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July 05 2011

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.

March 04 2011

16:00

March 02 2011

00:00

John Gruber on Apple’s 30% cut: To the victor goes the pricing power

John Gruber at Daring Fireball has an extended take on the justice or injustice of Apple’s 30-percent cut of all iPhone/iPad subscriptions. (He comes down on the side of justice. Or at least a kind of it’s-fair-because-we-can justice.) If you, like many publishers, are still cranky about Apple’s decision, give it a read to get a reasoned argument for the other side. (One that’ll probably still leave you cranky — but reasoned nonetheless.)

Here are a few thoughts on some of Gruber’s arguments:

Apple doesn’t give a damn about companies with business models that can’t afford a 70/30 split. Apple’s running a competitive business; competition is cold and hard. And who exactly can’t afford a 70/30 split? Middlemen. It’s not that Apple is opposed to middlemen — it’s that Apple wants to be the middleman. It’s difficult to expect them to be sympathetic to the plights of other middlemen.

To the broad category of “middlemen” I’d add “companies whose economics are built for other platforms.”

For all the developers who’ve built native apps for the iPhone or iPad from scratch — say, game developers or productivity app developers — they’ve been able to build their business strategy from a known cost base and a known revenue scheme. If you know that you’re going to be selling 99-cent apps, you can build a business around the expectation of revenue coming in 99-cent chunks. (Or, more accurately, 70-cent chunks, after Apple’s cut.)

But if you’re a business that already exists, with its own native pre-iOS economic basis, you’re laden with a bunch of preset economic variables. If you’re a newspaper, you’ve already got a newsroom with X number of reporters and Y number of photographers and Z number of editors. (Which were probably around 2X, 2Y, and 2Z ten years ago.) You’re coming to a new platform, but it’s not an entirely new product you’re creating — you were already paying those reporters. And when you’re calculating something like pricing, you’re doing that with an understanding that you’re also navigating the economic space between what you’re already charging for your website (likely $0 now, although you’re planning on changing that later this year) and what you’re already charging for a print subscription (whether that’s $12, $20, or $30 a month). You’re already scared to death about trying to convince people they should pay for your website — and then all of a sudden, the monthly number you’d been planning to charge for your iPhone app needs to go up 30 percent to make the math work.

Now, that’s not Apple’s problem. Gruber’s right: Apple doesn’t give a damn about newspapers. The financial difficulties of American newspapers are not Apple’s fault and they’re not Apple’s to solve. And unlike Google — which has put a lot of energy into making newspaper-friendly noises to try to repair a relationship that bottomed out a couple of years ago — Apple doesn’t throw the industry any bone bigger than showing off nytimes.com in product demos.

But regardless of whether you think newspapers deserve any sympathy for their plight (good arguments on both sides!), it’s not just middlemen who are disadvantaged by Apple’s large take.

Kindle, and e-book platforms in general, are a different case. For one thing, Kindle doesn’t use subscriptions. Kindle offers purchases.

The Kindle does actually offer subscriptions, both to newspapers and blogs, like Daring Fireball itself. (Given where DF ranks in the Kindle Store, he probably has about 5-8 people paying $1.99 a month to read the site on their Kindles. We have 16! That’s likely to be the only traffic-related number where we edge Gruber.)

I don’t think any publisher would consider Amazon’s Kindle subscription model an improvement over Apple’s, though, for a host of reasons — not least that it’s Amazon who controls pricing, not the publisher, not to mention Amazon takes an even steeper cut than Apple does.

Second, the problem facing traditional publishers today is that circulation is falling. Newsstand sales and subscriptions are falling, under pressure from free-of-charge websites and other forms of digital content. The idea with Apple’s 70-30 revenue split is that developers and publishers can make it up in volume — that people aren’t just somewhat more willing to pay for content through iTunes than other online content stores, they are far more willing. The idea is that that Apple has cracked a nut no one else has — they’ve created an ecosystem where hundreds of millions of people are willing to pay for digital content. Thus, potentially, publishers won’t just make more money keeping only 70 percent of subscription fees generated through iOS apps than they are now with 96 percent (or whatever they’re left with after payment processing fees) of subscription fees they’re selling on their own — they stand to make a lot more money.

There’s no doubt that Apple’s built a great payment system. Although I’d also point out that it benefits from the natural market segmentation that comes whenever you sell expensive devices. Does the iPad make people more likely to buy digital goods? Or does the fact that someone has paid $499 or $829 for an iPad serve as a pretty good marker that they’re already the kind of person more likely to pay for digital goods? I think there’s truth in both.

To look at it from another angle, any developer will tell you that there are many more Mac users who buy shareware apps than Windows users. (I’m speaking in terms of percentage; obviously there are many more Windows users than Mac users. But a larger percentage of Mac users will download and pay for a $15 app than will Windows users.) Now, pre-Mac App Store, Apple didn’t make paying for software any easier than Microsoft did. But Mac users are, by their self-selected nature, people who were willing to spend a little more to get a better computing experience — in other words, people who are predisposed toward paying.

The other factor here is the idea of who “deserves” credit for bringing a customer to a purchase. As Apple said in its announcement, “when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share.” And if someone discovers Tiny Wings (great game!) in the App Store rankings and downloads it, I think Apple’s certainly earned its 30 percent.

But if someone searches for and downloads The New York Times app — after the Times has spent more than a century building up its brand, as the cost of billions of dollars — can it really be said that Apple has “brought” that subscriber to the app, and that they deserve 30 percent of the revenue the app generates, forever? (Gruber doesn’t address the eternal nature of Apple’s cut; it’s like paying a New York apartment broker his finder’s fee, every year for the rest of your Manhattan-dwelling life.) It certainly seems like a transaction different in kind from, say, a game that exists only on (and only because) the iPhone platform.

Again, it’s a case of being disadvantaged if you’re bringing over an economic model from outside the platform. There’s a reason Rupert Murdoch said he was fine giving Apple 30 percent of the revenues from The Daily — but why he’s no doubt less thrilled about having to give over 30 percent of the revenue generated by The Wall Street Journal’s app. The Daily’s economics are built around getting 70 cents a subscriber each week. The Wall Street Journal has a host of price points in other media it needs to fit an iPad price into. (Not to mention an annual cost 4x The Daily’s.)

Finally, also note that most App Store developers don’t have such a readily substitutable good available for free over in Safari, the web browser. If you don’t want to pay 99 cents for Angry Birds, you don’t have the option of going to Safari and playing it for free. Again, you can blame newspapers for that state of affairs, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But given the degree to which newspapers are having to balance free and paid in a variety of ways to make digital revenue work, it’s a tough moment to be pushed into a corner by Apple’s decision.

This is what galls some: Apple is doing this because they can, and no other company is in a position to do it. This is not a fear that in-app subscriptions will fail because Apple’s 30 percent slice is too high, but rather that in-app subscriptions will succeed despite Apple’s (in their minds) egregious profiteering. I.e. that charging what the market will bear is somehow unscrupulous. To the charge that Apple Inc. is a for-profit corporation run by staunch capitalists, I say, “Duh”.

Of course. Apple’s not a charity. It has no financial reason to help out any content industry. While those of us who wish the newspaper business well would love to see a different approach, in the end, it’s Apple’s choice and they can do what they please.

And iOS subscriptions won’t fail. I wager that most of the news publishers grumbling about the issue now will come around and give the cut to Apple. They might increase their investment in Android phone and tablet apps a little, but let’s be honest: Apple’s still the big dog here. (Android users have inherited Windows users’ disinterest in paying for software or digital content.)

It’s just galling that the incumbent players in the news business face so many economic disadvantages because of their background, and because of their investment in journalism, that it would have been nice for this to be different.

Yes, the financially sound thing for them to do would be to abandon the old cost structure and instead build a digital-native company that could happily turn over 30 percent of revenues to Apple and reap all the benefits (distribution, scale, payment platform) that Apple provides.

The only problem with that, with that model, you end up, well, with something like The Daily — something light and tabloidy, something in nugget form, something that looks for the oldest dog in America. (Actually, I suspect you end up with less than that, because I’m not optimistic that Murdoch will get the subscriber numbers he needs to be profitable. And I say that despite being a great admirer of many of the people working there.)

With all the great innovation that’s gone on in the news space, there are still no for-profit newsrooms with the scale and heft and journalistic weaponry of the nation’s biggest newspapers. They’re still important, and they’ve been looking to the app economy as a big part of their efforts to figure out a place in the digital economy. It would have been nice if Apple might have cut them some slack. Yeah, that’s not Steve Jobs’ problem — I get that. Apple’s earned their pricing power by being innovative and smart. But it still would have been nice.

February 25 2011

15:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 18 2011

15:00

This Week in Review: Paying up with Apple and Google, Twitter and activism, free labor for HuffPo

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

Apple lays down its terms: Publishers have been quite anxiously awaiting word from Apple about the particulars of its subscription plan for mobile devices, including the iPad; they got it this week, but it wasn’t what a lot of them were hoping for. The New York Times summarized publishers’ initial reaction with a few of the basic details — Apple gets a 30-percent cut, owns subscriber data (whether to send data to publishers is up to the subscriber), and publishers’ options for subscription services outside Apple are limited.

The Lab’s Josh Benton aptly laid out some of the primary implications for news organizations: Apple is setting itself up as toll-taker on the new news highway and putting a heavy incentive on converting print readers to tablet readers, but not putting restrictions on browser access within its devices. Media analyst Ken Doctor offered two astute takes on what Apple’s proposal will entail; we’ll call them glass-half-full and glass-half-empty.

Most of the reaction to Apple’s deal, however, was overwhelmingly negative. Media consultant Alan Mutter pointed out a couple of gotchas for publishers; Dan Gillmor called Apple’s policy stunningly arrogant, and the publishers that sign up for it “insane, or desperate”; ITworld’s Ryan Faas accused it of “gouging content producers”; Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan dubbed it “evil”; developer Ryan Carson urged users to fight Apple’s  ”extortion”; and the Wall Street Journal raised possible antitrust issues.

The beef that most of these critics have with Apple is not so much the 30-percent cut (though that’s part of it) as it is Apple’s restrictions on publishers’ alternative subscription methods. Apple is requiring that publishers that want to have a non-App Store subscription method can’t charge less than their Apple-sanctioned route, and can’t show app users how to access it, either. This means that, as Buchanan states, “Effectively, all easy roads to getting content on the iPad now run through Apple.” (Plus, as TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld noted, those terms could easily become even worse once Apple has publishers and readers hooked.)

Of course, the system looks a bit different from the consumer’s perspective — it may be the most user-friendly subscription system ever, argued MG Siegler of TechCrunch. (Publishers, of course, disagreed about that.) As GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram pointed out, this may come down to how much publishers think it’s worth to have Apple handle their mobile sales for them.

We got some mixed early signs about how publishers might answer that question. PaidContent reported on publishers who felt Apple’s terms could have been much worse, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow talked to publishers who plan to offer multiple options. Popular Science became the first magazine to jump on board and Wired is following suit ASAP, but Time Inc. pre-emptively struck deals with Apple’s competitors, and another publishers’ group threatened to take its business elsewhere.

One Pass to rule them all?: As if to underscore that point, Google announced its own One Pass digital paid-content system the next day. Unlike Apple, Google will keep about 10 percent of publishers’ revenue and allow publishers to own their subscribers’ data, according to Advertising Age. Much of the commentary about Google’s plan positioned it in opposition to Apple’s proposal: The Wall Street Journal described it as a fired salvo at Apple; search guru John Battelle summed it up as “Hey Apple, we’ve got a better way;” Alan Mutter detailed the ways Google’s plan “trumps” Apple’s; and others from The Next Web, mocoNews, and Fast Company compared the two proposals.

But several others — particularly the Lab’s Josh Benton and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds — explained that while it might seem natural to compare Google’s system to Apple’s given the timing of their announcements, Google One Pass is focused far more on web access than app access, making the paid-content company Journalism Online a more direct competitor than Apple. Journalism Online’s Gordon Crovitz made the case to paidContent for his company over Google, highlighting its flexibility, and paidContent also noted that newspaper chain MediaGeneral is trying out both systems at different papers.

A couple of other notes on Google’s plan: TechCrunch’s MG Siegler argued that Google’s agreement to allow publishers ownership of subscribers’ data is at least as big of a deal to publishers as the revenue split, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram ripped One Pass, saying that as long as its clients’ content is on the open web without the exceptional user experience of the best apps, it’s just “a warmed-over content paywall.”

Parsing out the “social media and revolutions” debate: Despite having been declared “over” early this week by The Daily’s editor-in-chief, the protests in Egypt continued to dominate conversation, including in future-of-news circles. Via The New York Times, we got a glimpse into how Egyptian officials were able to shut down their country’s Internet and how Facebook is wrestling with its role in the protests. NPR’s Andy Carvin continued to earn plaudits (from The New York Times and PR exec Katie Delahaye), and the Lab’s Megan Garber looked at the way Carvin spontaneously launched a personalized Twitter pledge drive.

But the bulk of the discussion revolved around the same discussion that’s been on slow burn for the past few weeks: What role does social media play in social activism? Washington grad student Deen Freelon has once again produced a fantastic synopsis of what we know and what we have yet to learn in this arena, so consider this a supplement to his post.

The parade of articles arguing that Twitter doesn’t cause revolutions continued at a steady pace this week, prompting NYU j-prof Jay Rosen to profile the Twitter-debunking article as a genre, concluding that the argument  — along with the glib social media triumphalism it’s refuting — is a cheap detour around thoughtfully considering the complex issues involved in social change. Several others built on Rosen’s point: Aaron Bady delved deeper into the social media-debunking article’s function; CUNY j-profs Jeff Jarvis and C.W. Anderson focused on protecting those technological tools and opined on the difference between academic and popular discourse on cause-and-effect, respectively.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t substantive things to say about social media’s role in recent protests, of course. POLIS’ Charlie Beckett noted that newly adopted technologies (such as mobile phones) have helped create a more “networkable” power structure in the Middle East, and NDN’s Sam duPont looked at social media’s role as an organizing tool, news source, and public sphere in Egypt.

To pay or not to pay: With a few exceptions (Frederic Filloux’s short, fierce takedown of The Huffington Post as a “digital sand castle” is well worth a read), the second week of commentary on AOL’s purchase of The Huffington Post centered on the question of whether HuffPo’s thousands of unpaid contributors should start getting paychecks for their work.

At The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, Nate Silver attempted to calculate the worth of a typical HuffPo post, concluding that they follow a classic power law relationship and that most of them aren’t worth much. The New York Observer’s Ben Popper said Silver is undervaluing HuffPo’s contributors, and Gannett’s Ryan Sholin made the point that having those posts within a single platform is worth more than the posts themselves.

Most of the grist for this week’s conversation, though, came from Silver’s Times colleague, David Carr, who used HuffPo as an entree into some observations about creating online content for others for free through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Quora. Paul Gillin of Newspaper Death Watch built on Carr and Silver’s analyses to make the case that in the face of devalued online content, demand for higher-quality material might bring us out of the basement of online pay.

Several others countered Carr with similar points: Web thinker Stowe Boyd, British j-prof Paul Bradshaw and HuffPo’s own Nico Pitney said that HuffPo bloggers have eminently legitimate non-monetary reasons for writing there; GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram pointed out that The Times’ op-ed system isn’t much different from HuffPo’s; and Jeff Jarvis said news folks should be thinking more about value than content.

Reading roundup: Some interesting bits and pieces to round out the week:

— Google unveiled the latest tool in its effort to fight content farms this week — an extension to its browser, Chrome, that allows users to block any site they choose from Google search results. TechCrunch called it “crowdsourcing” Google’s content farm detection, and Gizmodo said that it allows for the arresting possibility of “an Internet that never disagrees with you.”

— A few miscellaneous items regarding The Daily: Slate’s chairman, Jacob Weisberg, ripped it (“It’s just a bad version of a newspaper in electronic form with a very condescending view of the audience”); Scott Rosenberg wondered what’ll happen to its archives; and the publication updated its glitch-ridden app.

— A couple of great data journalism resources: Poynter’s Steve Myers broke down the difficulties in integrating data journalism into the newsroom, and ProPublica’s Dan Nguyen wrote a wonderful post encouraging journalists to get started with data analysis.

— The second blogging Carnival of Journalism, focusing on increasing the number of news sources within communities, began going up over the past day or so, so keep an eye out for those posts. I’ll have a roundup here next week.

— If you want a 30,000-foot summary of what’s happening on the leading edge of news right now, you really can’t do much better than Josh Benton’s speech to the Canadian Journalism Foundation posted here at the Lab. It’s a fantastic primer, no matter how initiated you already are.

January 28 2011

15:30

October 29 2010

15:30

This Week in Review: WikiLeaks’ latest doc drop, the NPR backlash, and disappointing iPad magazines

[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]

WikiLeaks coverage gets personal: There were two big stories everyone spent the whole week talking about, and both actually happened late last week. We’ll start with what’s easily the bigger one in the long term: WikiLeaks’ release last Friday of 400,000 documents regarding the Iraq War. The Iraq War Logs were released in partnership with several news organizations around the world, including Al-Jazeera, The New York Times, Der Spiegel and Le Monde. (The Columbia Journalism Review wrote a good roundup of the initial coverage.)

The Guardian and The Times in particular used the documents to put together some fascinating pieces of data journalism, and The Columbia Journalism Review’s Lauren Kirchner looked at how they did it. The folks at Journalism.co.uk wrote a couple of posts detailing WikiLeaks’ collaborative efforts on the release, particularly their work with the new British nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism. A French nonprofit that also worked with WikiLeaks, OWNI, told its own story of the project.

Despite all that collaborative work, the news coverage of the documents fizzled over the weekend and into this week, leading two reporting vets to write to the media blog Romenesko to posit reasons why the traditional media helped throw cold water on the story. John Parker pointed to the military press — “Too many military reporters in the online/broadcast field have simply given up their watchdog role for the illusion of being a part of power” — and David Cay Johnston urged journalists to check out the documents, rather than trusting official sources.

There was another WikiLeaks-related story that got almost as much press as the documents themselves: The internal tension at the organization and the ongoing mystery surrounding its frontman, Julian Assange. The Times and the British paper The Independent both dug into those issues, and Assange walked out of a CNN interview after repeated questions about sexual abuse allegations he’s faced in Sweden. That coverage was met with plenty of criticism — Assange and The Columbia Journalism Review ripped CNN, and Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald joined Assange in tearing into The Times.

After being chastised by the U.S. Defense Department this summer for not redacting names of informants in its Afghanistan leak this summer, WikiLeaks faced some criticism this time around from Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici and Gawker’s John Cook for going too far with the redaction. A few other WikiLeaks-related strains of thought: Mark Feldstein at the American Journalism Review compared WikiLeaks with old-school investigative journalism, Barry Schuler wondered whether the governmental animosity toward WikiLeaks will lead to regulations of the Internet, and CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis wrote about the way WikiLeaks is bringing us toward the dawn of the age of transparency. “Only when and if government realizes that its best defense is openness will we see transparency as a good in itself and not just a weapon to expose the bad,” he said.

NPR, Fox News and objectivity: The other story that dominated the future-of-news discussion (and the news discussion in general) was NPR’s firing last week of news analyst Juan Williams for comments about Muslims he made on Fox News. Conversation about the firing took off late last week and didn’t slow down until about Wednesday this week. NPR kept finding it tougher to defend the firing as the criticism piled up, and by the weekend, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller had apologized for how she handled the firing (but not for the firing itself). NPR got a bomb threat over the incident, and even PBS, which has had nothing whatsoever to do with Williams, was deluged with angry emailers.

Conversation centered on two issues: First, and more immediately, why Williams was fired and whether he should have been. Longtime reporter James Naughton and The Awl’s Abe Sauer thought Williams should have been fired years ago because he appeared on Fox, where he’s only used as a prop in Fox’s efforts to incite faux-news propaganda. NYU professor Jay Rosen put it more carefully, saying that given NPR’s ironclad commitment to the objective view from nowhere, “there was no way he could abide by NPR’s rules — which insist on viewlessness as a guarantor of trust — and appear on Fox, where the clash of views is basic to what the network does to generate audience” — not to mention that that viewlessness renders the entire position of “news analyst” problematic.

Along with Rosen, Time media critic James Poniewozik and Lehigh j-prof Jeremy Littau advocated for greater transparency as a way to prevent needless scandals like these. Former NPR host Farai Chideya emphasized a different angle, asserting that Williams was kept on for years as his relationship with NPR eroded because he’s a black man. Said Chideya, who’s African-American herself: “Williams’ presence on air was a fig-leaf for much broader and deeper diversity problems at the network.”

The other issue was both broader and more politically driven: Should NPR lose its public funding? Republican Sen. Jim DeMint said he would introduce a bill to that effect, and conservatives echoed his call for defunding (though NPR gets only 1 to 2 percent of its budget from direct public funding — and even that’s from competitive federal grants). Politico noted how difficult it would be to actually take NPR’s public funding, and a poll indicated that Americans are split on the issue straight down party lines.

Those calling for the cut got some support, however indirect, from a couple of people in the media world: Slate’s Jack Shafer said NPR and public radio stations should wean themselves from public funding so they can stop being tossed around as a political pawn, and New York Sun founding editor Seth Lipsky argued that NPR’s subsidies make it harder for private entrepreneurs to raise money for highbrow journalism. There were counter-arguments, too: The Atlantic’s James Fallows gave a passionate defense of NPR’s value as a news organization, and LSU grad student Matt Schafer made the case for public media in general.

Magazines disappoint on the iPad: Advertising Age collected circulation figures for the first six months of magazines’ availability on the iPad and compared it to print circulation, getting decided mixed results. (Science/tech mags did really well; general interest titles, not so much.) The site’s Nat Ives concluded that iPad ad rates might drop as result, and that “Magazines’ iPad editions won’t really get in gear until big publishers and Apple agree on some kind of system for subscription offers.”

Former New York Times design director Khoi Vinh gave a stinging critique of those magazines’ iPad apps, saying they’re at odds with how people actually use the device. “They’re bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all,” he said. In a follow-up, he talked a bit about why their current designs are a “stand-in for true experimentation.”

Meanwhile, news organizations continue to rush to the iPad: The New York Post came out with an iPad app that The Village Voice’s Foster Kamer really, really liked, The Oklahoman became another one of the first few newspapers to offer its own iPad subscription outside of Apple’s iTunes payment system, PBS launched its own iPad app, and News Corp. is moving forward with plans for a new tabloid created just for tablets.

Two opposite paid-content moves: It was somewhat lost in the WikiLeaks-Williams hoopla, but we got news of three new online paid-content plans for news this week. The biggest change is at the National Journal, a political magazine that’s long charged very high prices and catered to Washington policy wonks but relaunched this week as a newsstand-friendly print product and a largely free website that will shoot for 80 updates a day. The Lab’s Laura McGann looked at the National Journal’s new free-pay hybrid web plan, in contrast to its largely paid, niche website previously.

Meanwhile, Politico said it plans to move into exactly the same web territory the Journal has been in, launching a high-price subscription news service on health care, energy and technology for Washington insiders in addition to its free site and print edition. And the Associated Press gave more details on its proposed rights clearinghouse for publishers, which will allow them to tag online content and monitor and regulate how it’s being used and how they’re being paid for it. We also have some more data on an ongoing paid-content experiment — Rupert Murdoch’s paywall at The Times of London. Yup, the audience is way down, just like everyone suspected.

Reading roundup: Outside of those two huge stories, it was a relatively quiet week. Here are a few interesting bits and pieces that emerged:

— The awful last few weeks for the Tribune Co. came to a head last Friday when CEO Randy Michaels resigned, leaving a four-member council to guide the company through bankruptcy. The same day, the company filed a reorganization plan that turns it over to its leading creditors. The Chicago Reader’s Michael Miner gave a good postmortem for the Michaels era, pointing a finger primarily at the man who hired him, Sam Zell.

— Wired’s Fred Vogelstein declared Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon our new (media) overlords. (No indication of whether he, for one, welcomes them.) MediaPost’s Joe Marchese mused a bit about where each of those four companies fits in the new media landscape.

— The Atlantic’s Michael Hirschorn wrote a thought-provoking expression of a popular recent argument: If the Internet gives all of us our own facts, how are we supposed to find any common ground for discussion?

— And since I know you’re in the mood for scientific-looking formulas, check out Lois Beckett’s examination here at the Lab of Philly.com’s calculation of online engagement, then take a look at her follow-up post on where revenue fits in.

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