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April 18 2011

20:14

Another online milestone for the Pulitzer Prize

It’s prize season for journalists, and today came the biggest of them all: the Pulitzer Prizes. And the trend toward online-only news organizations playing a part in what has traditionally been a newspaper game continues.

In the journalism categories, of the 1,097 total entries, about 100 came from online-only outlets, according to Pulitzer officials. Those entries came from 60 different news organizations. That’s a healthy growth curve, considering that in 2009, the first year online entries were welcomed, 37 organizations submitted 65 entries.

In the winner’s circle again is ProPublica, which took home its second Pulitzer this year. But unlike the nonprofit’s last prize, which was for a story published in The New York Times Magazine, this year’s prize (for reporters Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein) was for work that didn’t move through a partner newspaper (although they did partner with radio’s Planet Money and This American Life). As ProPublica chief Paul Steiger wrote, “This year’s Prize is the first for a group of stories not published in print.”

ProPublica’s win follows on the heels of last year’s Pulitzer for Mark Fiore and his animated editorial cartoons, which had a home on SFGate, not in the San Francisco Chronicle, and the ground-breaking Pulitzer for PolitiFact in 2009.

At the same time more online-only content is receiving a nod from the Pulitzer committee, it’s also worth noting that more projects are entering the awards that include a digital component. In this year’s journalism entries nearly a third featured online content, which is up from just one fourth last year. Of the finalists digital content was featured in seven winners, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s award for Explanatory Reporting and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Investigative Reporting prize among others.

A hearty congratulations to all the winners and finalists — especially the three past or present Nieman Fellows to be honored. They are current Nieman Fellow Tony Bartelme (finalist in Feature Writing), 2005 Nieman Fellow Amy Ellis Nutt (winner in Feature Writing), and Mary Schmich (finalist in Commentary). Nutt’s win is the 107th Pulitzer (if our quick count is right) to be won by a Nieman Fellow.

March 02 2011

04:46

Four key things TBD did right

Despite how it all ended, there are positive lessons to be gleaned from TBD's build, launch and brief life. Here's a few things I hope other news orgs won't shy away from trying in the future [...]

August 19 2010

09:26

July 23 2010

16:57

Beet.TV: Senior VP for strategy and operations on BBC News website’s US edition

Miranda Cresswell, senior vice president for strategy and operations at BBC Online speaks to Beet.TV about the new US edition of the broadcaster’s news website:

“The impetus for the US edition of BBC news is really about building on momentum as a business (…) BBC is one of the world’s greatest story tellers and we tell incredible stories through news video (…) So video is really at the centrepiece of what we’re doing.”

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09:57

‘To the skimmer, all stories look the same and are worth the same’

Nicholas Carr has an interesting piece on Nieman Reports discussing the speed of news consumption online and the impact on journalism.

According to Carr, “skimming” of news is a threat to serious journalism, which requires “deep, undistracted modes of reading and thinking”.

On the web, skimming is no longer a means to an end but an end in itself. That poses a huge problem for those who report and publish the news. To appreciate variations in the quality of journalism, a person has to be attentive, to be able to read and think deeply. To the skimmer, all stories look the same and are worth the same.

The practice turns news into a “fungible commodity”, he writes, where the lowest-cost provider “wins the day”.

The news organization committed to quality becomes a niche player, fated to watch its niche continue to shrink. If serious journalism is going to survive as something more than a product for a small and shrinking elite, news organizations will need to do more than simply adapt to the net. They’re going to have to be a counterweight to the net.

See his full post here…Similar Posts:



June 17 2010

10:10

NYTimes.com most visited newspaper site in US last month

NYTimes.com was the most visited newspaper site in the US last month, according to Statistics released by comScore.

The New York Times website had more than 32 million visitors and 719 million page views in May, with the average visitor to the site viewing 22 pages of content.

A short way behind was Tribune Newspapers, with 24.8 million visitors.

Jeff Hackett, comScore senior vice president, says the numbers prove online news is the future.

“The good news for publishers is that even as print circulation declines, Americans are actually consuming as much news as ever – it’s just being consumed across more media,” he said. “The Internet has become an essential channel in the way the majority of Americans consume news content today with nearly 3 out of 5 Internet users reading newspapers online each month.”

See the full statistics here.

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March 18 2010

15:54

Coventry Conversations: The Birth of BBC News Online

BBC News Online was initially devised in 1997 as a response to CNN’s online news page, claims its creator and former Editor-in-Chief, Mike Smartt.

“The reason that the BBC decided to go online was that CNN went online in 1996. And because the BBC doesn’t do anything in a hurry, it took it a very long time to actually make the decision.”

Speaking at the University of Coventry as part of its ‘Coventry Conversations’ series, Smartt told of the early days of online news and the difficulties faced by both designers and journalists.

Online journalism had to wait for technology to permit it to expand to its full potential, he said. Deadlines were demolished and journalists were regularly spending over half an hour to write a code with their story, only to have to go back again when a space, comma or any other character wasn’t in place.

The BBC were very wary of going online at first, Smartt said. “Initially, in the BBC, the journalists rejected the idea for two reasons: the money that was used to finance it was obviously coming from radio and television, so there was some resentment, and the internet was seen, amongst the people in the more traditional media, as competition,” he confessed.

When they did push ahead with the idea, experience was obviously thin on the ground. “My only qualification was that I used one of these” he said, showing a picture of his laptop back in 1997. The initial website was running from a server similar both in size and internal technology to his original laptop, he said. “Actually, for three weeks when we first launched the server, big in theory, … looked like this, that’s what we served News Online from, for three weeks, in the corner of the Newsroom.”

He also spoke of the problem of deciding what a story should look like online, whether going on the internet meant that people were looking for “three Ceefax sentences” or something more in-depth. The BBC’s 1996 ‘Online News Concept’ outlined goals that are beginning to be met only recently: valuable text, high-quality pictures that load fast, high-quality audio, full screen videos and full interactivity.

The content of the first test pages was mostly made up of jokes, but the team, led by Smartt, had to redesign the site again and again until the first BBC News Online page was finally agreed upon. He showed one version of the front page with a lively design and a high number of images, but explained why they couldn’t go with it: “If you remember back then you had dial-up, and you literally rang them up, and then this sound came along, and then you were connected, and only later up came the site, very, very slowly.”

Smartt finished with a warning to those who are not prepared to embrace new forms of journalism: “If you can’t handle multi-media, and you will have to in future, you are doomed in this business.”

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February 04 2010

17:00

Is online news just ramen noodles? What media economics research can teach us about valuing paid content

The New York Times’ announcement that it would be charging for some access to its website, starting in 2011, rekindled yet another round of debate about paywalls for online news. Beyond the practical question (will it work?) or the theoretical one (what does this mean for the Times’ notion of the “public”?), there remains another question to be untangled here — perhaps one more relevant to the smaller papers who might be thinking of following the Times’ example:

What is the underlying economic value of online news, anyway?

Media economist Iris Chyi [see disclosure below] has a few ideas about this problem. An assistant professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas, she has been researching the paid-vs.-free, print-vs.-online conundrum since the late ’90s. Her research has consistently found that even while online news use continues growing, its preference lags behind that of traditional media. In other words: Even as audiences transition from TV/print news consumption to the web, they still like the traditional formats better for getting news, all other things being equal.

Now, this seemingly makes no sense: How could a format as clunky, messy and old-school as print “beat” such a faster, richer and more interactive medium on likability?

Chyi believes she found the answer in the economic principle of “inferior goods.” The idea is simple: When income increases, consumers buy more “normal goods” (think: steak) and fewer “inferior goods” (think: ramen noodles). When income goes down, the opposite occurs (again, all things being equal in economics terms). Inferiority, in this case, isn’t so much a statement of actual quality as it is of consumer perception and demand. If we get richer, our desires for steak go up and our desires for ramen go down.

What does this mean for journalism? “Users perceive online news in similar ways — online news fulfills certain needs but is not perceived as desirable as print newspapers,” Chyi said.

She and co-author Mengchieh Jacie Yang make this point through an analysis of data on news consumption gathered from a random sample of U.S. adults; their findings are published in the latest issue of Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, the flagship peer-reviewed journal for AEJMC. (See the related news release, overall highlights, and the full-text PDF). Chyi and Yang summarize their key findings as follows:

This analysis, based on data collected by the Pew Research Center in 2004, identified a negative relationship between income and online news consumption: When income increases, online news use decreases; when income decreases, online news use increases, other things (demographics, news interest, and/or other news media use) being equal — suggesting that online news is an inferior good among users. In contrast, the print newspaper is a normal good.

Such findings, at first glance, may surprise media scholars as well as online news professionals. After all, in communication research, no news products have been labeled as inferior goods before. In addition, major U.S. media companies have invested heavily in their online ventures, offering an array of interactive features and multimedia content — most of which are unattainable by print newspapers. It is therefore difficult to understand why online news could be an inferior good. Yet, from an economic perspective, “goods are what are thought of as goods.” Any product’s economic nature is determined by consumer perception and response. Based on this particular data set, which consists of survey responses collected from a national sample of online news users by a major polling institution in 2004, online news is an inferior good among users.

Clearly, the use of 2004 data is a limiting factor here (although the authors explain why more recent Pew surveys couldn’t be used for this kind of question). Yet, if we accept these findings, we’re left to unravel two mysteries: Why is online news perceived as an inferior good in the first place? And what should that mean for the future of web journalism?

On the first question, there are at least several possibilities, as Chyi suggests. Maybe the computer screen just isn’t an enjoyable reading device. (And how might that compare with smartphones and e-readers?) Or maybe online newspapers still have content/design problems — think of all the ads for teeth whitening and tummy tightening, not to mention the general lack of contextual cues afforded by print. Or maybe it’s simply because online news is free — and, as behavioral economics research has indicated, sometimes consumers perceive higher-price products as more enjoyable. In any case, as Chyi puts its: “More research, as opposed to guesswork or wishful thinking, on the perception of news products is essential.”

Then there’s the second question: What does this suggest about the future of online news? Perhaps nothing too dire, as people still do pay for ramen noodles when it suits them — when the price, convenience, or alternatives make ramen noodles the preferred choice. This isn’t to suggest that consumers invariably will pay for online news, but rather that they might if the perception calculation is right.

The key here is to recognize that consumers are rapidly adopting online news not necessarily because they prefer the medium to print, but because online news is “good enough” — cheap, convenient, flexible, and sufficient to satiate our information cravings. (This takes us into territory related to disruptive innovations and fidelity vs. convenience — interesting stuff, but something for a later post.) But the danger is in taking a “platform-neutral” approach if that leads one to assume that content value remains constant between print and online — that, basically, you can charge for content either way. Chyi suggests that is like trying to market ramen noodles as steak: Newspapers do so at their peril.

So, what does all of this say about the Times and its paywall? Perhaps not much because, after all, “the Times is the Times.” Yet, the notion of online news as an inferior good highlights a few salient points for thought: (1) news usage doesn’t always correlate with preference, counterintuitive as that is; (2) publishers hoping to charge for niche content need to understand where their offering fits in the normal-inferior goods relationship, and how that should affect pricing and marketing strategies; and (3) there’s a critical need for R&D to help us grasp why consumers perceive online news as inferior, and how that perception might vary among different demographics of users and/or according to different types of news content.

In the meantime, enjoy your ramen noodles.

[Disclosure: Chyi and I have collaborated on several research projects through her Media Economics Research Group in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas — including a recent peer-reviewed article on newspapers' effectiveness in penetrating the local online market (PDF). Also, she's currently a member of my dissertation committee.]

Photo of ramen by Broderick used under a Creative Commons license.

December 15 2009

11:12

Journalism 2.0: ‘Patience is a virtue when building a local audience’

Mark Briggs shares his jottings from last week’s Interactive Local Media conference in Los Angeles, with some noteworthy nuggets from those behind successful and emerging news models. For example, advice from local community news/review site Yelp (also growing in the UK):

Patience is a virtue when building a local audience. Yelp COO Geoff Donaker said it takes 18-36 months for a new Yelp site to reach critical mass with reviews, even with staff ‘on the street’ in every Yelp market. Yelp has nearly doubled its audience in the past year to about 11 million uniques per month.

Full post at this link…

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