, but of Apple’s motivations and trustworthiness within such a venture. Former journalist Steve Yelvington sounded the alarm most clearly: “Journalists and publishers, Apple is not your friend.” It’s a corporation, Yelvington said, and like all corporations, it will do anything — including ripping you apart — to pursue its own self-interest.

Several other observers fleshed out some of the details of Yelvington’s concern: EMarketer’s Paul Verna compared the situation to Apple’s treatment of the music industry with iTunes, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and TechCrunch’s MG Siegler wondered whether publishers would balk at giving up data about their subscribers to Apple or at Apple’s reported plans to take a 30% share of subscription revenue. Ingram predicted that publishers would play ball with Apple, but warned that they might wind up “sitting in a corner counting their digital pennies, while Apple builds the business that they should have built themselves.” Dovetailing with their worries was another story of Apple’s control over news content on its platform, as Network World reported that Apple was threatening to remove Newsday’s iPad app over a (quite innocuous) commercial by the newspaper that Apple allegedly found offensive.

Media analyst Ken Doctor broke down publishers’ potential reactions to Apple’s initiative, looking at the plan’s appeal to them (“It offers a do-over, the chance to redraw the pay/free lines of the open web”) and their possible responses (accept, negotiate with Apple, or look into “anti-competitive inquiries”). In a post at the Lab, Doctor also took a quick look at Apple’s potential subscription revenue through this arrangement, an amount he said could be “mind-bending.”

All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka noted one indicator that publishers are in serious need of a subscription service on the iPad, pointing out that Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated can’t pay for the designers to make its iPad app viewable in two directions because, according to its digital head, it doesn’t have the money without an iPad subscription program. Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan used the same situation to explain why iPad subscriptions would be so critical for publishers and readers.

A coup for journalism with a point of view: It hasn’t been unusual over the past year to read about big-name journalists jumping from legacy-media organizations to web-journalism outfits, but two of those moves this week seemed to mark a tipping point for a lot of the observers of the future-of-journalism world. Both were made by The Huffington Post, as it nabbed longtime Newsweek correspondent Howard Fineman and top New York Times business writer Peter Goodman.

The Wrap’s Dylan Stableford looked at what Fineman’s departure means for Newsweek (he’s one of at least 10 Newsweek editorial staffers to leave since the magazine’s sale was announced last month), but what got most people talking was Goodman’s explanation of why he was leaving: “It’s a chance to write with a point of view,” he said. “With the dysfunctional political system, old conventional notions of fairness make it hard to tell readers directly what’s going on. This is a chance for me to explore solutions in my economic reporting.”

That kind of reporting (as opposed to, as Goodman called it, “laundering my own views” by getting someone from a thinktank to express them in an article) is exactly what many new-media folks have been advocating, and hearing someone from The New York Times express it so clearly felt to them like a turning point. The tone of centrist detachment of mainstream journalism “has become a liability in keeping newsroom talent,” declared NYU professor Jay Rosen on Twitter. Others echoed that thought: Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan extolled the virtues of being “able to call bullshit bullshit,” and former Salon editor Scott Rosenberg said legacy news orgs like The Times need to find a way to allow its reporters more freedom to voice their perspective while maintaining their standards. Salon’s Dan Gillmor agreed with Rosenberg on the centrality of human voice within journalism and noted that this exodus to new media is also a sign of those sites’ financial strength.

Former McClatchy exec Howard Weaver countered that while transparency and clear voice is preferable to traditional “objectivity,” freeing traditional journalists isn’t as simple as just spilling their biases. Advocacy journalism is not just giving an opinion, he said, it’s a “disciplined, ethical posture that tries to build truth out of evidence, regardless of the outcome.”

Getting journalism startups off the ground: If you’re interested in the journalism startup scene — for-profit or nonprofit — you got a gold mine of observations and insights this week. Over at PBS’ Idea Lab, Brad Flora, founder of the Chicago blog network Windy Citizen, examined five mistakes that kill local news blogs. Here’s how he summed his advice up: “You are not starting a blog, you are launching a small business. You are no different from the guy opening a bar up the road. … You need to know something about blogging and social media, yes, but what you really need to bone up on is what it takes to run a small business.” The post has some fantastic comments, including a great set of advice from The Batavian’s Howard Owens. On his own blog, Owens also gave some pretty thorough tips on developing advertising revenue at a local news startup.

On the nonprofit side, the Knight Citizen News Network went even deeper into startup how-to, providing a comprehensive 12-step guide to launching a nonprofit news organization. It may be the single best resource on the web for the practical work of starting a nonprofit news site. Voice of San Diego is one of the most successful examples of those sites, and its CEO, Scott Lewis told the story of his organization and the flame-out of the for-profit San Diego News Network as an example of the importance of what he calls “revenue promiscuity.”

David Cohn, founder of another nonprofit news startup, Spot.Us, also looked at six new journalism startups, leading off with Kommons, a question-answering site built around Twitter and co-founded by NYU Local founder Cody Brown. Rachel Sklar of Mediaite gave it a glowing review, describing it as “a community that seeks smart, conversation-furthering answers prompted by smart, probing questions — publicly.” She also said it sneakily lures users into giving it free content, though Brown responded that anyone who’s ever asked you to interview has been trying to do the same thing — only without giving you any control over how your words get used. (Kommons isn’t being sneaky, he said. You know you’re not getting paid going in.)

Three more future-oriented j-school programs: After last week’s discussion about the role of journalism schools in innovation, news of new j-school projects continued to roll in this week. City University of New York announced it’s expanding its graduate course in entrepreneurial journalism into the United States’ first master’s degree in that area. New-media guru Jeff Jarvis, who will direct the program, wrote that he wants CUNY to lead a movement to combine journalism and entrepreneurship skills at schools across the country.

Two nationwide news organizations are also developing new programs in partnership with j-schools: Journalism.co.uk reported that CNN is working on a mentoring initiative with journalism students called iReport University and has signed up City University London, and AOL announced that its large-scale hyperlocal project, Patch, is teaming up with 13 U.S. j-schools for a program called PatchU that will give students college credit for working on a local Patch site under the supervision of a Patch editor. Of course, using college students is a nice way to get content for cheap, something Ken Doctor noted as he also wondered what the extent of Patch’s mentoring would be.

Reading roundup: As always, there’s plenty of good stuff to get to. Here’s a quick glance:

— Former Washington Post executive editor Len Downie gave a lecture in the U.K. Wednesday night that was, for the most part, a pretty standard rundown of what the U.S. journalism ecosystem looks like from a traditional-media perspective. What got the headlines, though, was Downie’s dismissal of online aggregators as “parasites living off journalism produced by others.” Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan gave it an eye-roll, and Terry Heaton pushed back at Downie, too. Earlier in the week, media analyst Frederic Filloux broke down the differences between the good guys and bad guys in online aggregation.

— The New York Times published an interesting story on the social news site Digg and its redesign to move some power out of the hands of its cadre of “power” users. The Next Web noted that Digg’s traffic has been dropping pretty significantly, and Drury University j-prof Jonathan Groves wondered whether Digg is still relevant.

— A couple of hyperlocal tidbits: A new Missouri j-school survey found that community news site users are more satisfied with those sites than their local mainstream media counterparts, and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds posited that speed is less important than news orgs might think with hyperlocal news.

— Finally, a couple of follow-ups to Dean Starkman’s critique of the journalism “hamster wheel” last week: Here at the Lab, Nikki Usher looked at five ways newsrooms can encourage creativity despite increasing demands, and in a very smart response to Starkman, Reuters’ Felix Salmon argued that one of the biggest keys to finding meaning in an information-saturated online journalism landscape is teaching journalists to do more critical reading and curating.

September 22 2010

16:30

NYT’s Opinion Pages continue the march toward app-inspired design

Above is a screenshot of The New York Times’ opinion section, whose redesign went live a few hours ago. Looks sharp, doesn’t it? It also looks like it’s itching to be put into a different context:

The web redesign looks an awful lot like an iPad app: stories set into big touchable-looking blocks; non-standard web typography; more white space and more room for graphics than 99 percent of newspaper websites offer. And below the area in the screenshot above, the selector for moving between different Times columnists is all done in Ajax, so each click seamlessly shifts between content, much as a nice menuing system in an app might. Even the ING Direct ad in the upper right looks like the sort of small display ads some apps use. In some ways, this redesign more closely resembles the original NYT iPad app previewed in January than does the app the Times eventually shipped.

The redesign is limited to the Opinion front door; the actual story pages are unchanged. But this is the strongest sign yet that the design motifs news organizations are using in app development are bleeding back into the web, as I’d predicted back in April. Twitter’s recent redesign, of course, had a similar app-to-web feel.

Part of this design trend is driven by technology: more people using modern browsers that can handle Ajax; faster connections for big graphics and larger page sizes; the arrival of Typekit as a de facto standard for non-standard fonts. But I think it’s also driven by the desire to present easier navigation choices for readers and the sort of graphical class that lets you stand apart from the increasingly info-cluttered corners of the web. (Compare the Times’ new opinion page to, say, its politics page.)

I think this is important in ways that aren’t just about aesthetics. Simpler, bolder design also helps news organizations push back against the notion that the web demands more more more — more stories, more updates, more exhausted reporters. In the comments to Nikki Usher’s post on the “hamster wheel” a few days ago, a few of us had a mini-discussion on the subject. After C.W. Anderson described “the ‘needs’ of the internet” as “bottomless needs,” I said:

I’d just like to put a signpost in the ground for the argument that the needs of the Internet are not “bottomless needs.” There is not a single human being who consumes everything The New York Times produces online in a given day — or even the amount that The Dallas Morning News, or The Toledo Blade, or The Podunk Gazette produce. (Okay, maybe The Podunk Gazette.) Aren’t there any number of successful online content businesses built around strong but not overwhelming-in-quantity content?

I have no data to prove this, but I think there’s a chart to be drawn somewhere that features both quantity of content output and loyalty of audience, and I don’t think they line up 1:1. I don’t think the hamster-wheel model makes a lot of business sense for even a lot of online news outlets, whatever journalism sense it may make.

The hamster-wheel urge to produce more more more is happening at the same time that audiences are feeling more overwhelmed than ever with information. There aren’t many Americans who, at day’s end, lament: “Man, I just wish I’d had access to more content today.” There’s a role to be filled by providing simplicity, a more limited universe of choices, and information underload.

I’ve called it before a New Urbanism for news, and I think designs like this are a step in that direction.

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