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December 21 2011

05:13

New Poynter eye-tracking study focuses on tablet design and user experience

Tablets have been around for a while, it's time we finally learn how people use them.

Well, SND STL was amazing and is finally in the books. After a little recovery and catch-up-on-reading time, I’ve found my next side project: The Poynter Institute’s new eye-tracking study, focused on tablet design and user experiences.

I remember when the previous eyetracking studies were released it was kind of like this kid on Christmas morning. I’ve regularly referred to them and re-read them throughout my career and now to be involved in the project now is amazingly humbling and exciting. The group involved in this round of research is like my fantasy journalism design team: Sara Quinn, Dr. Mario Garcia, Jeremy Gilbert, David Stanton, Rick Edmonds, Regina McCombs, Roger Black, Rusty Coats, Andrew DeVigal, Jeff Sonderman, Jennifer George-Palilonis, Michael Holmes, Damon Kiesow, Miranda Mulligan, Tor Bøe-Lillegraven, Nora Paul, Robin Sloan, and Matt Thompson.

Our focus this time around, tablets, are an interesting beast because they seem to marry dynamic and interactive content of the web with the portability and “lean back” nature of print or even TV experiences. Often lumped in with mobile devices, tablets are similar, but very unique in many ways. Mobile is always with you and very utility, speed-driven; tablets tend to be portable within the house and workplace, and early research shows that people tend to consume more content and for longer periods on them than either mobile or the web.

We’re going to look at design challenges such as which view do people people prefer to consume content in most frequently – portrait or landscape.  Even in those two options, I suspect the behaviors from users on an 10-inch, letter-box shaped device like the iPad may differ greatly from those on a 7″ tablet, like the Kindle Fire. Or the type of content they’re consuming will likely also change the results, from my personal anecdotal experience (and what I’ve observed in others), I tend to read text more frequently in portrait mode and video in landscape no matter what device. But that’s just anecdotal.

There’s lots to learn and this research will offer ‘more than a hunch’ solutions to help us all improve our products. Specifically, we’ll focus on some of these issues and questions, which Sara spelled out in her original announcement post:

  • Tools and tasks: How intuitive can tablet navigation be and how long does it take to successfully complete a task?
  • Satisfaction: How happy are users with an overall experience and how does that impact their perception of the credibility of the source?
  • Comprehension and retention: Which forms help people to understand and remember what they have seen or read?
  • Business and revenue: What strategies might work for news organizations? For advertisers? For consumers? How might editors set up a newsroom to create content for a tablet product?

How you can help right now

  • Your questions - Share your thoughts, comments and suggestions on the Poynter Eye-Tracking research page on Facebook and follow along there to learn more about what we’re learning.
  • Funding – The Knight Foundation and CCI Europe is helping kick in money, but the more funding, the more extensive research we can do. Please contact Sara about this at: squinn [at] poynter.org.

 

December 20 2011

16:32

Journalism Education Roundup, Dec. 20, 2011

Education content on MediaShift is brought to you by: 


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The best stories across the web on journalism education


1. Syracuse named best j-school in NewsPro poll (Jim Romenesko)

2. "Medical school model" brings newspaper, radio station and university together (Poynter)

3. Schools explore rules to limit how teachers and students interact online (New York Times)

4. Classroom guide to the First Amendment in a digital age (Knight Foundation)

5. California bill pushes for free online college books (MindShift)


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November 11 2011

17:50
17:32

A Strange, Sad Day in Journalism: Romenesko's Resignation

Aggregation is an underappreciated art. Sure, with a quick tutorial, almost anyone can perform some version of it. But I have stumbled across only a few individuals and media outlets who have done it really well for any length of time on the web.

Jim Romenesko has heavily influenced the practice of online aggregation. By many accounts, he was one of its inventors and early experimenters. For more than a decade on his eponymous blog, he aggregated news about the media industry with an astounding rapidity and regularity that made his updates as reliable as the rising of the sun (except, of course, on Saturdays and Sundays).

And yet now, here we are, minus Romenesko, at least in the role in which we most love and rely on him. The eye-poppingly stunning manner in which his association with The Poynter Institute was severed yesterday is the talk of the journalism cosmos. His own minders publicly flogged him in a post on his own blog for a practice that some are declaring questionable and others are defending with gusto.

I will leave it to the news media ethics cognoscenti to determine if there has truly been any actual fault in Romenesko's handling of the news copy to which he was linking. I am currently too dazed by this whole "bizarre spat" (as a New York Times Media Decoder post calls it) to really dive in. And I am possibly too entrenched in the pro-Romenesko camp to be able to judge it with objectivity.

Regardless of the ugly way in which he has been forced to say goodbye, his retirement (or at least retirement from uber-aggregation) had been imminent -- a few months away.

The Very Best of Aggregation

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Romensko's blog never sported a snappy header image, snazzy interface or a memorable web address. But it did, through its namesake, embody the very best of aggregation.

Romenesko spread the word about the big stories quick. He ferreted out the smaller stories deserving a spotlight. He maintained a professional, almost invisible, voice, displaying smidgens of snark or righteousness only when he was calling out individuals or organizations who deserved it. Until recently, when the blog format switched, he gave media watchers just enough to whet our appetites about an item without drowning us in minutia or holding us up from scrolling down. And he brought public attention to internal industry decisions and disputes with such frequency that those in power long ago came to accept and expect it.

St. Petersburg Times media critic Eric Deggans confirms: "Romenesko's site has been a favorite of reporters, editors, administrators and all sorts of folks connected to the media industry, especially in print. For about a dozen years, he's gathered together the most important news from all corners of the biz to one spot, creating an amazing platform for ideas and gossip that I have benefited from many times over."

Media Decoder accurately notes that for many of us, a spot on his blog was seen as a short-term land-grab of "the best real estate in American journalism." I vividly recall the most recent time I was mentioned in a summary. It triggered a torrent of sheer joy that lasted the full 24 hours or so that the post was on the homepage. It is a physical reaction only those in the journalism community can truly understand, one I would describe as Romenesko+.

Kerfluffle Over Attribution

Romenesko had announced over the summer that he was shifting his focus to larger projects and a new web base, JimRomenesko.com, "a blog about media ... and other things I'm interested in." He specifically (under)stated that he would no longer be providing "three-sentence summaries of other people's work."

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But he told The New York Times yesterday he had hoped to segue quietly. That is no longer possible. His legacy in respect to aggregation and online journalism also will now include an asterisk and an outline of what Deggans describes as a "kerfluffle over attribution" and what Felix Salmon from Reuters has dubbed "Romeneskogate."

It will also include the many statements of what Romenesko is calling "incredible support." They continue flowing into comment boxes, Twitter feeds, blog posts, and news reports. Many are from angry journalists declaring their allegiance to Romenesko and condemning the charges by Poynter as a "preposterous plagiarism assault," (Gawker) "a nothingburger" (Time's James Poniewozik)," and a heinous way to treat a man whose work "put Poynter on the map as an online destination" (American Journalism Review).

A Strange New Reality

Now on day two of this kerfluffle, questions hang in the air: What are the proper ethics for aggregators? Is Poynter's reputation among its core constituents forever tarnished? Who or what will fill the Romenesko void?

As a Pennsylvania native, it has been a weird few days, watching Joe Paterno, a man larger than the institution at which he was employed, be forced out. The departure has left a strange, new reality forced to soldier on in its wake. As one Penn State University superfan messaged me, "Will Saturdays ever be the same?"

The context surrounding that case and this one are, of course, monumentally different. But the similarities in respect to how they have played out are impossible to ignore. Romenesko, a man larger than the institution at which he was employed, has been prominently, suddenly and unceremoniously forced out, leading to raucous showings of support from his fans and a black cloud hanging over Poynter's future. Will every day but Saturday and Sunday ever be the same?

Dan Reimold is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Tampa. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the student journalism industry blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His first book, Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy, and a Student Journalism Revolution, was published in fall 2010 by Rutgers University Press.

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December 01 2010

17:50

'Report an Error' Button Should Be Standard on News Sites

The web is a two-way medium. But when it comes to reporting errors on news sites, too often, it might as well be broadcast or print.

It's time to change that. That's why, yesterday, we announced the launch of the Report an Error Alliance -- an ad hoc coalition of news organizations and individuals who believe that every news page on the web ought to have a clearly labeled button for reporting errors.

Today's articles come with their own array of buttons for sharing -- and print and email and so on. We believe that opening a channel for readers to report errors is at least as important as any of those functions.

We aim to make the "report an error" button a new web standard. Toward that end, we're releasing a set of icons that anyone can use for this purpose. It's up to each publisher what to do with them -- link them to a form or an email address, use a dedicated error-reporting service like MediaBugs, or choose any other option that suits your needs. What's important is that the button be handy, right by the story, not buried deep in a sea of footer links or three layers down a page hierarchy.

We've got a handful of forward-thinking web news outfits signed on already -- including the Toronto Star, TBD.com, Salon.com, Poynter.org, and NewsTrust.net. We hope to see this roster grow. We also encourage individuals to add their names to our alliance as an indication of your support for this new standard.

Kathy English, public editor at the Toronto Star, which already has its own "report an error" button, said, "I'm pleased that the Star is a founding member of this important initiative to help assure greater accuracy in digital journalism. The Star has long encouraged readers to report errors for correction, in print and online, where the 'Report an Error' function in effect turns every reader into a fact checker. This is a strong step forward in establishing industry best practices for online accuracy and corrections."

Not a Magic Solution

Report an Error is intended to be a focused effort toward a simple goal. Too many news sites still make it hard for you to tell them they made a mistake. Such reports get buried in voice-mail boxes and lost in flame-infested comment threads. Yet journalists still need to hear them, and readers deserve to know that they've been heard.

Implementing a "report an error" button isn't by itself a magic solution to the problem of accuracy and the erosion of confidence in the media. But it's a good start at repairing the growing rift between the press and the public. It's like putting a badge on everything you publish that says, "If you see a problem, we really want to know about it!"

So visit our Report an Error site, join the Alliance yourself, and grab some of our icons to use on your news pages and posts.

The Report an Error Alliance project is a collaboration between Craig Silverman of Regret The Error (and managing editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab) and myself. Though it grows out of my work on MediaBugs, it's a separate effort, intended to distill the simplest, easiest, and most important step in this area that every news website can take.

September 16 2010

00:56

Poynter: Students prefer print college papers to online

In case you didn't see it, Poynter.org has an interesting column today about how students prefer to read their college papers in print than online."I talked with several college newspaper advisors (sic) across the country, and they all said their print newspapers are much more popular than their online versions," Bill Krueger wrote in the column. Krueger interviewed advisers and general managers

September 03 2010

19:33

Business, Entrepreneurial Skills Come to Journalism School

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

For decades, journalists in mainstream news organizations were shielded from the revenue side of the operation. Many argued their lack of knowledge helped avoid even the appearance of commercial influence in the editorial well. But with increased stress in the news industry and new disruptive technologies giving even entry-level reporters an understanding of audience behaviors and income streams, things have started to shift.

Journalism educators have increasingly been helping students learn the workings of the business side of news. The trend mirrors similar changes in the newsroom. Plus, with many journalists being laid off, having the business skills to run their own media enterprise -- whether it's a blog, podcast or independent news site -- is vital to many more people.

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"It came to be recognized that journalists needed to play more of a role in the future of their enterprises," said Stephen Shepard, who talked to me recently in a phone interview. Shepard is the founding and current dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and former editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek magazine.

CUNY's J-school and a raft of other journalism schools and institutes have introduced business courses into their curricula, teaching students to read and create basic financial statements and the principles of media management. They are also launching new training programs for mid-career journalists and editors.

Janice Castro is the senior director of graduate education and teaching excellence at Medill. She told me that at Northwestern University, the Medill School of Journalism and Kellogg business school have cooperated "for a long time" in developing a media management and research center.

Full disclosure: Medill is a longtime sponsor of MediaShift.

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Four years ago, as Medill revamped its curriculum, seats in two courses in media management at Kellogg were reserved for Medill students. Medill graduate students are also required to take either a course in "Audience Insight" or "How 21st Century Media Work," and have the option to take Kellogg classes in finance.

"We think it's really important for students who are going out to operate as journalists to understand the business of media," Castro said. "It's going to help them make better choices in where they're going to work, because they'll be better able to size up the company and its direction and its vision. They'll know more than the brand or the name of a big media organization. They'll be able to assess it."

Students will also better be able to help guide the organization strategically, according to Castro and Shepard. "When you have a student who's graduated and immediately put on the management track at a major media company, that's not something that used to happen," Castro said.

Demand for Entrepreneurial Instruction

There's also increasing demand from students joining or launching startup ventures.

CUNY this month expects to announce the formation of a master's degree program in Entrepreneurial Journalism, further enriching and extending courses offered since the school's inception four years ago.

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At the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship" is devoted to the development of new media entrepreneurship and the creation of innovative digital media products," according to its site. (Read this previous MediaShift article about how the school teaches digital media entrepreneurs.)

Retha Hill is the director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Cronkite.
During a lab-focused semester, Cronkite school students "have to think about the business implications of their ideas or the information they are gathering," Hill told me via email.

Even at Columbia University, where school founder Joseph Pulitizer in 1904 wrote that he found the idea of teaching business "repugnant," students are required to learn business principles. All Masters of Science students, about 85 percent of matriculants, take a class on the "Business of Journalism" that was conceived and introduced last year by dean of academic affairs and former Wall Street Journal Online managing editor Bill Grueskin.

The course includes a Harvard Business School case study about a Norwegian media company called Schibsted that moved its business more strongly into digital media; instruction on managing profit and loss in a business; the differences in advertising and circulation revenues; principles of ad pricing; and other business issues.

Grueskin told me via email that the faculty at Columbia overwhelmingly supported the course. In a letter to them, Grueskin wrote that while Pulitzer "went out of his way to exclude business courses from the curriculum," today "journalists are increasingly being called upon to make business models work. We owe it to our students to give them a grounding in that field."

Training Institutes Step In

Training institutes, too, are helping journalists and editors learn business principles.

The Knight Digital Media Center, based at both the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley, in May held a week-long "News Entrepreneur Boot Camp."

Full disclosure: Knight Digital Media Center is a sponsor of MediaShift.

Attendees, many of them mid-career journalists, learned disciplines such as business models, building a feasibility plan, customer acquisition and web analytics.

The Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism think tank and training center where I contribute articles and have lectured on business principles, in July named two Ford Fellows in Entrepreneurial Journalism who are mentoring startup initiatives and teaching business disciplines.

Heartening Trend

While some journalism purists may bemoan what they consider fuzzing the lines between "church (journalism) and state (business)," I find the move to integrate business into journalism education encouraging.

It's healthy, I think, that reporters and editors now believe they should understand what it is that brings in the money that goes into their paychecks.

This is not to say they should pander to commercial or financial interests -- and there is certainly a danger as even junior reporters learn how many page views (and by implication advertising impressions) a story they produce garners. One journalism educator told me that even in his "little blog" he considered whether to disrupt the center column with an ad and make more money.

It's always been a balancing act, though, even if the rank-and-file weren't completely aware. At BusinessWeek, "ad placement was always an issue," Shepard said.

That even new J-school graduates now understand some of the struggles is probably a good thing -- as long as they also are grounded in what Shepard called the "professionalism and judgment" to not "cave in all the time to advertising demands in a way that would hurt the reader or viewer."

In the long run, those guiding journalistic enterprises must understand both the editorial principles that over time bring in and maintain a community of readers and participants, as well as the business principles that sustain the operation.

If they can do so successfully, perhaps the new news businesses they are molding and creating can then survive the fate of so many of today's severely stressed news organizations.

A former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA, Dorian Benkoil has devised and executed marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk.

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

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August 04 2010

17:00

“AdSense for online subscriptions”: Meet MediaPass, the platform that wants to put pores in your paywall

In a post over at Poynter yesterday, Rick Edmonds analyzed the paid-content experience of Spokane’s paper, the Spokesman-Review — and made, in the process, a case for a mixture of paid content and free living together on a media website. A case for, essentially, a porous paywall.

Like a number of industry analysts I have spoken with recently, [digital operations director Shaun] Higgins sees a business model in which news and special, online-only features (like a columnist singing his song parodies) is used to draw an audience. Once on the site, users can then buy archived articles, click on contextual ads and search local business listings. So the site essentially acts as a free marketing tool that can be used to pitch an assortment of products.

The upshot, for both Higgins and, by the looks of things, Edmonds: the walled-versus-free debate about web content, with its broad and often politicized terms, misses the point. Because “the obvious answer for newspapers” is “a hybrid formula.”

If that’s the case (and if The New York Times’ current path toward porousness is any indication of Paywall Zeitgeist, it could be), then publishers have another option besides Press+, Journalism Online’s paywall-facilitator: MediaPass. The platform takes a brick-by-brick approach to walls: through its modular system, it wants to give publishers the flexibility to determine not only the specific terms of their subscription asks, but also which sections (or even individual pages) of their content to make premium in the first place.

As MediaPass’ CEO, Matt Mitchell, puts it: “We want to be to online subscriptions what AdSense has been to online advertising.”

That ambitious goal pivots, like many such goals do, on a simple insight: whether you’re searching the web or monetizing its content, ease of use can make all the difference. “Part of the reason everybody monetizes through advertising networks and AdSense and Yahoo’s comparable product,” Mitchell told me, “is that it’s all very easy.” MediaPass tries to leverage the power of simplicity through its quick, AdSense-y sign-up process: provide your site’s basic info, select your subscription’s price point (when I tested the system out, the pre-populated options were one-month, three-month or six-month periods at fees of $9.95, $20.85, and $47.40 respectively — though you can write in your own price, as well), and MediaPass generates a line of Javascript that you can paste onto the back-end text of whatever content you want to keep behind your wall. There are no up-front costs for publishers who use the service. And the code itself is laid over content rather than integrated into it — and thus won’t, MediaPass promises, affect a site’s SEO.

The business proposition? MediaPass takes a flat 35 percent commission on subscription sales. (That’s an “introductory rate,” Mitchell told me, noting AdSense’s 68 percent cut for content ads.) And the value proposition for publishers, Mitchell says, comes in the system’s ease of use — which translates to nimbleness of use. As the MediaPass site notes, alluding to the Times of both New York and London, “a change is occurring in the industry as major media conglomerates have announced plans to charge a subscription for some of their online content. But while they are investing significant time, money and resources in building a proprietary subscription infrastructure, you can get started right now.

So what about the most common argument against a paywall strategy — that whatever money you manage to make in subscriptions and other payments will be negated by the exodus of the walled-off masses?

“If you do it right, you don’t lose users,” Mitchell says. ESPN.com, he points out, hasn’t seen a drop in its user base since it went paywall with Insider; quite the opposite. What’s “right” will vary by publication; still, Mitchell notes, it’s clear that, online ads being what they are, publishers need something beyond ads to support themselves. (Even the Huffington Post, he points out, widely cited as a successful outlet in terms of popularity and influence and other traditional metrics, has yet to turn a steady profit.)

Again, though, hybridity is key. Take the Times of London’s paywall, which, Mitchell says, erred on the side of excess: it put everything behind its wall, without even abbreviated content to let non-subscribers know what they’re missing. A smarter strategy is seduction: You need enough content outside the wall, Mitchell points out, to entice users to come in. You need peepholes. You need pores.

As for MediaPass’ pitch to publishers: the point isn’t necessarily to convince them of the merits of salvation-via-subscription. It is, though, to convince them to give paywalling a try. To take some of the life-or-death, all-or-nothing thinking that often surrounds the paid content debate…and re-direct it toward some (potentially) productive experimentation. As the platform’s FAQ sheet puts it: “Our entire goal in creating MediaPass was to make a subscription system that is easy to try with no obligations. We wanted to create a service in which publishers would ask themselves, ‘Why not?’”

March 23 2010

16:00

Poynter’s hiring. What will their writer/curator be up to?

For the past few days, a job posting has been making its way around the web: the Poynter Institute, it announces, is looking to hire a writer/curator for its Sense-Making Project. Which is a job title that — out of context, anyway — doesn’t itself seem to make much sense (A what for the what?). But it’s also one that’s intriguing. Writing? Curating? Sense-making? Can’t argue with that.

I asked Kelly McBride, Poynter’s Ethics Group Leader and lead faculty for the program, about the project and its new position. The Sense-Making Project itself, she told me, is a pilot effort funded by Ford and focused on the intersection between journalism and citizen engagement — and closely related to news literacy, the movement that aims to educate citizens to be savvy consumers of news. “We started with the central question of how citizens will make sense of the universe,” McBride says. And the curator position is in part predicated on one clear answer to that question: “They’re going to need some help.”

One of the project’s aims, McBride says, is to cater to the expanding group Poynter refers to as “the fifth estate”: the broad network of people, journalists both professional and non-, who are now participating in the newsgathering process. The project wants to “create a place where people who are motivated to develop new skills about consuming information can go to do that, to be in conversation and to share their ideas,” she says. And the person who takes on the writer/curator job will guide and, yes, curate that conversation.

In some ways, the position is one that requires the skills of (pardon a slight oxymoron) the classic blogger: “gathering and writing and reassembling and helping us look through all of this information that’s out there, putting a magnifying glass on certain parts of the virtual world and saying, ‘Here’s something to look at.’” But the new role will combine curation with a slightly more academic approach: one that considers the contextual aspects of information. The writer/curator will be taking, if all goes according to plan, an archaeological — and in some senses anthropological — approach to news and the social capital it engenders: a kind of Putnam-meets-Wasik-meets-Foucault-style sensibility toward social knowledge. “The whole idea of the project is, ‘What if you had someone whose only job it was, every day, to be looking at information?” McBride says. “And this person gets the new world and the old world, and isn’t writing to an audience of professional journalists, and is writing to Joe Citizen, saying, ‘Hey, this is kind of interesting.’”

It’s meme-tracking, essentially — tracing the movement of ideas though our social spaces — except with information, rather than notions, as the core proposition. “If you think about what PolitiFact does for political facts,” McBride says, “we’re thinking similar to that, only for the rest of the universe.”

It’s an intriguing idea — and one that suggests a subtle shift in the atomic structure of journalism itself: from the article as the core unit of news, and even from the blog post as that unit, to something more discrete and, yet, tantalizingly ephemeral: the fact itself, the assertion itself, the piece of information itself. Propositions that are solid and fluid at the same time. “What we’ve found,” McBride says, “is that when you start taking a single piece of information, you can actually look at the history — where it came from, who linked to what, who transformed it, and how it got to you. And then you can look at how it went out from there.” The analysis might require “diagnosing language,” she says, or “asking about the motivation of the person who delivered the information.” It also might require “asking about the setting in which the information was delivered, because things on Facebook are different from things on Twitter.”

Either way, the analysis will focus on a goal that’s quickly gaining traction in journalism: the provision of context as a means of adding value to information. With the project and its expansion, “I hope to create a body of work that reveals trends and pressure points that have yet to be revealed,” McBride says. Because “it’s in those trends that you start to say: ‘Oh, okay, here’s a tool people need.’”

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.

December 19 2009

10:13

Why it pays to respond to your comments

This story was originally published at Poynter. Republished here for archiving purposes.

http://www.birminghampost.net/news/politics-news/2009/08/04/cost-of-new-birmingham-city-council-website-spirals-to-2-8m-65233-24307674/

Newspapers take a lot of flak when they or mis-attribute or fail to acknowledge the work of bloggers and members of the public in reporting a story, so it was refreshing to see my two local newspapers quickly respond to amend online reports following a number of corrective comments. But more interesting was to see how they reaped the benefits of that responsiveness.

One story – about the council’s £2.2m overspend on a new website - said it was based on a Freedom of Information request by “a member of the public”. Public Affairs Editor Paul Dale, who told me he spotted the story following a tweet, failed to mention that that “member of the public” was actually Heather Brooke, the investigative journalist who helped break the MPs’ expenses scandal – or that she submitted the FOI request as part of an investigation on Help Me Investigate, on which she works (the tweet and the FOI request both credited Help Me Investigate by the way).

http://www.birminghammail.net/news/top-stories/2009/08/04/new-birmingham-city-council-website-costs-spiral-to-2-8m-97319-24309788/

The newspaper’s multimedia editor Steve Nicholls quickly amended the story following a comment. But note what happened next: because The Birmingham Post responded positively, I returned to the site and commented again. And I told my friends, who told their friends, many of whom clicked on a link and visited the piece, and some of whom – who had never commented on a Post story before - registered in order to congratulate the Post on their responsibility (see screengrab above).

So through simply being responsive to comments and acknowledging a mistake, that newspaper benefited from extra pageviews, extra time spent on the site, extra registrations and extra comments – not to mention the intangible goodwill generated towards the paper (and hopefully a few new print sales too).

Pete Ashton pointed out that their response may simply have been due to the person commenting, but this wasn’t an isolated example. A previous story (also generated by Help Me Investigate) looked at the most-ticketed streets in Birmingham – the comments thread demonstrated a similar responsiveness to different commenters – this time from reporter Tom Scotney (see screengrab below).

I know a lot of news organisations are implementing online strategies to both increase the number of pageviews and the amount of time people spend on the site –  giving journalists and multimedia editors time to respond to comments and correct copy in this way has to be one of the most sensible planks of any such strategy.

http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-news/2009/07/27/help-me-investigate-website-uncovers-parking-ticket-hotspots-in-birmingham-65233-24244387/

November 20 2009

20:00

How Steve Brill has adjusted his pay-for-news pitch

Because it’s my job, I’ve followed pretty much everything Steve Brill has said in public about Journalism Online, the pay-for-news firm he launched in April with Gordon Crovitz and Leo Hindrey. From the start, they’ve been offering infrastructure and consulting for news organizations that want to charge for access to their websites. But as you’d expect with any new venture, the pitch has changed over time. Here are some tweaks I’ve noticed:

Ditching the term “paywall”

Brill has always been clear that he isn’t advocating a subscription-only approach for news sites. Some content will be free, some will be available only to those who pay. But whereas Brill used to use the term “wall” to describe subscription content, he’s now abandoned that language. “We’re not putting up any kind of a paywall,” he’s been saying, most recently in a heated interview on WBUR. “It’s not a paywall,” he said at a Yale conference last week.

That’s a semantic distinction but one that naturally raises the question: What type of stuff will be subscription-only? I posed that question to Brill at Yale, seeking specific examples, but he wouldn’t say much beyond “unique” and “premium” content. (Steve Outing recently prompted an interesting thread on what, exactly, premium content is.) I didn’t come away with a clearer idea of what his clients intend to charge for, just that I shouldn’t call it a paywall.

Embracing the metered model

Journalism Online will power any type of payment system that publishers choose, but Brill’s thinking has shifted on which strategy is best. Last year, he drafted a memo for The New York Times that championed micropayments and subscriptions for the newspaper’s entire website. In June, he told me, “We don’t think micropayments are going to be a huge part of this deal.” These days, he’s been talking up the metered model employed by The Financial Times, which offers 10 free articles a month before users are required to pay.

Brill’s firm claims trademarks on the names of six models — he calls them “dials” — that news publishers could employ:

— High Activity Pay Points (metered model)
— Selected Content Pay Points (partial paywall)
— Time-Based Pay Points (charge for new content)
— Enhanced Service Pay Points (charge for special features)
— Market Access Pay Points (charge based on user’s location)
— Preview Activity Pay Points (allow previewing of paid content)

Broadening the target audience

In the spring, Brill told me the goal was “to get the 5 or 10 percent of your most committed readers to pay.” This summer, he expanded that target in an interview with CNN: “The idea is that a newspaper probably has 10 or 15 percent of its audience who are the most engaged, who come to that Web site all the time. Those are the people who will be asked to pay a small portion.”

At Yale last week, he said “10 or 15 or 20 percent” of a news site’s unique monthly visitors might be willing to pay. I don’t presume to know what a realistic goal is, though that’s obviously crucial to the success or failure of paid-content plans. I do know that one study found “core loyalists,” who visit 2 to 3 times a day for 20 days a month, represent 25% of visitors to newspaper sites. So if you’re probing Brill’s estimates, there’s your starting point.

Exaggerating his firm’s success

“We now have over 1,200 affiliates,” Brill said on the radio yesterday, making it sound like 1,200 publications are ready to charge their readers for digital content. Asked to clarify, he said, “Companies representing or owning over 1,200 publications have all signed letters of intent.” We know that includes Guardian News and Media, which doesn’t appear likely to charge readers. Most of the other companies that have signed non-binding letters of intent remain a mystery, which makes the whole thing increasingly mysterious.

Brill is certainly under no obligation to disclose his clients, but the more he touts a dubious figure, the more skeptical I grow. Here’s a harder statistic, reported by Poynter: Between 5 and 15 publishers will start testing Journalism Online’s infrastructure “in the next month or so.” The firm’s own business model is dependent on at least some of its 1,200 affiliates pulling the trigger: Journalism Online is taking a 20% cut of subscription revenue.

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