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June 03 2011

09:51

Speaker presentations: Session 2A – Developing the data story

Here are the presentations from Session 1A – ‘The data journalism toolkit’, at last week’s news:rewired conference.

The session featured:

With: Professor Paul Bradshaw, visiting professor, City University and founder, helpmeinvestigate.com; Alastair Dant, lead interactive technologist, the Guardian; Federica Cocco, editor, OWNI.eu; Conrad Quilty-Harper, data reporter, the Telegraph. Moderated by Simon Rogers; editor, Guardian datablog and datastore.

Paul Bradshaw, visiting professor, City University, London


Federica Cocco, editor, OWNI.eu

http://owni.eu/2011/05/25/a-map-to-freedom-the-internet-in-europe/
http://influencenetworks.org/
http://owni.fr/2011/04/18/carte-biens-mal-acquis-kadhafi-ben-ali/
http://wikileaks.owni.fr/
http://app.owni.fr/warlogs/
http://warlogs.owni.fr/
http://statelogs.owni.fr/
http://owni.eu/2011/03/04/app-fortress-europe-a-deadly-exodus/

Conrad Quilty-Harper, data mapping reporter, the Telegraph


Alastair Dant, lead interactive technologist, the Guardian



See the full session on video

May 28 2011

05:22

The Guardian - Alan Rusbridger: no credible 5-year business plan for newspapers

Brandrepublic :: Alan Rusbridger’s assessment of the current woes of the newspaper industry came as he fielded questions from guests at The Guardian offices, after he and Guardian writer Stephen Moss gave a snapshot review of the paper’s history.

[Alan Rusbridger:] ... nobody can point to a credible five-year business plan.

Rusbridger and Moss answered questions on disparate subjects, including the future of newspapers, The Guardian’s push into the US, phone-hacking, cut-price newspapers, and their favourite Guardian moments.

Continue to read John Reynolds, www.brandrepublic.com

May 27 2011

14:36

LIVE: Final session – Is liveblogging rewriting journalism? #newsrw

We have Matt Caines and Ben Whitelaw from Wannabe Hacks liveblogging for us at news:rewired all day. You can follow final session ‘Is live-blogging rewriting journalism?’, below.

Final session features:Matt Wells, blogs editor, the Guardian; Paul Gallagher, head of online content, the Manchester Evening News; Anna Doble, social media producer, Channel4 News; Alan Marshall, head of digital production, Press Association. Moderated by Marcus Warren, editor, Telegraph.co.uk.

11:10

#newsrw: Heather Brooke – ‘How do any journalists in the UK do their job?’

The main difficulty for data journalist in the UK is gaining access to meaningful data, Heather Brooke said in her keynote speech at news:rewired.

Brooke, a journalist, author and freedom-of-information campaigner, who is best known for her role in bringing the MPs expenses to light and who went on to work with the Guardian on the WikiLeaks cables, compared the difficulty in accessing data in the UK compared with the US, where she trained and worked as a political journalist and a crime reporter.

When working in the US, Brook explained how she was “heavily reliant on public records” and said the “underpinning of my journalism was state records”. As a crime reporter she used a police scanner, likening it to those familiar with US series ‘tThe Wire’.

“As a journalist I would decide what the story was,” she said, based on the data from public records. She was able to note patterns in the incident reports and able to notice a spate in domestic violence, for example.

Brooke told of how many UK police forces limit the release of their data to media messages left on a voice bank.

Public bodies in the UK “control the data, they control the public perception of the story,” she said.

“How do any journalists in the UK do their job?” she asked. And it was that problematic question that led her to becoming an FOI campaigner.

When she asked for receipts for US politicians’ expense claims in the States, she had them within a couple of days.

It was a different story in the UK. It took her five years and several court cases, including taking the case to the High Court which led to the release of second home allowance for 10 MPs.

The House of Commons “sticking their feet on the ground” refused to release further data, which had been scanned in by the fees office.

A CD of the data which was touted round Fleet Street and sold for £110,000.

The Telegraph, rather than Brooke, then had the data and had to verify and cross check it.

What is purpose as journalists in the digital age?

Brooke’s answer to that question is that “we need to change an unhelpful attitude” of public records being withheld.

“The information exists as if they own it”, she said.

“They don’t want negative information to come out” and they want to try and manage their reputation, she said in what she described as “the take over of public relations”.

“We need to be campaigning for these sets of data” and gave the examples of courts and the release of files.

“We make the FOI request and that should open the whole trench of data so any other journalist can go back and use it for their reporting.”

She said data journalism is “not just about learning how to use Excel spreadsheets but you have to have something to put in those spreadsheets”.

Brooke made a “rallying cry” as to why professional journalists, particularly those who practice investigative journalism, are vital.

The “one unique selling point, why people would come to a professional news organisation” is the training and experience journalists have in “sifting through for what is important and what is true”.

Brooke said as people have more and more information, a journalist’s role is distilling and signposting the information.

The second key point she made is journalists must establish “what is true”.

When a politician claims that crime has gone down, a journalist must be able to verify it and “test the truthfulness” of it, she said.

She explained that journalists need to know how that data was collected and, ideally, have access the data itself.

Brooke told how she tried to pitch stories on MPs expenses on an almost daily basis before they came to light. She said editors thought it was a non-story and “almost took the word of parliament” and had the perception that the public was not interested. But they were.

“It’s a symptom of the public not having meaninful information and are not able to take action. That’s our role as professional journaists.”

10:46

LIVE: Session 1A – The data journalism toolkit

We have Matt Caines and Ben Whitelaw from Wannabe Hacks liveblogging for us at news:rewired all day. You can follow session 1A ‘The data journalism toolkit’, below.

Session 1A features: Kevin Anderson, data journalism trainer and digital strategist; James Ball, data journalist, Guardian investigations team Martin Stabe, interactive producer, FT.com. Simon Rogers; editor, Guardian datablog and datastore. Moderated by David Hayward, head of journalism programme, BBC College of Journalism.

news:rewired – Session 1A: The data journalism kit

April 04 2011

18:30

“Of the web, not on it”: Emily Bell on the success of The Guardian and what she plans for the Tow Center

Before Emily Bell crossed the pond to head up the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia’s J-school, she led the Guardian’s website, helping to build it into one of the most heavily trafficked news sites in the world.

At a lunch talk at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center today, Bell shared her insights into what made the Guardian successful in its online efforts, her plans for the Tow Center — and her thoughts about the challenges facing the news industry in an increasingly networked world.

Three reasons Bell pointed to to explain the Guardian’s online success:

1. They put a high priority on technical excellence

Bell took over as the Guardian’s director of digital content in 2006. And “people actually thought, when I said that I was going off to work on the web, that I had been sacked.” At the paper, however, there was a core of people “who really understood the web,” Bell notes. And having that technical expertise didn’t just mean understanding code and web design and all the rest; it also meant understanding, almost implicitly, user behavior — and transforming the Guardian into a digital-first proposition. (It’s about being, as Bell has said before, “of the web, not on the web.”)

One of the most important shifts in mindset at the Guardian came in the form of the separation between form and content (which “now seems absolutely obvious,” Bell said, “but at the time seemed revolutionary”). And a lot of that process involved “freeing ourselves of the legacy mindset” and, in general, “getting the newsroom converged.”

2. They had a financial model that encouraged innovation

At the Guardian, which until 2008 was owned by the Scott Trust, the profit motive gave way to a broader emphasis on long-term thinking and experimentation. That led, in turn, to “a much higher tolerance for innovation” than the paper’s competitors, Bell said. The two most successful outlets in Britain, online, were the BBC and The Guardian, she noted — “neither of whom had to speak to shareholders.” Guardian staffers had greater financial leeway than most of their revenue-focused counterparts to experiment, innovate, and, importantly, fail.

3. They had a clear aim in their innovation strategy

“I’m not a massive fan of PowerPoint,” Bell confessed. But! Part of what allowed for the Guardian’s nimbleness when it came to innovation, she said, was that it “developed a really clear strategy.” The paper took the original tenets of Guardian journalism laid out by C.P. Scott and fused them, essentially, onto the networked infrastructure of the Internet. “Really, we’re about reaching as many people as possible in the world,” she said — and so the question for the Guardian’s staff became how to extend their reach using the tools of the web.

Part of that came down to a general openness to users. Bell created the Guardian’s Comment Is Free section (“which I think some of the Guardian columnists would like to see me imprisoned for!”) based on the recognition that the future will be increasingly networked, conversational, and participatory. In fact, “I stole it directly from Arianna Huffington,” she said. Through watching what Huffington was doing with her then-new news site — leveraging the unlimited space of the Internet to invite commentary from thinkers both professional and amateur — Bell figured that Huffington had it right. “This was the way that commentary would work under a collective brand for the foreseeable future.”

At Columbia

Bell’s work at the Tow Center is a continuation of that recognition — but also the product of another recognition that innovation, to some degree, requires stepping outside of the industry in order to observe it and affect its course. “As an operative in a daily news organization, it was getting harder and harder to connect” to the innovation side of journalism, Bell noted. Increasingly, “I think the space for doing that in your daily lives, as working journalists, is extremely limited — and the necessity to do it is greater than ever.”

The Tow Center, Bell said, focuses on three things: experimentation and research in the field; bringing the results of that experimentation back into the classroom; and creating a stronger digital presence for Columbia’s j-school. And “how those three things inform each other is important.” Part of the work the center will do will be to extend the purview of news innovation beyond journalism itself — to “expand the skill set” of journalism to include and embrace expertise in law, technology, the digital humanities, and the like.

“The solutions to what will make the Fourth Estate and constitute the press in the future lie largely outside the field as it’s practiced at the moment,” Bell said. After all, it’s not just news outlets that are developing ways of creating communities and connecting them — which is something that remains central to journalism’s core mission. Now everyone’s rethinking connectivity and influence. Looking to industries beyond the news, Bell noted, can help answer a key — perhaps the key — question when it comes to innovation: “what you need to support and guard a free press in the future.”

January 09 2011

17:09

THE NEW NO-NAME STARBUCKS LOGO

The founder of Starbucks (7500 self-operated and 5500 licensed stores in 39 countries) explains the change of the logo, quite better than The New York Time’s laid back design critic Steven Heller.

Designed first by Terry Heckler, the iconic mermaid that beckons coffee drinkers was based of a classic 15th century Norse woodcut

By removing the words “Starbucks” and “coffee” from its green logo, Starbucks joints Apple or Nike with a no-name logo.

As The Guardian says: “this could help as the chain expands into countries that not only have a different language but a different alphabet.”

Only brands with such a great personality can do it.

Well done and really well explained.

January 07 2011

17:30

This Week in Review: The FCC’s big compromise, WikiLeaks wrestles with the media, and a look at 2011

[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 net neutrality compromise: The Review might have taken two weeks off for the holidays, but the rest of the future-of-news world kept on humming. Consider this more your “Holidays in Review” than your “Week in Review.” Let’s get to it.

The biggest news development of the past few weeks came just before Christmas, when the FCC passed a set of Internet regulations that were widely characterized as a compromise between net neutrality advocates and big Internet service providers. In essence, the rules will keep ISPs from blocking or slowing services on the traditional wired Internet, but leave the future of wireless regulation more unclear. (Here’s a copy of the order and a helpful explainer from GigaOM.)

In the political realm, the order drew predictable responses from both sides of the aisle: Conservatives (including at least one Republican FCC commissioner) were skeptical of a move toward net neutrality, while liberals (like Democratic Sen. Al Franken) fervently argued for it. In the media-tech world, it was greeted — as compromises usually are — with near-universal disdain. The Economist ran down the list of concerns for net neutrality proponents, led by the worry that the FCC “has handed the wireless carriers a free pass.” This was especially troubling to j-prof Dan Kennedy, who argued that wireless networks will be far more important to the Internet’s future than wired ones.

Salon’s Dan Gillmor said the FCC paid lip service to net neutrality, paving the way for a future more like cable TV than the open web we have now. Newsweek’s Dan Lyons compressed his problems with the order into one statement: “There will soon be a fast Internet for the rich and a slow Internet for the poor.”

From the other side, Slate media critic Jack Shafer, a libertarian, questioned whether the FCC had the power to regulate the Internet at all, and imagined what the early Internet would have been like if the FCC had regulated it then. The Los Angeles Times’ James Rainey told both sides to calm down, and at the Knight Digital Media Center, Amy Gahran used the story as an object lesson for news organizations in getting and linking to the source documents in question.

WikiLeaks and the media’s awkward dance: The long tail of this fall’s WikiLeaks story continues to run on, meandering into several different areas over the holidays. There are, of course, ongoing efforts to silence WikiLeaks, both corporate (Apple pulled the WikiLeaks app from its store) and governmental (a bill to punish circulation of similar classified information was introduced, and criticized by law prof Geoffrey Stone).

In addition, Vanity Fair published a long piece examining the relationship between WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and The Guardian, the first newspaper to partner with him. Based on the story, Slate’s Jack Shafer marveled at Assange’s shrewdness and gamesmanship (“unequaled in the history of journalism”), Reuters’ Felix Salmon questioned Assange’s mental health, and The Atlantic’s Nicholas Jackson wondered why The Guardian still seems to be playing by Assange’s rules.

We also saw the blowup of Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald’s feud with Wired over some chat logs between alleged WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning and the man who turned him in. It’s a complicated fight I’m not going to delve into here, but if you’d like to know more, here are two good blow-by-blows, one more partial to Wired, and another more sympathetic to Greenwald.

Greenwald has also continued to be one of the people leading the inquiries into the traditional media’s lack of support for WikiLeaks. Alternet rebutted several media misconceptions about WikiLeaks, and Newsweek attempted to explain why the American press is so lukewarm on WikiLeaks — they aren’t into advocacy, and they don’t like Assange’s purpose or methods. One of the central questions to that media cold-shoulder might be whether Assange is considered a journalist, something GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram tried to tackle.

Other, more open critiques of WikiLeaks continue to trickle out, including ones from author Jaron Lanier and Floyd Abrams, a lawyer who argued for The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case. Abrams’ argument prompted rebuttals from Jack Shafer and NYU prof Clay Shirky. Shirky in particular offered a nuanced comparison of the Pentagon Papers-era Times and the globally oriented WikiLeaks, concluding that “the old rules will not produce the old outcomes.” If you’re still hungry for WikiLeaks analysis, John Bracken’s rounded up the best of the year here.

Looking back, and looking forward: We rang in the new year last week, and that, of course, always means two things in the media world: year-end retrospectives, and previews of the year to come. The Lab wrapped up its own year in review/preview before Christmas with a review of Martin Langeveld’s predictions for 2010. PBS’ MediaShift also put together a good set of year-end reviews, including ones on self-publishing, the rapidly shifting magazine industry, a top-ten list of media stories (led by WikiLeaks, Facebook, and the iPad). You can also get a pretty good snapshot of the media year that was by taking a look at AOL’s list of the top tech writing of 2010.

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds examined the year in newspaper stock prices (not great, but could’ve been worse), while media consultant Alan Mutter explained that investors tended to stay away from debt-laden newspaper companies in particular.

As for the year to come, the Lab’s readers weighed in — you like ProPublica, The Huffington Post, and Clay Shirky, and you’re split on paywalls — and several others chimed in with their predictions, too. Among the more interesting prognostications: New York Times media critic David Carr sees tablets accelerating our ongoing media convergence, The Next Web forecasts a lot of blogs making the Gawker-esque beyond the blog format, Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik predicts the death of the foreign correspondent, TBD’s Steve Buttry sees many journalism trade organizations merging, and the Lab’s Martin Langeveld thinks we’ll see John Paton’s innovative measures at the Journal Register Co. slowly begin to be emulated elsewhere in the newspaper industry.

Two other folks went outside the predictions mold for their 2011 previews: media analyst Ken Doctor looked at 11 pieces of conventional wisdom the media industry will test this year, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing outlined his wishes for the new year. Specifically, he wants to see News Corp. and The New York Times’ paid-content plans fail, and to see news execs try a value-added membership model instead. “This will require that news publishers actually work their butts off to sell, rather than sit back and expect people to fork over money “just because” everyone should support journalism,” he wrote.

Rethinking publishing for the tablet: One theme for the new year in media that’s already emerged is the impending dominance of the tablet. As The New York Times’ Joshua Brustein wrote, that was supposed to be the theme last year, too, but only the iPad was the only device able to get off the ground in any meaningful way. Several of Apple’s competitors are gearing up to make their push this year instead; The Times’ Nick Bilton predicted that companies that try to one-up Apple with bells and whistles will fail, though Google may come up with a legitimate iPad rival.

Google has begun work toward that end, looking for support from publishers to develop a newsstand to compete with Apple’s app store. And Amazon’s Kindle is doing fine despite the iPad’s popularity, TechCrunch argued. Meanwhile, Women’s Wear Daily reported that magazine app sales on the iPad are down from earlier in the year, though Mashable’s Lauren Indvik argued that the numbers aren’t as bad as they seem.

The magazine numbers prompted quite a bit of analysis of what’s gone wrong with magazine apps. British entrepreneur Andrew Walkingshaw ripped news organizations for a lack of innovation in their tablet editions — “tablets are always-on, tactile, completely reconfigurable, great-looking, permanently jacked into the Internet plumbing, and you’re using them to make skeumorphic newspaper clones?” — and French media consultant Frederic Filloux made similar points, urging publishers to come up with new design concepts and develop a coherent pricing structure (something Econsultancy’s Patricio Robles had a problem with, too).

There were plenty of other suggestions for tablet publications, too: GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram said they should focus on filtering the web, MG Siegler of TechCrunch asked for an easy-to-use newsstand rather than a system of standalone apps, and Alan Mutter suggested magazines lower the prices and cut down on the technical glitches.

Three others focused specifically on the tablet publishing business model: At the Lab, Ken Doctor gave us three big numbers to watch in determining where this is headed, entrepreneur Bradford Cross proposed a more ad-based model revolving around connections to the open web, and venture capitalist Fred Wilson predicted that the mobile economy will soon begin looking more like the web economy.

Reading roundup: A few items worth taking a look at over the weekend:

— The flare-up du jour in the tech world is over RSS, and specifically, whether or not it is indeed still alive. Web designer Kroc Camen suggested it might be dying, TechCrunch’s MG Siegler fingered Twitter and Facebook as the cause, Dave Winer (who helped develop RSS) took umbrage, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and The Guardian’s Martin Belam defended RSS’ relevance.

— Add the Dallas Morning News to the list of paywalled (or soon-to-be-paywalled) papers to watch: It announced it will launch a paid-content plan Feb. 15. The Lab’s Justin Ellis shed light on Morning News’ thinking behind the plan. PaidContent’s Staci Kramer also broke down a Pew report on paying for online content.

— For the many writers are considering how to balance social media and longer-form writing, two thoughtful pieces to take a look at: Wired’s Clive Thompson on the way tweets and texts can work in concert in-depth analysis, and Anil Dash on the importance of blogging good ideas.

— Finally, NPR’s Matt Thompson put together 10 fantastic lessons for the future of media, all coming from women who putting them into action. It’s an encouraging, inspiring set of insights.

December 16 2010

20:40

Interview as story: on radio, online and in print

Insane Clown Posse

Whether they use full-on storytelling or just crib a few literary devices, interviews have their own narrative arcs and angles. From political drama (think the Frost-Nixon standoff or “The Fog of War”) to Studs Terkel’s cultural layering, interviews create a kind of permanent present-tense experience for viewers.

Two recent magazine interviews underline the narrative potential of the form. The first, “Insane Clown Posse: And God created controversy,” runs through a dizzying talk with the rap duo on The Guardian’s website.

The conversation jumps off with the acknowledgement that despite their ultra-violent lyrics, the pair are evangelical Christians. Reporter Jon Ronson moves on to reveal that the performers suffer from depression. As the story unfolds, even those who contest the importance of hate-spewing clowns may find the interview compelling, funny and disturbing, and perhaps not in predictable ways. Here’s an excerpt of Ronson’s dialogue:

Violent J shakes his head sorrowfully. “Who looks at the stars at night and says, ‘Oh, those are gaseous forms of plutonium’?” he says. “No! You look at the stars and you think, ‘Those are beautiful.’ ”

Suddenly he glances at me. The woman in the video is bespectacled and nerdy. I am bespectacled and nerdy. Might I have a similar motive?

“I don’t know how magnets work,” I say, to put him at his ease.

“Nobody does, man!” he replies, relieved. “Magnetic force, man. What else is similar to that on this Earth? Nothing! Magnetic force is fascinating to us. It’s right there, in your f**king face. You can feel them pulling. You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. You can’t touch it. But there’s a f**king force there. That’s cool!”

Shaggy says the idea for the lyrics came when one of the ICP road crew brought some magnets into the recording studio one day and they spent ages playing with them in wonderment.

“Gravity’s cool,” Violent J says, “but not as cool as magnets.”

The struggle between interviewer John H. Richardson and actor Christian Bale in Esquire’s December issue is more convoluted. As Richardson attempts to build a narrative that illuminates Bale as a person, the temperamental actor throws up roadblocks, refuses to participate, and ends with an insult to his interviewer’s efforts to reveal anything at all about him.

The narrative builds and destroys itself, eventually piling up a kind of story:

BALE: Why are you questioning those things?

ESQUIRE: Just curious.

BALE: Why are you putting all that muddle in your brain thats not needed to be there?

ESQUIRE: I guess you just look at the choices people make and wonder, Whats up with that?

BALE: But why are you worrying so much about everybody else? Lets start looking at you for a minute, all right?

A standoff ensues not unlike the scene in Antonionis The Passenger when Jack Nicholson is interviewing a witch doctor who clearly thinks hes an obnoxious idiot. “Your questions are much more revealing about yourself than my answers will be about me,” the witch doctor says, turning the camera around so its pointing at Nicholson. Major existential moment as Nicholson stares into the abyss between sign and signifier. But we have seen this movie, and it does not turn out well — the spell must be reversed.

BALE: It should just happen. It should just happen. If somethings true and sincere, it happens regardless of marketing. The more I talk about it, the more Im telling people how they should react. And that is an asshole.

ESQUIRE: Not to argue, but that’s not really true.

BALE: Are you calling me a liar? Am I lying?

ESQUIRE: Sometimes the ground needs to be prepared. And youve laid down these onerous rules on me — all I can do is a Q&A.

Actually, these are forbidden words that you are reading right now. Bale is in the habit of requesting that his media interviews be printed in a Q&A format. He also prefers to conduct them at the same five-star luxury hotel in Los Angeles, and makes it known that he dislikes personal questions.

Both these interviews end up far afield from straight transcription. The interviewer’s after-the-fact insertion of connective tissue between segments of the Q-and-A shape the story arc and set the tone.

Very long long-form

Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of a Hedge Fund Manager” a book-length series of interviews, falls into an even longer-form category. Keith Gessen, editor of the political and cultural journal n+1, conducted a series of interviews in which a financial player chronicled the economic collapse and its aftermath.

In a phone conversation last month, Gessen described how in small and large ways, events in “Diary” began to take a narrative turn not just in chronicling the meltdown but in the hedge fund manager’s outlook and life. Asked to what degree he imagined the book as narrative during the interview process, Gessen said,

I was very much thinking of it in terms of Studs Terkel, and there’s another book that I read some years ago, an updating of Studs Terkel called “Gig.” That book is amazing. These people have these crazy jobs, and as they talk about them, details of their lives emerge.

With “Diary of a Very Bad Year,” initially, I just wanted to find out what was going on with the financial crisis. I knew I didn’t know what was going on, and I had this sort of acquaintance who I thought could explain it. After I did the first interview and transcribed it, I was surprised. It had a lot of information. He had a very charming way of explaining the financial system. Some very talented financial people need to be able to tell stories about what they’re doing – that’s just part of him being good at his job. He was so good at explaining it that you could see how he thought, his mind at work. I thought that was exciting.

At first, I just thought we’d put the interviews in the magazine. Halfway though, he became very frustrated with his job. At the end, he quit. I didn’t know for sure where we were going initially, but when he decided to quit, we had a whole narrative arc.

Contrasting doing long-form interviews with the kind narrative features he’s written for the New Yorker, Gessen noted the different goals of the interviewer:

I’ve done a fair amount of traditional journalism where you’re interviewing people. There’s a very specific way in which quotes are used in a New Yorker article. They’re partly there to be informative; they’re partly used to reveal the character of the person who’s being informative.

When you do those interviews, you’re looking for a particular thing, a particular moment, from that person. You more or less know what you want from your subject. And I wouldn’t say it’s manipulation – that’s too strong a word – but because the frame that you’re putting on the story has so much weight, your subjects become characters in the story and have particular roles to play in it. When you’re doing those interviews, you’re waiting for them to say a particular thing, as if they were fictional characters who were uncooperative.

With the hedge fund interviews, I wasn’t waiting for anything. I was waiting for him to be interesting. I wasn’t waiting very long. In a way, it was more pressure doing those interviews, because I wasn’t going to be able to write around him. So he had to be the one who was interesting.

Gessen was pleased enough with the hedge fund interviews that he searched out people from other fields, only to find not everyone was as engaging when it came to talking about work. But with the right interviewee, “to hear a live and intelligent and very particular human voice,” Gessen said, “that’s very exciting to a reader and very immediately accessible – as accessible as anything.”

Radio Q-and-A’s

Though they have a long tradition in print, interviews own a sizable share of other media, as well, and many of them are narrative. Lisa Mullins, chief anchor and senior producer for Public Radio International’s “The World,” makes it a goal to frame real-time narratives as she interviews subjects. Talking by phone last week, she outlined her approach:

When I’m preparing an interview, I want a beginning, a middle and an end. It may not stay that way when I actually execute the interview, but it always helps to have an arc to the story and have some kind of a narrative. Sometimes that narrative centers on a subject – meaning the issue that we’re talking about – or sometimes the narrative unfolds from the person’s own thoughts and history. It can go either way, but I like to have a start and a finish and then a takeaway – something that the audience will come away with at the end.

I honestly don’t believe that we always need a neat and poignant ending. We need some kind of end that doesn’t sound random. It has to be something that makes the interview whole, that gives it a sense of direction and gives listeners a sense they’ve taken a mini journey someplace, even if they haven’t gone anywhere, even if it’s just a Q-and-A on the telephone.

Mullins doesn’t employ storytelling out of a sense of duty to tradition. Her motives, she admits, may be a little more selfish:

One of the reasons I really cherish the practice of interviewing as narrative is, frankly, ego. A lot of what we do is to convince people that they will be interested, entertained and edified by whatever we’re presenting. But it’s not a given. I don’t take that interest for granted.

So my goal is to give them what I know is going to attract any listener, a really interesting story, especially around an issue they didn’t know they could be interested in. By working with this rubric of storytelling and narrative, no matter what you’re doing, you’re going to get a much better interview for yourself, you’re going to have a more cooperative interviewee, and you’re going to get the listener paying attention. It’s not like they’re being spoon-fed; they’re just being informed and entertained in the most natural way of all, and that’s through storytelling.

Mullins also emphasized the real-time role of the interviewer and the importance of discipline when a Q-and-A is going to be the final product – not to block spontaneous surprises from emerging, but to string a narrative thread that the audience can clutch, giving listeners “a place to touch down.” Interviewers have a narrative role to play, even when they’re not the ones telling the stories.

[Check back tomorrow, when we'll post a list of tips for doing narrative interviews.]

15:05

LIVE: Linked data and the semantic web

We’ll have Matt Caines and Nick Petrie from Wannabe Hacks liveblogging for us at news:rewired all day. Follow individual posts on the news:rewired blog for up to date information on all our sessions.

We’ll also have blogging over the course of the day from freelance journalist Rosie Niven.

November 25 2010

13:17

“THE DAILY” (3): WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT NEWS CORPORATION FIRST USA NATIONAL TABLET PUBLICATION (3)

Who is Jesse Angelo?: The leader of this project is a former managing editor of the New York Post, a tabloid that has been losing a lot of money since Murdoch bought this competitor of the New York Daily News. Angelo is a Harvard graduate and lifelong New Yorker. He began as a freelance reporter for The Post’s Page Six in 1999. He was hired full time as a news reporter, then moved to the business desk, where he quickly rose to deputy business editor. Angelo was named metropolitan editor in April 2001.

Murdoch on The Daily one week ago: “I’m starting a paper in six weeks. A brand new paper. It will be a bit like the New York Post. But it will be national. It will only be seen on tablets. It will only employ journalists – and maybe eight to 10 technicians.”

Promotion: Amazing. Learning from Apple, News Corporation is almost silent, but the viral marketing is going crazy. Serious newspapers like The Guardian have been trap in this noisy silent-strategy publishing rumors with no facts.

Is this paper another example of “Dead On Arrival”?: That’s the main view of all the blind experts, people that have not seen anything and are killing the baby before birth.

My own take: Give them a chance. They have will, money, resources and talent to try this only-tablet national publication. If Murdoch wins, expect a lot of replicas around the world. If he fails, all of us will learn how to do it better. So, let’s wait and see. My only concern is that the time has been too short: a huge project like this cannot be done in six months.

November 13 2010

09:04

HOW (NOT) TO SELL NEWSPAPERS ON WEEKENDS

Now you know why The Guardian is losing circulation.

.

November 04 2010

14:00

The Newsonomics of Kindle Singles

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

Maybe the newspaper is like the old LP — you know, as in “Long Play.” It may be a 33 1/3, though it seems like it came out of the age of 78s sometimes, a relic of the post-Victorian Victrola age. It is what it is, a wonderful compendium of one day in the life (of a nation, a city, a village), a one-size-fits-all product, the same singular product delivered to mass volumes of readers.

In the short history of Internet disintermediation and disruption of the traditional news business, we’ve heard endless debate of the “the content and the container,” as people have tried to peel back the difference between the physical form of the newspaper — its container — and what it had in it. It’s a been a tough mindset change, and the many disruptors of the world — the Googles, the Newsers, and the Huffington Posts, for instance — have expertly picked apart the confusions and the potentials new technologies have made possible. The news business has been atomized, not by Large Hadron Colliders, but by simple digital technology that has blown up the container and treats each article as a digestible unit. Aggregate those digestible units with some scheme that makes sense to readers (Google: news search; Newser: smart selection and précis; HuffPo: aggregation, personality and passion), and you’ve got a new business, and one with a very low cost basis.

None of this is a revelation. What is new, and why I re-think that context is the advent of Kindle Singles. The Lab covered Amazon’s announcement of less-than-a-book, more-than-as-story Kindle Singles out of the chute a couple of weeks ago. Josh Benton described how the new form could well serve as a new package, a new container, for longer, high-quality investigative pieces, those now being well produced in quantity by ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting (and its California Watch), and the Center for Public Integrity. That’s a great potential usage, I think.

In fact, Kindle Singles may open the door even further to wider news business application, for news companies — old and new, publicly funded and profit-seeking, text-based and video-oriented. It takes the old 78s and 33 1/3s, and opens a world of 45s, mixes, and infinite remixes. It says: You know what a book is, right? Think again. It can also say: You know what a newspaper is, right? Think again. While the Kindle Singles notion itself seems to have its limits — it’s text and fixed in time, not updatable on the fly — it springs loose the wider idea of publishing all kinds of new news and newsy content in new containers. Amazon is trying to define this strange new middle, with the Kindle Singles nomenclature, while some have used the term “chapbook” to describe it. We’ve got to wonder what Apple is thinking in response — what’s an app in Kindle Singles world? What’s a Kindle Single in an apps world? It’s not a book, an article, a newspaper, or a magazine, but something new. We now get to define that something new, both in name, but most importantly in content possibility.

What it may be for news organizations is a variety of news-on-demand. Today, we could be reading tailored and segmented sections on the election, from red and blue perspectives, from historical perspectives, from numerical perspectives. Today, we in the Bay Area could get not just a single triumphant San Francisco Giants celebratory section, but our choice of several, one providing San Francisco Giants history, one providing New York Giants history, one looking at the players themselves; the list goes on and on. More mundane, and more evergreen commercial topics? Job-hunting, job-finding, job-prep guides, tailored to skills, ages, and wants? Neighborhood profile sections for those seeking new housing (pick one or several neighborhoods, some with data, some with resident views, others tapping into neighborhood blogs). It’s endless special sections, on demand, some ad-supported, some not; a marketer’s dream. Some are priced high; some are priced low; some are free and become great lead generators for other digital reader products.

A few recent initiatives in the news business news lend themselves to Singles thinking. Take Politico’s newly announced topical e-newsletters. Take Rupert Murdoch’s notion of a paid-content portal, Alesia, which had within the idea of mixing and matching content differently, until its plug was recently pulled. Take AP’s new rights consortium, a venture that could build on this approach. Again, endless permutations are possible.

Who is going to come up with the ideas for the content? Well, editors themselves should have their shot, though one-size-fits-all thinking has circumscribed the imagination of too many. Still, there are hundreds of editors (and reporters and designers and copy editors) still in traditional ranks and now employed outside of it capable of creating new audience-pleasing packages. Some will work; some won’t. Experiment, and fail quickly. The biggest potential, though? Letting readers take open-sourced news content and create packages themselves, giving them a small revenue share, on sales. (Both the Guardian and the New York Times, among others, have opened themselves up for such potential usage.) Tapping audiences to serve audiences, to mix and match content, makes a lot of sense.

Why might this work when various little experiments have failed to produce much revenue for news companies, thinking of Scribd and HP’s MagCloud? Well, it’s the installed bases and paid-content channels established by the Amazons (and the Apples). They’ve got the customers and the credit cards, and they’ve tapped the willingness to pay. They need stuff to sell.

For newspaper companies, it’s another chance to rewrite the economics of the business. The newsonomics of Kindle Singles may mean that publishers can worry less about cost of content production, for a minute, and more about its supply. Maybe the problem hasn’t been the cost of professional content, but its old-school one-size-fits-all distribution package. That sports story or neighborhood profile could bring in lots more money per unit, if Singles notion takes off.

One big caution here: Singles thinking leads us into a more Darwinian world than ever. In my Newsonomics book, I chose as Law #1: “In the age of Darwinian content, we’re becoming our own and each other’s editors.” Great, useful content will sell; mediocre content will die faster. Repackaging content pushes the new content meritocracy to greater heights. As we approach 2011, news publishers are hoping to hit home runs with new paid content models. Maybe the future is as much small ball, hitting a lot of one-base hits, of striking out as often — and of Singles.

October 13 2010

14:14

SECOND SECTIONS NEVER WERE GOOD, AND THE T2 IS AN EXAMPLE

The Times editor writes today:

Dear Reader,

As you will have noticed from this morning’s paper, Times2 is back. It returns, bigger and better.

When we introduced our new daily sections earlier this year, many readers wrote to say how much they loved the greater coverage of food, fashion, health and the arts. Many others were thrilled at the introduction of Mind Games, offering more brain-aching Su Doku and more infuriating puzzles than ever before.

But many of you wrote to say how sorely you missed the second section. Letters came in saying how much you loved The Times’s distinctive run of features. It was clear how deeply you shared Times2’s passions, its sense of humour, its cares, its intelligence, its campaigning spirit.   And, even though Times2 had simply moved to a new home, many of you felt a loss. It was obvious how much you relied on a separate section for the TV and radio listings, as well as a smart guide to film, music, theatre, dance and the arts. And, most of all, you missed having a paper that you could share: The Times, in two parts – or, as one person put it, two papers for the price of one.

Well, he is wrong.

The problem with the T2 section is the content and the design.

Both are really bad.

Content and design are trashy.

That’s the problem, my dear!

“Readers want” is another excuse to change in order to avoid real changes

T2 compared with the trendy and crispy G2 of The Guardian looks like a second class section.

So instead, give me less pages, and a more and better edited newspaper.

A Compact and compelling newspaper.

Work  harder for me (reader and subscriber of The Times) and don’t be bother about focus group “instant miracle solutions”.

Many of these new separate section were created because, we were told, advertisers want it.

Well, the T2 is almost empty of paid ads.

Why?

Because advertisers know better: it’s a poor product.

Integrated or standing alone.

This doesn’t matter.

Good content and brilliant design is what really matters.

October 06 2010

10:45

Former News of the World features editor defends phone-hacking at lively debate

The News of the World phone-hacking scandal was once again in the spotlight last night, this time at City University where reporters, lawyers, a former tabloid editor and a victim of the NotW’s close attention gathered to debate the question: “How far should a reporter go? The lessons of the News of the World phone-hacking story.”

Former News of the World features editor Paul McMullan spoke largely in defence of the newspaper and its practices, revealing that he had been contacted three times by the Metropolitan police following his recent admission of illegally obtaining information while at the newspaper.

McMullan is one of a string of former NotW staff to confess to phone-hacking, both on the record and anonymously, and allege that the practice was widespread at the newspaper. He admitted last night that he had illegally hacked voicemail accounts, bank accounts and medical records in an investigation of cocaine dealers.

Appearing alongside McMullan were: former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade, who elected to speak on behalf of the NotW in the absence of a senior figure from the newspaper; former director of public prosecutions Ken MacDonald; Guardian reporter Nick Davies, who broke the story initially and has reported on it extensively; former head of the FIA Max Mosley, who won record damages of 60,000 from the newspaper in a privacy action, and defamation lawyer Mark Lewis, who has represented many of those claiming damages from the NotW after the scandal.

Guardian reporter Nick Davies began by apologising to the NotW for “saying some beastly things about it” and said they were unlucky to get caught out in an industry-wide practice

I should start off by apologising to the NotW, in a way I feel sorry for them. It’s sheer fluke and bad luck that that particular newspaper is the subject of all this attention. It’s just because one journalist Clive Goodman got caught hacking the voicemail not of an ordinary punter but of the royal family. All of us with our headlights on know very well that this illegal activity was going on in most Fleet Street newsrooms.

Davies even drew attention to the naming of the Guardian’s sister paper the Observer by the Information Commissioner’s report on obtaining of phone records. But despite his apologies he was unequivocal in his distaste for the phone-hackers: “I’ve had enough. Even though I’m a reporter I want a law to protect me from these creatures. These people have no business in our phone calls, they have no business in our bedrooms.”

Davies did however speak out in support of a law which would give reporters additional powers to hack into telephones and voicemail accounts where there was a demonstrable public interest.

What we’ll discover as we go through this evening is that a lot will cluster around two simple words, ‘public interest’ (…) I would go so far as to say I would like to see a change in the law to allow journalists to intercept voicemail messages if it’s in the public interest. The huge problem is that nobody knows where the boundaries of that concept are.

Well, as Roy Greenslade pointed out in his terrifically acted (if somewhat comical) turn defending the NotW, “What is the public interest to the Guardian and the Observer is very different when you reach the celebrity agenda of the Sun and the NotW.”

Paul McMullan clearly has a very different concept of public interest to Nick Davies and especially to Max Mosley, with whom he repeatedly clashed. McMullan said, in answer to “How far should a reporter go?” that “if you want to get ahead in journalism you have to go as far as you possibly can, there is no limit”.

I think privacy is the thing we really have to fight against, privacy is the place where we do bad things. We hide our misdemeanors embarassments and things we wouldn’t want to have to tell our wives and children we were up to and then we say privacy, it’s my private life, I can break my marital contract, I can have a completely false public perception when actually, I’m a grubby little sinner.

Mosley, on the other hand, is clearly more of a fan of the French way of doing things. He claimed throughout that the private lives of public figures have no bearing on their public life, dismissing McMullan’s notion that there was a legitimate public interest in reavealing the private actions of those who presented themselves as family men, or who were said to be role models.

…there is this mad argument ‘oh we should expose Tiger Woods or Mr [John] Terry because they tell the world they are great family men and they’re not. This is the idea that people go to watch John Terry play football or Tiger Woods pay golf, and they say to themselves ‘why am I going to see him, oh because he’s a wonderful family man’. It’s so absurd.

Mosley was very firm in his belief that jounalists should not be able to get away with breaking the law because they decide it serves the public interest. Defamation lawyer Mark Lewis pointed out that if the police want to tap somebody’s phone they have to approach the home secretary first for permission, with prima facie evidence, and not just go on a “fishing expedition” if they so decide.

Ken MacDonald, former director of public prosecutions, countered that their argument was “too simplistic”, arguing that without journalists bending, or perhaps breaking the law, a huge number of important public interest stories would not have been published. MacDonald also expressed concern about allowing public figures to live “entirely parallel lives”, which he said could lead journalists to “an attitude of deference to those in power and to cultural elites”.

His comment prompted an audience member to ask whether a hypothetical story about David Cameron being caught with call girls had legitimate public interest. Given what this information would tell us about the judgement of the country’s prime minister in opening himself up to bribery and coercion, Nick Davies was surprisingly unsure whether he thought this constituted public interest.

Repeatedly mentioned of course was Cameron’s director of communications and former NotW editor Andy Coulson. Last night’s Dispatches documentary featured a former senior NotW journalist claiming, anonymously, that the former editor had listened to hacked voicemail messages. Coulson has continually denied any knowledge of phone-hacking, despite recent accusations in the New York Times that he sanctioned the practice. Roy Greenslade, in his role as the newspaper’s defender, sounded quite convinced in his support of Coulson, inparticular Coulson’s claim that he wouldn’t neccessarily have known or even asked about the provenance of stories. According to Greenslade:

Editors don’t have to know every intimate detail on this occasion I don’t think he did (…) A lot of people here will say ‘of course he knew’, but it seems perfectly feasible to me that you don’t neccessarily know every detail about the methodology.

The panelists debated various possible ways of negotiating the difficult terrain between freedom of the press and privacy, with Max Mosley calling for the law to require prior notification on issues which the subject of the story might not want publicised. Mosley’s strict position was largely dismissed by the journalists present, who saw the extent to which it could compromise a free press. Nick Davies suggested a variation on the idea, in which editors could approach a “council of wise men” who (quite who was never clarified) could arbitrate and advise on publication, with their recommendation taken in to account if the editor was challenged post-publication.

The risk all these possible regulatory measures pose to freedom of the press was articulated of course, leaving the panel not much closer to a workable solution to the problem by the end. But it was a spirited debate which generated decent conversation about some of the issues at the heart of the phone-hacking scandal and well-demonstrated the difficulty of satisfying both the need for freedom of the press and the need for privacy.Similar Posts:



September 17 2010

15:00

Network effects: The Houston Chronicle’s Eric Berger on newspapers and blog networks

Last week, I wrote about the Guardian’s new network of science blogs, which — in a first for the paper — is allowing its (growing) cadre of bloggers to publish directly to the Guardian’s site. The effort, though new for the Guardian, isn’t necessarily new for media organizations in general. In 2008, Eric Berger, a science reporter at the Houston Chronicle — and author of the paper’s SciGuy blog — assembled a team of scientists to contribute to a network of blogs whose topics include climate change, the environment, astronomy, and more. The goal: “to provide a neutral space for scientists and the general public to meet and speak on the issues of the day.”

The “.sphere” experiment — the blogs had titles like Atmo.sphere, Cosmo.sphere, and Evo.sphere — “had some successes and failures,” Berger noted in a later blog post. Some of the blogs fizzled; new ones were born. And one of the biggest determinants of success was, unsurprisingly, the dynamics of authorship: the people at the blogs’ helm. As the project evolved, the focus went from group contributions — several scientists, and some volunteer lay people, writing the content and guiding discussions — to blogs that are written “mostly by individuals.”

I spoke with Berger about that shift. We focused on science blogs; the lessons, though, are relevant to any news organization looking to extend its reach through tapping the talents and expertise of independent bloggers.

Personal interest leads to quality blogging

Blogging requires passion — about the subject matter and about communication itself. Dave Winer’s notion of a “natural born blogger” is instructive not just for amateur bloggers, but for those networked with professional sites, as well. ”People have to want to do it; they have to be interested in it,” Berger says. “And if they like doing it, then they’ll do it more, and they’ll do it better. Because if you’re writing about stuff that you’re interested in and enjoying what you’re doing, it’s going to come through in your writing. It’s going to show your readers that you’re engaged — and going to make them more prone to be engaged, as well.”

Conversation is key

The common conception of the scientist locked in academia’s ivory tower is one held not only by many members of the public, but by some scientists, as well. There’s an occasional tendency, Berger points out, for scientists to see themselves and their work as isolated from the rest of the world. (That’s a tendency, I’d add, that can afflict journalism, as well.) Success in blogging, though, requires getting down to solid ground. “You’ve got to have someone who wants to have a conversation with the public about topics that the public is interested in,” Berger says. And, when it comes to guiding a blog, “a big part of it is convincing the scientists that it’s worth their time not only to write blog entries, but also to interact with people in the comments.” Many scientists have no interest in that, he notes — so the trick is finding the ones who are willing to join the fray.

“You’ve got to find the right scientist” – someone who understands the public with whom they’re conversing. Scientists in particular are used to communicating with peers, Berger notes. But “it’s different with a newspaper — it’s an audience of lay people. A lot of people are looking at the website when they’re at work – and so they’re looking to amuse and to educate themselves.” A good blog network will be populated by writers who strike a balance between those two goals.

Emphasize the news hook

In addition to looking for Winer’s “natural born bloggers,” you want scientists who are able to marry the expertise of their fields with the ability to connect with the public. “Generally, it’s the people who write more to a general level” who are most successful at blogging, Berger says. “People are not going to read a blog that is primarily educational,” he notes. And “most people aren’t spending their free time on the web to get astronomy lectures, I hate to say.” Instead, in general, “people want stuff either that’s related to the news of what’s happening or that has some kind of popular hook. It’s difficult for science as a topic to compete with things like sports or religion — or politics, of course — which are some of the most popular blog subjects here and elsewhere.” To make it compete, you need writers who are able to refashion science from a niche topic into one of general interest — by moderating content and by writing with, for lack of a better word, flair.

Good source = good blogger

Since communication is so important to the blogging equation (see point one), experts who make good sources might also make good bloggers, Berger notes. “If I’ve interviewed someone in the past, and they’ve been really helpful, or have explained things in a good way, or been willing to return calls quickly, then that person would be a good candidate – or at least someone to suggest” as a blogger, Berger says. Often, he points out, the PR people at universities have a good sense of their faculty’s comfort with external communication; they can be a great resource in finding academics who’d have both the interest and the ability to become good bloggers.

Don’t try to control (too much)

A good blog network, Berger says, depends in large part on a willingness to experiment — not only on the part of the bloggers themselves, but of the network leaders, as well. Perhaps the primary principle is trial-and-error. “I had some hits and I had some misses,” he notes of his two years of network-ing, but by being open to trying out different bloggers and formats and content areas, the network is also open to unexpected successes.

“You kind of have to let people do what they do, when they can,” Berger says. “Different people are going to write different things. Some people are doing it because they want to write, and they’re interested in saying their piece on things; other people are interested in educating. You just kind of let people do what’s to their strength.”

September 07 2010

14:00

“A completely new model for us”: The Guardian gives outsiders the power to publish for the first time

Last week, the Guardian launched a network of science blogs with a goal that perfectly mixed science with blog: “We aim to entertain, enrage and inform.”

Now, on the paper’s website, you can find hosted content from four popular and well-respected blogs: “Life and Physics” by Jon Butterworth, a physics professor at University College of London who does work with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN; “The Lay Scientist,” the pop-science-potpourri blog by researcher and science writer Martin Robbins; the science policy blog “Political science” by former MP Evan Harris; and “Punctuated Equilibrium,” by the evolutionary biologist known as Grrrl Scientist.

The idea is both to harness scientific expertise and, at the same time, to diffuse it. “This network of blogs is not just for other science bloggers to read; it’s not just for other scientists,” says Alok Jha, a science and environment correspondent who came up with the idea for the network and now — in addition to his reporting and writing duties — is overseeing its implementation. The network is intended to reach — and entertain/enrage/inform — as many people as possible. “We’re a mainstream newspaper,” he says, “so everything we do has to come about through that prism.” And it marks another small shift in the media ecosystem: the media behemoth and independent bloggers, collaborating for audiences rather than competing for them.

If that sounds familiar, it may be because the new network is a direct response to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s goal of journalistic “mutualization.” (Okay, okay: mutualiSation.) “It’s good to have criticism from scientists when we do things wrong,” Jha notes, “but it’s also good to have them understand how we write things — and give them a chance to do it.” Guardian reporters don’t spend days in the control room at CERN; someone who does, though, is Jon Butterworth. Having him and his fellow scientists as part of an extended network of Guardian writers benefits both the paper and its readers. “The science desk here will essentially become a channel for these guys to report from their worlds they’re all seeing,” Jha notes. The scientists “are going to lend a bit of their stardust to us”; in return, they’ll get exposure not just to a broader readership, but to a more diverse one, as well.

Exposure and payment

The Guardian network comes at time when science blog networks populated by writers with particular — and highly focused — areas of expertise are proliferating. Last week, the Public Library of Science, a nonprofit publisher of open-access journals emphasizing the biological sciences, launched its own 11-blog network. PLoS Blogs joins Wired Science, Scientopia, and others. And, of course, science blogs have been in the news more than usual of late, with ScienceBlogs and the scandal that was PepsiGate. That scandal — in which PepsiCo tapped its own “experts” to contribute content to the otherwise proudly independent blog network — didn’t precipitate the Guardian’s own foray into science blog networking, which has been in the works since this spring. However, “it certainly accelerated everything,” Jha says. “I think there was soul-searching going on among the bloggers out there: ‘What do we do next? How do we do it?’ And that, in turn, gave the Guardian staff the sense that, okay, now is the time to do it.”

The general value proposition here is the most typical one: “more content” on the side of the media outlet, and “more exposure” on the side of the content providers. Many scientists are interested in writing, Jha points out; but there are far fewer who understand the mysterious alchemy required to successfully pitch stories to news organizations. The blog setup reframes the relationship between the expert and the outlet — with the Guardian itself, in this case, going from “gatekeeper” to “host.”

The upshot of all that, for the scientists, isn’t exposure in the Huffpostian sense, in which getting your name out there = money. The Guardian pays the bloggers for their work. Which is a matter of principle as much as economics: Even though some of the scientists were already writing their blogs without compensation, Jha notes, “we thought we can’t possibly just take a blog for free, because it would be exploitative.”

The solution: a 50/50 ad revenue split. The Guardian sells ads against the bloggers’ pages; the bloggers, in turn, get half the revenue from the exchange. But this being an experiment — and web ads being notoriously fickle, even on a high-traffic site like the Guardian’s — the arrangement also includes a kind of financial insurance policy for the bloggers: If ad revenues fall below target, they’ll revisit the deal.

“Independent of all interference”

Though the blogs’ flags vary, they feature, in their Guardian presentation, a uniform tagline: “HOSTED BY THE GUARDIAN.” Which is a way of clarifying — and reiterating — that, though the blogs’ content is on the Guardian’s site, it’s not fully of the Guardian’s site. “The idea is that this is not an internal reporters’ or editorial blog,” Jha says. “It’s these guys — it’s their thoughts, independent of all interference.”

And “independent” really means “independent.” The blogs aren’t edited — for content or for copy. Unlike some other newspaper/blog hosting arrangements (see, for example, Nate Silver, whose FiveThirtyEight is licensed by The New York Times — and whose content is overseen, and edited, by Times staff), the Guardian’s science blogs are overseen by the bloggers themselves. For these first couple weeks, yes, a Guardian production editor will read the posts before hitting “publish.” But that’s a temporary state of affairs — a period meant to work out technical kinks and to foster trust on both sides. The goal, after this initial trial period, is to give the bloggers remote access to the Guardian’s web publishing tools — something, Jha notes, “that no one apart from internal staff had been able to do before.” The vision — a simple one, but one that’s nicely symbolic, as well — is that the bloggers will soon be able to publish directly to the Guardian site, with no intermediary. “It’s a completely new model for us,” Jha notes — because, at the moment, “nothing here is unedited.”

Jha is well aware of the potential for legal headaches that accompanies that freedom — a potential that’s particularly menacing in the U.K., whose legal system plays so (in)famously fast-and-loose with libel. “As a news organization, we’ve been very careful to be on the right side of the law,” Jha says; then again, though, “we’d never try and censor.” Balancing freedom-of-expression concerns with their organizational imperative to protect themselves from liability is something Jha and his colleagues have spent a lot of time discussing in the run-up to the network’s launch. Ultimately, though, the vision won out over the caution. “We always err on the side of ‘let’s publish’ rather than not,” he notes; and, as far as the site’s new bloggers go, the goal is less top-down authority, not more. “Eventually, we do want them to have complete control,” Jha says. “That is the ambition.”

September 02 2010

11:51

MAGAZINE COVERS WITH REAL PEOPLE

Essentials-reader-cover-001

The Guardian reports:

IPC Media’s Essentials will no longer feature models or celebrities on its front cover after a survey of readers suggested they preferred to see “real women”.

The October edition of the monthly is entirely model- and celebrity-free and is the climax of a social media campaign to find 10 real women to put on its front cover. The magazine claimed it was a “UK media first for women’s glossies”.

Essentials’ editor, Jules Barton-Breck, said: “So many of these women look, and are, amazing that we wanted to celebrate them. In our recent reader survey 70% told us that they would rather see a real woman on the cover of a magazine than a celebrity, so we’re excited to be the first magazine in the UK to do this every month.”

Essentials was the biggest climber among the mainstream women’s monthlies in the first half of this year, with an average circulation of 115,432.

Great idea.

Good marketing.

Excellent covers.

August 31 2010

16:40

The Guardian launches science blogs network

The Guardian is launching a new science blogs network to get readers discussing and debating all aspects of the science world, from palaeontology to extraterrestrial life.

This is another step in the Guardian’s strategy to set up partnerships with bloggers, following in the footsteps of its recently launched law network.

The science network will comprise of four regular bloggers sharing their expertise on the latest in evolution and ecology, politics and campaigns, skepticism and particle physics. A fifth blog will act as a window into other discussions going on in the science world and will also host the Guardian’s first science blog festival.

The festival will showcase a new blogger every day and aims to put newbies at ease by offering lots of new places to start reading. The web world is buzzing with thousands of science enthusiasts sharing their knowledge and thoughts, but it can be very overwhelming for those not familiar with it, explains the introductory post from Alok Jha, a science and environment correspondent at the Guardian.

Readers can also share any posts that especially excite (or infuriate) them by using the Guardian’s WordPress plugin that allows bloggers to republish articles on their own sites.Similar Posts:



August 26 2010

16:00

The Newsonomics of news orgs surrounded by non-news

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

The Washington Post Company has been much in the news recently, but not because of its flagship paper. It’s making news around its other holdings. It has shed Newsweek, staunching a $30 million annual bleed. More importantly to the company’s finances, its Kaplan “subsidiary” has been much in the spotlight, under investigation by the feds, along with other for-profit educators, for fraud around student loans.  Those inquiries have rocked The Washington Post Co.’s share price, sending it to a year-to-date low.

The Post’s case has also refocused public attention on how much the company is dependent on Kaplan revenues. Those revenues now amount to 62 percent of revenues, and 67 percent of profits. It became clear to even those who hadn’t been watching closely that the Post was more an education company than a newspaper one, though the family ownership of the Grahams clearly intend to use that positioning to protect and sustain the flagship paper.

The Post case is not an isolated one. Fewer news companies are, well, “news” companies in the way we used to think of them. More news operations find themselves within larger enterprises these days, and I believe that will be a continuing trend. It could be good for journalism — buffering news operations in times of changing business models — or it could be bad for journalism, as companies whose values don’t include the “without fear or favor” gene increasingly house journalists. That push and pull will play out dramatically over the next five years.

Let’s look, though, at the changing newsonomics of the companies that own large news enterprises.

Here’s a chart of selected companies, showing what approximate (revenue definitions vary significantly company to company) percentage of their overall annual revenues are derived from news:

News Corp.: 19 percent (newspapers and information services); 31 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
Gannett: 94.3 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
New York Times: 93 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
Washington Post: 21 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
Thomson Reuters: 2.3 percent (Media segment)
Bloomberg: <15 percent (non-terminal media businesses)
AP: 100 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
McClatchy: 100 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
Disney (ABC News): <14 percent (broadcast)
Guardian Media Group: 46 percent (newspapers)

The non-news revenues may be a surprise, but here’s one further fact to ponder: News, over the past several years, has continued to decline in its percentage contribution to most diversified companies. Given all the trends we know, it will continue to do so. Movies, cable, satellite, and even broadcasting all have challenges, structural and cyclical, but overall are all doing better than print and text revenues.

News Corp., the largest company by news revenue in the world with publications on three continents, is a great example. After all, although it is eponymously named, it is not really a “news company.” With only one in five of its overall dollars coming directly from traditional news, it’s much more dependent on the success of the latest Ben Stiller comedy or the fortunes of a blockbuster than on the digital advertising growth of The Wall Street Journal or the paid-content successes — or failures — of The Times of London. These matter, of course, but let’s consider the context.

In February, I wrote about the “Avatar Advantage” that News Corp.’s Wall Street Journal held in its increasingly head-to-head battle with The New York Times. At that point, Avatar had brought in $2 billion in gross receipts for News Corp., whose 20th Century Fox produced and distributed the movie. Now that number has grown by $750 million, to $2.75 billion in total. News Corp. shares that revenue with lots of hands, but what it keeps will make an impressive difference to its bottom line — and to what it can pour into The Wall Street Journal, as CEO Rupert Murdoch desires.

Compare that financial flexibility with the Times, and it’s night and day. The Times Co.’s total 2009 revenues: $2.4 billion, less than Avatar itself has produced. The Times is all but a newspaper pure play, deriving about 5.5 percent of its revenue from non-news Internet businesses, like About.com, after shedding TV and radio stations and its share of the Boston Red Sox.

It may be a one-of-a-kind pure play, in that it is the leading standalone news site and reaches vast audiences globally. Yet its pure-play nature can feel like a noose, which was tightening in the depth of the recession and only feels a lot looser now. The Times’ planned paid-content metering system, for instance, is a nervous-making strategy for a company with relatively little margin of error. Compare that to the revenue trajectories that News Corp.’s London papers may see after their paywalls have been in place for a year. Whatever the results, they’ll have de minimis impact to News Corp. fortunes.

Likewise, McClatchy — another newspaper pure play, like MediaNews, A.H. Belo, Lee, and a few others — is now betting wholly on newspapers and their torturous transition to digital.

While Gannett is heavily dependent on print newspapers, in the U.S. and UK, it has been benefited by the 13 percent of its revenues that come from broadcast. Broadcast revenues — buoyed by Olympics and election-year advertising — were up 18.6 percent for the first half of 2010, while newspapers were down 6.5 percent for Gannett. Broadcast may be a largely mature medium, too, but for the print news companies that haven’t jettisoned properties gained in an earlier foray into broadcast diversification, it has provided some balm. In addition to Gannett, MediaGeneral and Scripps are among those holding on to broadcast properties.

For the bigger companies, the consequences are more nuanced. I call these large, now globally oriented (in news coverage, in audience reach and, coming, in advertising sales) The Digital Dozen, twelve-plus companies that are trying to harness the real scale value of digital distribution.

The Digital Dozen’s Thomson Reuters is a great example. Until 2007, Reuters was a standalone, a 160-year-old news service struggling with its own business models in this changing world. Then, with its merger with financial services giant Thomson, it now contributes less than a tenth of TR’s annual revenue. That kind of insulation can be a good thing, both as it figures out how to synergize the Reuters and Thomson business lines (a complex work-in-progress) and to allow investment in Reuters products and staffing, even as news revenues find tough sledding. Meanwhile, its main competitor, AP, may have a strong commercial business (broadcast and print) worldwide — but it’s a news business, with no other revenue lines to provide breathing room.

National broadcast news, too, has seen rapid change, and much staff reduction in the past few years. GE, one behemoth of a diversified company, is turning over the NBC News operation to another giant, Comcast. ABC News is found within the major entertainment conglomerate Disney.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg — getting more than eight out of 10 of its dollars via the terminal rental business — is moving aggressively to build a greater news brand; witness the Business Week acquisition, and its push into government news coverage, formally announcing the hiring of 100 journalists for its Bloomberg Government new business unit. Non-news revenue — largely meaning non-advertising dependence — is what may increasingly separate “news” companies going forward. So we see the Guardian Media Group selling off its regional newspapers to focus, as its annual report proudly announces, on “a strong portfolio [of non-news companies and investments] to support our journalism.]

Journalism must be fed — but inky hands will be doing less and less of the feeding.

Image by John Cooper used under a Creative Commons license.

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