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May 23 2013

16:37

Pew’s new data blog fills in the contextual gaps between information and stories

The Pew Research Center launched a new blog earlier this week that’s supposed to provide Pew-quality data and information at a real-time pace. It’s called Fact Tank, and it will be a home for what Pew calls it’s “unique brand of data journalism.”

Since Tuesday, they’ve written up data snapshots on topics like Secretary of State John Kerry’s approval rating, American support for drone usage, and media coverage of the Oklahoma tornado. Alan Murray left The Wall Street Journal to head the Pew Research Center in November.

August 17 2012

17:55

Study: In the Digital Race for President, Obama Has a Clear Lead

If an election outcome rested on how well a campaign does with Twitter, then President Barack Obama's camp would be focused not on November 2012 but January 2013. Not only is the Obama campaign out-tweeting the Mitt Romney team, but the Obama tweets are being shared at a rate of 17-to-1 compared with Romney's.

The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism analyzed the digital activity of the two campaigns over a two-week period in June. The report shows that there is a "digital gap" between the presumed Republican and Democratic candidates for president, just as there was between Obama and John McCain in 2008.

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Project for Excellence in Journalism, August 2012

The report reviews candidate activity across a mature set of digital platforms: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube plus the campaign websites. In June, the Obama campaign had a presence on nine social media platforms: Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Spotify, Twitter (@barackobama plus five others), Tumblr and YouTube. The Romney campaign had public accounts on only five: Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Twitter and YouTube; it has subsequently added Tumblr and Spotify, according to the report.

A digital legacy

Obama established a broad digital presence in 2008 and has maintained it throughout his presidency. Thus it is not surprising that his digital support dwarfs Romney's.

For example, on Facebook, today the Obama's campaign page has almost 28 million likes versus 4.5 million for Romney's campaign. On Twitter, @BarackObama has 18.6 million followers; @MittRomney has 863,000. On YouTube, Obama has 210,000 subscribers (214 million views) whereas Romney has almost 15,000 subscribers (18 million views).

The Obama campaign is not only active in more spaces, it's more active, period. Across the platforms analyzed in this report, the Obama campaign posted almost four times as much content as the Romney campaign: There were 614 Obama posts in the two-week period but only 168 posts by Romney.

A Twitter gap

This gap was most evident on Twitter, where @BarackObama averaged 17 tweets per day and @MittRomney averaged one tweet per day. On Facebook, the campaigns are neck-and-neck. The Obama campaign produces more videos for YouTube and more content for the website blog than the Romney campaign.

Analysis of both accounts using Seattle-based Tweetstats makes the point about the Twitter gap visually.

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TweetStats, August 16, 2012

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TweetStats for Mitt Romney

Content

But what do the campaigns talk about in these spaces? And to whom?

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Both campaigns were focused on the economy in June, with 1-in-4 Romney postings and 1-in-5 Obama postings discussing the subject.

What differed was the approach.

Romney's campaign made twice as many posts focused on jobs as Obama. Reflecting the cerebral candidate that he is, Obama's campaign spent just as much time talking about "broader economic policy issues such as the need to invest in the middle class and how the election presents a choice between two economic visions."

Here are two tweets that illustrate the difference.

Barack Obama, August 14: "I don't believe in an economy from the top down. I believe that the economy grows from the middle class out, and from the bottom up."

Mitt Romney, August 12: "If your priority is creating more jobs and putting more people to work, that's what we know how to do. #RomneyRyan2012"

Not surprisingly, the challenger was more than twice as likely to mention the incumbent than the other way around. In June, Romney's campaign devoted about a third of its posts to Obama, "largely attacking him for a policy stance or action." The Obama campaign mentioned Romney half as much.

Wordle, a tool used to visualize how frequently words appear in a text, starkly shows this difference.

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Wordle, 78 Mitt Romney Tweets (June 8 - August 16)

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Wordle, 89 Obama Tweets (August 14-16)

Also, the Romney campaign is much more likely to communicate with an image or a video than the Obama campaign, making an emotional appeal versus a rational appeal.

But in the public spaces -- YouTube, Twitter and Facebook -- neither campaign goes out of its way to actually talk with citizens.

The report notes that is rare for either candidate to "reply to, comment on or retweet something from a citizen." Although if it is going to happen, the odds are that it will be the Obama campaign.

In its analysis of June tweets, the report shows that only 16% of @barackobama tweets were retweets. Most of those were campaign related; only 3% of all tweets were "retweets of citizen posts." During the two-week analysis, the Romney camp had one retweet.

TweetStats reveals that the June pattern is the norm for both campaigns. Over the lifetime of the two Twitter accounts, @barackobama shows 14% retweets and @mittromney shows 2%.

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The campaigns may not interact with voters, but they regularly issue calls for action, with "about half of each candidate's posts [including] a request for some kind of voter follow-up activity."

"These calls to action were most common on the website blog posts. Every single blog post from the Obama campaign during the time studied included some call to action, as did 91% of his YouTube posts. Most, 81%, of Romney's homepage content and 40% of his YouTube video posts had calls to action as well. Twitter was the platform least likely to contain a call to action," according to the Pew report.

"For Obama, the primary call to action most often (51% of the time) was a request for some kind of digital-oriented response, such as watch this video, join this list or sign up to be part of a 'team,'" the report said. "For Romney the request that appeared first most often (31% of the time), was to donate money. These tended to appear in the form of a donate button."

Some of those calls for action include "share this post."

The most popular platform for engagement turns out to be Facebook, not Twitter.

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Project for Excellence In Journalism, August 2012

Likes and dislikes

The Pew researchers recorded the likes and dislikes (where appropriate), comments, retweets and views for up to 48 hours after posting. The Obama campaign posts on Facebook generated more than 1,100,000 likes. The Romney campaign generated about 635,000 likes, about half as many.

But the Obama campaign posts more often than the Romney campaign, so average likes per post is an important metric. Obama Facebook posts had an average of 2,938 comments per post versus an average of 1,941 for Romney's.

The Obama campaign had more than 150,000 retweets during this two-week period. Romney, on the other hand, had almost 8,600 retweets. However, on Twitter the ratio between the two campaigns matches: 17-to-1 total tweets, 17-to-1 retweets.

And the Obama campaign YouTube videos averaged 466 likes per video compared with 253 per video for the Romney campaign.

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In comparing the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, the Pew researchers ignore Twitter, saying that it "was not in the mix in 2008." That is not the case.

John Edwards was the first presidential candidate to embrace Twitter. Barack Obama sent his first tweet in 2007:

"Thinking we're only one signature away from ending the war in Iraq. Learn more at http://www.barackobama.com 12:04 PM Apr 29th, 2007 from web"

On August 10, 2008, the Obama campaign used Twitter to invite supporters to be among the first to know the pick for vice president. Announcements were made by text and email.

By the end of the campaign, Obama's presence in the emerging network was phenomenal, and 165,000 people had signed up for one-way political advertisements.

It may be hard to believe, but in 2008 YouTube was also a new platform for political communication. YouTube gives candidates the opportunity to share longer messages than financially possible on television. And like Facebook and Twitter, it encourages sharing.

All campaigns want their videos to "go viral," to be shared quickly and widely.

In the two-week period, the researchers report than no video went viral. Videos for both campaigns averaged about 40,000 views within 48 hours of posting. But the most popular video wasn't campaign-related but human-related: it was Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama's Father's Day card. Its metrics: 2,265 Facebook shares in the first 48 hours and 211,663 YouTube views.

The History and the Future

Political digital campaigning truly got its start with the Howard Dean campaign in 2004. Ron Paul's supporters demonstrated the potential of the medium for fundraising when they contributed more than $4.2 million on November 5, 2007; Paul was polling in the single digits at the time.

But just as Harry Truman was the first president to make a coast-to-coast address on television in 1951, it wasn't until the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960 that the medium had an impact on political communication. Those who heard the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won; those who watched on television picked Kennedy. Kennedy went on to win the contest, and "more than half of all voters reported that the Great Debates had influenced their opinion; 6% reported that their vote was the result of the debates alone."

We'll not know for a while whether a similar watershed moment for digital political communication came during the Dean, Paul or Obama (first) run for president. But there is no doubt that a generation immersed in digital communication technologies will turn to these tools to learn about candidates and issues. And not just turn to them first; eventually, they'll turn to them only.

Kathy Gill has been online since the early 1990s, having discovered CompuServe before Marc Andreessen launched Mosaic at the University of Illinois in 1993. In 1995, she built and ran one of the first political candidate websites in Washington state. Gill then rode the dot-com boom as a communication consultant who could speak web, until the crash. In 2001, she began her fourth career as a full-time academic, first teaching techies about communications and now teaching communicators about technology. At the University of Washington, she teaches undergraduate digital journalism as well as classes in the Master of Communication in Digital Media program. For almost five years, she covered politics for About.com; for three years, she covered agriculture.

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August 07 2012

14:00

Tired of Text Spam and Dropped Cell Phone Calls? You're Not Alone

Think you're the only one ready to throw your cell phone out the window the next time you have a dropped call or text spam? You're not alone, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. The survey found that cell phone problems are a common reality for the 280 million users in the United States.

The report identified four major cell phone problems: 72 percent of all cell users experience dropped calls, 68 percent of all cell users receive unwanted sales or marketing calls, 69 percent of text messaging users in the U.S. receive unwanted spam or text messages, and 77 percent of those who use Internet on their cell phones experience slower than desirable download speeds.

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The report also surveyed the frequency of all four mobile phone problems as experienced by smartphone owners. And in all four cases, smartphone owners reported higher incident rates. The largest margins are in spam and unwanted texts -- 29 percent of smartphone owners compared with 20 percent of other cell owners -- and slow download speeds -- 49 percent of smartphone owners compared with 31 percent of other cell owners.

Limited Solutions to Block Spammers

There are several ways people may attempt to remove cell phone nuisances from their daily lives. Step one is to contact your mobile carrier and request the available spam-blocking services.

University of New Hampshire student Feier Liu uses a non-smartphone and first called her mobile carrier to block a spam number about three years ago. The service was free, but only blocks individual numbers. Liu said she hasn't received a spam call since. She is certainly a lucky one.

Another service introduced back in March also counts on mobile users to vigilantly report spam text messages. North American mobile carriers have adopted a centralized spam-reporting service, which collects spam complaints into a shared database to help carriers identify and stop spammers. In practice, users forward spam texts to the shortcode 7726 (or SPAM), prompting the carrier to request the spam number.

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Allin Resposo, a web designer and smartphone user, has been reporting every spam text to 7726 since the service was introduced. Resposo hasn't seen an obvious decrease in spam and said that the spam texts are never from the same number.

While smartphones experience more problems, they paradoxically enable more possible solutions. A search for "block spam" on Google Play brings up dozens of apps created to block spam calls and texts. Most of these apps have ratings of four stars or more and could be worthwhile efforts for Android users. However, because of Apple's restrictions on developers, similar apps are not available for the iPhone, which, according to a prior Pew report, is used by some 53 million people in the U.S.

Finding Digital Authenticity

The Pew report stated, "It is against the law in the U.S. to place unsolicited commercial calls to a mobile phone when the call is made by using an automated random-digit dialing generator or if the caller uses a pre-recorded message." Yet spam phone calls, like those offering free cruises to the Bahamas with a pre-recorded "[fog horn] This is your captain speaking" are as real as ever. Clearly, spammers are evolving faster than legislation.

In fact, they may be piggybacking on our mobile dependence. The report also noted that non-white cell owners experience all four of the common cell phone problems at higher weekly rates than white cell owners, possibly due to the fact that "African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to rely on their cell phones as their primary or exclusive phones for calling and for Internet access."

Does all this indicate that more mobile usage equals more problems?

In a world where there are 14 million spam accounts on Facebook and probably similarly disturbing figures on other social networks, it's not hard to imagine that spammers on these mobile-enabled networks will find a way to spam our mobile devices.

Jenny Xie is the PBS MediaShift editorial intern. Jenny is a rising senior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying architecture and management. She is a digital-media junkie fascinated by the intersection of media, design, and technology. Jenny can be found blogging for MIT Admissions, tweeting @canonind, and sharing her latest work and interests here.

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April 10 2012

14:00

Pew Survey Shows How E-Books Are Changing the Equation for Publishers, Readers

More Americans are reading e-books than ever, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

The most impressive stat from the study is that 21 percent of adults had read an e-book in the past year, but adults are still more likely to read a printed book. Seventy-two percent of adults (age 16 or older) turn the pages the old-fashioned way.

However, the reach of e-books is growing, increasing from 17 percent of adults before the 2011 holiday season, during which thousands of e-reading devices appeared under Christmas trees, to 21 percent immediately after. The poll, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, captured Americans' attitudes toward reading and digital reading in mid-December 2011 and January 2012.

The data showing that e-books are on the rise will not surprise anyone who's been paying attention to the rapid adoption of e-readers. But what the study really sheds light on is how quickly our relationship with reading is changing in the digital age.

Reading is still in decline, but not by much

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According to the study, 22 percent of Americans said they hadn't read a book in the previous 12 months or refused to answer the question. That figure was 12 percent in 1978, 19 percent in 1990, 15 percent in 1999, 14 percent in 2001, 17 percent in 2005, and 22 percent in 2011. Fewer people are reading than ever, but the percentage of people who don't read has been hovering around 20 percent for 20 years now. Increasing use of the Internet since the mid-'90s and ever more available tech gadgets haven't radically changed the percentage of Americans who read books, especially when the study's plus or minus two-percentage-point margin of error is taken into account.

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Richard Eoin Nash is a forward-thinking publishing veteran who ran Soft Skull Press, an independent publisher, from 2001 to 2007. He wasn't surprised by this result. "Frankly, this 'reading in decline' business struck me as a bunch of hokum," he said.

Nash currently wears several hats as the founder of Cursor, offering what he describes as a "new, social approach to publishing," the publisher of Cursor's Red Lemonade imprint, and the vice president of Community and Content for Small Demons, a startup that tracks the rich content inside of books, including songs and places referenced in them.

"There is absolutely no sign that reading is in danger," he said. "As a rule, these things tend to get exploited by people looking for stories about how the sky is falling, whether it's because they're looking for funding, or whether it's because every establishment institution that purveys culture in the end is looking for ways to preserve its status. Changes in technology, all other things being equal, tend to undermine its status. So, whether it was Socrates complaining about books or the great comic book scares of the 1950s when four-color printing came about, every time there is a new technology that allows more and different culture to be created, the guardians of the status quo announce that civilization is over."

E-Books Result in More Reading, Even in Men

On the other hand, despite the continued slight decline in reading overall, e-books are increasing the rate of reading among some people. According to Pew, "30 percent of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading, and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more now. Some 41 percent of tablet owners and 35 percent of e-reading device owners said they are reading more since the advent of e-content."

Many studies have found that men read less than women, and this poll supports that general trend -- 14 percent of men are frequent readers, reading 21 or more books in the past year, while 20 percent of women are frequent readers. However, men who own e-readers report they are reading more now, and men are more avid readers than women of certain categories of material. Men are slightly more likely to read a newspaper daily. Men are more likely than women to read about current events daily (53 percent vs. 46 percent), and men are more likely to read daily for work or school, while women are more likely to read for pleasure. Men are more likely to own only a tablet computer, such as the iPad or Kindle Fire, while women are more likely to own only an e-reader, such as the Kindle or Nook.

Teachers and librarians have often lamented that it's more difficult to interest boys in reading than girls. Could e-books provide a way to interest more boys in reading?

Samantha Becker, research project manager of the U.S. IMPACT Study at the University of Washington's Information School, said, "I think it may be too soon to tell whether e-readers are making readers out of non-readers. But it certainly has the potential to be a hook for boys and other reluctant readers if they are enticed by being able to use technology. The other thing that e-books provide is the ability to link to other resources beyond the print, including videos and other enhanced content that will make reading more fun and interesting. This is an underutilized capability of e-books, particularly for tablets, but I think it will be a growing area of development as the market expands, and eventually there will be books written with enhanced content in mind."

E-Book Enthusiasts are Superlative Readers

E-book users earn a gold star for reading more avidly than any other group. The Pew study finds e-book readers are "relatively avid readers of books in all formats: 88 percent of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read printed books. Compared with other book readers, they read more books. They read more frequently for a host of reasons: for pleasure, for research, for current events, and for work or school. They are also more likely than others to have bought their most recent book, rather than borrowed it, and they are more likely than others to say they prefer to purchase books in general, often starting their search online."

Significantly for publishers who feel the ground shifting under their feet with recent developments such as the demise of Borders and some other traditional bookstores, e-book readers are more likely to buy the books they read, while other readers are more apt to borrow.

"Is this part of a CD moment?" Nash wondered. "We had this moment in the music business where people embraced the CD player over their cassette player, and they started acquiring a significant amount of CDs. At a certain point, that plateaued as people acquired a critical mass of stuff, and then shifted to a more sedate degree of consumption. By consumption, I mean purchase. The amount they listened to remained the same, but the amount they purchased started to taper off. This is highly speculative. I'm not saying this will happen. But as Nassim Taleb (author of 'The Black Swan') always points out, every straight line going up at a diagonal stops some time."

Given that e-book readers are more likely to purchase books than non e-book readers, every publisher will have to cater to them to stay afloat in the rapidly changing book marketplace. Nash observed that figuring out how to do this is the publishers' problem, not the readers'.

"The interesting thing is the reader doesn't have a problem here," he said. "Because for so long, people could only read what a fairly small group of publishers picked for them to read. Readers were living in an oligopolistic world. So we didn't really have to think very much about readers. They were only peripherally part of the equation. From a cultural standpoint, they were absolutely central. But in terms of talking about the industry, they were an abstraction. They were helpless. Now they have power. Now they can choose not just from a much larger group of publishers than existed before, but also from a bigger chunk of publishing history, as books stay in print longer and books that were out of print get put back into print."

He added, "I would emphasize how significant it is that books are no longer going out of print. Most books published in 1986 were not available in bookstores in 1990, so there was this forgetting. We're sort of living in a science-fiction movie where no one forgets, where everything published stays published. That gives readers tremendous power."

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Do E-books Contribute to the Digital Divide?

The Pew poll, which was conducted in English and Spanish, found Hispanics read less than white or black people, and that lower-income Americans read the least: "A fifth of Americans (18 percent) said they had not read a book in the past year. This group is more likely to be: male than female (23 percent vs. 14 percent), Hispanic than white or black (28 percent vs. 17 percent and 16 percent), age 65 or older (27 percent), lacking a high school diploma (34 percent), living in households earning less than $30,000 (26 percent), unemployed (22 percent), and residents of rural areas (25 percent). Those who did not read a book last year also tended not to be technology users."

Do e-books contribute to the digital divide in which those without access to technology are being left behind in a tech-centered world? Becker said, "I don't know that e-books contribute to the digital divide right now, though that's certainly a possibility in the future if e-publishing overtakes traditional publishing and readers are shut out of participating because of excessive restrictions in borrowing and lending, or prohibitive costs for accessing devices and content.

"I think there is some more interesting research to be done around the intersection of reluctant readers and people who also don't use much technology. It seems likely that those folks are probably living on the margins generally, and lack of reading and use of technology is a symptom of their circumstances rather than a cause. Ensuring that rural, poor, unemployed, and other marginalized groups have access to reading and self-improvement has always been a core value for public libraries, and it continues in ensuring access to technology and digital literacy skills. Librarians see this as part of their mission, and e-book access is becoming part of that mission, too."

Looking Toward the Digital Future

The Pew study shows that Americans have begun to move toward reading books, newspapers, and magazines digitally, without waiting for the publishing industry to figure out how to survive this shift.

Nash reflected on the history of the publishing industry to frame the current moment. "In the last 150 years, publishing became a weird artifact of the industrial revolution," he said. "With the industrial revolution, you tend to have this really stark separation between producer and consumer, because you make money off of scale. In an analogue, mechanical reproduction situation, the primary way you're going to make money is because your marginal costs always decline. It starts high and always it declines. So the more you can print of something, the more money you're going to make on each additional unit. With digital, the marginal cost of reproduction is virtually zero. What we're witnessing most clearly is the slow demise of the industrial revolution model. It's interesting because books began it. Books were the first mass-produced object."

As Pew's research shows, only a few years after their introduction, e-books have arrived as an important part of reading in America, whether publishers and booksellers are ready for them or not.

Photo of e-reader by Anders Hoff on Flickr

Jenny Shank is the author of the novel "The Ringer" (The Permanent Press, 2011), a finalist for the Reading the West Book Awards. Her fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Poets & Writers Magazine, Bust, Dallas Morning News, High Country News and The Onion.

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July 18 2011

13:00

Pew: Nonprofit journalism doesn’t mean ideology-free

Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism is out with a new study this morning that looks at the new universe of nonprofit journalism — and tries to get beyond the ProPublicas of the world to see who else is producing journalism under the legal structure of a 501(c)3 exemption. After all, remember, “nonprofit” signals a tax status, not a belief system or a commitment to any particular ideals, journalistic or otherwise.

The study found more than a little ideology lurking under that IRS umbrella. Of the 46 sites examined — 39 nonprofit and 7 commercial as a control — around half “produced news coverage that was clearly ideological in nature,” the researchers report.

Pew had the expected nice things to say about the usual nonprofit rock stars, like ProPublica, the Texas Tribune, MinnPost, and California Watch. They’re transparent about their funding sources, which are numerous; their doesn’t skew too far in one political direction; they produce a lot of journalism, compared to their nonprofit peers. But the major national networks of state politics sites — the conservative Watchdog.org sites and the liberal American Independent News Network — don’t reveal much about who’s paying their bills, and their work skews clearly in one direction, both in the topics they cover and the content of individual stories.

(Because it attempted to cover an entire universe of nonprofit outlets, researchers had to limit their targets to a reasonable number. As a result, older news orgs like the Center for Public Integrity and metro-scale outlets like Voice of San Diego were both excluded.)

PEJ does a great job, with this and other studies, of moving past barroom debates and gathering real-world data on the new worlds of journalism. And while this research doesn’t draw explicit moral conclusions, it won’t be hard for others to: These nonprofits aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. They’re not objective; they’re hidden tools of politicos; they’re no replacement for newspapers. Beyond the flagships like ProPublica and Texas Tribune, it’s a mucky world.

And there’s some truth in that! But two points: First, few of even the most ambitious nonprofit outlets consider themselves true replacements for newspapers. The scale just isn’t there; as Pew’s study notes, the median editorial-staff size at the nonprofits they studied was three. (Although those three people are usually more topic-focused than their print peers — a nonprofit site covering a statehouse might be the biggest player in town with three reporters.) Replacement is a straw man; the vast majority of nonprofits, ideological or not, view themselves more as supplements.

Second, a little ideology isn’t such a bad thing. Take the right-of-center Watchdog.org sites, which we wrote about last year. They say their mission is to “promote social welfare and civil betterment by undertaking programs that promote journalism and the education of the public about corruption, incompetence, fraud, or taxpayer abuse by elected officials at all levels of government.” They investigate Democrats a lot more than Republicans, and they’re no great fans of what they see as wasteful big government.

The left-of-center American Independent News Network sites works the other side, saying its reporting “emphasizes the positive role of democratically elected government in securing the common good and social welfare, and the continuing benefits of our founding culture of egalitarian government by the people, for the people.” They take on the GOP more than Democrats, and they write a lot about the environment and labor issues.

Viewed as replacements, they fall short of what we’d expect from a good newspaper. But as supplements, I’m happy that both exist — that in a state with both a Watchdog site and an Independent site, both sides of the aisle will be poked and prodded, and that stories will surface that otherwise wouldn’t. I’d draw a distinction between ideological outlets as drivers of political culture — Fox News being a prime example — and as drivers of new information. The biggest risk posed by the loss of reporting manpower in places like our nation’s statehouses is that real stories will go unreported. Adding ideological outlets to the mix reduces that chance; at least someone will be paying attention to environmental issues or fraud at the DMV. And, unlike with Fox News, the readers of many of these sites tend to be high-information consumers of political news; a statehouse-news-only site isn’t ever going to reach the broader general audience of a newspaper or TV station.

Anyway, that’s just one take on what is a data-rich analysis, a snapshot of an important group of new players in the news world. Go read the full paper.

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.”

September 27 2010

09:53

NYTimes: Apple dominate technology news, suggests Pew study

The Times’ Media Decoder Blog: Analysis from the US-based Pew Research Center suggests Apple and its products dominate US technology news reports with 15.1 per cent of tech articles surveyed by the centre over the past year focusing primarily on the company.

It’s not as if Microsoft lacks for public relations people. But Apple is especially effective at seizing journalists’ attention, said Amy S. Mitchell, the deputy director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, citing the anticipation for new devices and Apple’s “very public way of releasing products.”

Full story on NYTimes.com at this link…Similar Posts:



September 17 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: J-schools as R&D labs, a big news consumption shift, and what becomes of RSS

[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]

Entrepreneurship and old-school skills in j-school: We found out in February that New York University and the New York Times would be collaborating on a news site focused on Manhattan’s East Village, and this week the site went live. Journalism.co.uk has some of the details of the project: Most of its content will be produced by NYU students in a hyperlocal journalism class, though their goal is to have half of it eventually produced by community members. NYU professor Jay Rosen, an adviser on the project, got into a few more of the site’s particulars, describing its Virtual Assignment Desk, which allows local residents to pitch stories via a new WordPress editing plugin.

Rosen’s caution that “it is going to take a while for The Local East Village to find any kind of stride” notwithstanding, the site got a few early reviews. The Village Voice’s Foster Kamer started by calling the site the Times’ “hyperlocal slave labor experiment” and concluded by officially “declaring war” on it. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, on the other hand, was encouraged by NYU’s effort to give students serious entrepreneurial skills, as opposed to just churning out “typists and videographers.”

NYU’s project was part of the discussion about the role of journalism schools this week, though. PBS’ MediaShift wrapped up an 11-post series on j-school, which included an interview with Rosen about the journalism as R&D lab and a post comparing and contrasting the tacks being taken by NYU, Jeff Jarvis’ program at the City University of New York and Columbia University. (Unlike the other two, Columbia is taking a decidedly research-oriented route.) Meanwhile, Tony Rogers, a Philadelphia-area j-prof, wrote two articles (one of them a couple of weeks ago) at About.com quoting several professors wondering whether journalism schools have moved too far toward technological skills at the expense of meat-and-potatoes journalism skills.

They weren’t the only ones: Both Teresa Schmedding of the American Copy Editors Society and Iowa State j-school director Michael Bugeja also criticized what they called a move away from the core of journalism in the country’s j-schools. “I expect to teach new hires InDesign, Quark or Twitter, MySpace, FB and how to use whatever the app of the week is, but I don’t expect to teach you what who, what, where, when, why and how means,” Schmedding wrote. TBD’s Steve Buttry countered those arguments with a post asserting that journalists need to know more about disruptive technology and what it’s doing to their future industry. “Far too many journalists and journalism school graduates know next to nothing about the business of journalism and that status quo is indefensible,” said Buttry.

A turning point in news consumption: Like most every Pew survey, the biennial study released this week by the Pew Center for the People & the Press is a veritable cornucopia of information on how people are consuming news. Tom Rosenstiel of Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has some fascinating musings of the study’s headline finding: People aren’t necessarily ditching old platforms for news, but are augmenting them with new uses of emerging technology. Rosenstiel sees this as a turning point in news consumption, brought about by more tech-savvy news orgs, faster Internet connections, and increasing new media literacy. Several others — Mathew Ingram of GigaOM, Joe Pompeo of Business Insider, Chas Edwards of Digg — agreed that this development is a welcome one.

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz and paidContent’s Staci Kramer have quick summaries of the study’s key statistics, and DailyFinance’s Jeff Bercovici pointed out one particularly portentous milestone: For the first time, the web has eclipsed newspapers as a news source. (But, as Collective Talent noted, we still love our TV news.) Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman took a closer look at news consumption via social media, and j-prof W. Joseph Campbell examined the other side of the coin — the people who are going without news.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project also released an interesting study this week looking at “apps culture,” which essentially didn’t exist two years ago. Beyond the Book interviewed the project’s director, Lee Rainie, about the study, and the Lab gave us five applications for news orgs from the study: Turns out news apps are popular, people will pay for apps, and they consume apps in small doses.

Did social media kill RSS and press releases?: Ask.com announced last Friday that it would shut down Bloglines, the RSS reader it bought in 2005, citing a slowdown in RSS usage as Twitter and Facebook increase their domination of real-time information flow. “The writing is on the wall,” wrote Ask’s president, Doug Leeds. PaidContent’s Joseph Tarkatoff used the news as a peg for the assertion that the RSS reader is dead, noting that traffic is down for Bloglines and Google Reader, and that Google Reader, the web’s most popular RSS reader, is being positioned as more of a social sharing site.

Tech writer Jeff Nolan agreed, arguing that RSS has value as a back-end application but not as a primary news-consumption tool: “RSS has diminishing importance because of what it doesn’t enable for the people who create content… any monetization of content, brand control, traffic funneling, and audience acquisition,” he wrote. Business Insider Henry Blodget joined in declaring RSS readers toast, blaming Twitter and Facebook for their demise. Numerous people jumped in to defend RSS, led by Dave Winer, who helped invent the tool about a decade ago. Winer argued that RSS “forms the pipes through which news flows” and suggested reinventing the technology as a real-time feed with a centralized, non-commercial subscription service.

Tech writer Robert Scoble responded that while the RSS technology might be central to the web, RSS reading behavior is dying. The future is in Twitter and Facebook, he said. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and media consultant Terry Heaton also defended RSS, with Ingram articulating its place alongside Twitter’s real-time flow and Heaton arguing that media companies just need to realize its value as its utility spreads across the web.

RSS wasn’t the only media element declared dead this week; Advertising Age’s Simon Dumenco also announced the expiration of the press release, replaced by the “real-time spin of Facebook and Twitter. PR blogger Jeremy Pepper and j-prof Kathy Gill pushed back with cases for the press release’s continued use.

Twitter’s media-company move: Lots of interesting social media stuff this week; I’ll start with Twitter. The company began rolling out its new main-page design, which gives it a lot of the functions that its independently developed clients have. Twitter execs said the move indicated Twitter’s status as a more consumptive platform, where the bulk of the value comes from reading, rather than writing — something All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka tagged as a fundamental shift for the company: “Twitter is a media company: It gives you cool stuff to look at, you pay attention to what it shows you, and it rents out some of your attention to advertisers.”

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and venture capitalist David Pakman agreed, with Pakman noting that while Google, Facebook and Twitter all operate platform, users deal overwhelmingly with the company itself — something that’s very valuable for advertisers. The Lab’s Megan Garber also wrote a smart post on the effect of Twitter’s makeover on journalism and information. The new Twitter, Garber writes, moves tweets closer to news articles and inches its own status from news platform closer to a broadcast news platform. Ex-Twitter employee Alex Payne and Ingram (who must have had a busy week) took the opportunity to argue that Twitter as a platform needs to decentralize.

On to Facebook: The New Yorker released a lengthy profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and while not everyone was crazy about it (The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal thought it was boring and unrevealing), it gave the opportunity for one of the people quoted in it — Expert Labs director Anil Dash — to deliver his own thoughtful take on the whole Facebook/privacy debate. Dash isn’t that interested in privacy; what he is worried about is “this company advocating for a pretty radical social change to be inflicted on half a billion people without those people’s engagement, and often, effectively, without their consent.”

Elsewhere around social media and news: Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik wrote a fantastic overview of what news organizations are beginning to do with social media, and we got closer looks at PBS NewsHour, DCist and TBD in particular.

Reading roundup: Plenty of stuff worth reading this week. Let’s get to it.

— Last week’s discussion on online traffic and metrics spilled over into this week, as the Lab’s Nikki Usher and C.W. Anderson discussed the effects of journalists’ use of web metrics and the American Journalism Review’s Paul Farhi looked at the same issue (from a more skeptical perspective). The Columbia Journalism Review’s Dean Starkman had the read of the week on the topic (or any topic, really), talking about what the constant churn of news in search of new eyeballs is doing to journalism. All of these pieces are really worth your time.

— The San Jose Mercury News reported that Apple is developing a plan for newspaper subscriptions through its App Store that would allow the company to take a 30 percent cut of all the newspaper subscriptions it sells and 40 percent of their advertising revenue. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum was skeptical of the report, but Ken Doctor had nine good questions on the issue while we find out whether there’s anything to it.

— Another British Rupert Murdoch paper, News of the World, is going behind a paywall in October. PaidContent was skeptical, but Paul Bradshaw said it’ll do better than Murdoch’s other newly paywalled British paper, The Times.

— The Atlantic published a very cool excerpt from a book on video games as journalism by three Georgia Tech academics. I’m guessing you’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the next couple of years.

— Rafat Ali, who founded paidContent gave a kind of depressing interview to Poynter on his exit from the news-about-the-news industry. “I think there’s just too much talk about it, and to some extent it is just an echo chamber, people talking to each other. There’s more talk about the talk than actual action.” Well, shoot, I’d better find a different hobby. (Seriously, though, he’s right — demos, not memos.)

— Finally, a wonderful web literacy tool from Scott Rosenberg: A step-by-step guide to gauge the credibility of anything on the web. Read it, save it, use it.

September 14 2010

12:18

Americans spending more time consuming news, research suggests

A report carried out every two years by the Pew Research Center suggests Americans are spending more time consuming news now than 10 years ago.

The research, released this week, found that rather than replacing traditional media with digital platforms, consumers spend an additional 13 minutes daily getting news online as well as 57 minutes on average getting news from traditional media such as television, radio and newspapers. In the year 2000 the survey reported a total of 59 minutes was spent by audiences consuming news, with no time reportedly spent consuming news online by respondents until 2004.

According to the report, this is one of the highest totals measured since the mid-1990s, which does not take into account time spent getting news from mobile phones or other digital devices. Only eight per cent of respondents get their news from their mobile.

The news consumption survey recorded the responses from more than 3000 adults from 8 to 28 of June. Other findings include an increase in ‘news-grazers’ who consume the news on a less regular basis from 40 per cent in 2006 to 57 per cent in 2010. The survey also found an increase in the use of search engines for news gathering, rising to 33 per cent from 19 per cent in 2008.

See the report in full here..Similar Posts:



August 19 2010

15:00

The kids are alright, part 2: What news organizations can do to attract, and keep, young consumers

[Christopher Sopher is a senior at the University of North Carolina, where he is a Morehead-Cain Scholar and a Truman Scholar. He has been a multimedia editor of the Daily Tar Heel and has worked for the Knight Foundation. His studies have focused on young people's consumption of news and participation in civic lifewhich have resulted in both a formal report and an ongoing blog, Younger Thinking.

We asked Chris to adapt some of his most relevant findings for the Lab, which he kindly agreed to do. We posted Part 1 yesterday; below is Part 2. Ed.]

Now that I have exhorted all of you to care about young people and their relationship with the news media, it’s worth examining a few of the most pertinent ideas about getting more of my peers engaged: the gap between young people’s reported interested in issues and their interest in news, the need for tools to help organize the information flow, and the crucial role of news in schools and news literacy.

A gap between interest and news consumption

The data seem to suggest that young people are simultaneously interested and uninterested in the world around them. For example, a 2007 Pew survey [pdf] found that 85 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds reported being interested in “keeping up with national affairs” — a significant increase from 1999. Yet in a 2008 study [pdf], just 33 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds (and 47 percent of people aged 25 to 34) said they enjoyed keeping up with news “a lot.” Young people also tend to score lower on surveys of political knowledge — all of which suggests that their information habits are not matching their reported interests.

There are a few compelling explanations for this apparent contradiction (beyond people’s general desire to provide socially agreeable responses). The first is that many young people may not see a consistent connection between regularly “getting the news” and staying informed about the issues that interest them. If we accept that most young people get their news at random intervals (and the overwhelming body of evidence suggests that this is the case), it’s easy to see how reading a particular day’s New York Times story about health care reform, for example, might be rather confusing if you haven’t been following the coverage regularly.

Many young people also report feelings of monotony with day-to-day issue coverage and a distaste for the process focus of most politics coverage. Some share the sentiments (about which Gina Chen has written here at the Lab) of the now-famous, if anonymous, college student who said, “If the news is that important, it will find me.” The cumulative effect of these trends is that young people go elsewhere to “keep up”: to Wikipedia articles, to friends and family, to individual pieces of particularly helpful content shared through social networks.

The “too much information” problem

Several studies have highlighted the fact that many young people feel overwhelmed by the deluge of information presented on news sites. (My two favorite pieces on this are both from the Media Management Center, found here and here here [pdf].)

This sentiment is understandable: On one day I counted, the New York Times’ homepage offered 28 stories across four columns above the scroll cutoff and another 95 below it — for a total of 123 stories, along with 66 navigation links on the lefthand bar. CNN.com also had 28 stories on top and 127 total, along with 15 navigation links. Imagine a newspaper with that many choices.

The point is that news sites need to be designed to help users manage and restrict the wealth of information, rather than presenting them with all of it at once. People can and are doing the work of “curation” on their own, of course, through iGoogle, Twitter, RSS, and social networks both online and off — but those efforts leave behind the vast majority of news outlets. Better design allows news organizations to include the kind of context and background and explanation — not to mention personalization features — that younger audiences find helpful. That idea isn’t new, but its importance for young people cannot be overstated.

Schools, news, and news literacy

News organizations need to learn from soda and snack producers and systematically infiltrate schools across the country with their products. There’s strong evidence that news-based, experiential, and interactive course design [pdf] — as well as the use of news in classrooms and the presence of strong student-produced publications — can both increase the likelihood that students will continue to seek news regularly in the future.

Many teachers are already using news [pdf] in their classrooms, but face the pressures of standardization and an apparent lack of support from administrations. A 2007 Carnegie-Knight Task Force study [pdf] also found that most teachers who do use news content in their curricula direct their students to online national outlets (such as CNN or NYTimes.com) rather than local sites, which suggests that local news organizations need to focus on building a web-based presence in schools. The Times Learning Network is an excellent model.

And when news media finally fill school halls like so much Pepsi (or, now, fruit juice), young people themselves will also need help to navigate content and become savvy consumers, which is where news literacy programs become important. The Lab’s own Megan Garber has explained their value eloquently in a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review: “The bottom line: news organizations need to make a point of seeking out young people — and of explaining to them what they do and, perhaps even more importantly, why they do it. News literacy offers news organizations the opportunity to essentially re-brand themselves.” The News Literacy Project, started by a Pulitzer-winning former Los Angeles Times reporter, is a leading example.

The point of these ideas is that there are significant but entirely surmountable obstacles to getting more young people engaged with news media — a goal with nearly universal benefits that has received far too little attention from news organizations.

I’ll conclude with a quote from NYU professor Jay Rosen, buried inside the 2005 book Tuned Out: “Student’s don’t grow up with the religion of journalism, they don’t imbibe it in the same way that students used to. Some do, but a lot don’t.” Changing that is the difficult but urgent challenge. I don’t want to be that guy who says “_____ will save journalism,” so I’ll just say this: It’s really, really, really important.

And I should probably mention that there are hundreds of recent journalism school graduates who would be more than willing to help.

Image by Paul Mayne, used under a Creative Commons license.

June 02 2010

14:00

Step aside, brand loyalty; we’re loyal to information now

The Pew Research Center released an interesting study last week that offers some sobering — if unsurprising — insights for the news business.

Researchers examined top news stories in the mainstream press as well as what news got traction on blogs, Twitter and YouTube. A main finding was that what’s hot on social media differs — a lot — from what leads in the mainstream press. But what’s even more interesting, I think, is that what’s popular on one form of social media differs significantly from what’s trendy on another. For example, Twitter’s domain is technology, not surprisingly. Blogs and the mainstream press focus more on politics and government. Also not a shocker. As my kids might say: “No duh.”

But what isn’t so obvious is what this might mean. I’ve written before about how I believe the real reason many people don’t subscribe to news online — or in print — is about commitment, not money.

This study crystallizes my thoughts. I suggest these findings illustrate the radically different way today’s consumers think of news, compared with the past. It’s not brand based. It’s not even platform based. It’s based on niche, which many have said before. But the niche isn’t just in the content or the subject matter; it’s in the mechanism of transmission.

Modal switching of media

In other words, the people formerly known as the audience know if they want a certain type of information, they head to Twitter. Another type, they’ll go to YouTube. Something else, that’s what FourSquare is for.

It’s likely not a conscious decision — it’s more visceral than that. But the important point is that the loyalty isn’t to the platform, the application, the delivery system, or the brand. The loyalty is to the need for the information. Another Twitter-like service could spring up tomorrow, and if it fit a niche — or a micro-niche — it could go great guns. People wouldn’t stay loyal to Twitter because “We’ve always been on Twitter.” They’d go where they can get what they want.

That’s why social media flourish and then flounder.

It’s a very different mindset than the one still cherished by some in the mainstream press. That mindset was built on the idea of brand loyalty that grew over time as people saw the brand (the newspaper) as a symbol of something in their lives. A rite of passage into adulthood. A sign of respectability.

Media as tool, media as meaning

For example, when I was growing up in the 1970s, my parents subscribed to the New York Daily News to sate my Yankees-obsessed father’s love for sports coverage. But they also took the local daily for the hometown news. As I grew into adulthood, those papers were a staple on our kitchen table, which would have seemed oddly empty without them. The newspapers weren’t just a delivery source for information.

My children likely won’t ever have that kind of bond with any kind of media. They’ll replace one platform with another as technology improves and their interests evolve. They won’t expect any to have staying power. They’ll instinctively know they are fleeting.

Who creates the information, who creates the news may be meaningless to them. Worrying about the demise of one online platform will be as odd to them as bemoaning the loss of the rotary-dial phone would have been to me.

The question is: How do those in the news business deal with this reality? That’s a tough one. I can suggest what won’t work. Teaching your staff to use Twitter and Facebook as if these are these are the news tools of the trade, the notebooks and pens of an earlier day, won’t cut it. By the time the news professionals get proficient in one platform, the rules and the platforms will change. As I tell my introductory journalism students, my goal isn’t to teach you how to use social media for reporting; it’s to teach you how to be able to spot the next smart app that comes down the pike.

The key is to be fluid and to realize that readers want relationships with people, not brands. That targeting audiences won’t work. You must target your content to the right platform at the right time and be ready to change in a moment’s notice. In short, the goal is to become like the news consumers you are trying to reach.

May 28 2010

12:30

This Week in Review: Facebook’s privacy tweak, old and new media’s links, and the AP’s new challenger

[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]

Facebook simplifies privacy control: After about a month of loud, sustained criticism, Facebook bowed to public pressure and instituted some changes Wednesday to users’ privacy settings. The default status of most of the data on Facebook — that is, public — hasn’t changed, but the social networking site did make it easier for users to determine and control their various privacy settings. For some social media critics, the tweaks were enough to close the book on this whole privacy brouhaha, but others weren’t so satisfied with Facebook. Here at the Lab, Megan Garber seized on the theme of “control” in Facebook’s announcement, arguing that the company is acknowledging that online sharing is as much individual and self-interested as it is communal and selfless.

Before rolling out those changes, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg penned a Washington Post op-ed that served as a defense of Facebook’s privacy policy masquerading as an apology. “If we give people control over what they share, they will want to share more. If people share more, the world will become more open and connected,” he wrote. The reaction was swift and negative: It was called “long on propaganda and short on news,” “disingenuous” and “missing the point” by several media and tech critics.

Their comments were part of continued attacks on Facebook’s privacy stance that began to shift from “Facebook is evil” to “So what do we do now?” Facebook’s new, more private rivals escalated their efforts to provide an alternative, while social media researcher danah boyd argued that leaving Facebook would be futile and instead urged users to “challenge Facebook to live up to a higher standard.” Several legal and web thinkers also discussed whether the government should regulate Facebook’s privacy policies, and the Harvard Business Review’s Bruce Nussbaum made the case that Facebook has alienated the generational principles of its primary user base of millennials. (Mathew Ingram of GigaOm disagreed.)

But amid all that, Facebook — or at least the sharing of personal information — got another defender: The prominent tech thinker Steven Johnson. In a thoughtful essay for Time, he used the example of media critic Jeff Jarvis’ public bout with prostate cancer to argue that living in public has its virtues, too. “We have to learn how to break with that most elemental of parental commandments: Don’t talk to strangers,” Johnson wrote. “It turns out that strangers have a lot to give us that’s worthwhile, and we to them.” Of course, Johnson argues, being public or private is for the first time a decision, and it requires a new kind of literacy to go with it.

Paywalls and the links between old and new media: The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study examining the way several big news topics were discussed across several online news platforms, and as usual, it’s a whole lot of discoveries to sift through. Among the headlines that Pew pointed out in its summary: Twitter users share more technology news than other platforms, the traditional press may be underemphasizing international news, blogs and the press have different news agendas, and Twitter is less tied to traditional media than blogs. (Mashable has another good roundup, focusing on the differences between the traditional media and the blogosphere.)

The study did take some heat online: TBD’s Steve Buttry took issue with the assertion that most original reporting comes from traditional journalists, and the Knight Digital Media Center’s Amy Gahran dug into the study’s methodology and argued that Pew selected from a list of blogs predisposed to discuss what the traditional media is reporting, and that Pew’s definition of news is shaped by circular reasoning.

Gahran was looking at what turned out to be the most attention-grabbing statistic from the study: That 99 percent of the stories blogs link to are produced by the mainstream media, and more than 80 percent come from just four news outlets — the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and the Washington Post. DailyFinance media columnist Jeff Bercovici used that statistic to caution that the Times may be giving up a valuable place as one of the top drivers of online news discussion by implementing its paywall next year, while The Big Money’s Marion Maneker countered that bloggers’ links don’t equal influence, and the Times is more interested in revenue anyway. Reuters’ Felix Salmon echoed that warning, adding that if the Times is truly keeping the doors to its site open to bloggers, it should be trumpeting that as loudly as possible. And wouldn’t you know it — the next day the Times did just that, reiterating that links to their site from blogs won’t count against the limit of free visits.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper the Times and Sunday Times unveiled plans for its soon-to-be-erected paywall, including the fact that all of the sites’ articles will be blocked from all search engines. The Times and New York Times’ paywalls were almost tailor-made for being contrasted, and that’s exactly what the Lab’s Jason Fry did, using them as examples of an open vs. closed paradigm regarding paid content.

A challenger to the AP’s model: We found out about a fascinating news innovation this week at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference, where the online news sharing company Publish2 revealed News Exchange, its new content-sharing service for publishers. Essentially, News Exchange is a way for media outlets, both online-only and traditional, to send and receive stories to each other for publication while retaining control of what they share and with whom.

If that sounds like a free, open version of The Associated Press, it’s because that’s exactly what Publish2 sees it as. At the conference, Publish2’s Scott Karp came out against The Associated Press with both guns blazing, calling it “a big enemy of newspapers” and “an obsolete, inefficient monopoly ripe for destruction.” Publish2’s goal, he said, is to “Craigslist the AP.” (In a blog post, Publish2’s Ryan Sholin went into some more detail about why and how; in a Mashable post, Vadim Lavrusik looked closer at how the service will work and what it’s missing right now.)

Publish2’s bold idea was met with mixed reactions among both the tech and media crowds: A few of TechCrunch’s panelists wondered whether print publications were worth building a business around, but they were impressed enough to advance it to the final round of the conference’s startup competition anyhow. NYU j-prof Jay Rosen called it “an extension into print of ‘do what you do best and link to the rest,’” and CUNY j-prof C.W. Anderson said he was thrilled to watch Publish2 take on an irrational system but concerned that the tangle of CMS’s could trip it up. But media consultant Mark Potts noted that much of what the AP transmits is news it reports and produces, something Publish2 isn’t going to try to do. It’s rare that we see such a bold, explicit attempt to take down such an established news organization, so this will doubtless be a project to keep a close eye on.

A disappointing iPad app and an open-web debate: A couple of iPad-related developments and debates this week: While publishers cautiously awaited the iPad’s international release this week, Wired magazine released its iPad app this week — an eagerly awaited app in tech circles. The app is $5 per month, significantly more than the $10 per year that the magazine charges subscribers. Gizmodo Australia’s John Herrman called it “unequivocally, the best magazine for the iPad,” but still wasn’t entirely impressed. It’s too expensive, takes up too much space, and doesn’t deliver the reinvention of the magazine that we were expecting, he said. Lost Remote’s Steve Safran was harsher — calling it a magazine dropped into an app. “Simply taking your existing magazine and sticking in some video does not make it a more attractive offering; it makes it a website from 2003,” he said.

The New York Times Magazine’s Virginia Heffernan ruffled a few feathers this week with a short essay on “The Death of the Open Web,” in which she compared the move into the carefully controlled environs of Apple’s products like the iPhone and iPad to white flight. Web writers Stowe Boyd and Tim Maly refuted Heffernan’s argument, pointing primarily to the iPhone and iPad’s browser and arguing that it keeps the door open to virtually everything the web has to offer. And blogging pioneer Dave Winer said the phrase “death of the open web” is rendered meaningless by the fact that it can’t be verified. In a final quick iPad note, the journalism and programming site Hacks/Hackers hosted a conference in which attendees built an impressive 12 iPad apps in 30 hours.

Reading roundup: This week, we’ve got two news items and a handful of other thoughtful or helpful pieces to take a look at.

— The Bay Citizen, a nonprofit local news site based in San Francisco, launched this week. The San Francisco Bay Guardian took a look at the challenges in front of the Bay Citizen, Poynter used it as a lens to view four trends among news startups, and the Chicago Reader examined the Chicago News Cooperative, another nonprofit news startup that also provides stories to The New York Times. The Lab’s Laura McGann also gave some tips for launching a news site the right way.

— Forbes bought the personal publishing site True/Slant, whose founder, Lewis Dvorkin, is a former Forbes staffer. Dvorkin explained his decision to sell, and Felix Salmon expressed his skepticism about True/Slant’s future.

— Longtime journalists Tom Foremski and Caitlin Kelly both wrote thoughtful posts on what happens when pageviews become a high priority within news organizations. They’re not optimistic.

— Two pieces to bookmark for future reference: Mashable has a thorough but digestible overview of five ways to make money off of news online, and TBD’s Steve Buttry gives some fantastic tips for landing a job in digital journalism.

— Finally, NewsCred’s Shafqat Islam has a wonderful guide to creating effective topic pages for news. This one should be a must-read for any news org looking seriously at context-driven news online.

March 19 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: Loads of SXSW ideas, Pew’s state of the news, and a dire picture of local TV news

[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]

A raft of ideas at SXSW: The center of the journalism-and-tech world this week has been Austin, Texas, site of the annual conference South by Southwest. The part we’re most concerned about — SXSW Interactive — ran from last Friday to Tuesday. The New York Times’ David Carr gives us a good feel for the atmosphere, and Poynter’s Steve Myers asked 15 journalists what they took away from SXSW, and it makes for a good roundup. A handful of sessions there grabbed the attention of a lot of the journalism thinkers on the web, and I’ll try to take you on a semi-quick tour:

— We saw some conversation last week leading up to Matt Thompson’s panel on “The Future of Context,” and that discussion continued throughout this week. We had some great description of the session, between Steve Myers’ live blog and Elise Hu’s more narrative summary. As Hu explains, Thompson and his fellow panelists, NYU prof Jay Rosen and Apture founder Tristan Harris, looked at why much of our news lacks context, why our way of producing news doesn’t make sense (we’re still working with old values in a new ecosystem), and how we go about adding context to a largely episodic news system.

Michele McLellan of the Knight Digital Media Center echoes the panelists’ concerns, and Lehigh prof Jeremy Littau pushes the concept further, connecting it with social gaming. Littau doesn’t buy the idea that Americans don’t have time for news, since they obviously have plenty of time for games that center on collecting things, like Facebook’s Farmville. He’d like to see news organizations try to provide that missing context in a game environment, with the gamer’s choices informed by “blasts of information, ideally pulled from well reported news stories, that the user can actually apply to the situation in a way that increases both recall and understanding.”

— NYU’s web culture guru, Clay Shirky, gave a lecture on the value that can be squeezed out of public sharing. Matt Thompson has a wonderful live blog of the hourlong session, and Liz Gannes of GigaOM has a solid summary, complete with a few of the made-for-Twitter soundbites Shirky has a knack for, like “Abundance breaks more things than scarcity does,” and “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”

Once again, Jeremy Littau pulls Shirky’s ideas together and hones in on their implications for journalism in a thoughtful post, concluding that while the future of journalism is bright, its traditional players are clueless. “I just don’t see a future for them when they’re trying to protect information as a scarce commodity,” he writes. “The scarcity, in truth, is in media companies trying to create civic goods via user sharing.”

danah boyd, who studies social media and youth culture for Microsoft Research, gave a well-received talk on privacy and publicity online. It doesn’t have much to do directly with journalism, but it’s a brilliant, insightful glimpse into how web culture works. Here’s a rough crib of the talk from boyd, and a summary from TechCrunch. There’s a bunch of cool nuggets in there, like boyd’s description of the “inversion of defaults” in privacy and publicity online. Historically, conversations were private by default and public by effort, but conversations online have become public by default and private by effort.

— One of the big journalism-related stories from SXSW has been AOL and Seed’s efforts to employ a not-so-small army of freelancers to cover each of the 2,000 or so bands at the festival. The Daily Beast has the best summary of the project and its goals, and TechCrunch talks about it with former New York Times writer Saul Hansell, who’s directing the effort. Silicon Alley Insider noted midweek that they wouldn’t reach the goal of 2,000 interviews.

One of the big questions about AOL and Seed’s effort is whether they’re simply creating another kind of “content mill” that many corners of the web have been decrying over the past few months. Music writer Leor Galil criticized it as crass, complaining of the poor quality of some of the interviews: “AOL is shelling out cash and providing great space for potentially terrible content.” David Cohn of Spot.Us compared AOL to the most notorious content farm, Demand Media, concluding that journalists shouldn’t be worried about them exploiting writers, but should be worried about their threat to the journalism industry as a whole.

— One other session worth noting: “Cult of the Amateur” author and digital dystopian Andrew Keen gave a sobering talk called “Is Innovation Fair?” As Fast Company’s Francine Hardaway aptly summarized, he pointed to the downsides of our technological advances and argued that if SXSW is a gathering of the winners in the cultural shift, we have to remember that there are losers, too.

Pew’s paywall findings: The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released its annual “State of the News Media” study, and it’s a smorgasbord of statistics about every major area of journalism, from print to TV to the web. A summary of summaries: The study’s six major emerging trends (expanded on by Poynter’s Bill Mitchell), some of its key statistical findings, and the Columbia Journalism Review’s seven eye-popping statistics from the study.

The biggest headline for most people was the study’s finding that only seven percent of the Americans who get their news online say they’d spring for a favorite news source’s content if it went behind a paywall. (The AP writeup has a few more statistics and some analysis about online loyalty and advertising.) Jeff Jarvis, a longtime paywall opponent, wondered why newspapers are spending so much time on the paywall issue instead of their “dreadful” engagement and loyalty online. Former WSJer Jason Fry breaks down the study to conclude that the basic unit of online journalism is not the site but the article — thus undermining the primary mindset behind the paywall.

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, who writes the study’s section on newspapers each year, said he’s done with dead-and-dying as an industry theme. Instead, he said, the problem with most newspapers is that they are becoming insubstantial, shells of their former selves. “They lack the heft to be thrown up the front porch or to satisfy those readers still willing to pay for a good print newspaper.” Editor & Publisher pulled some of the more depressing statistics from Edmonds’ chapter. Yet Lee Rainie, who co-authored the study’s section on online economics, said he was still optimistic about journalism’s future.

A bleak look at local TV news: Another fascinating journalism study was released late last week by USC researchers that found disappointing, though not necessarily surprising, trends in Los Angeles local TV news: Crime, sports, weather and teasers dominate, with very little time for business and government. USC’s press release has some highlights, and co-author Martin Kaplan offers a quick, pointed video overview of the report, concluding with a barb about wants and needs: “I want ice cream. I need a well-balanced meal. Apparently the people of Los Angeles want 22 seconds about their local government. Maybe if they got more than that, they’d want more than that.”

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps was “flat-out alarmed” by the study and vowed some vague form of action. Jay Rosen was ruthless in his criticism on Twitter, and Los Angeles Times critic James Rainey used the study as the basis for a particularly well-written evisceration of local TV news. Rainey had the most promising suggestion, proposing that a cash-strapped TV station find a newspaper, nonprofit or j-school interested in partnering with it to build an audience around more substantive, in-depth TV news.

The iPad, magazines and advertising: As we expected, lots and lots of people have been ordering iPads since they went on sale — 50,000 in the first two hours and 152,000 in three days, according to estimates. We’re also continuing to get word of news organizations’ and publishers’ plans for apps; this week we heard that the AP will have an app when the iPad rolls out next month, and saw a nifty interactive feature for the digital Viv Mag. (The Guardian has a roundup of other video iPad demos that have come out so far.)

SXSW also had at least three sessions focusing on media companies and the iPad: 1) One on the iPad and the magazine industry focused largely on advertising — here’s a DigitalBeat summary and deeper thoughts by Reuters’ Felix Salmon on why advertising on the iPad could be more immersive and valuable than in print; 2) Another focusing on the iPad and Wired magazine, with Salmon opining on why the iPad is a step backwards in the open-web world; 3) And a third on iPad consumption habits and their effects on various industries.

Reading roundup: One ongoing discussion, two pieces of news and one smart analysis:

The conversation sparked by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreesen’s advice for newspapers to forget the printed paper and go all-in with online news continued this week, with Frederic Filloux noting that “there are alternatives to envisioning the transformation of the print media as only a choice between euthanizing the paper product or putting it on life support.” Steve Yelvington looked at setting up separate print and online divisions (been there, done that, he says), Tim Kastelle spun Andreesen and Google’s Hal Varian off into more thoughtful suggestions for newspapers, and Dorian Benkoil took the opportunity to marvel at how much things have changed for the better.

The first piece of news was Twitter’s launch at SXSW of @anywhere, a simple program that allows other sites to implement some of Twitter’s features. TechCrunch gave a quick overview of what it could do, CNET’s Caroline McCarthy looked at its targeting of Facebook Connect, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram was unimpressed.

Second, ABC News execs revealed that they’re planning on putting up an online paywall by this summer. The Guardian and paidContent have detailed interviews with ABC News digital chief Paul Slavin.

And finally, newspaper vet Alan Mutter examines the often-heard assertion that small newspapers are weathering the industry’s storm better than their larger counterparts. He nails all the major issues at play for small papers, both the pluses (lack of competition and broadband access, loyal readership) and the minuses (rapidly aging population, some local economies lacking diversity). He ultimately advises small papers to ensure their future success by innovating in order to become indispensable to their communities: “To the degree publishers emphasize short-term profits over long-term engagement, they will damage their franchises — and open the way to low-cost online competitors.”

March 09 2010

17:37

Google’s Hal Varian to newspapers at FTC confab: “Experiment, experiment, experiment!”

Google’s economist-in-chief, Hal Varian, was the keynote speaker this morning at the Federal Trade Commission’s second round of hearings on the future of journalism. (The study is entitled “How will journalism survive the internet age?” Round 1 was held in December; transcripts and other material are linked here — scroll down. Not to be outdone, the Federal Communications Commission also has a project studying pretty much the same thing.)

Here’s the slide deck from Varian’s presentation, entitled “Newspaper Economics, Online and Offline”:

(Lab readers may recognize some of the slides and data as having appeared here previously. I provided some input to Varian as he prepared his talk. Varian also posted the presentation and a summary of his remarks at the Google Public Policy Blog.)

Varian took a leave of absence from academia a few years ago to take charge, among other things, of tweaking and explaining the workings of Google’s brilliantly clever auction pricing mechanisms for text ads. He’s also involved in analysis, finance, corporate strategy, and public policy.

Google has been in the crosshairs of the newspaper industry as newspapers struggle to hold onto print revenue in the face of digital onslaughts, including the text ads that bring Google the bulk of its $24 billion 2009 revenue (equivalent to about 85 percent of the entire newspaper industry’s ad sales). The industry’s biggest beef with the search giant is that it sees content aggregation on Google News as pilfering, without compensation, page views that ought to be going to newspaper sites; Google counters that it delivers a hefty share of total traffic at news sites (and that publishers can opt out of Google News if they really want to).

Varian offered no magic potion for newspapers, other than exhorting the industry to “experiment, experiment, experiment,” and to get better at analyzing and exploiting the information they can glean from their site visitor data. He began with a series of slides illustrating the dismal trend lines of the newspaper industry and its place in the media environment:

  • Newspapers’ share of total ad expenditures have been dropping pretty steadily since the 1940s, from a 37 percent share down to barely 10 percent today.
  • Newspaper ad revenue kept pace with GDP until the mid-1980s (both inflation-adjusted), but since then, it has disconnected and fallen — not just during periods of recession but during the entire 2002-2008 expansion as well.
  • Online ad revenue at newspapers has grown to just 5 percent of total ad revenue, failing to offset the declines suffered in other categories, particularly classified.
  • Circulation as been falling from its 1970-1990 plateau of about 60 million copies, but on a per-household basis has dropped steadily from 1.2 copies per household in 1947 to about 0.4 copies per household currently.
  • While television still predominates as a source of national and international news for most people, in 2009 “Internet” surpassed newspapers as a source reported by consumers.

Twenty-six percent of all Americans (46 percent of those under 50) access news by mobile phone, and an astonishing 80 percent get news from e-mailed links, Varian said. But (as first analyzed right here at the Lab), only three percent of all consumption of newspaper-generated content happens online; 97 percent is still consumed in printed newspapers. This is true whether you measure pageviews in print and online, or time spent with printed newspapers versus newspaper web sites.

Still, news consumption ranks high among online activities of consumers, with 39 percent getting online news “yesterday” (according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2008), ranking it the third-most-popular reported activity (after e-mailing at 56 percent and using search engines at 49 percent).

Using Google data, Varian showed that accessing news exceeds search on weekdays, but drops to a fraction of its weekday level on weekends, when search leads. From this he concludes that much access to news and newspaper sites happens in the workplace, when consumers have time only for quick checks of headlines, not for in-depth reading.

The challenge for newspapers, therefore, is to “increase involvement in the news by turning it back into a leisure-time activity.” He sees tablets and mobile phones as helping to do that.

ComScore data shows that search engines send 35 to 40 percent of traffic to major U.S. news sites — so, assuming that this traffic monetizes about the same as other traffic, search engines must be driving 35 to 40 percent of revenue, as well, Varian said. But he suggested newspapers could do a better job using the data that comes along with the search click (the keywords used in the search), and using it to categorize the reader’s interests and tailor content suggestions and advertising accordingly.

One problem with this, I’ve found, is that about half of visits that come via search engines tend to be generic — users type the name of the paper, the URL, or a variant thereof, into the search field, using it in lieu of their browser’s address bar. But of the non-generic search clicks, Varian pointed out that most are for categories like sports, news/current events, and local (Google’s categories), which are difficult to monetize, while few are for the more lucrative areas of travel, health, shopping, computers, and electronics. “So the news narrowly defined is pretty hard to monetize.”

What about charging the consumer for news online, then? Varian’s answer:

My view is, yes, I mean, you should try for sure. But there is this difficulty that you run into when you start thinking about the economics of it is that you can really only charge for thing ifs they’re differentiated. There are a lot of substitutes for a product then it’s hard to charge for it. Then you have this problem, what economists call Bertrand competition…You get this competing down to the lowest common denominator.

So you really have to have news that’s highly differentiated in order to support a charging model. One time I thought, well, local news, that’s highly differentiated. Local football scores, things like that. Then I realized all of the moms and dads are in the audience on twitter with the mobile phones, maybe the news isn’t so highly differentiated after all, they’ve got mostly specialized industry content, points of view, analyses are not easily imitated are also a case that they can differentiate news. I’m agnostic on whether the charging will work. I think it’s worth a try, but you can only try it for something that’s going to be unique content. It’s very hard to charge for, let’s say, the weather, or something of that sort.

Varian concluded with this exhortation to publishers: “The three things newspapers should do is experiment, experiment, experiment!” He cited a few options from Google, like Living Stories and starred stories that can be followed for updates during the day.

“I’m a big fan of the new devices,” he said. The iPad, Kindle and other tablets introduce a “completely different ergonomics for accessing the news…so what I believe they’ll see is a merger of the TV, magazine, radio, and newspaper experience. You’ll have a device which will access all of the different medias. Give you a deeper — potentially deeper involvement with the news…So I would like to see this — this area develop and we’re doing what we can to help that happen.”

Finally, Varian urged newspapers to better exploit the information they have:

You know, in many cases, the newspaper website is seen as — as something that for the techies or the person who’s managing the web log [stats] is doing it just to look at how performance is working. But it’s hugely valuable information in those web logs [stats] — both from an editorial point of view and from a marketing point of view. There’s lots of interesting things that you can do when you understand why people are coming to your site, where they’re spending the most time, what they’re coming back to. It’s just extremely valuable information. I think newspapers can spend more time on analyzing that information and end up with better ad effectiveness measuring better contextual targeting and editorial targeting.

Here’s a full transcript of Varian’s remarks, as recorded by the FTC’s transcription service. (Note: This is not fully cleaned up or compared with a recorded version. I’ve inserted the slide numbers at the appropriate points.)

Wow, thank you very much for that kind introduction. Happy to be here. [1] As you heard, we’re going to talk about on-line and off line economics of newspapers. [2] And basically this is going to be mostly a fact-based presentation, looking at revenue, costs, advertising level change, composition, and so on. Most of the talk is from the data from the newspaper association of America that’s put up a lot of trends on the website, a key foundation of some of the other sources and a little bit of Google data that’s also emerged with this report.

[3] So I want to start off with a little overview of what revenues and costs look like for newspapers. And basically the bottom line here is 80% of the revenue roughly comes from advertising, 20% from sales. If you break down the cost side of newspapers, turns out that about 50% of the costs are production and distribution, that is the physical production and distribution of the newspaper, obviously it’s attractive if you can reduce your costs by 50% for any business. So the promise to the internet is just to reduce costs. I understand we’re going to hear much more detail about that this afternoon.

[4] If you look at ad spend by medium in the United States, I pulled this data from the U.S. Statistical Abstract. Of course, the big gorilla in the room is TV. You look at broadcast and cable TV, you’ve got by far the largest expenditure on advertising on those two media. Surprising enough, the next biggest thing is direct mail. Then after direct mail comes the — comes the newspapers. You look at how things have changed over the years, broadcast TV has gone down a little bit. Cable TV has grown by quite a bit, almost a factor of three. The internet’s grown from nothing in 1995 to about 5% of ad expenditures in 2008. And newspapers, As you can see, have contracted from about 23% down to maybe 13% or so. So the big changes are apparent in this diagram. And I guess the next talk is going to be perhaps some more up-to-date figures on the advertising business and newspapers. Newspapers, of course, are still about three times as large in terms of ad revenue as the internet, so there’s still quite a major force in the advertising world.

[5] This is another chart showing pretty much the same thing. If you look at newspapers, that’s the blue line, they’ve been going down since basically 1950 in terms of media share. If you look at the yellow line, that’s TV and cable. That’s been going up quite dramatically over the same period. And way down there in the bottom right-hand corner, that light blue line, is the internet which came from pretty much nothing up until the — maybe late 1990 s started to become a force in — in advertising and other media stayed more or less the same.

[6] Now this is a plot of GDP which I just put there to have a general measure of economic activity and newspaper ad revenue. And I’ve adjusted it but the consumer price index that you can see what the changes will be in the real term. So basically we have real GDP and real newspaper ad revenue. And you can see, it’s pretty much pieced back in the late ‘80 s, since then, more or less conference in the last couple of years where it took a big dropdown. By the way, the vertical grade bars are recessions. One thing to note is that typically during recessions, advertising expenditures are quite sensitive to cyclical conditions so you can see GDP dropping and advertising expenditures dropping as well. The last couple of years have been dropping outside and even more than the economy would indicate and we’ll see an echo of that in one of the — one of the later slides. The important point is that newspaper ad revenue pretty much Maxed out way before the internet came on the — on the scene.

[7] This is a picture of what ad revenue looks like by type, again, measured in constant dollars. So typically it’s broken down into four different categories, retail, which would tend to be local stores, national, which would be national brand advertising, classified, the blue segment there, and then on-line is the tiny little green segment that kind of popped up a few years ago. You can see what’s going on is retail advertising has been growing over this period. The brand advertising has been contracting and classified advertising stayed pretty much the same up until the last few years at which point it dropped fairly precipitously.

[8] This is the same chart only measured in shares so you can see the share and we’ll have a lot more clearly. I think the important point to note here is the on-line ad revenue is still — as of 2008, at least — is substantially less than 5%.

[9] What about circulation? If you look at circulation, the chart on the upper left-hand corner, the circulation stayed constant for a long period of time and drop in the last couple of years, but, of course, it’s a little bit misleading just to look at total circulation, what you’re most interested in, most likely, is circulation per house hold. So if you look at paid circulation per person, over on the right, you can see it was declining since the ‘60 s and pretty much a steady manner. The interesting thing is, if you look at ad revenue per reader, or ad revenue per circulation, it actually was increasing since the late ‘60 s with a few up s and downs in the recessionary periods and so on, but by in large increasing up until very recently in the last few years. But the ad revenue per circulation is going up even though ad revenue is going down because the circulation has been going down so much. So it’s the denominator that’s been causing this effect.

[10] And here’s another chart just showing circulation which, again, has been remarkably constant between say 55 million and 60 million copies.

[11] And here’s a chart of circulation per household, which is also been pretty stable in terms of its decline. Back in 1947, you were seeing a little over one newspaper per house hold, which I presume is morning and evening editions in many cases. But that’s gone down to something like 40 — .4 newspapers per household in today’s world.

[12] And this is the chart that — well, we just heard Susan refer to that now the internet has surpassed physical newspapers as the popular way of accessing information. I would say television is — got a pretty substantial lead on both of them. And, of course, most of the internet access is access to newspaper sites. So they aren’t, of course, the physical paper.

[13] In that same report, there were some interesting trends about getting news by phone. 26% of all Americans said that they actually access news on their phones and 43% of those under 50 — so this is yet another medium by which people can access news. But in many cases, given the interface that’s available, people are looking at weather or at current events because reading in depth on your phone may be somewhat inconvenient. I thought one of the more fascinating numbers that came out of the PEW report is that 8 80% of people get news by e-mailed links. That’s one of the more popular distribution mechanisms now. You see an interesting story, you send it to their friends. You go to the websites, you see the most mailed stories MRKS are accessed on people’s computers and now, increasingly, on handheld devices. And we shouldn’t think of a single medium per person. Half the population surveyed said they used four to six different media for accessing news. So it’s important to distinguish in these discussions between newspapers traditionally considered as the physical newspaper and, of course, all the other ways you can access news, on TV, on your phone, on your computer, your lap top, etc.

[14] Now, if you add it all up and you look at the difference between physical newspaper reading and on-line newspaper reading, you get this kind of amazing statistic that’s due to Martin Langeveld at Harvard['s Nieman Journalism Lab]. Only about 3% of total news comes on the computer. Most of it comes from looking at physical newspapers. You get nice numbers looking at the web data. This is data from the Newspaper Association Of America. People are spend 38 minutes per month on on-line news which works out about 70 seconds a day. Whereas a person who reads a physical newspaper tends to spend about 25 minutes a day. There’s also time use studies to back these numbers up. So even though accessing news on-line is a very popular thing to do, it’s actually the case that people are not spending nearly as much time on the newspaper on-line as those people are who are reading physical newspaper. Of course, they’re different populations, so you have to compare these carefully. But roughly speaking, about 3% of either page views or time accessing on-line news — sorry — 3% of the total access to newspapers is done on-line. On the other hand, it’s accessed quite often.

[15] This is from data from the U.S. statistical abstract. Also it came from Pew, that roughly 40% of adult internet users say they accessed news yesterday. And. In, if you look at those with household incomes of $75,000 or more, it’s about 53%. So it’s very popular to access that on-line news, it’s just that people aren’t spending a huge amount of time on it, at least compared to the people who are reading the physical newspaper.

[16] If you look, for example, at total number of hours per year where people are accessing newspapers or reading newspapers, it’s about — let’s see, in 2008, 168 hours per year. So roughly works out to 25 minutes a day. In terms of physical newspaper consumption — that’s the same order of magnitude as the time people spend on the internet.

[17] News — the third most popular activity on-line, sending a regular e-mail, using a search engine, getting news on-line. Those are, again, the three top things that people do on the internet, but they’re spending a lot more time, for example, reading e-mail than they are looking at the on-line news. Now this is a little bit of a paradox. Let me stop for a minute and show you the charts. The paradox is, it’s popular to access news on-line, but they don’t spend time doing it. Why is that? That’s the mystery. How much time they do it compared to physically reading the newspaper.

[18] So I pulled some Google data and I looked at the time use pattern of access to Google news. So what you got down there on the bottom are the hours in the over a couple of weeks. The two little small bumps are the weekend access. And the — the five bumps between them are the daily access. So the red line is search activities. This is how many people are searching Google for things. And the blue line is the news activity. So I plotted both of these charts from the area of — each graph is normalized to be one, so it’s measured in percentage terms.

So what’s the first thing you see in the blue line is a lot further up than the red line. What that says is that people are accessing the news during the day a lot more frequently than they’re doing searches. And if you go over to look at the weekend, you can see the searches dramatically exceed the news, people are doing searches more on the weekend than they’re accessing the news. What that suggests to me is that people are accessing on-line news a lot during business hours. It’s not so surprising that they’re not spending a whole lot of time on it because offline news reading is a leisure-time activity. You do it over a cup of coffee, you do it in the evening, maybe. Whereas on-line news reading, that’s a labor time activity. People snatch a few minutes out of the day to check the sports scores or the headlines or something of that sort. So if that’s true, people are spending much less time looking at on-line news than they traditionally spent reading on-line news because they’re doing it during working hours, much less during leisure ours. During leisure hours, you might sit and watch TV, as a matter of fact, it would be a common thing to do.

So the challenge, I think, that’s facing the newspaper industry is to try to turn that on-line newspaper access which is much more attractive way to reach a broader audience is to increase involvement of the news by turning it back to a leisure-time activity.

[19] If you look at the value of clicks sent to newspapers, according to COMSCORE, it’s 35% to 40% of the traffic to news sites. That monetizes about as well as other traffic, that means that search engines are driving about 35% to 40% of traffic of revenues, on-line news sites. Which is a substantial amount. However I have to remind you that the on-line news revenue is about 5% of the total. So even though they’re driving a substantial fracture of the on-line revenue that’s still a relatively small amount of the total revenue.

[20] One thing that’s interesting to do is if you look at a search click that goes to the newspaper site, the newspaper is sent a query — or any site, not just the newspaper site, the site is sent a query that generated that search click. And that means that the site that received the search click could direct the user to the appropriate section of the site. So you can take those queries that people are issuing when they click on news sites and ask, what are the categories? What are people looking for when they go to these on-line news sites?

And I’ve done that. It turns out that the kinds of things that people are looking for when they’re going to these on-line news sites are sports, news and current events, and local — those are the top-level categories that we use at Google categorize search clicks. But there’s relatively the same in travel, shopping, so on. And roughly the same in entertainment, computers, and electronics. I’m comparing searches that go to newspapers to just searches in general that go to sites that aren’t specifically classified as newspapers. I say newspapers, I mean sites indexed by Google news.

Now the bad thing — or maybe not the bad thing, just a fact is, that if you look at the money in on-line advertising, the money is in categories like travel, health, shopping, and consumer electronics. But if you look at the revenue that’s going to newspapers. That’s in sports, news, and current events and local. And believe me, it’s very, very hard to monetize those categories because there isn’t as much consumer dollars spent in those areas as there are in areas like travel, health, and shopping.

[21] So the news narrowly defined is pretty hard to monetize. Despite the fact that it’s popular and frequently accessed, there’s a relatively low level of involvement because of the time constraints that people face, and it’s typically not a highly commercial activity. In fact, newspapers have never made money from news. You look at where the revenue came from, they made money from the business page, the automotive page, home and garden, travel and technology, all those parts of the newspaper that wasn’t the raw news, not the newspapers. Why? You can target ads, not surprising that people who read the automotive page are interested in buying cars or people who look at the travel section might be interested in taking trips.You can see targeted ads in the physical newspaper but tied to the sections. Then it’s the revenue generated from those sections which are used to cross subsidize the actual production of news.

And what’s happened is, this has been a problem with this intermediation that now people can go directly to finance sites, to auto sites, to consumer electronics, books, to travel sites, real estate sites, and so on, so people go directly to seeking those specific sources of information, they tend to bypass the traditional sections of the newspaper and so the cross subsiization model that’s worked for many years has not really work ed now. It’s very hard to do conceptual targeting of the news. If you’re reading the travel section and you see a story about Hawaii, you wouldn’t be surprised to see ads for travel to Hawaii next to that story. If you read the news section and you see bombing in Baghdad, you’re not likely to see travel ads or anything else particularly relevant to that story. So it’s very, very difficult to do the same kind of cross subsidization we’ve seen work in the past.

[22] If you go look at advertising verticals for newspapers, you can see 20% is general merchandise, 14% financial. That would tend to be in the business section of the paper, home supplies, furniture and so on. So you look at the breakdown of where the money is coming from, then it tends to be somewhat different from the kinds of things that people are making money on on search engines and general internet advertising. Of course, all this doesn’t mean that newspapers aren’t valuable. You heard earlier — I would absolutely second that is critical both from the individuals and societal point of view. People find it valuable because people are going to look at news on-line. We see half of internet users read news on-line at some time or another. They just don’t spend a whole lot of time on it.

[23] I’ve seen this big debate on whether you can charge for news, replace the advertising model. My view is, yes, I mean, you should try for sure. But there is this difficulty that you run into when you start thinking about the economics of it is that you can really only charge for thing ifs they’re differentiated. There are a lot of substitutes for a product then it’s hard to charge for it. Then you have this problem, what economists call Bertrand competition — one seller sets it price here, one could sell it down. You get this competing down to the lowest common denominator.

So you really have to have news that’s highly differentiated in order to support a charging model. One time I thought, well, local news, that’s highly differentiated. Local football scores, things like that. Then I realized all of the moms and dads are in the audience on twitter with the mobile phones, maybe the news isn’t so highly differentiated after all, they’ve got mostly specialized industry content, points of view, analyses are not easily imitated are also a case that they can differentiate news. I’m agnostic on whether the charging will work. I think it’s worth a try, but you can only try it for something that’s going to be unique content. It’s very hard to charge for, let’s say, the weather, or something of that sort.

[24] So, in summary, if you go through and look at all of this, newspaper ad revenue is pretty much cost adjusted for dollars. The circulation per capita is going down since 1947. The really big increase of advertising revenues come from cable TV and that’s way before the internet. You do have this problem with on-line news that people are using it differently than they’ve used offline news. They tend to access it more episodically, and the challenge that the newspapers face is how can they use that to — how can they turn that deeper access to the news to the kind of deeper involvement that they would like to have? Maybe what you need, everyone said this is maybe not the news, but engagement. You need to increase the engagement with news.

[25] And the three things newspapers should do is experiment, experiment, experiment. Google has been working on doing some of the experimentations, I think a promising avenue is try to link news access during the day so you use this rather brief occasional access to stories, to a much bigger engagement, partially by shifting some of the access to leisure time.

So we’ve done things like living stories where you work with major newspapers to try to string together all of the items about a particular story as the newspaper developed through the day. Got this capability called star stories, you can look at a story and star it and then you can follow what happens in that story. Maybe look at it later when you have some free time, and other things like that. I’m a big fan of the new devices. I think that things like the ipad or the kindle and this whole group of tab let computing is going to potentially make a big difference because it gives you completely different ergonomics for accessing the news. If people are accessing on-line news at their workstation, computer, or their laptop during the day and they have a lot of things going on, when you come home, probably you don’t want to go sit in front of your laptop or your workstation at home to do the same thing. What you might want to do is sit in your easy chair and look at your tablet where you can follow some of the stories that you might have seen accessed originally at work.

Of course, this isn’t going to be a flat textural description, it’s going to be multimedia in those devices, and so what I believe they’ll see is a merger of the TV, magazine, radio, and newspaper experience. You’ll have a device which will access all of the different medias. Give you a deeper — potentially deeper involvement with the news. Because what happens with TV is you get this emotional experience from the visual side, but in many cases, it’s frustrating because you can’t go deeper in to the story because the newspaper, the physical newspaper with textural material you can go deeper in the story but maybe don’t have the same emotional involvement, get them both together, then potentially you can have a very positive and interesting and worthwhile experience. So I would like to see this — this area develop and we’re doing what we can to help that happen.

Finally, the last point is newspapers should better exploit the information they have. You know, in many cases, the newspaper website is seen as — as something that for the techies or the person who’s managing the web blog is doing it just to look at how performance is working. But it’s hugely valuable information in those web logs — both from an editorial point of view and from a marketing point of view. There’s lots of interesting things that you can do when you understand why people are coming to your site, where they’re spending the most time, what they’re coming back to. It’s just extremely valuable information. I think newspapers can spend more time on analyzing that information and end up with better ad effectiveness measuring better contextual targeting and editorial targeting. I think I’ll end there. And thank you very much for your attention.

March 05 2010

16:00

This Week in Review: Surveying the online news scene, web-first mags, and Facebook patents its feed

[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 online news landscape defined: Much of the discussion about journalism this week revolved around two survey-based studies. I’ll give you an overview on both and the conversation that surrounded them.

The first was a behemoth of a study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism. (Here’s Pew’s overview and the full report.) The report, called “Understanding the Participatory News Consumer,” is a treasure trove of fascinating statistics and thought-provoking nuggets on a variety of aspects of the world of online news. It breaks down into five basic parts: 1) The news environment in America; 2) How people use and feel about news; 3) news and the Internet; 4) Wireless news access; and 5) Personal, social and participatory news.

I’d suggest taking some time to browse a few of those sections to see what tidbits interest you, but to whet your appetite, the Lab’s Laura McGann has a few that jumped out at her — few people exclusively rely on the Internet for news, only half prefer “objective” news, and so on.

Several of the sections spurred their own discussions, led by the one focusing on the social nature of online news. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram has a good summary of the study’s social-news findings, and Micah Sifry of techPresident highlights the sociological angle of news participation. Tech startup guy Dave Pell calls us “Curation Nation” and notes that for all our sharing, we don’t do much of the things going on in our own backyards. And Steve Yelvington has a short but smart take, noting that the sociality of news online is actually a return to normalcy, and the broadcast age was the weird intermission: “The one-way flow that is characteristic of print and electronic broadcasting is at odds with our nature. The Internet ends that directional tyranny.”

The other section of the study to get significant attention was the one on mobile news. PBS’ Idea Lab has the summary, and Poynter’s Mobile Media blog notes that an FCC study found similar results not long ago. Finally, Jason Fry has some hints for news organizations based on the study (people love weather news, and curation and social media have some value), and Ed Cafasso has some implications for marketing and PR folks.

A web-first philosophy for magazine sites: The Columbia Journalism Review also released another comprehensive, if not quite so sprawling, study on magazines and the web. (Here’s the full report and the CJR feature based on it.) The feature is a great overview of the study’s findings on such subjects on magazines’ missions on the web, their decision-making, their business models, editing, and use of social media and blogs. It’s a long read, but quite engaging for an article on an academic survey.

One of the more surprising (and encouraging) findings of the study is that magazine execs have a truly web-centric view of their online operation. Instead of just using the Internet as an extension of their print product, many execs are seeing the web as a valuable arena in itself. As one respondent put it, “We migrated from a print publication supplemented with online articles to an online publication supplemented with print editions.” That’s a seriously seismic shift in philosophy.

CJR also put up another brief post highlighting the finding that magazine websites on which the print editor makes most of the decisions tend to be less profitable. The New York Times’ report on the study centers on the far lower editing standards that magazines exercise online, and the editing-and-corrections guru Craig Silverman gives a few thoughts on the study’s editing and fact-checking findings.

Facebook patents the news feed: One significant story left over from last week: Facebook was granted a patent for its news feed. All Facebook broke the news, and included the key parts of Facebook’s description of what about the feed it’s patenting. As the tech blog ReadWriteWeb notes, this news could be huge — the news feed is a central concept within the social web and particularly Twitter, which is a news feed. But both blogs came to the tentative conclusion that the patent covers a stream of user activity updates within a social network, not status updates, leaving Twitter unaffected. (ReadWriteWeb’s summary is the best description of the situation.)

The patent still wasn’t popular. NYU news entrepreneur Cody Brown cautioned that patents like this could move innovation overseas, and New York venture capitalist Fred Wilson called the patent “lunacy,” making the case that software patents almost always reward derivative work. Facebook, Wilson says, dominates the world of social news feeds “because they out executed everyone else. But not because they invented the idea.” Meanwhile, The Big Money’s Caitlin McDevitt points out an interesting fact: When Facebook rolled out its news feed in 2006, it was ripped by its users. Now, the feed is a big part of the foundation of the social web.

What’s j-schools’ role in local news?Last week’s conversation about the newly announced local news partnership between The New York Times and New York University spilled over into a broader discussion about j-schools’ role in preserving local journalism. NYU professor Jay Rosen chatted with the Lab’s Seth Lewis about what the project might mean for other j-schools, and made an interesting connection between journalism education and pragmatism, arguing that “our knowledge develops not when we have the most magnificent theory or the best data but when we have a really, really good problem,” which is where j-schools should start.

An Inside Higher Ed article outlines several of the issues in play in j-school local news partnerships like this one, and Memphis j-prof Carrie Brown-Smith pushes back against the idea that j-schools are exploiting students by keeping enrollment high while the industry contracts. She argues that the skills picked up in a journalism education — thinking critically about information, checking its accuracy, communicating ideas clearly, and so on — are applicable to a wide variety of fields, as well as good old active citizenship itself. News business expert Alan Mutter comes from a similar perspective on the exploitation question, saying that hands-on experience through projects like NYU’s new one is the best thing j-schools can do for their students.

This week in iPad tidbits: Not a heck of a lot happened in the world of the iPad this week, but there’ll be enough regular developments and opinions that I should probably include a short update every week to keep you up to speed. This week, the Associated Press announced plans to create a paid service on the iPad, and the book publisher Penguin gave us a sneak peek at their iPad app and strategy.

Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson and tech writer James Kendrick both opined on whether the iPad will save magazines: Anderson said yes, and Kendrick said no. John Battelle, one of Wired’s founders, told us why he doesn’t like the iPad: “It’s an old school, locked in distribution channel that doesn’t want to play by the new rules of search+social.”

Reading roundup: I’ve got an abnormally large amount of miscellaneous journalism reading for you this week. Let’s start with two conversations to keep an eye on: First, in the last month or so, we’ve been seeing a lot of discussion on science journalism, sparked in part by a couple of major science conferences. This is a robust conversation that’s been ongoing, and it’s worth diving into for anyone at the intersection of those two issues. NYU professor Ivan Oransky made his own splash last week by launching a blog about embargoes in science journalism.

Second, the Lab’s resident nonprofit guru Jim Barnett published a set of criteria for determining whether a nonprofit journalism outfit is legitimate. Jay Rosen objected to the professionalism requirement and created his own list. Some great nuts-and-bolts-of-journalism talk here.

Also at the Lab, Martin Langeveld came out with the second part of his analysis on newspapers’ quarterly filings, with info on the Washington Post Co., Scripps, Belo, and Journal Communications. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum drills a bit deeper into the question of how much of online advertising comes from print “upsells.”

The Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles has a provocative post contending that the distinction between creation and aggregation of news content is a false one — all journalism is aggregation, he says. I don’t necessarily agree with the assertion, but it’s a valid challenge to the anti-aggregation mentality of many newspaper execs. And I can certainly get behind Niles’ larger point, that news organization can learn a lot from online news aggregation.

Finally, two great guides to Twitter: One, a comprehensive list of Twitter resources for journalists from former newspaper exec Steve Buttry, and two, some great tips on using Twitter effectively even if you have nothing to say, courtesy of The New York Times. Enjoy.

March 01 2010

05:01

Loving mobile and print: Five key findings from Pew’s new news study

Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has just released a new study on news consumption habits across platforms.

The big takeaway: Americans want their news portable (33% of cell phone users now access news on their devices), personalized (28% of internet users have customized home pages) and participatory (37% of Internet users have contributed to a news story or shared it in some way).

Project director Tom Rosenstiel told me the findings have serious implications for online news business models: “The data suggest that the notion of a primary news source is almost obsolete. People graze. I think it’s increasingly clear that conventional popups and display advertising aren’t going to work.”

The 51-page report is packed with fascinating findings. But here are five that struck me as particularly interesting (emphasis mine):

1. Just because you love to scan headlines on your cell phone, that doesn’t mean you don’t also love ink on your fingers:

While [mobile news consumers] are no more likely than other adults to say they follow the news “all or most of the time,” they utilize a greater number of news platforms. More than half of the on-the-go news consumers (55%) use at least 4 different news platforms on a typlical day. They are 50% more likely than other adults to read the print version of a national newspaper (23% of on-the-go v. 15% all other adults). The only news platform they are less likely than other adults to use on a typical day is their local television news, and this difference is only slight.

2. Get your news only from the Internet? You’re in a tiny minority:

Americans today routinely get their news from multiple sources and a mix of platforms. Nine in ten American adults (92%) get news from multiple platforms on a typical day, with half of those using four to six platforms daily. Fully 59% get news from a combination of online and offline sources on a typical day. Just over a third (38%) rely solely on offline sources, and 2% rely exclusively on the internet for their daily news.

3. Users want to remix your news site:

Some 42% of the internet users who get news online — or 30% of all internet users — say that it is important to them when choosing news sites to be able to customize the news they get at that site. It is fascinating to note that this feature applies equally as much to those who say they prefer to follow specific topics (51% of them like being able to customize news on a site) and those who say they rely on others to keep them abreast of news (52% of them like this feature on a news website). At the same time, disproportionate numbers of those under age 50, blacks, wide-ranging platform users and browsers for online news, and social media users say this is a preference for them on a news website.

4. The devotion to objectivity isn’t as popular outside newsrooms:

Only half [of Americans] say their preference is for objective, straight news: 49% say they prefer getting news from sources that do not have a particular point of view; 31% prefer sources that share their point of view; and 11% say they prefer sources whose point of view differs with theirs. The rest say the don’t know their preference or don’t want to declare it.

5. Local news is nowhere near the top of most people’s news wishlists:

The most popular online news subjects are the weather (followed by 81% of internet news users), national events (73%), health and medicine (66%), business and the economy (64%), international events (62%), and science and technology (60%). Asked what subjects they would like to receive more coverage, 44% said scientific news and discoveries, 41% said religion and spirituality, 39% said health and medicine, 39% said their state government, and 38% said their neighborhood or local community.

Photo by Ian Lamont used under a Creative Commons license.


February 05 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: Google’s new features, what to do with the iPad, and Facebook’s rise as a news reader

[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]

A gaggle of Google news items: Unlike the past several weeks with their paywall and iPad revelations, this week wasn’t dominated by one giant future-of-media story. But there were quite a few incremental happenings that proved to be interesting, and several of them involved Google. We’ll start with those.

— The Google story that could prove to be the biggest over the long term actually happened last week, in the midst of our iPad euphoria: Google unveiled a beta form of Social Search, which allows you to search your “social circle” in addition to the standard results served up for you by Google’s magic algorithm. (CNN has some more details.) I’m a bit surprised at how little chatter this rollout is getting (then again, given the timing, probably not), but tech pioneer Dave Winer loves the idea — not so much for its sociality but because it “puts all social services on the same open playing field”; you decide how important your contacts from Twitter or Facebook are, not Google’s algorithm.

— Also late last week, several media folks got some extended time with Google execs at Davos. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger posted his summary, focusing largely on Google’s faceoff with China. “What Would Google Do?” author Jeff Jarvis posted his summary, with lots of Google minutiae. (Jeff Sonderman also further summarized Jarvis’ summary.) Among the notable points from Jarvis: Google is “working on making news as compelling as possible” and CEO Eric Schmidt gets in a slam on the iPad in passing.

— Another Google feature was launched this week: Starring on Google News stories. The stars let you highlight stories (that’s story clusters, not individual articles) to save and return to them later. Two major tech blogs, ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch, gave the feature their seal of approval, with ReadWriteWeb pointing to this development as the first of many ways Google can personalize its algorithm when it comes to news. It’s an intriguing concept, though woefully lacking in functionality at this point, as TechCrunch notes: I can’t even star individual stories to highlight or organize coverage of a particular issue. I sure hope at least that feature is coming.

Also in the Google-and-news department: Google economist Hal Varian expressed skepticism about news paywalls, arguing that reading news for many is a worktime distraction. And two Google folks, including Google News creator Krishna Bharat, give bunches of interesting details about Google News in a MediaShift interview, including some conciliatory words for publishers.

— Meanwhile billionaire tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban officially jumped on the Google-News-is-evil train, calling Google a “vampire” and urging news organizations not to index their content there. Not surprisingly, this wasn’t well-received in media-futurist circles: GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, a former newspaperman himself, said Cuban and his anti-Google comrade, Rupert Murdoch, ignore the growing search traffic at news sites. Several other bloggers noted that Cuban has expressed a desire in the past to invest in other news aggregators and currently invests in Mahalo, which does some Google News-esque “sucking” of its own.

— Finally, after not carrying AP stories since December, Google struck some sort of quasi-deal that allows it to host AP content — but it’s still choosing not to do so. Search engine guru Danny Sullivan wonders what it might mean, given the AP and Google’s icy relations. Oh yeah, and Google demoed some ideas of what a Chrome OS tablet — read: iPad competitor — might look like.

What the iPad will do (and what to do with it): Commentary continued to trickle out this week about Apple’s newly announced iPad, with much of talk shifting from the device’s particulars to its implications on technology and how news organizations should develop for it.

Three most essential pieces all make similar points: Former McClatchy exec Howard Weaver likens the iPad to the newspaper in its physical simplicity and thinks it “will enrich human beings by removing technological barriers.” In incredibly thoughtful posts, software developers Steven Frank and Fraser Speirs take a programming-oriented tack, arguing that the iPad simplifies computing, bringing it home for normal (non-geek) people.

Frank compares it to an automatic transmission vs. the traditional manual one, and Speirs says it frees people from tedious tasks like “formatting the margins, installing the printer driver, uploading the document, finishing the PowerPoint slides, running the software update or reinstalling the OS” to do the real work of living life. In another interesting debate, interaction designer Sarah G. Mitchell argues that without multitasking or a camera (maybe?), the iPad is an antisocial device, and developer Edd Dumbill counters that it’s “real-life social” — made for passing around with friends and family.

Plenty of folks have ideas about what news organizations should do with the iPad: Poynter’s Bill Mitchell and news designer Joe Zeff both propose that newspapers and magazines could partially or totally subsidize iPads with subscriptions. Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt says that wouldn’t work, and Zeff gives a rebuttal. Publish2’s Ryan Sholin has an idea for a newsstand app for the iPad, and Frederic Filloux at The Monday Note has a great picture of what the iPad experience could look like by next year if news orgs act quickly.

And of course, Robert Niles of The Online Journalism Review and BusinessWeek’s Rich Jaroslovsky remind us what several others said (rightly, I think) last week: The iPad is what content producers make of it.

Facebook as a news reader: Last Friday, Facebook encouraged its users to make their own personalized news channel by creating a list of all the news outlets of which they’ve become a fan. The tech blog ReadWriteWeb — which has been remarkably perceptive on the implications of Facebook’s statements lately — noted that while a Facebook news feed couldn’t hold up to a news junkie’s RSS feed, it has the potential to become a “world-changing subscription platform” for mainstream users because of its ubiquity, sociality and accessibility. (He makes a pretty compelling case.)

Then came the numbers from Hitwise to back ReadWriteWeb up: Facebook was the No. 4 source of visits to news sites last week, behind only Google, Yahoo and MSN. It also accounts for more than double the amount of news media traffic as Google News and more than 300 times that of the web’s largest RSS program, Google Reader. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick responded with a note that most news-site traffic still comes through search, and offered a challenge to Facebook to “encourage its giant nation of users to add subscriptions to diverse news sources to their news feeds of updates from friends and family.”

This week in (somewhat) depressing journalism statistics: Starting with the most cringe-inducing: Rick Edmonds of Poynter calculates that newspaper classified revenue is down 70 percent in the last decade. He does see one bright spot, though: Revenue from paid obituaries remains strong. Yup, people are still dying, and their families are still using the newspaper to tell people about it. In the magazine world, Advertising Age found that publishers are still reporting further declines in newsstand sales, though not as steep as last year.

In the world of web statistics, a Pew study found that blogging is steady among adults and significantly down among teens. In other words, “Blogging is for old people.” Of course, social media use was way up for both teens and adults.

A paywall step, and some suggestions: Steven Brill’s new Journalism Online paid-content service has its first newspaper, The Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era in Pennsylvania. In reporting the news, The New York Times noted that the folks behind both groups were trying to lower expectations for the service. The news business expert Alan Mutter didn’t interpret the news well, concluding that “newspapers lost their last chance to hang together when it became clear yesterday that the wheels seemingly have come off Journalism Online.”

In a comically profane post, Silicon Valley veteran Dave McClure makes the strangely persuasive argument that the fundamental business model of the web is about to switch from cost-per-click ads to subscriptions and transactions, and that because people have trouble remembering passwords, they’ll login and pay through Gmail, iTunes or Facebook. (Mathew Ingram says McClure’s got a point.) Crowdfunding advocate David Cohn proposes a crowdfunded twist on micropayments at news sites.

Reading roundup: Two interesting discussions, and then three quick thought-provoking pieces. First, here at the Lab, future Minnesota j-prof Seth Lewis asks for input about what the journalism school of the future should look like, adding that he believes its core value should be adaptability. Citizen journalism pioneer Dan Gillmor gave a remarkably thorough, well-thought-out picture of his ideal j-school. His piece and Steve Buttry’s proposal in November are must-reads if you’re thinking about media education or involved in j-school.

Second, the discussion about objectivity in journalism continues to smolder several weeks after it was triggered by journalists’ behavior in Haiti. This week, two broadsides against objectivity — one by Publish2’s Paul Korr calling it pathological, and another by former foreign correspondent Chris Hedges saying it “killed the news.” Both arguments are certainly strident ones, but thoughtful and worth considering.

Finally, two interesting concepts: At the Huffington Post, MTV’s Maya Baratz calls for newspapers to think of themselves as apps, commanding them to “Be fruitful and multiply. Elsewhere.” And at the National Sports Journalism Center, former Wall Street Journal journalist Jason Fry has a sharp piece on long-form journalism, including a dirty little secret (“most of it doesn’t work in any medium”) and giving some tips to make it work anyway.

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.

January 15 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: Who’s responsible for local news, and Google plays hardball with China

[Our friend Mark Coddington has spent the past several months writing weekly summaries of what's happened in the the changing world of journalism — both the important stories and the debates that came up around them online. I've liked them so much that I've asked him to join us here at the Lab. So every Friday morning — especially if you've been too busy to stay glued to Twitter and your RSS reader — come here to recap the week and see what you've missed. —Josh]

Who reports local news?: Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study Monday that aimed to find out “who really reports the news that most people get about their communities?” In studying the Baltimore news media ecosystem for a week, the study found that traditional media — especially newspapers — did most of the original reporting while new media sources functioned largely as a quick way to disseminate news from other places.

The study got pretty predictable reactions: Major mainstream sources (New York Times, AP, L.A. Times) repeated that finding in perfunctory write-ups. (Poynter did a bit more with it, though.) It inspired at least one “see how important newspapers are?” column. And several new media thinkers pooh-poohed it, led by CUNY prof Jeff Jarvis, who said it “sets up a strawman and then lights the match.” Steve Buttry (who notes he’s a newspaper/TV exec himself) offered the sharpest critique of the study, concluding that it’s too narrow, focuses on stories that are in the mainstream media’s wheelhouse, and has some damning statistics for traditional-media reporting, too. Former journalist John Zhu gave an impassioned rebuttal to Jarvis and Buttry that’s well worth a read, too.

(A couple of interesting tangential angles if you want to dig deeper: New York Times media critic David Carr explains why blogs aren’t geared toward original reporting, and new media giant Gawker offers a quick can’t-we-all-just-get-along post saying web journalism needs more reporting and newspapers need to get up to speed.)

My take: I’m with CUNY’s C.W. Anderson and USC’s David WestphalOf course traditional media organizations report most of our news; this finding is neither a threat to new-media folks nor ammunition for those in old media. (I share Zhu’s frustration here — let’s quit turning every new piece of information into a political/rhetorical weapon and start working together to fix our system of news.) Clay Shirky said it well last March: The new news systems won’t come into place until after the old ones break, not before. Why would we expect any different now? Let’s accept this study as rudimentary affirmation of what already makes sense and keep plugging away to make things better.

Google talks tough with China: Citing attacks from hackers and limits on free speech, Google made big news this week by announcing it won’t censor its Chinese results anymore and is considering pulling out of the country altogether. The New York Times has a lucid explanation of the situation, and this 2005 Wall Street Journal article is good background on Google/China relations. Looking for something more in-depth? Search engine maven Danny Sullivan is your guy.

The Internet practically blew up with commentary on this move, so suffice it to say I’m only scratching the surface here. (GigaOm has a nice starter for opinions outside of the usual tech-blog suspects.) Many Google- and China-watchers praised the move as bold step forward for freedom, like Jeff Jarvis, author of “What Would Google Do?”; China/IT expert Rebecca MacKinnon (twice); New York Times human rights watchdog Nicholas Kristof; and tech guru Robert Scoble, to name a few.

TechCrunch’s Sarah Lacy was more cynical, saying this was a business move for Google. (Sullivan and Scoble rebut the point in the links above.) Global blogging advocate Ethan Zuckerman laid out four possible explanations for the decision. The Wall Street Journal and Wired had some more details about Google’s internal arguments over this move, including their concerns about repercussions on the China employees. The China-watching blog Imagethief looked at the stakes for Google, and the Atlantic’s James Fallows, who got back from China not too long ago, has a quick take on the stakes from a foreign-relations standpoint.

Jarvis also took the opportunity to revisit a fascinating point from his book: Google has become an “interest-state,” an organization that collaborates and derives power outside of the traditional national borders. Google’s actions this week certainly seemed very nation-like, and the point is worth pondering.

Fox News ethics: Fox News was the subject of a couple of big stories this week: The biggest came Monday, when the network announced that it had signed Sarah Palin to a multiyear deal as a contributor. Most of the online commentary has focused on what this move means from Palin’s perspective (if that’s what you’re looking for, the BBC has a good roundup), but I haven’t found much of substance looking at this from the Fox/news media angle. I’m guessing this is for two reasons: Nobody in the world of media-thinkers is surprised that Fox has become a home for another out-of-office Republican, and none of them are taking Fox very seriously from an ethical standpoint in the first place.

Salon founder and blogging expert Scott Rosenberg found this out the frustrating way when he got an apathetic response to his question of how Fox will cover any stories that involve her. As I responded to Rosenberg on Twitter, I think the lack of interest in his question are a fascinating indication of media watchers’ cynicism about Fox’s ethics. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Fox News would be a shill for Palin regardless of whether she was an employee, simply by virtue of her conservatism. Regardless of whether you think that attitude is justified (I do), it’s sad that that’s the situation we’re in.

Fox News was also involved in a strange chain of events this week that started when The New York Times published a front-page profile of its chief, Roger Ailes. It included some stinging criticism from Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law, British PR bigwig Matthew Freud. That led to speculation by The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove and Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff that Ailes’ days were numbered at Fox, with Wolff actually asserting that Ailes had already been fired. Then the L.A. Times reported that Ailes was still around and had News Corp.’s full support. Um, OK.

Facebook says privacy’s passé: In a short interview last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave a sort-of explanation for Facebook’s sweeping privacy changes last month, one that ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick recognized as a dramatic break from the privacy defenses Zuckerberg’s given in the past. Essentially, Kirkpatrick infers, Zuckerberg is saying he considers us to now be living in an age where privacy just doesn’t matter as much to people.

Kirkpatrick and The Huffington Post’s Craig Kanalley give two spirited rebuttals, and over at the social media hub Mashable, Vadim Lavrusik says journalists should be worried about Facebook’s changes, too. Meanwhile, Advertising Age media critic Simon Dumenco argues that we’re not getting enough out of all the information we’re feeding Facebook and Twitter.

Reading roundup: These last few items aren’t attached to any big media-related conversations from this week, but they’re all worth a close read. First, in the Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles made the bold argument that there is no revenue model for journalism. Steve Buttry filed a point-by-point rebuttal, and the two traded counterpoints in the comments of each other’s posts. It’s a good debate to dive into.

Second, Alan Mutter, an expert on the business side of the news industry, has a sharp two-part post crunching the numbers to find out how long publishers can afford to keep their print products going. He considers a few scenarios and concludes that “some publishers may not be able to sustain print products for as long as demand holds out.”

And finally, Internet freedom writer and activist Cory Doctorow explains the principle “close enough for rock ‘n’ roll,” and how it needs to drive our new-media experimentation. It’s a smart, optimistic yet grounded look at the future of innovation, and I like its implications for the future of journalism.

Photo of Sarah Palin by The NewsHour used under a Creative Commons license.

January 11 2010

04:07

Unsurprisingly, study finds MSM behind most news


We shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that most of news still comes from traditional sources. This is the conclusion of a study in the US by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

It found that most original reporting still comes from primarily newspapers, followed by television and radio, despite the proliferation of digital media.

Newspapers accounted for two-thirds of new information, followed by TV at 28% and radio at 7%

No doubt some will use this as ammunition to attack the internet as a forum for regurgitation and bloviation, and crow about the importance of traditional media.

But this misses the point. The study would have been more astounding had it come up with the opposite result.

It is not unexpected to find that digital-only outlets accounted for just 4% of original pieces of reporting.

Digital media is in its infancy while established media has a structural and organisational advantage.

Newspapers have been around for more than 100 years, during which time they established themselves as the primary vehicle for news and information.

The study focused on news in the Baltimore area, raising questions as to how far its results came be applied to other parts of the US or internationally.

As the New York Times points out, online start-ups in other parts of America, such as San Diego and Minneapolis, have become good sources of original reporting.

In the province of British Columbia, The Tyee and the Vancouver Observer are two digital-only outlets that provide local news.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the study is that the journalism done by mainstream media was driven mostly by government statements rather than journalists’ own reporting.

This finding is most worrying of all as it undermines the journalism of traditional media.

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