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September 03 2012

19:54

Sasha Issenberg: Why campaign reporters are behind the curve

New York Times :: The reality about horse-race journalism is far more embarrassing to the press and ought to be just as disappointing to the readers who consume our reporting. The truth is that we aren’t even that good at covering the horse race. If the 2012 campaign has been any indication, journalists remain unable to keep up with the machinations of modern campaigns, and things are likely only to get worse.

An essay by Sasha Issenberg, campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com

August 31 2012

16:40

'Reporting live: From Tumblr': A meta-blog with an audience growing a newsroom

Buzzfeed :: Of the estimated thousands of journalists at the Republican National Convention, these people stand out. For one, they're not political reporters in the traditional sense of the term. And, though this is less of a novelty than it may seem, they're posting exclusively to Tumblr. They're also posting for Tumblr, as part of one the site's early forays into original journalism.

[John Herrman:] The world's biggest GIF repository grows a political newsroom.

Tumblr's political newsroom - A report by John Herrman, www.buzzfeed.com

"Tumbling the Conventions" - election.tumblr.com

July 26 2012

15:00

'Quote approval' turns press from watchdog to lapdog

First Amendment Center :: Big-time news outlets are reported to have caved into pressure both from the White House and the Mitt Romney campaign, agreeing to get approval of quotes from the candidates — and sometimes even the spokesmen for the candidates – before publishing interview articles.

[Gene Policinski:] ... if politicians don’t like those rules, then they don’t get into the stories. In Washington, if no other place, there’s always a way to get the story even if the principal subject isn’t speaking, even if not as quickly or easily.

An opinion piece by Gene Policinski, www.firstamendmentcenter.org

April 28 2012

11:43

FCC-required political ad data disclosures: The rule has serious limits

ProPublica :: The Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 yesterday to require broadcasters to post political ad data on the Web, making it easier for the public to see how as much as $3.2 billion will be spent on TV advertising in this election. The files, which detail the times ads aired, how much they cost and whether stations rejected ad buy requests from campaigns, among other things, are currently available only on paper at each station.

The FCC rejected an industry push to water down the measure. But the adopted rule also has serious limits. For example, the data will not be searchable or uploaded in a common format.

Continue to read Justin Elliott, www.propublica.org

11:32

Obama, Romney campaigns embrace Twitter-fueled news cycle

Huffington Post :: The increasing speed of the news cycle, driven by plugged-in reporters, operatives and political junkies on Twitter, hasn't been lost on some veterans of past campaign war rooms. Discussing how the election had literally gone to the dogs Sunday, "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos reminisced with panelist Donna Brazile about working in the Michael Dukakis campaign's rapid-response room during the 1988 election, a simpler time where "one of those old AP tickers" kept staffers up to speed. "That was how we got the news," he said. But now, Stephanopoulos said, everyone's turned to Twitter, with 2012 being the first election "where you've got both campaigns completely engaged on this instant messaging."

Continue to read Michael Calderone, www.huffingtonpost.com

05:26

A $1.3b dollar forest: How the big tech companies are selling you out

ReadWriteWeb :: Focusing on one bill, like CISPA, misses the bigger power that the computer and Internet industry has developed in Washington. In the last 14 years, its companies have become some of the biggest spenders on lobbying, paying a combined total of nearly $1.3 billion to ensure that they have their say in legislation.

"Lobbying" - Continue to read Abraham Hyatt, www.readwriteweb.com

April 27 2012

16:20

FCC approves rules for TV stations to put political ad information online

The Wrap :: The Federal Communications Commission on Friday voted to phase in requirements that local TV stations put information about political advertising online. Under the rules, TV stations affiliated with the four top TV networks in the nation's 50 largest markets will be required to file political information online first.

HT: Steve Myers, Poynter

Continue to read Doug Halonen, www.thewrap.com

April 26 2012

17:48

Approve This Message: Politics through Awl-colored glasses

The Awl sure likes to build stuff. In about three years, they’ve gone from a single “New York City-based web concern” to a family of six sites. The latest just debuted: Approve This Message, a kind of politics wire with the sensibility of The Awl mothership.

It’s an aggressively, intentionally bare bones effort. At first look, you’re confronted more by what it lacks than what it has: Each story has a photo, a tag, a headline, and a credit line to the original source. That’s it: No summaries, no commentary other than the headlines that read as, well, Awl-esque: “Will Mitt pick a mini-Mitt? I hope so, because getting to say ‘mini-Mitt’ over and over will be the only fun we have,” and “Oh no! Obama has ‘only’ raised $196 million for reelection, how sad.”

Approve This Message is a link machine with a cyborg brain that is part Awl and part Percolate, the same team that developed Felix Salmon’s Counterparties at Reuters. Percolate is like a butcher with an algorithm, serving up lean news by separating the meat from the fat around the web, whether via Twitter, RSS, or elsewhere. (Think of our own heat-seeking Twitter bot, Fuego.) Unlike Counterparties, which was based off a set of existing sources from Salmon, Approve This Message is made from a wholly new set of sources, Percolate cofounder Noah Brier told me over email. As the human element in the Percolate machine, Awl editors Alex Balk and Choire Sicha can add new sources and push stories through to Approve This Message, Brier said.

“In a way what we’re doing is compiling index cards of things people said, things that happened, political posturing, and all of that”

When I talked with Sicha, he said they wanted to create something that could capture all the interesting, “did you read this” kind of stories on politics that happen every day. Approve This Message is designed to be selective and slower, so readers can find stories pegged to the news cycle or timeless work that relates to the election. It’s by no means comprehensive — the simplicity is meant to serve up interesting stories and that’s it. It’s the opposite of what Sicha calls as the “fire hose news blast” of headlines that come from most political sites. Nothing wrong with that approach — there’s an audience for it and the election is one of the biggest stories in the US this year. Still, that torrent can be daunting to even the most interested of readers.

“If you stare into the maw of the election too long you will lose your will to live,” he said.

Sicha said they’re big fans of Counterparties, and after talking with Brier they decided to run with a similar idea, thinking of the site as a scannable record of what’s being said in and around politics. “In a way what we’re doing is compiling index cards of things people said, things that happened, political posturing, and all of that, and if that changes of weeks and months we’ll have our memory file and can make note of that,” he said. The site doesn’t have any ads currently, but there are slots currently taken up by house ads sprinkled among the stories.

Approve This Message is the second new site The Awl has launched this month with the addition of The Billfold, the site dedicated to all things money. (At six main sites, The Awl’s URL count is edging closer to the scope of Gawker Media, where both Sicha and Balk put in their time pre-Awl.) But aside from a kind of wry conversational nature, the look of Approve This Message shares little in common with The Hairpin, Splitsider, or other more blog-like members of the family. As The Awl has grown its associated parts have taken on different forms, perhaps more distinct in structure than other vertical-assemblers like Buzzfeed or Gawker Media. Over in Brian Lam’s end of the universe, The Wirecutter is essentially a list, a repository of product reviews and guidance. Awl Music, the site launched in January, is like a radio station run by Eric Spiegelman with a crew of contributing DJs.

“It’s a tool for people who want to know what the great articles on the election are without all the media noise and hype”

When I asked The Awl’s publisher John Shankman about that over email he said their strategy starts with finding good writers with vision and passion, then finding the right outlet for them. “Wirecutter is a very specific vision that Brian Lam has. Approve This Message is a tool that’s fun and useful and appropriate for who and what The Awl is and our readers are,” he said. “With that said, though, design and how to architecture our information better is something we’re considering a lot.”

Shankman said the value of curating in Approve This Message isn’t just pulling together good stories, but also in presenting them in a clean and accessible way. (As Buzzfeed’s Matt Buchanan put it on Twitter: “when did the awl get all designy? this is nice.”) Approve This Message provides a refreshingly simple experience for readers. The Awl gives its audience the choice to follow Approve This Message on the site, through Twitter or Tumblr. And on those two venues they link directly to the source of the story, not back to their site. “It’s a tool for people who want to know what the great articles on the election are without all the media noise and hype. The election through Awl-colored glasses, if you will,” Shankman said.

Sicha calls Awl Music and Approve This Message more disintermediated than other sites in their network. It’s not that they want out of the blog business, because they love that and will continue to build out new places for writers to showcase their talent. But they also want to toy around with the medium, and Approve This Message is one way of doing that, Sicha said.

“We’re not building traffic here. We’re using a great tool and letting it be free,” he said. “That’s probably the opposite of what we should be doing running a business, but that’s what it is. To do anything else would be untruthful or wrong.”

April 22 2012

12:44

Real-time 'SocialTV LiveBattle': The French election in tweets

The Verge :: "The French election" - A dedicated website has been set up to provide real-time tracking of the volume of election-related tweets, and its counters were reset early on Sunday morning to coincide with the opening of the polling stations.

French-election-jpg

Continue to read Vlad Savov, www.theverge.com

April 18 2012

05:49

Political journalism: New jockeying over online release of data on political ads

New York Times :: The fight between broadcasters and regulators over the online release of political advertising data entered a new round this week at the broadcasters’ annual conference. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, reaffirmed his belief that the data — showing the buyers of political ads and the prices paid for the ads — should be shared online.

Continue to read Brian Stelter, mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com

April 17 2012

14:30

Politico Pro, one year in: A premium pricetag, a tight focus, and a business success

Most nights on Capitol Hill, the Senate and House press galleries begin to thin out around dinner time. The deadline rush subsides, and all but a scatter of reporters remain.

It was approaching 11 p.m. on March 7 when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal that cleared the way for voting to begin the next day on 30 amendments tied to a $109 billion transportation bill.

Inside baseball, sure, but it’s news that matters inside the Beltway, and matters to a lot of people. It’s the kind of deal you might want to know about right away if you were a member of Congress or a lobbyist or someone else who has to keep track of policy for a living. But it’s unlikely you would have found out about the deal on TV, or on Twitter or via any major newspaper’s website that night. Even traditional policy publications didn’t have it.

Enter Politico Pro, the pricey premium news service, launched last year with the goal of doing for policy coverage what Politico set out to do for political coverage five years ago.

“I don’t think the policy areas had been covered in a very interesting way before — policy publications can be pretty dry,” Politico Pro editor-in-chief Tim Grieve said. “There are ways to cover this stuff that are pretty damn interesting, which may be the secret to our success.”

On the night of March 7, paid subscribers to Politico Pro got the news about the Senate transportation deal almost immediately. Anyone signed up for the service’s energy coverage would have received this email at 10:41 p.m.:

Sixteen minutes later, Politico Pro published a story about the deal, including a full list of the amendments. Here’s a partial screenshot:

Less than an hour after that, a reporter for Politico’s core site broke the news that President Barack Obama had been personally lobbying Democrats in the Senate, urging them to reject one of the amendments that turned out to be on the list.

In the span of an hour, Politico and Politico Pro — we’ll get to the distinction later — had significantly advanced a major story in a way that would inform the next day’s business on Capitol Hill. For people involved in that business, knowing about these developments before getting to work the next morning would have been key.

“The next morning at 7:18, our competitor has this story: ‘Amendments for the Senate transportation bill are still up in the air,’” Grieve said. “They didn’t even have the story. That happens quite a lot…Do you want to find out something that’s really important in your universe now, or do you want to wait?”

“Now” is increasingly the answer among smartphone toting news consumers. But like many premium niche news services, the nowness that Pro delivers comes with a steep price tag. A year into its life — and as more publishers consider whether a premium-content strategy might make sense for them — Politico Pro’s success is a model worth watching.

You pay for what you get

Politico Pro covers four major policy areas: technology, energy, health care, and transportation. Newest in the mix is the transportation section, which launched on Tuesday. The site plans to add at least one more vertical before the end of 2012. Of Politico’s 217 total employees, more than 150 are on the editorial side, with 45 of them dedicated to Pro. The rest work in sales, technology, and events.

For an individual subscribing to one of Pro’s verticals, pricing starts at $3,295 per year. But most Pro subscribers are part of a group membership, and those start at around $8,000 per year for licensing content from a single vertical to five people. Pro bans subscribers from sharing or forwarding content. Add more employees to an organizational membership and the “price becomes more fluid,” says Miki King, Pro’s executive director of business development.

The subscription strategy has been somewhat fluid, too. Pro didn’t offer group memberships at first, but quickly found that it was a better business strategy. “The vast majority, well over 95 percent, are organizational subscriptions versus individual subscribers,” King says. “The whole idea behind the Pro subscription is we are going so deep in these policy areas that you would only care about it to this degree if this is your job.”

So it’s not surprising that about one-third of Pro subscribers are government workers.

“That ranges from Capitol Hill offices — members of Congress and senators’ offices — to government agencies to state and local municipalities,” King said. “Roughly another third are in the general public policy space — trade associations and those organizations that cover general policy, the think-tank types of organizations, or those who specifically cover energy policy.”

The other third is “everybody else,” King says.

Pro executives won’t publicly share subscription numbers, but just past the one-year mark, King says the figures “very quickly exceeded the expectations of where we thought we would be.” She says the number of subscribers has tripled since February 2011, and renewals “overwhelmingly” surpassed market-based predictions of 85 to 90 percent. As Politico’s Jim VandeHei and John Harris wrote in a staff memo earlier this month:

We set high editorial standards, and we achieved them. We set big goals for Pro’s first-year sales, and we beat them. We set big goals for Pro’s first-year renewal numbers, and we’re beating those, too. Readers want the kind of journalism Pro produces — fast-moving, decisive POLITICO-style journalism applied to the specific policy areas that interest them most. Because of this success, POLITICO has the most reporters working the most important policy areas in Washington — and all our readers benefit from this when we turn to the PRO team to write for our broader audience on energy, health care and technology matters.

While the Politico brand has been built on breaking targeted news, the sense of urgency that guides Pro’s team is mostly about getting meaningful information to people right away — sometimes even before reporters have a full understanding of what a news development means. King says Pro has “no problem whatsoever sending out to our subscribers a two-line email that’s going to give you a piece of breaking news that could impact your day because we’re not waiting for three hours for a reporter to file a story on it.”

“It’s very liberating for reporters, but it’s pretty damn liberating for readers too.”

That also means changing the way Pro’s stories are constructed.

“One of the things I tell reporters every day is: When you get to that point of the story, four or five paragraphs in, and [you write] ‘the move comes amid…’ — stop,” Grieve said. “Anybody who is reading Politico Pro knows what ‘the move comes amid.’ That 300 words of new essential information can be a 300-word story. The traditional approach would be a 1,000-word story, but the second part of that story would be the blah blah blah that everybody already knows…It’s very liberating for reporters, but it’s pretty damn liberating for readers too. No one has time to read stuff they already know. Take your time with the stuff that’s going to grab them by the jacket lapels and say, ‘Whoa, this is new.’”

Pro by phone

For Politico Pro, grabbing readers by the lapels means getting into their inboxes. Because the overwhelming majority of Pro subscribers are in Washington, that means catering to their reliance on BlackBerrys, which are — believe it or not — still ubiquitous on the Hill.

“It’s such a BlackBerry-centric and email-centric world,” VandeHei, Politico’s executive editor and co-founder, told me. “Anything that moves [on Pro] you’re getting pinged to you instantly on your BlackBerry. That option is only available right now to Pro subscribers. We just hear something interesting, and it might be just enough text to fill a BlackBerry screen. That part of the experience is very different than what you’re getting from Politico.” (Although Politico’s main product puts a lot of emphasis on mobile, too.)

Pro’s phone-centric approach means that its subscribers spend “very little time” on the site itself, Grieve says. There’s also no plan to move into text-messaging territory. Instead, subscribers get Pro updates on their BlackBerrys while rushing between hearings, while they’re waiting for a meeting with a Senator, or while they’re otherwise on the go.

“If you have a few hours on the weekend to read a 10,000-word New Yorker story, that’s a really rewarding experience,” Grieve said. “It’s also not what we’re trying to do. If you’re racing around the Hill trying to make progress on the policy area you care about, that’s a really lousy way of getting information.”

Content customized and on-demand

The other way that Pro tries to help readers cut to the chase is by letting them customize their newsfeeds. So in addition to subscribing to basic alerts, briefings, coverage from specific reporters, and other updates in policy areas of interest, readers can tag up to 25 terms that matter to them. That could be the name of a senator, a particular piece of legislation, or just about anything at all, really. Check it out:

“Any time that we write about your member of Congress, your agency, your company, your client, that’s instantly sent in full email text to your BlackBerry,” VandeHei said.

It may sound simple, but VandeHei calls what Politico Pro is doing “arguably the most important business innovation and arguably journalistic innovation” since Politico’s core site launched five years ago.

“The reason I say that is it now gives us two different solid revenue streams, which gives us two different ways to fund really aggressive journalism,” VandeHei said. (Politico won its first Pulitzer Prize yesterday.) While the Pro reporters are grouped in a different area of the building than the other Politico reporters, VandeHei says Pro is ultimately a “descriptive term” and, “at the end of the day, it’s one newsroom.”

Pro’s top editor Grieve also says that he’s hoping to foster more cross-pollination among reporters going forward. Already, there’s overlap. Pro reporters’ bylines are often on the core Politico site, and one Pro reporter recently hit the campaign trail with Mitt Romney when the core Politico team needed a break, Grieve says.

“As we grow Pro, I think you’re going to see much more of that — much more crossing over and blending and people moving around the newsroom in creative and maybe surprising ways,” Grieve says. The other surprise will be what verticals Pro rolls out next. Executives won’t say which areas they’re exploring, but King says there are clues on the core site.

“If you think about the way we have launched Pro products in the past, we’ve always launched around where we have done coverage,” King says. “For a hint on policy areas where we may be able to, over time, lend some insight from a Pro perspective, take a look at policy pages where we’ve covered everything from transportation to finance to defense. Those and more would be potential areas for future verticals.”

The good news for those who can’t afford the pricey premium service — and for those who care about quality journalism in general — is that Pro’s growth directly affects what the core Politico team is able to cover.

“If Pro didn’t exist, if there weren’t a base of readers who were interested in paying for the kind of highly detailed coverage Pro provides, it would be a limitaiton on the way Politico as a whole could cover this stuff — we might have one energy reporter, one technology reporter, one healthcare reporter,” Grieve said. “So when SOPA comes to the fore, when the contraception fight comes to the fore, when gas prices are the thing everyone’s talking about in Washington, there’s kind of an overwhelming force of manpower, expertise, knowledge, and insight that we can bring to bear for Pro readers and regular Politico readers that we just wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. It works from an editorial standpoint and works from a business standpoint. And if it doesn’t do both of those things, then it’s not going to happen.”

Photo of the U.S. Capitol Rotunda by ctj71081 used under a Creative Commons license.

April 14 2012

05:58

Behind closed doors: Broadcasters battle online disclosure of political ad buys

ProPublica :: The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote April 27 on whether to require TV stations to post online public information about political ad buys. Some form of the rule seems likely to pass, but the industry and others are lobbying the FCC to alter the nature of the final rule.

Crowdsourced: ProPublic is collecting stations' public paper files with the help of readers:

[ProPublica:] With the help of readers around the country, ProPublica is collecting stations’ public paper files containing data on political ads and posting them online because the information is generally unavailable elsewhere. See “Free the Files.”

Continue to read Justin Elliott, www.propublica.org

January 23 2012

07:01

The "“Fact Check” feature in political journalism

New York Times :: As election season rhetoric heats up, so does the demand for aggressive examination of candidates’ claims. This is not new. The “fact-checking” movement, shorthand for news organizations’ rebuttal of factual claims, has been building for years. Now, though, as Republicans grapple in earnest with nominee selection and President Obama rolls out his first campaign ads, the fact-check war is entering a new phase.

Continue to read Arthur S. Brisbane, www.nytimes.com

07:01

The "“Fact Check” feature in political journalism

New York Times :: As election season rhetoric heats up, so does the demand for aggressive examination of candidates’ claims. This is not new. The “fact-checking” movement, shorthand for news organizations’ rebuttal of factual claims, has been building for years. Now, though, as Republicans grapple in earnest with nominee selection and President Obama rolls out his first campaign ads, the fact-check war is entering a new phase.

Continue to read Arthur S. Brisbane, www.nytimes.com

January 21 2012

17:00

Polarized news market has altered the political process in South Carolina primary

Washington Post :: Once upon a time — oh, about two presidential elections ago — Dianne Belsom would get up in the morning and read the paper, taking in news stories about candidates and campaigns. Some stuff she agreed with, some she didn’t. This morning, Belsom wakes in her splendidly restored pink Victorian on Main Street in this rural South Carolina town, makes coffee and settles in at her desktop to fire up Facebook. There on her news feed are more than 100 stories that some of her 460 friends have posted since Belsom went to bed eight hours ago. ...

Washington Post follows three South Carolina voters and profile their media consumption, matching up their habits against national survey data. Watch a video of their activity online and see which shows are popular across the board and which appeal to people with specific ideologies.

Continue to read Marc Fisher, www.washingtonpost.com

January 19 2012

07:02

Drudge throws political world into chaos with exclusive on Gingrich ex interview

Mediaite :: Earlier this evening, the Drudge Report teased an exclusive with the single most vague headline in modern journalism history: “Network Holds Bombshell Campaign Interview.” Accompanied with the legendary “Drudge siren,” the headline left all of political Twitter waiting on bated breath, until another little tidbit was added: “Civil War at ABC News.” It took a while before the media received any more details, but it was worth it: “Newt Ex Unloads on America; Net Debates ‘Ethics’ of Airing Before Primary.

The details - Continue to read Frances Martel, www.mediaite.com

January 18 2012

22:12

Politico-Facebook sentiment analysis will generate "bogus" results

Techpresident :: Thursday morning last week, Politico announced that it was joining with Facebook to "measure GOP candidate buzz" and give its readers an "exclusive look at the conversation taking place on the social networking site" ahead of the January 21 South Carolina primary. It's called "sentiment analysis". "Mitt, Paul winning Facebook primary" was the headline on their first story on the project. "'Social media has forever changed the way candidates campaign for the presidency," said John F. Harris, editor-in-chief of Politico, in a press release about the new partnership.

But researchers question the value of the sentiment analysis.

[Micah L. Sifry:] Marc A. Smith, director of the Social Media Research Foundation, told me, "I share your skepticism re: 'sentiment' analysis. Irony is a tough nut to crack."

Continue to read Micah L. Sifry, techpresident.com

10:39

Why newspapers often don't call out politicians for lying

The Atlantic :: The status quo is a system that enables folks (politicians) who manipulate the public. These disingenuous people brazenly feed the press lies knowing that at worst they'll be printed alongside, and given equal billing with, a quotation from "the other side." "He said the world is flat. She said the world is round." Should a newspaper leave it at that?

[Conor Friedersdorf:] "He said rent control generally helps the poor. She said it more often harms them." ... Do you want your newspaper reporter to point out, in each of those cases, that the woman is right? 

Continue to read Conor Friedersdorf, www.theatlantic.com

07:20

05:30 a.m. - Politico's Mike Allen, the man the White House wakes up to

New York Times :: Before he goes to sleep, between 11 and midnight, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, typically checks in by e-mail with the same reporter: Mike Allen of Politico, who is also the first reporter Pfeiffer corresponds with after he wakes up at 4:20. A hyperactive former Eagle Scout, Allen will have been up for hours, if he ever went to bed. Whether or not he did is one of the many little mysteries that surround him.

[Mark Leibovich:] The abiding certainty about Allen is that sometime between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m., seven days a week, he hits “send” on a mass e-mail newsletter that some of America’s most influential people will read before they say a word to their spouses.

Continue to read Mark Leibovich, www.nytimes.com

07:08

Politico comes to New York

FishbowlNY :: Politico is coming to the streets of New York. Well, most of the streets. The company will distribute about 4,000 copies of the paper to “business leaders,” and it will target “financial institutions, leading companies and national media organizations.”

Continue to read Chris O'Shea, www.mediabistro.com

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